Verla Groundwood and Board Mill
The Verla Groundwood and Board Mill is a well preserved 19th century mill village.
It consists of a number of buildings in a rural setting, including the mill, board-drying plant, storehouses and the owner's residence. The mill produced mainly (paper)board for export to Russia, Europe and the USA.
The first groundwood mill at Verla was founded in 1872 by Hugo Nauman but was destroyed by fire in 1876. A larger groundwood and board mill, founded in 1882 by Gottlieb Kreidl and Louis Haenel, continued to operate until 1964. Wood-processing mills were common in the Nordic countries, but Verla represents the best-preserved example that remains from the 19th century.
Map of Verla Groundwood and Board MillLoad map
Visit July 2013
I kicked off my long weekend trip to Finland with a visit to the Verla Mill. I had stayed overnight near Heinola, already en route between Helsinki and Verla. I arrived in Verla around the opening hour at 9.30 am after an uneventful drive, and decided to have a look first at the rock paintings at the nearby lake. They apparently show a row of reindeer, but even using the largest zoom on my camera I couldn't make the scene out.
The old Verla settlement has a similar setting to the Engelsberg Ironworks in Sweden. A handful of wooden red buildings, scattered around. Nothing too special at first sight. Fortunately this time I could join a tour to the interior, something that should not be missed as it tells the story well. I had to share my tour with about 30 recent immigrants to Finland, who were learning Finnish and so the tour was conducted in that language only. I was provided with a leaflet in Dutch however that explained the main facts about the locations we visited.
The tour starts with an impressive short film that shows the mill in operation (starring elderly employees, probably the film was shot at the last days of the factory's existence). Verla was a cardboard factory, and the whole elaborate process is shown. The horses, the men and the women all had their specific tasks. You're not allowed to take pictures inside, but John Booth (see photo beside his review below) has been naughty and caught a glimpse of what it looks like.
The site is quite popular with visitors, maybe because it is within driving distance from Helsinki. It has two souvenir shops and a café to cater to them. The guided tour costs 8 EUR, but you can roam around freely among the historic buildings.
Verla is a well-preserved example of a 19th century Finnish wood processing plant. The most renowned product in Finland was the cardboard that was used to print maps on display in Finnish schools. At least, that’s what our resident Finnish traveler - Juha - mentioned over beers in Helsinki.
The mill remains in a mostly original, 19th century state. Because of size limitations, the owners never extended or modernized the mill. Instead, the company slowly phased it out. They continued to operate it in the traditional way until the last workers reached retirement age (1960s).
While interesting and somewhat fitting for a country, that produces loads of timber, Verla is not a great site. It’s relatively recent (late 19th century) and of a rather small scope given the period. The comparison that came to mind is Engelsberg, but that site is a century older.
In summer (roughly June to early September), and then only on weekends, there are two daily shuttle rides from Kouvola station to Verla. These continue to Repovesi National Park. Outside summer or on a weekday, I am not sure how you can manage. The only recommendation I found online was to rent a bike.
The bus itself is new and really comfy. It was paid for by the EU. The region tries to boost tourism. On summer weekends, the bus does a morning round (2019: 9:15-10:00, returning 11.40-12:25) and an afternoon round (13:10-13:55, returning 15:35-16:20). 1:30h is enough to visit the site, but the guided tours are not well scheduled with the bus arrival and departure times. To catch my return ride and not wanting to spend the remainder of the day in Verla, I had to cut the guided tour short and left half way through. If you plan to do the same, give the guide a heads up.
In Kouvola, the bus to Verla departs outside the train station and is easy to spot. In Verla, the drop-off point is also the pick-up point for the return trip. In my case the bus ran early, but at each stop we waited for the scheduled departure time. To pay for the ride, you need cash (5€ each way).
To get to Kouvola from Helsinki take a train. These do not run hourly, so expect to spend some time hanging around the train station. After my visit, I continued - again via train - from Kouvola to Petäjävesi (two transfers). What should have been a relaxed trip was quite nerve-wracking because of a delay. I was worried to miss my connection and end up somewhere in the country side. Fortunately, Finnish Rail made an effort to ensure the connections and all worked out fine.
Final remark: Getting public transport information in Finland is harder than it should be. There is no central search engine available. You need to check bus connections and trains separately. Also note that Google Maps is incomplete. If you can choose between bus and train, I would opt for the bus.
While You Are There
In Verla you can also see a small rock art site. Repovesi National Park seems nice.
This was the second site we visited on our tour through Finland. Generally speaking I've quite enjoyed industrial Heritage sites like those in Germany and England, and I quite enjoyed this one as well. The large main mill building is excellently preserved, and is apparently much as it was when the factory shut down in the 1960s.
The first stage of the mill tour involves watching a film that details the workflow of the mill, showing how the raw logs were eventually turned into cardboard and the like. It was quite cool to walk out of the presentation room into the factory proper, and see the exact same locations and machinery we'd just seen on the screen - a little jarring, but cool in its own small way.
Around the mill itself there's also the large owners house which is quite impressive, along with several other outbuildings of the mill. We spent a bit of time wandering the grounds, though the highlight was definitely the mill building. The cafe in one of the buildings had some tasty local Finnish specialties which we hungrily devoured!
My only real complaint with this site was that photos and videos weren't allowed inside! I'm really not sure why - there isn't delicate painting to be protected, no trade secrets, and it's definitely not crowded enough to be a crowd management issue either. Maybe they've had problems with people filming the tour guides? Either way, we found it strange and it made for a rather difficult video!
Read more from Joel Baldwin here.
Reaching Verla requires careful planning as there is a bus service from Kouvola twice on Tuesdays only. So I went on the morning bus, spent the day visiting the site which covers a large area on the bank of the Kymi River. A delicious buffet lunch is served in the refectory. And there are walks into the village and the surrounding birch forest.
The river at one time formed the boundary between Sweden and Russia, and the remains of the old customs house can be seen. There are also some ancient rock engravings to be seen on a cliff overlooking the river. I returned to Kouvola on the afternoon bus.
Verla is a rather small place in the forest. It's about 150 km to go from Finnish capital Helsingfors.
Verla is a very well restored mill. It is small scale and easy to understand. The surroundings are nice. If you are intersted in industry heritage, this is good. Minor problems are that there is no connection with the social situation for the workers like some houses where people lived, some church and other social arrangements. The exhibitions in other languages than finnish is poor but nice books can be bought. One thing that may seem peculiar today is that the works seems to have been runned the last 10 years 1955-64 without profit just to make a socially acceptable exit so that workers could retire. That is only 50 years ago but would be impossible in todays fast and unresponisble economy.
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