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The small islands on the opposite shore of Hamari village in Porvoo aren't much to look at from afar, but they hide a big secret that you can discover in only five minutes by paddling.

After the Finnish forest industry legislation was loosened up in mid 1800s a lot of many was to be made and young entrepreneur August Eklöf founded the Porvoo Steam Sawmill (Porvoon Höyrysaha) in 1870 in Hamari's Kaunissaari. The sawmill got its timber from middle of Finland along the river and it quickly developed into one of the few large sawmills of southern Finland. By the end of the 19th century, the sawmill expanded to the islands surrounding Kaunisaari: south to Honkasaari, north to Pajasaari, and even the tiny Pikku-Hella near Hamari was put into use for drying birch wood.

Porvoon Hamarin Sahasaaret ilmakuva
Airshot of the Sawmill Islands in 1949. Pajasaari in the north, Kaunissaari in the middle and Honkasaari in the south. Huge rafts of logs can be seen floating around the islands.

The actual sawmilling took place on Kaunissaari as did he most important sawmill buildings, the office, the office park, two workers' barracks and extensive timber warehouses.

Sahasaari's landmark was a tall factory chimney. On the southern island Honkasaari, there were two residential barracks transported from Karelia and huge stack of lumber drying. Also Pajasaari and Pikku-Helli were used for drying out the lumber before it could be shipped out.

As the sawmill operations grew, all islands were piled to expand the surface area. A completely artificial island Savisaari (Clay Island) was even built on the side of Sahasaari from junk wood and dredged mud. In the eternal fire of Rimahelvetti (Slat Hell Island) in the northeastern corner of Savisaari, sawmill waste wood was burned 24/7 for 50 years. Hamari's most admired attraction is the canal between Kaunissaari and Savisaari, whose pilings are slowly succumbing to the ravages of time.

Kajakkiretki kajakki Porvoo Hamari Sahasaari kanava
The canal between Kaunissaari and Savisaari was used to transport floting logs to the sawmill.

Finished sawn timber was loaded onto barges and loaded onto ocean liners waiting on the deeper waters nearby. Higly valued, high-quality Finnish lumber was transported all the way to Central-Europe and America. Many locally crafted ships and their sailors were lost at sea during these trips.

Pieni Painolastisaari (Small Ballast Island), also known as "Little Bali"and Ulompi Painolastisaari (Outer Ballast Island) are the end result of the ballast of these ocean-going ships: the ships often sailed to Finland half empty and soil from the origin port was used to fill in the hold and balance the boat. As the boats arrived in Hamari, the soil was dumped into the sea, and over the years two islands were born. Still today their soil and vegetation are from all over the world. The soil of the outer ballast island in particular is full of flint, limestone and shells not found in Finland.

The Ballast Islands were born from the foreign ballast of ocean liners and still today hold vegetation and soil not found in Finland.

In the dark, the sawmill was a memorable sight, as the hundreds of lamps burning on the islands cast their light on the open water and huge log rafts surrounded the islands. All the islands were connected to each other by bridges.

People commuted from mainland to the islands by boat or on ice, including the children: the only school of the village was located on Kaunissaari.The sea was an inseparable part of life.

Hundreds of workers lived on Sahasaari, all whose labor the operation of the sawmill depended on. If necessary, work was done even in the middle of the night. The working career often started at the age of 10 and progressed from physically demanding jobs to more technically demanding ones. Entire extended families with 6-11 children lived in the 16-21 m2 apartments in the barracks. Drinking water was brought to the island from mainland.

The sawmill stopped operating in 1955 when railway transport and new sawmill technology changed the operating conditions. Sawmill on an island was no longer practical. The buildings on Sahasaari were demolished and the terrain leveled. The area was landscaped with forest plantings. Pine trees were planted on Mäntysaari and firs, pines and birches on Kaunissaari. All that remained of the extensive sawmill activity were the pile reinforcements of the islands' shores, the stone foundations of the buildings and the remains of the sawmill's office park.

Nowadays the sawmill islands are reclaimed by woods.

The soil of the sawmill islands is contaminated by the poisonous substances used at the sawmill, and visiting the islands is challenging due to the lush undergrowth, glass and other waste. Many locals hope to use the islands for recreation, but the conditions are challenging. The best time to visit on Sahasaari is in early spring, when the undergrowth has not yet covered the last signs of the once flourishing sawmill activity. Towards the end of May, the islands are overrun by nesting birds, so entering the islands should be avoided. You can get the best Sahasaari experience by paddling around and on the canals of the islands. The pilings sinking into the water, the remains of the bridges and the dense jungle-like greenery takes you to another world.

Source material: Hamari-books written by Lea Nevanlinna and porvoo.fi


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