From city to village
The city of Jyväskylä was founded in the year 1837 at the location of the Jyväskylä village parish, between Harju Ridge and Lake Jyväsjärvi. Commerce and trade were highly restricted activities in Finland up until the beginning of the 1800s, but a changing world and a need for centers of trade outweighed the need for strict regulation.
Even before the City of Jyväskylä was established, the parish village, located at a crossroads, was an excellent place for doing business. Location along established land and water routes, a central position, forests, agricultural production, and the assumption that the area held a deposit of iron ore helped in the decision to incorporate the city, an idea which had been around since the 1700s.
The early years of Jyväskylä were quite modest. Approximately 15 years after the city was founded, the national newspaper Suometar exclaimed “Jyväskylä!? A city!?”
Jyväskylä – the early years
In the beginning, the city suffered from an extreme shortage of residents. The renowned architect C.L. Engel was engaged to lay out the city plan. The city records indicate specific requirements for the foundations of city government and ordinances. This enabled private individuals the right to become city residents with full rights and privileges.
Artisans and merchants began to relocate to Jyväskylä. The city grew slowly but surely, and its residents included apprentices, servants, carpenters, and construction laborers.
On average, the early residents of Jyväskylä were young people with families. The first Jyväskylä baby was born to the family of Sund the Goldsmith on April 4th, 1838 and the first wedding took place in the beginning of 1839. There were funerals too, but the city’s growth curve continued to rise: at the beginning of 1838 there were 189 residents on the books.
According to the Articles of Incorporation, the auctioning and development of the 143 city lots began with vigor. In a very short time, 53 lots found owners. Development was speeded up by the requirement that the owners had two years in which to build a residence on their respective lots.
A growing urban center
In just a few decades, Jyväskylä grew out of its baby shoes. The lots included on the Articles of Incorporation were completely sold by 1863, the population growth had leveled off, and city administration had become stable and established. Jyväskylä was now considered a full-fledged city, equal to others like it elsewhere in Finland.
Even the picture painted by the press took on a new resonance. According to Papperslyktanpaper in 1859:
Artisans signs line the walls, the market square is larger than those found elsewhere, except for in Porvoo. I had barely made it to my room in the boarding house when a barrel organ began to play beneath my window – you don’t get more Parisian than that.
Jyväskylä, Center of Education
Finnish culture, language, and Finnish language education were important themes in the 1800s, and Jyväskylä played a significant role in their development. The city was young, growing, and prosperous. There had been a Swedish language primary school in the town since 1847. Students were not separated into different grades; instead they sat around a long table in front of the blackboard. Since the school did not yet have its own building, education occurred in a rental space,
The city’s reputation as a center of education was clinched by the foundation of a secondary school in 1858, which was bilingual in the beginning. It paved the way for similar educational programs in other growing cities. One no longer needed to go to Kuopio from Jyväskylä in pursuit of education. The Jyväskylä Upper Primary school became a Finnish language school rather quickly. By 1873, Jyväskylä Lyceum had secured its place as the first Finnish language school in the country, regardless of any opposition, and the gate to education was now available to even the most common of citizens.
In addition to the Lyceum and the Finnish language Girls’ School (established in 1864), the young city of Jyväskylä took even further steps towards the dream of higher education by establishing a Teachers’ Seminary, which began to educate Finnish speaking teachers, which the country badly needed. According to a decision made by the Finnish senate, the Seminary was founded on the March 13th, 1863.
Jyväskylä at the end of the 1800s
Life at the end of the 1800s was relatively colorful, and had all of the characteristics of city life. The everyday lives of students were filled with the diligent routine of study and they engaged in different pursuits during their free time. Some of these free time activities involved physical exercise and were approved by their educational institutions. Older students’ evening activities had already reached levels that were looked down upon – the more stolid citizens of the town had difficulties approving of the way that the youth were blowing off steam.
The market square was the center of the busy city. In 1848, ten permanent shops were built along the edge of the market to replace the older, flimsier booths and stalls. The shops were at the location now occupied by the City Hall. The market square attracted people from the area around Jyväskylä weekly. According to the original city plan, lots located on the shore of Lake Jyväsjärvi were designated for warehouses, and it was also decided that Jyväskylä’s position in trade and transport would benefit from functional ship traffic. In the beginning of the summer in 1840, the docks built by the city and the dredging of the Äijälänsalmi channel finally made ship traffic to Jyväskylä possible. Thus began the golden age of boat traffic in Jyväskylä – with regards to recreation and leisure as well. Jyväskylä’s role as an educational and cultural center, as well as a growing industrial city began to resemble that which we recognize today.