Saimaa Kumppani Lake Saimaa - Purest Finland Alvar Aalto Cities
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Nature has given Varkaus the conditions for its inhabitants to live here as well as to locate industrial activities. The location of Varkaus near rapids with abundant water and sufficient fall height, as well as in the middle of forest areas, has been ideal especially for the forest industry. Varkaus has had natural conditions for obtaining wood as raw material, using hydropower as a power source and transporting by water. As a natural resource, lake ore has also played an important role in the early stages of Varkaus’ industrial development.

Varkaus is mentioned in documents concerning Savo region as early as in 1526, when Pekka Kolehmainen announced that he had sold the Varkaus estate to Erik Fleming for 20 Riga marks. The estate had apparently been inhabited already at the end of the 15th century. Fleming was an important man at the time, and the estate became reportedly Savo’s first freehold, a tax-exempt estate. In the mid-16th century, the estate was first divided into two and then into several separate estates. According to the 1561 tax deed, the present Kosulanniemi, Kommila and Päiviönsaari areas were owned by Paavo and Heikki Kosonen.

At the end of the 18th century, an army depot operated in Päiviönsaari, and later a naval base, Laivalinna, was established there, when the area was taken over by the crown. After Finland came under Russian rule, the base was closed, but the craftsmen of Laivalinna and some of the soldiers remained in the area, and later started working for the iron works.

On April 20, 1815, Baron Gustaf Wrede, who was connected to Varkaus in many ways, received permission from the Senate to establish an iron works in the vicinity of Huruskoski (now a power canal of the mill) and Ämmäkoski rapids near Päiviönsaari. The state handed over the land to him without compensation and with full ownership. Since then, Päiviönsaari has followed the mill’s ownership.

Iron works in Varkaus started its operations with the biggest plans and hopes in 1820, but the results were limited, as the ore in the nearby lakes was of poor quality. However, Wrede’s pioneering work aroused the interest of other businessmen. Erik Johan Längman from Helsinki and Paul Wahl from Vyborg bought the iron works and related facilities in 1834. Their aim was to establish an extensive sawmill business alongside iron works operations, and the building of a machine shop was also presented. Längman acted as the iron works manager, but he was also unsuccessful. Längman became indebted to his partner and soon Wahl took over the iron works.

The iron works business was booming at the end of the 19th century, but in 1907 the company ran into difficulties when the Russian Council of Ministers decided that state orders would no longer be given to Finnish machine shops. The indebted Paul Wahl & Co ended up selling the iron works to Ahlström Oy, which turned its attention to the wood processing industry, for which the location in Varkaus was ideal.

In order to succeed, Ahlström had to take care of non-industrial investments as well. In addition to forest industry facilities, roads and bridges were built, as well as housing and various facilities for workers and officers. The company was also responsible for medical care, education, parish work, library, fire brigade, public order and social welfare.

The growth of the mill caused the population of Varkaus to increase and it became more “urban”. Walter Ahlström ordered the first town plan for Varkaus in 1913 from Valter and Ivar Thomé.

In the plan, industrial facilities were located along Huruskoski rapids and Pirtinniemi, administration and services on Päiviönsaari, and settlements in the surrounding areas in Kommila and Kosulanniemi. The areas were connected by the central axis of the community, the wide park street Ahlströminkatu, planted with rows of lime trees, which gave the area an urban look.

A modern community church was also built in the Kommila-Kosulanniemi residential area, which was built according to the ideals of a garden city. The location of the dwellings followed the hierarchy of the society: the mill management lived in their own area, as did the officers, the masters and the employees.

In 1923, the mill owners began to implement the Päiviönsaari town plan, when a park with flower plantations was created in front of the central office, earthworks were carried out and more lime trees imported from Germany were planted. At the time, it was emphasized on several occasions that “in both mill facilities and residential buildings aesthetic requirements are tried to take into account”.

The establishment of the market town of Varkaus in 1929 freed the mill from many public administration tasks, but still some remained for a long time. At the beginning of 1962, Varkaus became a town. A major change took place at the Varkaus mills in 1987, when Ahlström sold the mills to Enso-Gutzeit. Ahlström was still active in Varkaus in the early 2000s, until the remaining operations were moved elsewhere in Finland.

Today, Varkaus is a developing, competitive, environmentally friendly and international high-tech town. The town’s scene strongly shows the industrial cultural heritage, and not only in street names, as the buildings have been desinged by many well-known architects, such as Valter and Ivar Thomé, Karl Lindahl and Alvar Aalto. The Old Varkaus area is a nationally significant built cultural environment and all the buildings are protected.

 

Sources
Immonen Mari ja Melaranta Hanna-Kaisa: Kerroksien kaupunki. Varkautelaisten rakennettu menneisyys. Varkauden museon julkaisuja 9. 2011
Itkonen Hannu: Tehtaan klubilta teollisuusklubille. Varkautelaisen klubitoiminnan kahdeksan vuosikymmentä (1919–1999). 2003
Melaranta Hanna-Kaisa: Matkaopas Varkauden teollisiin ympäristöihin. Varkauden museon julkaisuja 10. 2019
Moilanen Pentti: Varkauden teollisuus 175 vuotta. Varkauden museon julkaisuja IV. 1991
Soikkanen Hannu: Varkauden historia. 1963