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Jakobstad 350 Years

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by Gunnar Damström

In 1652 Count Jacob de la Gardie received Pedersöre as enfeoffment and got permission to establish a town in the parish. Since the 1620’s Pedersöre farmers were required to bring their merchandize and produce to Nykarleby for sale. Direct sale was forbidden. In the mid 1600’s the size, population and commerce of the Pedersöre Parish motivated establishment of a town. Several Crown shipyards were located in the vicinity of what today is called Port of Pedersöre. An important trading post was located nearby. However Jacob de la Gardie passed away before a town could be established and it fell on his widow Ebba Brahe to found the town. The Pedersöre Parish was designated to be the mercantile are of the new town.

Ebba Brahe personally designated the area where the town was to be built close to the harbor and market place on the isthmus connecting Herrholmen Island to the main land. The location was strategically well chosen at the crossroads of major roads and marine traffic lanes. However the land ascent hampered the favorable conditions already in the 1600’s. The port had to be moved a mile further north to Kittholmen or, as it nowadays is called “The Old Port”.

Jacob de la Gardie and Ebba Brahe never visited the town themselves. Jacob lent his name to the city, because according to the founding letter of October 27, 1652 the town was to be named Jacob’s Town. The inland Finnish speaking population continued to call the city Pietarsaari (Peder-, in Finnish Pietari). The Town Coat of Arms was designed based on the de la Gardie family Coat of Arms.

Italian renaissance had made inroads in city planning and architecture in 17th Century Finland. The contacts to Italian architects had been established during the 30-year war. Per Brahe was impressed by the symmetry of renaissance design. Ebba Brahe directed her construction supervisor to retain a skilled engineer to prepare a city plan. Erik Niuren was selected. Niuren’s plan had three parallel streets that started at the South Customs Gate: Västra Långgatan; Medelgatan; and Östra Långgatan. A crossroad, Permogatan is known to have been part of the original plan. About 1690 the city quarter grid was extended to the North Side of the “Town Strait”. This city plan was retained for a century or until the end of the 1700’s when Norrmalm Skatan was planned.

Jakobstad was a maritime city from the start. Foreign trade had a major influence on people’s lives during the sailing season. The men sailed out on the merchant-ships in early summer and returned late in the fall. When they were gone it was difficult to get a quorum in the city council. The cargoes went to staple towns Stockholm and Reval (Tallinn) and Åbo.

In 1666 Dutch born Stockholm merchants Abraham and Jacob Momma established a shipyard in the vicinity of the Port of Pedersöre. This was the town’s first industrial establishment. The shipyard was the first in Finland to employ the cravell technology in shipbuilding. Toward the end of the 17th century large ships of up to 750 tons were built in Jakobstad.

In 1680 Pedersöre and Kronoby were designated admiralty precinct. This meant that the parish was exempt from the military conscriptions and eligible men were served on the admiralty shipyards in Karlskrona instead. During their service they learned the latest in shipbuilding technology and on return could apply those skills at the civilian shipyards. From Karlskrona they brought with them cultural impulses (folk music, sculpture, civil engineering and architecture).

The Great Wrath brought disaster to Jakobstad. The city was burned to the ground in 1714. During eight years of Russian occupation large portions of the population sought refuge in Sweden.

In 1765 the 1611 Trade Ordination was abolished allowing Finnish merchants and ship owners to take their merchandize wherever they desired and could get the best prices. A period of intense shipbuilding and shipping ensued. The first voyage from Finland to the East Indies was performed by Jakobstad frigate Concordia 1780-1782. The bark Hercules was the first Finnish ship to circumnavigate the world 1845-1847.

During the reign of Gustavus III Jakobstad was the shipbuilding center of Finland and its burghers paid the highest taxes in the land. In 1776 the North American independence war broke out. The British Admiralty and the North American Colonists overbid each other for ships built at the Jakobstad and Gamlakarleby shipyards.

In September 1835 the southern part of Jakobstad was destroyed by fire. Where the fire had leveled the city a grid of spacious city blocks employing Russian Empire style was planned.

During the Crimean War a British- French flotilla was marauding in the Gulf of Bothnia, burning shipyards in Uleåborg and Brahestad. In the Battle of Halkokari outside Gamlakarleby the Russian defenders emerged victorious and the towns of Jakobstad and Gamlakarleby were saved. The next summer a small contingent of British marines landed on Stockholmen but withdrew after coming under fire from the Russian batteries at Kittholmen. As late as December 1855 British steam frigate Tartar and steam corvette Dragon bombarded Jakobstad without causing much damage.

The Crimean War caused a serious blow to the prosperity of Jakobstad. The British had captured a number of merchant ships on the high seas. The shipbuilding and shipping industries never reached the same proportions as before the war. Unemployment was widespread. Returning seamen brought with them contagious deceases. Scarlet fever killed scores of babies.

Jakobstad had traditionally been an industrialized city. Beside the shipbuilding industry a pitch factory had been established in 1754 and the Strengberg tobacco factory in 1762. At its peak in the early 1900’s, the Strengberg factory employed 1600 people.

Jakobstad wasted no time finding replacement for the lost shipbuilding industry. In 1859 shipping magnate Petter Malm founded the steam sawmill at Stockholmen, the second of its kind in Finland.

Schauman Wood extends its roots to 1883 when Wilhelm Schauman founded a chicory mill in town. He expanded his business into the lumber trade and founded several sawmills in the area. Wilhelm Schauman is considered the father of the Finnish plywood industry. Wilhelm Schauman willed his property to a company by the name of Wilh. Schauman Ab, which carried on with his industrial activities. A pulp mill was built that today after numerous modernizations through the years is the largest industrial facility in town. In the 1980’s the Schauman Company was merged with UPM-Kymmene.

In the 1850’s three match factories and a brewery were established. At the end of the 19th century the Jakobstad Mekaniska Verkstad (Jakobstad Engineering Works) and a sugar mill were built. Jakobstad Mekaniska Verkstad is nowadays owned by Wärtsilä. The Government operated Technical School was moved to Jakobstad after the Vasa fire.

There was a strong influx of labor, which brought social problems. The social unrest brewed in the 1910’s during the time leading up to independence. During the civil war of 1918 atrocities against the civilian population took place on both sides of the conflict. Originally Swedish was the dominating language in town. The industrialization brought influx of Finnish peaking people and in 1999 43% of the City’s population was Finnish speaking.

Jakobstad is a Green City. The large downtown park adjacent to the Swedish Gymnasium recently celebrated its 100th Anniversary. At the Rosenlund Parsonage a project is underway to restore the Aspegren garden, a model garden established for educational purposes in the 18th Century.

  • Q_105_5.jpg Fäboda, the shores of

the Gulf of Bothnia

  • Q_105_3.jpg Strengberg Factory
  • Q_105_2.jpg Town hall built 1875
  • Q_105_1.jpg City Cathedral 1735
  • Q_105_4.jpg Skolparken

Photos are courtesy of Christer Sanden


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