history of norrbyskär

history of norrbyskär

At Norrbyskärs Museum we tell the remarkable story about an ideal society that the sawmill patron Frans Kempe run for 50 years on an island in the Bothnian Sea.

Kempe dreamt of creating an ideal society where the company, the sawmill workers and their families lived together in harmony. The dream came true in 1895 when he erected Europe’s largest steam saw on Norrbyskär, a secluded, barren island. The island was questioned as location for the mill but Kempe saw several advantages. Firstly, the drying opportunities for wood were good and the island was near the outflow of the rivers that carried wood from the forests in the inland to the sea where it could be transported further. Secondly, the isolation served his utopian plans well. Without interference from a surrounding society, he was able to found a society that corresponded to his ideas about what a good, healthy society should look like. He was the company leader but also had a strong influence on how people lived their lives. In a letter to the company board, Kempe wrote. “It may be eerie and lonely to them during the first years, but when it is fully finished and hundreds of people live there, it will become a center that the surrounding population will want to join. In addition, if much is done for the comfort of the workers, they will be as well or better off there than elsewhere, as they will be hindered from getting their hands on intoxicants and spending their money on nonsense”

The community and the workers’ homes were built to impress. To step ashore on Norrbyskär would be like getting off the boat in America, with white buildings in a straight line along the island’s main street. The company would take responsibility for the people who lived there, and the workers were very well off in many ways. Wages were high, accommodation was free and of a high standard. They had access to firewood, medical care and a piece of land for growing their own crops. Kempe invested in the lives of the children not only by creating a school but also built a
football pitch and a culture house. His idea was that if you had once been employed, you would not want to leave the island. But all the benefits came at a price: Absolute loyalty to the company. The company expected the workers and their families to be sober, smoke-free and well-behaved in order to maintain their employment. Each house had a list of rules stating that it was strictly forbidden to drink alcohol, have pets or sleep in the kitchen – that was considered unhygienic. The island of Norrbyskär thus became a small world with its own laws and rules devised by Frans Kempe.
At first,the society worked well, but over time, dissatisfaction grew regarding this “dictatorship“. There were also differences between classes and workers’ strikes became a problem here just as on the mainland. This was the beginning of the end for the island and in 1945 the last log left Norrbyskär saw mill.

You can still land on Kempe’s island and the homes along the island’s main street still shine as “American white” as they did a hundred years ago. History is brought to life in this summer idyll through well preserved buildings and stories from what was once called “The skerries that were the world”.

Welcome to Norrbyskärs Museum!

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