Kil revived by Erik Appel Kilen rediviva in Swedish
Imbedded in greenness, the landscape in the inner part of Kil Bay - like the capriciousness of nature - changes from austere Bothnian coastline to a landscape reminiscent of a Finnish inland lake. The sea, glittering between the tree branches, has transformed the Kil community center into what might be termed a "Kil revived". An old center for community life has been resurrected into a new form.
Visitors to the community center experience a dual orientation: Outward toward the sea and inward toward the community's earlier agricultural activities. The presence of the sea is not experienced as vividly in the museum's carefully preserved buildings and grounds, which provide a glimpse into the agricultural population's arduous everyday existence in days gone by. Farming and seafaring were intimately associated with each other in past times. Farmers were also fishermen, ship owners and ship builders. The sea needs no spokesperson; its mighty presence speaks for itself. As you approach the harbor, the Kil Hill ("Kilberget") appears and the Bothnian Sea spreads out before your eyes in both stormy and calm conditions, whether the sun is shining or the skies are overcast. You can easily imagine an earlier Kil panorama that contains every element in the life of a community that was intimately connected to the sea, which is the theme for this article. We can begin at the innermost point in the bay, where Oscar Erkkilä from Hångjärv built a steam-powered sawmill at the turn of the century. The mill provided work for approximately 100 people during the high season, including loggers and persons who stripped bark from the trees. The lumber floated up to the mill, where it was pulled onto conveyor belts.
You can imagine barges towing the sawed lumber out to the small cargo boats and towboats that anxiously awaited at Church Island ("Kyrkoskäret") to transport the cargo to Sweden, Germany, England, Holland, France, and other distant destinations. Even after the sawmill moved to Skaftung, Kil retained its position as a major cargo port. Horse carriages carrying pulp wood, mine "pit props," and timber lined up at the shore. The wood products were unloaded, weighed, and stored until spring, when the water would again be open to seafarers and buyers could come to purchase them.
Many Sideby vessels loaded with wood, birch bark, salt, fish, tar, and seal oil sailed from Kil Harbor during the era of seafaring yeomen. Stockholm was a major trading destination. The ships returned with grain, salt, ironware, textiles, and other products. Because of these circumstances, Sideby farmers also became boat builders, ship owners and businessmen. Foreign vessels imported and exported goods. Long-distance sailing vessels frequently docked at Kil in order to export a wide variety of timber products to harbors around the Baltic and North Seas. Harbor regulations required that the sailing ships' ballast, composed predominantly of Welsh flint stones, be lined up in rows. Remnants of these flint stones can still be found along the shore. Kil Harbor was also a port of call for passenger vessels that traveled the coast between Vasa, Björneborg and other ports, occasionally headed toward Stockholm and St. Petersburg. During both southbound and northbound journeys, these ships landed at the steamer jetty. The local people could observe the residents of Vasa and Kristinestad in their finery. Vera Karström could also be seen here on a summer evening in 1911 waving goodbye to her sister Ester on the passenger vessel Norden as she began the first stage of her long trip to the large land in the west.
Axel Lassfolk, the harbor master, boarded the cargo and passenger ships to inform the commanders about harbor regulations. He instructed them about what could and could not be done at Kil Harbor: Don't obstruct the navigation channel; don't discard ballast in the sea; line up the ballast carefully in rows on the beach; provide all applicable tonnage and cargo information; pay the appropriate taxes, etc. The seller of the timber must also ensure that the water-logged timber (the so-called "drunkards" or "fyllhondar") were salvaged and not allowed to remain in the water, which would endanger the seafaring vessels.
Kil experienced its glory as a shipyard during the last half of the 1800s. Demand for ships was increased significantly with the liberalization of foreign trade after the Crimean War, resulting in a veritable ship-building boom along the Ostrobothnian coast. Keels were laid out in every bay and inlet where building berths could be constructed and vessels could be launched. Sideby with its six shipyards prospered under these circumstances.
It was the era of wooden sailing ships, and Ostrobothnians were experienced timber men and carpenters who also had ready access to lumber. The Åland Islanders, who were always alert regarding seafaring and trade matters, valued the Ostrobothnians' shipbuilding skills and the Carvel-built ("kravellbygda") sailing vessels. They placed many orders for ships from the Ostrobothnian shipyards, including a surprising amount of orders from Sideby alone. Here in Kil the ships' keels were laid out in two shipyards, an inner shipyard for the smaller vessels such as small cargo boats and ketches ("galeaser") and an outer shipyard for the construction of the larger vessels, such as three-master schooners, barquentines and barks. The inner yard was near the present-day salt house. The outer yard was at a location that is now called Otter Hill ("Utterberget"). Carpenters from Sideby, Skaftung and Sastmola constructed vessels that were between 20-40 meters long, 8-9 meters wide and 4-5 meters high. Keels were laid out, frames were stretched, boards and planks were bent and shaped, rigs were erected, and shipyard cottages were built for the carpenters who came from distant places. One of these structures, the cottage that belongs to Jenny Virtanen, is still standing today inside the road by the harbor. It was a busy time indeed in the Kil community. Never before and never since has the "scent" of gold permeated Kil to such an extent. And, finally, we can imagine "Blad-Janne" Rosendal, the "grand old man" among Sideby fishermen, wander in from Långviken, disappear into his boathouse, come out lugging his drift nets, set sail, and disappear again behind the cape heading out toward Rakarin or Storbådan to catch his yield from the fishermen's field, night after night. Such was the focus of community life in Kil. With the construction of the Kil open air museum, the community center has certainly found its proper place.
Text: Erik Appel