The accelerating pace of change around us pains all of us sometimes. One wishes the wheels of progress had stopped at a point where people had more time for each other. Part of that dream can still be realised in the idyllic old mill village of Verla in the Kymi Valley, where one can go back in one's thoughts to a time over a century ago.
Set in a scenic landscape, a complete industrial and residential community has, seemingly miraculously, remained just as the architect Eduard Dippell created it in 1885-95. In 1996, Verla became the first representative of the wood-processing industry to obtain an entry on the Unesco list of world heritage sites.
The Verla groundwood mill got off to a modest start in 1872. It burned down four years later and was rebuilt in 1882, at which time a cardboard factory was also added. The project was executed under the direction of the Austrian-born master papermaker Gottlieb Kreidl, who would remain the legendary boss of the mill for nearly three decades.
During Kreidl's reign, Verla was built up in a way that certainly inspired admiration all around. The decorative mill owner's residence was completed in 1885 and the following year a 17-room workers' hostel. Most of the employees lived in their own cabins on either side of the foaming rapids. The residential buildings with their courtyards formed a charming totality, to which vegetable plots, apple trees and berry bushes added an extra touch. The wooden buildings of those days easily fell prey to fire, and so it was also in Verla. When the building used for drying cardboard was burned, a new brick one all of four storeys tall was erected in its place. Two years later new red-brick walls were built around the wooden ones of the groundwood mill and cardboard factory. The crowning feature was a tower-like wing added to the mill owner's house in its commanding position in1895. The wing was designed by Eduard Dippell. The youngest of the Verla buildings that he designed is the warehouse, completed in 1902. Every single one of his buildings is still in place. Nothing has been demolished nor had anything added.
It may be that Dippell too felt a longing for a bygone age. The groundwood mill and cardboard factory were built in a Neo-Gothic style that had by then gone out of fashion. Despite their old-fashioned appearance, however, the industrial facilities were quite technically advanced. The architect dispensed with the traditional wooden intermediate floors and used reinforced-steel structures instead.
The Verla cardboard mill itself is unique in the respect that as recently as 1964 working methods and machinery that had been employed at the turn of the century were still being used to make a product called millboard. Two of the original machines are still in place, in addition to which much more of the machinery and equipment is on display. In 1972, with the assistance of the National Board of Antiquities, Verla became Finland's first factory museum. It is now owned by the paper products manufacturer UPM- Kymmene Oy.