The first centres of the Kouvola region were Elimäki, Iitti and Vehkalahti, which later became separate and independent new municipalities. The current city of Kouvola was founded when, on the last day of 2008, the municipalities of Elimäki, Jaala and Valkeala, and the towns of Anjalankoski, Kouvola and Kuusankoski were abolished. They were replaced on 1 January 2009 with the new municipality, which was given the name Kouvola.
A brief history of Kouvola
Records of the village of Kouvola on the banks of the Kymi River date back to the mid-1400s. The meaning of the name “Kouvola” is something of a puzzle. Was it “kouvo” (an old word for bear, karhu in Finnish), which became the name of a person after which the village, and then the whole town, was named? Who knows? The name has stuck, although the place has gone through many changes.
Connections with deep roots
Early in the Middle Ages, cutting through the heart of the village of Kouvola, the Great Vyborg Road wound through the forests, linking the castles of Häme and Vyborg. Travelling along the road you might meet messengers from the castle lords, clerics, troops marching at the behest of the Crown, and of course, traders. Kouvola also became an important crossroads in the 17th century, when the road to Hamina was built.
The 18th century conflict
Following the Russo-Swedish war, the Peace of Turku was concluded in 1743 and the border between Sweden and Russia became the Kymi River. The border remained there until the autonomy period began in 1809. The border region thus became the stage for several battles and events, particularly during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-1790. These included: The Liikkala Note (letter to the Russian Empress calling for peace), Anjala Alliance, and the battles of Utti, Kaipiainen Valkeala and Tillola. The peace agreement concluding this war was also signed close by the Kymi River, in the village of Varala.
The keys to Kouvola’s history and development: railways, the Kymi River and garrisons
Kouvola, the famous railway intersection
The Russian Emperor Alexander II issued an edict for the construction of the Riihimäki-St Petersburg railway in 1867. The track had to be broad-gauged and the Finns had to undertake the construction up to St Petersburg. The most difficult phase in the construction of the railway was building a bridge over the Kymi River. The whole line was finally opened in September 1870. The first stations in the Kouvola area were Kymi (i.e. Koria), Utti and Kaipiainen. The train whisked passengers from Kymenlaakso to Helsinki in 4-5 hours, and the great Russian capital was no more than a day’s journey away.
In 1875, “Kouvola station” was opened near the village of Kouvola in Valkeala’s uninhabited hinterland. This was the initiative of a local wood processing factory owner. He presented the case for establishing a station at Kouvola to the Senate: new transport links would develop the wood processing industry. The story goes that from then on, the villagers of Kouvola used to gather on Sunday to watch the trains and marvel at them: “It had three eyes, ran on fire and left at a cracking pace.”
New lines were constructed in the following decades. The Savo line led north out of Kouvola and the Kotka line south to Kotka. These lines were opened in 1889 and so Kouvola became a railway junction. The peaceful area around the station began to change. The station building was completed in 1889 and the rail yard was expanded with sidings and roundhouses. The Kouvola station area developed into a vibrant railway community.
As a result of the rapid growth in Kouvola caused by the railway, the village separated from the Valkeala municipality in 1922, and received town rights in 1923.
Kouvola is still known as one of Finland’s largest railway junctions.
Industry grows where the Kymi River meets the railway
Industrialisation along the Kymi River began in the 1730s, as demand for timber increased and sawing technology improved.
Contemporary large-scale industry began in the 1870s, when the first mechanical pulp mills started up. At that time the engineer Hugo Neuman founded the first groundwood mill, at Verla in 1872. Now the Verla Mill Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fire put it out of operation in 1876, but the groundwood mill was re-opened in 1882 and continued to operate until 1964. Groundwood, paper and cardboard factories were established in the area as follows: 1872 Inkeroinen groundwood mill on the shores of Anjalankoski, 1873 Kuusankoski groundwood mill at Myllysaari and 1874 Kymi groundwood mill on the eastern shore of Kuusankoski.
Local conditions made this development possible: power from the Kymi River rapids, raw materials from the forests and transport by the new railway.
Kouvola becomes a Russian military garrison
During the great Eastern or Crimean War, the Russians established a garrison at Mäki-Kouvola in 1853. It ceased to function at the end of the war, but in 1899, in the first years of Russification, a soldiers’ mess was established at the junction between Kotka and Vyborg, and gradually became a small garrison. A Russian railway gendarmerie was also posted at Kouvola to police the station.
In 1910, by order of Tsar Nicholas II, garrisons were established in Kouvola, Koria, Lahti, Riihimäki and Tammisaari, to protect the coastline and the railway link. The Kouvola-Koria double garrison was built between 1911 and 1914. Dozens of red-brick buildings were constructed on both sites and a garrison church was also consecrated in Kouvola in 1915.
The construction was contracted to the Estonian brothers Emil and Mart Kallas, but the builders were mainly Finnish. Construction work stimulated the local economy and provided jobs for the villagers of Kouvola. A total of about 7 million bricks were used in the construction, which cost €34-50 million in today’s money.
The first Finnish military unit on the “garrison hill” (Kasarminmäki) was the 2nd Pori Infantry Regiment, which moved there from Riihimäki in the summer of 1918. In 1921 the Central Finland Regiment was transferred from Hämeenlinna to Kouvola, and became the town’s “own regiment” until the Winter War. In the garrison’s heyday in the 1960s, it had 2000 conscripts, 300 professional soldiers and 100 civilian staff. After the Second World War, many other troops were based at this garrison: the 8th Infantry, known as the Unknown Soldier’s Regiment; Karelia Brigade; Salpausselkä Air Defence Battalion; Special Messenger Company, Special Vehicle Company and finally the Engineers’ School, which closed in 1998.
The Finnish Defence Forces operating on Kouvola’s garrison hill today are the 1st Logistics Regiment and the South-East Finland Regional Office. The army is still important for Kouvola. The Karelia Brigade and the Utti Jaeger Regiment are based at Vekaranjärvi.
Other key players in the region include Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences, the railway and adult education company Kouvolan Rautatie- ja Aikuiskoulutus Oy, Kouvola Innovation Oy and many other companies.
Sources: Veikko Talvi, Kouvolan historia 1-2 and interview of Kalevi Sirén. The text was checked by education counsellor Sakari Viinikainen.