The Verla mill museum

The "paper trail" this time takes us to Finland, where a historical board mill, today a museum, bears fitness to an entire town's vocation for the production of this material.

Text and photos by Giorgio Perini

Verla is a tranquil village in Finland, located in the centre of a very important region for the country's forest industry. Today, the ancient board mill is an extremely well cared for museum and by visiting it, one can become acquainted with the traditional methods of industrial paper production. Verla is a small but very active community. Many of its inhabitants have worked in the old mill in the past, and many of them became veritably irreplaceable. One woman in particular, Maria Mattson, worked for almost 52 years in the production control department next to the scale used for weighing one by one the cardboard sheets produced. It is said that in the years preceding her retirement, she no longer needed the scale to know the exact weight of the sheets! Many others who were part of this small community have many stories to tell. From these tales it is easy to understand hour important their work was for them, not only as a means to earn a living, but also as a meeting point for the exchange of ideas and experiences.

THE VERLA GROUNDWOOD AND BOARD MILL WAS 81 FOUNDED IN 1872 by the Finnish engineer Hugo Newman but was unfortunately destroyed by fire four years later. In 1882 it was rebuilt with the collaboration of Gottlieb Kreidl, an Austrian paper and papermill expert who became its manager for the next 30 years. The present Verla mill was designed by architect Eduard Dippel, with the classical red bricks decorations typical of late-19th century northern European architecture. Even the nearby manager's house was built in wood in the same style. Back then, the mill produced cellulose paper in different grammages, particularly refined, obtaining large markets even in Russia and Central Europe. A portion of its production was also shipped to North America. Its annual production was of about 2000 tons - a quantity which today represents a modern mill's daily production. The major buyers of the paper produced here were box makers and book binders. About 140 people worked at the mill and a large percentage of them was comprised of women. The latter, besides seeing to the production, weight control and pureness of the paper sheets, were also in charge of the toilsome operations of hanging the sheets out to dry and then collecting them. In 1922 the Verla mill was bought by a new proprietor, the Kymmene Company (predecessor of the present UPM-Kymmene Corporation) and after about 42 years, in 1964 it definitively stopped production.

TODAY'S MUSEUM IS PERFECTLY IDENTICAL TO THE OLD BOARD-MILL. The production procedure began at the river 200 meters away. The tree trunks were collected and lifted from the river bed by a horse-drawn wheel and warehoused for the winter. The cart containing the logs was then taken to the factory. Once cut into 50 cm-long pieces, they were de-barked, removing impurities, thus making the cardboard sheets extremely white. Back then, no chemical bleachers were used to whiten the fibers. Upstairs were located mincing machines and two defibering machines. Each of these had its own operator who continuously inserted the small logs in the machines. Each machine cut from 15 to 17 cubic meters of wood a day. The mincers were actuated by a hydraulic turbine that transmitted energy to the large toothed wheels. The teeth of these wheels were wooden, and this was for two reasons: repairs were extremely easy to carry out and the level of noise generated by their continuous motion was greatly reduced. The pulp produced slid into a separator where the larger pieces of wood were eliminated. From there, it passed on to a classifier.

IN THE MILL WERE LOCATED EIGHT MACHINES FOR THE PRODUCTION OF CARDBOARD. The classifiers further filtered the ground wood and the sheet was formed on a cylinder in two vertical lines, thus obtaining four 70cm X 100cm sheets in a sole step. When the desired thickness was reached, a bell rang and the workers cut the sheets from the cylinder with a juniper stick and positioned them on a table. Every 5cm of thickness, a metal plaque was inserted to keep the sheets from sticking together. The sheets accumulated were then placed on trolleys that were led along tracks to the presses in order to eliminate the water that they still contained. Once removed from the presses, they were transported still humid to the dryers which burned off the bark and residues present. Inside the dryers, the sheets reached a temperature of 75°C. Complete dryness was obtained only after four days. At this point, the sheets were taken to the calendars to be pressed and smoothed. In 191O, a large dryer was built adjacent to the papermill, nicknamed "the villa". Here, the thinner sheets were placed to dry on simple steam-heated cylinders that compressed the paper and made it shinier. After this final treatment the sheets were ready for weight selection. The scale attributed to each sheet a number to indicate how many sheets were contained in every 50 kilograms. Following this accurate selection carried out by the women workers, the sheets were baled in packs of 200 kg and shipped to Europe and later also to the United States. In this era of "technological businesses", it is difficult to sense how laborious it was to produce paper in the past. This fact adds all the more importance to the Verla Mill museum, which can rightly he defined as a "vehicle" that transmits the tradition and the culture that once was to our modern day.


The Perini Journal was invited to the second seminar of "The Watermark Route" Project, which was held in June, 2001 in Helsinki, Finland. After the first meeting/study session which took place in October2000 in Barcelona, this second appointment had wood as its main theme, whence the leitmotiv of the seminar: "From Forest to Paper, Generation after Generation". This second meeting surveyed many aspects pertaining to the production of cellulose pulp from wood. Obviously, the event touched upon themes that comprise the complex scenario relative to forests and to the preservation and development of the country's forest areas. Paper production is the second largest industrial activity in Finland, so we can safely state that the studies in this realm are considered subjects of extreme cultural but also commercial interest. The opening ceremony was held in a splendid building situated in the centre of Helsinki called the "House of the Estates". Besides personalities from the country's world of science and culture, speakers also featured the three partners who are part of this project: Mrs. Victoria Rabal y Merola, Director of Paper Museum of Capellades, Spain, Mr. Eero Niinikoski, Director of the Verla Mill Museum in Finland and Mrs. Sabine Schachtner, Director of the Rheinisches Idustriemuseum of Bergisch Gladbach in Germany. Two paper museums built in Finland at the end of 19th century hosted the seminar. The first day was divided between the industrial Museum of Ankkapurha and the Agriculture and Forestry School of Anjaila. The second day took its participants to Verla at the congress centre of the Vaakuna Hotel in Ins city of Kouvola and to the Verla Museum, officially included in the Unesco World Heritage List The theme of the seminar treated subjects such as development during Finland's industrial period, the study of forest techniques elaborated and programmed also in other countries of the world, and research relative to the conservation of forests, which account for about2/3 of the country's size. Finland, with a population of 5 million people, is an extremely uninhabited country.

75% of this immense space is covered by forests and the northern part of the country - which represents about half its total size - is practically unusable by the industry due to the polar temperatures which literally freeze everything during the glacial winter months. The industrial Museum of Ankkapurha, where the first part of the meeting was held, is managed and administrated by a local foundation that also manages another small museum, and both structures are situated near the Stora Enso Paper Mill. The small museum is the ancient house that was the home of the proprietor of the Ankkapurha paper mill.

Inside, machines that were then considered modern and used in the accounting offices of the papermill are preserved. The Ankkapurha papermill, which in modem Finnish means "great rapids', was built in February of 1872. The two adjacent buildings that were part of the mill were erected near the river and the rapids of the Kymi Valley. The use of hydro-electric energy was important. Inside the building are four enormous turbines and even complete diving gear for eventual repairs to the equipment lying beneath the waters of the river. The mill contained 23 hollanders and 5 different machines. Some were used to produce cardboard, others produced silk paper or fine paper for cigarettes, newsprint and still others were used for the production of wrapping paper and wallpaper. This first mill for the production of cardboard was active for about 81 years. The machines stopped on November 14, 1978 when the work on the renovation of all the machines located in the mill began. These machines can still today be found in their original production rooms. This serves as further testimony of the great interest that this country has for paper and its production. Besides the three partners of The Watermark Route Projact mentioned above, other attendees were: Ester Calbet of STOA in Spain, Johannes Follmer of the Papiermuk Museum in Germany, Mette Brolid of the Handpapermill Lilla Gotafors, Sweden. The participants from the UKincluded: Derek J. Priest of England's National Paper Museum, Peter Ingram of the Apsley Paper Trail, John Watson of Paper and Print Focus, Hilary Fyson of the Dacorum Borough Council, Mark Watson of the Historic Scotland. Luciano Antonini and Giorgio Pellegrini from the Paper and Watermark Museum of Fabriano, Ital^K Maria Jose Santos of the Terra de Santa Maria Paper Museum in Portugal. Also present were representatives of the Finnish Forest Museum in Lusto, the Provincial Mueum in Kymenlaasko, the Southwest Finland Regional Environment Centre, the Kouvola Region Federation of Municipalities, the town of Anjalakoski, the Ankkapurha Industrial Museum, the Verla Mill Museum and Stora Enso Corporation.

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