Karkkila is a small town about 65 km northwest of Helsinki, on the very edge of the Uusimaa Region (the "central" region of the country). I visited it rather randomly with my girlfriend and a friend from Russia who was visiting at the time, as pretty much all of us love such small Finnish places. Karkkila didn’t disappoint, either.
In truth Karkkila really felt like a very remote place. It’s difficult to believe it is really just 65 km from Helsinki by road; it looks more like a dying town somewhere in "deep Finland", so in Northern Savo or Kainuu or something. The town is built around a single enterprise, the Högfors foundry, but the foundry is actually still operating and seems to be doing reasonably well, so it can hardly be a source of decline either. Of course we still loved it; it feels like more of a genuine place than some Espoo neighborhood or touristy Porvoo old town. The decline, as is usually the case in Finland, can be seen just in lots of closed businesses, lack of new construction, visible lack of young people and the overall "time has stopped here in the 1980s" air; of course there is still no visible poverty, completely abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructure or something like that.
Karkkila area originally belonged to Pyhäjärvi Ul municipality; "Ul" means "Uudenmaan läänin" (of Uusimaa County), as there were two other municipalities called Pyhäjärvi in completely different places. There is currently only one municipality in Finland retaining this naming scheme, Koski Tl (Turun läänin, Finn. of Turku County), even though the other Koski (Hämeenkoski) is not an independent municipality anymore, nor counties (lääni) even exist anymore. Karkkila was officially separated from Pyhäjärvi Ul in 1932, and in 1969 the rest of Pyhäjärvi Ul was rejoined back to Karkkila.
Karkkila came into being thanks to the Högfors ironworks, built on the rapids (Högfors means "high rapids" in Swedish) of the Karjaanjoki river flowing from a smallish Pyhäjärvi lake. The ironworks were established in 1820 by Arvid Henrik Bökman, a court official, and Johan Jacob Dreilick, a former director of the more famous Fiskars ironworks. Högfors ironworks used ore from Kulosuonmäki mine a few kilometers to the north of Karkkila. Production started in 1823. In truth production amounts were very small (349 tons of ore in 1824, so iron output was several times smaller even), but at the time it still amounted to ¾ of the Finnish iron production. Overall 25160 tons of ore were excavated at Kulosuonmäki, which was not really even an especially good iron deposit to begin with. The mine shut down in 1888; the ironworks then worked on imported Swedish ore. Iron smelting completely ended in 1916, but the factory continued operation as a foundry working on imported iron. Its golden years were after the World War II, when it was really busy with war reparations production, and 1800 people were employed in Karkkila; it was one of the biggest foundries in the Nordics of the time. Eventually of course production volumes subsided, and much of the foundry area was repurposed, but nonetheless it is still operating to this day as part of the Componenta company, a Finnish metalworking company owning multiple production sites all over the country.
Modern Karkkila is a smallish municipality by area (255 sq. km), and its population is about 8700. Most of the population (about 7400 people) lives in Karkkila town proper. The municipality thus does not otherwise have any other population centers, nor any notable nature spots. The Second Salpausselkä (Toinen Salpausselkä, Finn. Second Lock Ridge) passes through Karkkila from southwest to northeast, one of the terminal moraine ridges that are the witnesses of the Finnish Ice Age. In practice however the ridge is low and disjointed enough that it cannot really be seen. Karkkila is pretty much where the relatively densely populated area around Helsinki ends in the northwestern direction; farther on there are Tammela Uplands, an area that has unusually small population for its South Finland location. There are Torronsuo and Liesjärvi national parks in the Tammela Uplands, not really far from Karkkila, but still completely outside its limits. National Road 2 (Helsinki-Pori) passes through Karkkila, and thus it can be easily reached by road, by car or by one of the Helsinki-Pori buses. There are no railroads in Karkkila currently.
Although I didn’t immediately realize this, Karkkila really reminds me of small industrial towns in the Middle Urals in Russia where I was born. They are really fairly similar; small towns next to old foundries and other industry, which aren’t doing so well now that the industry is not doing so well in turn. But well, let’s have a look at the foundry and the town. I only had a rather brief walk around, and didn’t really see the entire Karkkila, but saw a lot nonetheless.
1. Old ironworks area is located just 0.5 km west of Karkkila center. In truth it is rather small, and there isn’t really much to see here. The obvious sight is the old dam at Karjaanjoki river. You can walk on the dam, mere centimeters from rushing water. Although it is likely that this was a spring flood period, and in most times of year the flow wouldn’t be so big.
2. Downstream. This is not the prettiest time of year in general obviously. Owners of the house on the other bank also seem to be rather messy people.
3. Upstream. The inscription on the box says: "Safety devices. Use safety devices while working on the dam." I don’t think the dam is used for anything now. Somewhere downstream is also a disused hydro power plant (at Massakoski rapids), but I haven’t seen it this time.
4. Old ironworks office next to the rapids that now serves as a museum. It is a small museum and it’s remarkable that it actually operates outside the summer season, but still unfortunately we were too late here; it closed at 15 and we had visited a few different places before Karkkila already on that day.
5. I think this is the old furnace, but I’m not sure. The museum arranges tours into the furnace, but only in July. Buildings behind belong to the currently operating Högfors factory, under the brand Componenta. It looks like I forgot to take a proper picture of it.
7. Bremer’s House next to the former ironworks office. Josef Bremer was the owner of the Högfors ironworks in 1836-1876. The building is now a part of the Factory Hotel (Tehtaan hotelli).
8. And this is the hotel itself. I absolutely adore small town hotels, and I hope I can stay here someday.
9. Next to the ironworks area is a bucket for molten metal, put here as a monument. The sign on it however says that it is actually unrelated to Karkkila, and was brought here from Karhula foundry, near the city of Kotka. A similar bucket can be seen on the Helsinki-Pori road (National Road 2) next to the Karkkila exit.
10. The factory is not as big now as it used to be, and some of its buildings have been repurposed mostly for public use.
11. In particular, the city administration currently is located in this building.
12. And this is where probably the most interesting monument of Karkkila can be found, a steam engine from the old Hyvinkää-Karkkila railroad. It was the biggest (44 km long) narrow-gauge (750 mm) railroad in Finland to ever have passenger service, although its main purpose was of course to serve as a transport link to the Karkkila foundry, and the foundry built and owned it. At the city of Hyvinkää it was joined to the rest of the normal-gauge railroad network. The railroad was built in 1911. Five steam engines and one diesel engines operated on the railroad, moving at modest 25 km/h speed. Its freight record was 155,000 tons per year (in 1916), and passenger record was 190,000 passengers per year (in 1945). The afterwar years were generally the busiest for the passenger service, as bus service was very limited then. Soon afterwards however both bus service and road links improved greatly, especially with the construction of the Helsinki-Pori road. Passenger service shut down in 1961, and freight service in 1967. After that the railroad was dismantled. Two steam engines and the diesel engine survived; one of the steam engines was moved to the city administration here in 2005, while the other steam engine and the diesel engine are operating at the museum line of Jokioinen, not that far from here.
The steam engine, HKR 3, model Hb 68, built at Tampella factory in Tampere is known as Pikkupässi (Little Ram). It is actually located indoors, at the city administration lounge, and it took me some effort to actually find it. The building was of course closed on Saturday, so I only could take a picture from outside through the glass. I don’t know what is the car to the right either (and couldn’t find any information online).
13. Even though the Hyvinkää-Karkkila railroad was dismantled over 50 years ago, the trackbed is still perfectly visible. It is used as a bike track, although in truth the official track route deviates from the old railroad in many places that are by now more or less impassable.
14. Memorial plate for the railroad on the city administration wall. This was where the railroad ended.
15. Among other organizations in the former foundry buildings there is for example the city library.
16. And now, Karkkila center. This is the local tori (central/market square), an almost empty sea of cracked pavement, with a grilli-place on the edge of it.
17. OP bank with its bright orange logos is probably the only bank whose offices can be reliably found even in such small places.
18. A school across the road from the tori.
19. Karkkila church and the surrounding cemetery are right here on the western side of the tori. This is a pretty basic wooden church, built in 1781. It thus predates Karkkila itself and originally served as the church of Pyhäjärvi Ul parish.
20. Traditional war memorial and cemetery next to the church.
21. Some lucky people can enjoy having a view from their balconies right onto the cemetery!
22. Office of the local newspaper, Karkkilalainen. This is a free weekly newspaper, operating since 1991.
23. One of the local bars, named Pikkupässi ("Little Ram") apparently after the steam engine mentioned above.
24. Barn Party! Yay! This was apparently some local small music festival in 2019, featuring Trickbag blues band from Sweden. It is not clear if that was supposed to be a repeated thing.
25. Siivonen’s interior store.
26. Tallamäki was a clothes store that had worked for 65 years, run by two generatios of Tallamäki family. In 2018 its owner, Leena Tallamäki-Sarasto, retired and unfortunately could not find anyone to pass the business to, so the store shut down. There are other small business operating in the building now.
27. Local pizzeria. More interesting is the business in the background, Romuenkeli, which means "Scrap Angel" and is a fantastic name for a business if you ask me. They run a recycling point and a flea market.
28. Local music school, with Karkkila coat of arms, with crossed hammers, on its walls.
29. The same hammers are cut into the wooden door handles, which is a cool little detail. I guess the building was previously used for something more important, possibly for municipal administration before it was moved to old foundry buildings.
30. This green building in the center is probably the most remarkable in how derelict yet cute it looks. The "Hotelli" sign on top is falling apart, and indeed the hotel here is not operating anymore. The only proper hotel in the town is the aforementioned Tehtaan hotelli at the ironworks.
31. There is a bar in the same building.
32. It was weird to see a Tesla in Karkkila. A freshly-bought apparently also, with temporary license plates.
33. Local boxing club, Karkkilan Sisu.
34. Adorable huge clock.
35. A monument to the Reds, the losers in the bloody Finnish Civil War of 1918. It is quite remarkable that the monument to the Reds is right here in the middle of the town, while a monument to the Whites does not exist in Karkkila at all; it would be unthinkable for example in Ostrobothnia, where I lived my first 1.5 years in Finland. Karkkila has always been an industrial town, and the workers have always been a strong force here. Even now the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) party is the biggest one in the local municipal council, even though "traditional left" parties have been on decline lately, and Left Alliance has generally rather modest support in the country overall (it is the leftmost party in the parliament; only actual communists are farther to the left, and those are extremely marginal in Finland). The monument was unveiled in 1948.
36. Very close by is the patternmaker monument, also related to Karkkila’s industrial history.
37. Taxi station and the Valuri ("foundry worker") restaurant back at the tori conclude this tour of the glorious Karkkila.