Valkeakoski  >  History

Text Kari Rydman
Photos The Cultural Services Office and Olli Vuorinen
WWW-version Tuija Ruuttunen


First There Was Water

First there was water. Water flowed through the deep crevasses of the glacier shaping ridges. Water collected in depressions in the landscape forming lakes. Water flowed from uplands to lowlands creating waterways. The first people arrived by boat and built their dwellings on the best sites.

Stone Age man found a place for his hut at the foot of the ridges, on the gentle shores of Lake Vanaja. Already more than 2500 years ago, dwellers who began to cultivate the land enjoyed the benefit of a temperate climate that rather resembled the conditions on fruitful coasts in south-western Finland.

Fishing grounds and water connections were especially good in the Sääksmäki area where three waterways converge: "Vanantaa" (Beyond Lake Vanaja") from the south, Lake Hauho from the northeast and Lake Längelmävesi from the north. They flowed into the River Kokemäenjoki and finally emptied into the sea. The southern sea was also easy to reach through a network of waterways with only a few short stretches where men had to pull their boats over dry land.

A longitudinal ridge reaching from Lempäälä to the Hämeenlinna region formed so-called ridge dikes. These ridge dikes served as a foundation for the great prehistoric Rapola fort that was built for the protection of the area more than 1000 years ago.

Great Sääksmäki

In this way the ancient centre of Sääksmäki and the Häme region was born. In addition to the area today known as the town of Valkeakoski, a great number of other villages in the region belonged to Great Sääksmäki. The present stone church of Sääksmäki was built at the end of the 1400s but some remarkable wooden sculptures still remain from an older church. The sculptor of these pieces of art is known as the "Master of Sääksmäki" in our art history.

Sääksmäki Church
The Sääksmäki Church could still be seen far and wide at the turn of the century.
The lakesides and the area near the church became overgrown only after the wars.

The importance of Sääksmäki in the Middle Ages can be also seen in some documents such as the famous "pannabulla", i.e. the ratification of the punishment given by a local clergyman in a340 in which 25 yeomen were excommunicated because they had refused to pay tithes. The ratification had been signed by Pope Benedictus XII and, interestingly, one of the yeomen was Cuningas de Rapalum, "the King of Rapola".

Great manor houses were built in Sääksmäki even at a very early stage. Today, some of them are known as cultural centres, some of them appear in the names of districts - and some are still in their original use.

Village of Mills and Rapids

A couple of kilometers north of Sääksmäki church, water from Lake Längelmävesi and Lake Hauho gushed through the rapids of Apia and Valkeakoski continuing their way to Lake Vanaja. The rapids were not only rich in salmon but they were also an excellent location for mills. People from all around Häme brought their grain to Valkeakoski to be milled as early as in the Middle Ages, and gradually a mill village grew. This was the beginning of the industries emerging around the rapids and the area which later developed into a modern town.

Channel of Valkeakoski
The channel of Valkeakoski was opened in 1869. 
Floodgates were used by hand.

The actual industrialization began rather late in Valkeakoski, i.e. in the early 1870s. It started with wood processing and paper industry which are still the main industries here. More and more log rafts were gliding down from the vast forest to the paper mills. The grain mills had to make way. During this period of great social changes mills attracted a lot of "redundant" people from the countryside into Valkeakoski, resulting in a densely populated industrial area.

Mechanical pulp and paper mill
Mechanical pulp and paper mill were completed in 1873.

Tervasaari chemical pulp mill
Tervasaari chemical pulp mill was built of logs in 1880. 
It was the first mill using wood as rawmaterial.

For a long time the mill village of Valkeakoski was mostly dependent on the services of the mother parish Sääksmäki. However, in 1883 the population of Valkeakoski comprised already a third of the whole parish and the first primary school was finally built by the paper mill. Still, it was not until 27 years later that Valkeakoski got its own church, a wooden "prayer room". The first clergyman came to work here only after the independent municipality of Valkeakoski had been established.

The view from the former hill of Sarvelanmäki to the market place in 1937
The view from the former hill of Sarvelanmäki to the market place in 1937.
Seurahuoneenkatu Street leads to the present Valkeakoski City Theatre.

The social changes and the rapid growth of the population brought about wide social differences and even some problems which were reflected in the administration and various branches of society. Finally, these differences lead to the establishment of the borough of Valkeakoski in 1922. At that time the population of Valkeakoski was already as high as that of Sääksmäki.

Koitonaukio square in 1938
Koitonaukio Square in 1938.

Four years earlier, in 1918, the fierce civil war had broken out and despite the efforts of local parties it ended in disaster; the mill village of Valkeakoski lost proportionately more people than any other village in Finland.

The contrasts between Valkeakoski and Sääksmäki deepened. After the medieval church had been totally destroyed by fire in 1929, people in Valkeakoski demanded a new church to be built in the area of Valkeakoski. Once people in Sääksmäki decided to rebuild their own historical church, the separation of congregations also became a reality.

Mother and Child are Finding Each Other

Thanks to industries and Karelian evacuees, the population of Valkeakoski increased rapidly after the war. The radical modernization of the town plan was set up in the 1959s and the official status of town was granted to Valkeakoski in 1963. Sääksmäki was joined to Valkeakoski ten years later.

The circle was closed. After being 50 years separated from Sääksmäki, the mill village had developed into a municipality in which a modern and pleasant industrial town and a historical rural centre with numerous big cultural institutions were united. Both of them are as important - nationally and internationally. Opposites are approaching each other and they both are learning to value the benefits of this duality.