Saturday, February 4, 2012

Finland : Verla Groundwood and Board Mill (1996)

The Verla groundwood and board mill and its associated residential area is an outstanding, remarkably well-preserved example of the small-scale rural industrial settlements associated with pulp, paper and board production that flourished in northern Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Only a handful of such settlements survive to the present day.

 Historical Description :

The "industrial revolution" that reached the Kymi river valley in the first half Of the 1870s is one of the most dramatic phenomena in the economic history of Finland. In a very short period dozens of steam sawmills, groundwood mills, and board millS were established, in many cases by foreign businessmen, especially from Norway and Germany. This Process was encouraged by the favourable attitude of its Russian rulers towards the trading activities of the Grand Duchy created in 1809. The Kymi valley benefited in particular from the construction of timber-floating facilities and the introduction of cooperative floating, which enabled logs from the Virgin forests of central Finland to be brought to the Processing facilities. At the same time a new social class of factory and mill workers emerged here, as elsewhere in Finland.
The first mill on the western bank of the Verlankoski rapids was founded in 1872, but it encountered financial Problems and closed down after a fire in 1876. A new, larger groundwood mill with adjoining board mills was built in 1882 by two master papermakers, one Austrian and the Other German. One of the major shareholders was a businessman of German descent from Viipuri, Friedrich Wilhelm Dippell, who eventually became the major shareholder in the company. The new mill was again built entirely in wood, but set apart from the other buildings to minimize the fire risk. The main section of the present owner's residence was completed in 1885, and the seventeen-room hostel for the workers in the following year (although most of the workers lived in cottages on either side of the rapids). When the board-drying section was destroyed by fire in 1892 it was replaced by an impressive, ornamental building in red brick on four floors, designed by Carl Eduard Dippell, brother of the owner, who was also responsible for all the other main buildings that survive at Verla.
Although the Verla buildings are in the neo-Gothic style, which was already somewhat outmoded at the time of their construction, they were technically advanced for their time. For example, reinforced concrete floors, using the Hennebique technique only three years after it was patented, were installed in the groundwood mills. The industrial installations, by contrast, were traditional and only slightly modified and updated between 1882 and 1920.
Transport of finished Products (principally to Russia, and later to Western Europe and the USA) was always an obstacle to development at Verla. At first the bales of groundwood had to be transported to a distant railway station by boat down a route with many rapids or in winter over the frozen river. When the new railway was Completed in 1889 the distance was reduced to 7 km, but transport by horse-drawn cart over bad roads remained a major problem.
When Wilhelm Dippell died in 1906, Verla became a limited company, which was purchased by a Small wood-processing company on the same waterway, Öy Kissakoski Ab; this was in its turn bought two years later by the present-day Kymmene Corporation. Output gradually diminished in subsequent decades until it was closed down on 18 July 1964, when the last of the old workers retired. The Kymmene Corporation decided to preserve the entire Complex intact as an industrial heritage museum, just as it had been when the last worker left.

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