POV/PBS excerpts from The Opposite of Cold in connection with documentary "Steam of Life"
Throughout the [Northwoods] — essentially the Lake Superior hinterland in Ontario and the northern counties of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota — dedicated bathhouses on a lakeshore, streamside, or a discreet distance from a farmhouse are very common. The typical structure is twenty feet long by about ten wide with a single entry, evenly divided into two rooms, with a chimney.
If you are traveling along a county road in wooded country regularly interrupted by small clearings, and intersected by roads with names that end in i or ala or nen, you are in the heart of North American sauna country. Any buildings you see that are similar to the structure just described have very likely been used as a family bathhouse. In the 1960s, University of Minnesota-Duluth cultural geographer Matti Kaups found that the presence of outbuilding saunas on farms in the region was a telltale marker of ethnic identity. Ninety percent of Finnish American farmsteads had a sauna (a higher percentage even than on farmsteads in Finland), and saunas were common at all types of Finnish residences. Kaups casually observed that the sauna competed favorably with television as an evening activity among Finnish Americans.