Industrial Heritage on West-Estonia as a Tourist Attraction
Industrial heritage is a part of our cultural heritage. It demonstrates the development of industrial technology, the changing production methods and working conditions, and helps us to understand the history and development of society more broadly. The oldest preserved industrial heritage in Estonia goes back to the 18th century. In the countryside, the right to engage in commerce belonged to the manor lords; in the cities – to the guilds and shops.
In the second half of the 19th century cities and industry grew rapidly. First it was textile and paper mills, breweries and vodka distilleries. In the last decades of the century, factories dependent on manual labour were joined by more productive steam-powered facilities, with machine-building, metalworking and other industries being established.
Industrial development got a further boost in the 1860s and 1870s with the arrival of the railroad – widespread construction of railroad lines began. Steam-powered factories and railroads led the construction of water towers, which provided steam engines and locomotives with water.
Marine traffic on the Baltic Sea was very much a part of Russia’s interests, so as the 19th century turned into the 20th, Estonia’s coastline received many new lighthouses.
Land ownership, good education and arti-san skills stoked the flames of indigenous Estonian entrepreneurship and national awareness – various small businesses sprang up, including mills, lime and tar kilns. Estonia also has remarkable industrial heritage from the Soviet days.
Industrial heritage tourism is a growing trend, and an excellent opportunity to preserve and present West-Estonian old production facilities, equipment, and the skills of using them.
The best industrial gems to visit in Western Estonia
Estonian Museum Railway at Lavassaare
Ülejõe 1, Lavassaare, Pärnumaa
The Estonian Museum Railroad was created thanks to the hard work of rail enthusiasts.
The Museum Railroad has over 80 different sets of rolling stock, including 5 steam engines, and a range of technical appliances. Exhibition pieces include working steam engines and handcars; one of the locomotives is in use on the Gulbene-Alūksne railroad. Working vehicles are on display at the depot (1924). The former peat-making residence exhibits photos, items and documents from the history of the narrow-gauge railroad. The most exciting exhibits are the rail bicycle, the hand-powered fire pump, and the uniforms. A narrow-gauge spur has been renovated, and visitors have a chance to ride the old machines into the center of the peat bog.
The main consumer of Lavassaare’s peat output was the Sindi Broadcloth Factory. Between 1922 and 1924, the State Central Fuel Materials Committee constructed a 28-km long narrow-gauge railroad from the Lavassaare bog, via Pootsi station, straight to the right bank of the river Pärnu, just across from the Sindi factory. The only surviving part of the Lavassaare peat railroad is the remarkable bridge over the Sauga river, and the bog network, at one end of which lies the Lavassaare Railroad Museum.
Railway and Communications Museum in Haapsalu
Raudtee 2, Haapsalu, Läänemaa
The Railroad and Communications Museum is located in the ornate, historical wooden building and grounds of the Haapsalu Terminal. It takes you on a journey through the history of Estonian railroads and communications.
Visitors are greeted by a respectable 1930s-era station master, and you may visit the terminal’s post office.
The station has an unusually long (213,6 meter) covered platform. The former terminal atmosphere and steam-engine noises are summoned at the push of a button.
The collection of rolling stock includes both steam and diesel locomotives, passengers cars and handcars. The station’s grounds contain a water tower, depot, turntable, and the railroad workers’ residences.
The terminal building was constructed as the Keila-Haapsalu track section was completed at the start of the 20th century. The building was specially designed, and more ornate than others, intended to welcome the Russian emperor and his family members. The station hall includes an Emperor’s Pavilion and a large summer buffet room. The resort town was beloved of Russian imperial family, and the Emperor himself was said to have supported the idea of the building, and helped make it a reality.
The first scheduled train arrived in Haapsalu in 1904, and the last one in 1995.
The excursion train Peetrike leaves from the museum on a tour of the town.
Jaama 7, Risti, Läänemaa
The Risti water tower is one of those meant to serve the railroad, and was erected at Risti station on the Haapsalu-Keila line in the early years of the 20th century. A sign off the Haapsalu highway, Küüditatute mälestusmärk („Deportees Memorial”), leads here – it points not only to the old station compound, but also to a memorial to the deported people of Western Estonia. Today, the railroad to Haapsalu has been replaced by a bike path that follows the old right of way.
The exhibition set up in the water tower introduces the railroad compound and the tower’s workings. Visitors can enjoy the water tower’s interior with its preserved tank and meter. From the top of the tower, you get a view of Risti village. The model water tower helps figure out how the water was pumped to the steam locomotives and how the tower and the system as a whole were meant to work.
The tower supplied steam locomotives with water via a 60 m3 tank at its top end, supported by a flared stone wall. The water was raised to a height of some 15 meters via a steam-powered pumping station. The tower is thought to have fulfilled its main function – providing water for steam locomotives – up until the 1970s.
Long House of the Hiiumaa Museum
Vabrikuväljak 8, Kärdla, Hiiumaa
Kärdla, the central town on Hiiumaa, ows its name to a small village of Swedish settlers – but it grew into a city thanks to the broadcloth factory. Founded in 1829 by the barons Ungern-Sternberg, this was one of Estonia’s first large textile enterprises, and it retained a prominent role up to the early 20th century. The factory was destroyed in the Second World War.
The factory settlement was carefully designed, and inspired by similar efforts in England. In 1844, the factory workers started to receive plots of land and loans to build homes.
The factory square (former factory yard) is surrounded by former shop masters’ houses – single-storey buildings with large gardens, and a 60-meter long wooden house resembling a country manor, the former residence of the factory’s director. Now it holds the Hiiumaa Museum, whose permanent exhibition shows the life of a broadcloth factory worker, as well as that of a gentleman.
The museum features a quiz on the life and history of the factory, as well as trial of the skills and knowledge required of a broadcloth factory worker; the latter also needs a fair bit of teamwork.
Hiiu (Vaemla) Wool Factory
Hiiuvilla, Vaemla village, Hiiumaa
On the island of Hiiumaa, bearing towards Käina as you exit the port, among the juniper-lined pastures of Vaemla, stands a family enterprise – the Hiiu Wool Factory. This facility, which is still in day-to-day use, operates vintage machines – some from as far back as the late 1800s. A master who knows the machines down to the last bolt is on hand to explain the details. Originally driven by steam, the devices are now powered by Soviet-era electric motors.
This factory is a great place to see the entire wool processing chain: the “wolf” whose teeth make the raw wool pliable, the carder that spins the fibers into yarn, the twisting machine that makes the yarn thick and uniform, and the reeling machine that arranges the yarn onto spindles. The factory store sells yarn and clothes made from Hiiu wool; in the summer, there is a cafe.
The wool factory is located in a building that was originally built in 1841 as a hay barn for Vaemla manor. The vintage equipment was brought here in the 1950s from mainland Estonia.
Pärnu Rd 26a, Sindi, Pärnumaa
Just outside the city of Pärnu, Sindi enchants you with its impressive old alley and the broadcloth factory’s shop master houses that line it. One of these contains the Sindi Museum, which talks about the history of the factory, the life of its workers, and the town itself.
The Sindi broadcloth factory was one of the first truly mechanized major enterprises, founded in 1833 by J. C. Wöhrmann, a trader from Riga, who moved the machinery from a factory in Poland to Russian Imperial territory to avoid import duties.
An enormous sum was invested in the construction of the factory complex, much of which was state aid. 3.4 million bricks were used to erect the production buildings, requiring a brick kiln with eight furnaces to be put up on site before the factory structures, and resulting in the formation of the Sindi Reservoir.
Estonian Peat Museum in Tootsi
Tööstuse 5, Tootsi, Pärnumaa
Just off the Pärnu-Rakvere highway, a meandering road follows a rail line to the village of Tootsi and its briquette factory. The introduction to the 1938 factory begins as you pass through the settlement that grew up around it.
The haughty Tootsi briquette factory’s premises now house a peat museum, which tells the story of the factory itself, its equipment, and peat and its processing. A narrow-gauge railroad leads off from the building into the peat fields and the Tootsi Bog; this carries an old peat workers’ train. You can also have a ride on a handcar.
The use of peat for fuel began over a thousand years ago. In Estonia and Latvia, peat production started at the end of the 18th century. By the middle of the 19th, plenty of manors had their own peat quarries. Mechanized peat mining in Estonia goes back to efforts like those at the Sindi broadcloth factory starting in 1861.
A national peat briquette industry got its start in Estonia in 1936. A year later, the decision was made to build a briquette factory at Pööravere. This was quickly renamed after the nearest train station, and became the Tootsi Briquette Works. Even in the winter, as many as 200 people worked here. In 1938, part of the bog was drained, and a railroad track leading through the thicket to the Tootsi station was built on undulating ground. The Tootsi Briquette Works was one of the most modern facilities in Estonia at the time; production began in 1939.
Lümanda Lime Park
Koplimetsa, Mõisaküla, Lümanda, Saaremaa
The Lümanda Lime Park adventure trail through more than ten old lime kilns, old and new quarries, and a slaking bath introduce the process, including the chemical reactions that turn limestone into lime, and then turn the lime mortar or limewash on your walls back into limestone.
Upon reaching the lime park, you can take a hiking trail that is equipped with multi-lingual explanatory plaques, leading you through the field of lime kilns. Back at the main building, you can see a film and experiment with lime – get the stone to boil without heating, and make bubbles in clean water to produce limescale.
The lime kilns, which are nearly a century old, have been cleaned, repaired and arranged in such a way as to demonstrate different stages of the ancient lime-producing technique. The lime kilns have different shapes and sizes – each one following the ideas of its owner. They come from a time when making and selling lime was a profitable activity, so every farm in the area set up its own lime firing kiln on this resource-rich land, trading slivers of coastal property to neighbours if needed.
The process of firing lime takes between 50 and 75 hours, at a temperature of 1100 to 1300 degrees Celsius. The kilns can fit up to 30 tons of stone at a time.
After firing, the limestone cools over 2-3 days and nights. Then the quicklime is taken to a slaking bath, where the chemically active rock is mixed with water.
In grout, the hydrated lime reacts with carbon dioxide and turns back into CaCO3, the main component of limestone.
The theme park has picnic, bonfire and BBQ facilities. The main building can be used to host events.
Angla Windmill Mount
Tuuliku, Angla, Saaremaa
The island of Saaremaa had a place where an entire hill of windmills has been preserved in its original form. This hilltop was the windiest place around, so all the village windmills were put here. The impressive windmill theme park grabs your attention from afar, but it is when you go inside the mills themselves that you become stunned by the variety – each windmill is a reflection of its owner and his ingenuity.
Out of the five surviving windmills, four are typical Saaremaa post mills, built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Among them stands a slightly taller Dutch-type tower mill from 1927, with a mill attendant’s residence next to it.
In the summer, a miller is in attendance at one of the windmills, and flour is being made. The park also has a cultural heritage center, where you can have a meal, check out old agricultural equipment, bake bread, and participate in workshops.
In 1925, when there were 13 farms in Angla, this windy hilltop held as many as nine different mills.
Eemu farm, Linnuse village, Muhu, Saaremaa
Before you reach Estonia’s biggest island, you must drive across the island of Muhu, and at is farthest point you may notice an old post mill. The Eemu windmill is a typical wooden structure, with a set of stairs attached to its body (turning together with the rest of it!). Climbing these stairs, you reach the mill’s two floors, where you can see the old grinding mechanism.
Next to the windmill is a manual millstone that you can use to experience flour-making the very old-fashioned way.
Carl Robert Jakobson Farm Museum Mill at Kurgja
Kurgja-Linnutaja farm, Kurgja, Vändra, Pärnumaa
On the shores of the Pärnu river, a bit over ten kilometers from Vändra in the direction of Rakvere, sits one of Estonia’s most famous farm museums. The farm features a flour- and sawmill with its own millpond. It was built in 1879 by C. R. Jakobson, a famous Estonian writer, newspaper editor and educator. The renovated watermill is a part of the Kurgja farm museum.
Mägipe, Kõpu, Hiiumaa
The Kõpu lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Baltic Sea, and the third oldest in the world. The white, four-sided colossus with supporting pillars has a balcony and a red lantern room. Climbing the narrow, steep stairs carved out of the tower, you see the amazing history of one of the world’s oldest lighthouses, testifying to the development of seafaring, construction and science. Next to the tower is a charming café, children’s playground, and a souvenir shop. The giant daytime sea mark, or beacon, was originally constructed at the highest point on Hiiumaa at the behest of the Tallinn magistrate in 1504. The tower was erected to show the way and provide safe passage to Hanseatic ships. Prior to this, boats on the Baltic would have to hug the shore, so the shipping lane followed Aland and the Finnish coast; afterwards, the sailors would cross the Baltic directly. The Kõpu highland was the first landmark they would notice on the horizon.
In 1649, the tower’s upper platform was flattened to hold a bonfire; a firepit, external ladder and a winch for delivering fuel were installed. The beacon became a lighthouse, and by the end of the century, the top of the tower was hollowed out to create a guardroom for the crew and fuel storage. From 1810, the tower was owned by the navy. Stairs were carved into the southwest pillar, and two floors were added to the top of the tower, all crowned with a 12-faceted lantern room housing 25 oil lamps with brass reflectors shining in three directions. In 1900, a new lantern room was purchased for the lighthouse from the Paris World’s Fair. This featured a dioptric optical device spinning on a bath of quicksilver, and radiating via a kerosene-fueled incandescent mantle. Later on, the tower’s optics were repeatedly modernized, and the facility switched to electrical power. At the end of the 20th century, a strong reinforced-concrete jacket was poured around the base of the tower, to prevent it from collapsing.
The Tahkuna peninsula at the northern tip of Hiiumaa is the site of Estonia’s tallest cast-iron lighthouse. The 43-meter high, state-of-the-art white tower with a green cupola was assembled in 1875 from parts manufactured in France. The slender, dis-tinctively square-patterned lighthouse’s various floors host exhibitions and instal-lations, and the facility is used for theater performances and concerts. The lanternroom and balcony are accessible via an el-egant, characteristically French spiral stair-case. A seaside hiking trail leads from thelighthouse to another landmark, the Tahkuna greatstone, and onwards into primal forest. Smart benches provide an overview of the lighthouse’s history, the local nature, military heritage, and seafaring traditions. At the foot of the tower is a café and souvenir shop.
With the completion of the St Petersburg-Paldiski railroad, the importance of local ports increased, so lighthouses that helped improve navigation in the Gulf of Finland were prioritized. Designs for Tahkuna were drawn up at the same time asthe Ristna beacon, and together they weremeant to mark the Hiiu shallows.
The tower’s square-pattern look is due to its cast-iron construction, with specially shaped parts that cover joints in such a way as to keep moisture out of the interior. Cast- iron towers did not require buttressing, and rested on their own weight.
The cast-iron modular tower was developed by English engineer Alexander Gordon, and his building method – first introduced at a Jamaican lighthouse in 1841 – quickly gained fame. The Tahkuna lighthouse is well-preserved. Only the prismatic glass of the dioptric light source, damaged in WWI, was replaced with optical lenses ordered from England in 1920.
The Tahkuna compound gives a good overview of the lifestyle at a shore-side lighthouse. Surviving outbuildings include a sauna from the second half of the 19th century,a stone kerosene store, a cellar, and a 20th century wooden residence and generator building.
At the western tip of Hiiumaa, close to the Kõpu beacon, is the bright red Ristna lighthouse. The tower consists of two metal cylinders placed one on top of another, with a spiral staircase inside; its distinguishing features include eight wrought-iron support pillars and a five-meter service room extending outwards from the top of the tower, with the lantern room on top of that. There is also a small eatery next to the tower.
The nearby Kõpu lighthouse was frequently obscured by fog, so it was decided to build a new lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. The new structure also had an extra job: its red blinking light would warn of the dangers of obstructing ice movements in the Gulf of Finland. The lighthouse’s dainty frame was severely damaged in WWI, so in 1920 the buttresses were encased in a strong con-crete jacket.
Unlike the imposing Gordon type cast iron towers, boiler plate lighthouses were significantly cheaper and faster to erect, with less assembly work and cheaper materials.
In 1884, a 20-pood (328-kilogram) fog bell was installed in the Ristna lighthouse. A year later, the lantern room received spin- ning occluding screens with a clockwork and weight-based mechanism; these wereengaged when the Gulf of Finland was experiencing ice flows. In 1889, an iron-sheet shed was completed next to the tower; this held Estonia’s first steam siren.
Pitkänä, Rootsiküla, Kihnu Island, Pärnumaa
At the southern tip of the island of Kihnu is a slim, cast-iron lighthouse, fabricated in England and assembled onsite in 1864. Visitors can climb the tower’s interior spiralstaircase to the balcony, take a look at thelantern room, enjoy an astounding view of the wide waters, and purchase Kihnu handicrafts or locally made treats from the old kerosene shed adjacent to the lighthouse – this was built in 1882, when liquid fuel started to be used for lighting.
The Kihnu lighthouse was built due to theinterest of Tzarist Russian, Latvian and Estonian traders in marking a safe passage through the Väinameri. First requested as far back as 1833, the lighthouse was finally built 30 years later, as construction technology moved forward and the Gordon castiron modular system was introduced. This was both faster and cheaper than building lighthouses out of stone. A Fresnel lensed lighting system was ordered from England. The Kihnu lighthouse has retained its original appearance; only the lighting equipment has been upgraded.
The slender beacon was also an important feature of the islanders’ life, as before the installation of telephone cables, it was the only means of communication with the mainland.
Vormsi tulepaak 596, Saxby küla, Läänemaa
Located on Cape Saxby on the western shore of the island of Vormsi, this cast-iron lighthouse manages traffic through the Hari Straight, between Väinameri and the Gulf of Finland.
Cast-iron modular lighthouses were erected on both Kihnu and Vormsi islands in1864, but frequent fogs and a growing forest meant that the latter 17-meter tower was far too short. A 7-meter taller copy was ordered from the Liepaja factory, while the old lighthouse was moved to the island of Vaindloo.
Despite the numerous wars, the lighthouse compound has been well-preserved. A residence, kerosene shed and well from 1864 survive to this day.
Sääre, Sõrve, Saaremaa
The Sõrve lighthouse is located on the southern tip of Saaremaa’s Sõrve penin-sula. The long spit of land extends into the sea, as if it is the end of the world, with nothing but water beyond it. The tower is one of the most important markers on Estonia’s western shore, and helps ships to navigate through the frequently shallow Courland Straight. The 52-meter tall, black- and-white painted tower was constructed in 1960 using reinforced concrete, and is among the highest towers on the Baltic.
The lighthouse and nearby visitor centerprovide an overview of Estonia’s most important lighthouses, and the area’s seafar-ing history. 248 steps take you to a viewing platform at a height of 45 meters, from where on a clear day you can see Latvia! The first signal fire is known to have existed here as early as 1646 – a metal fire basketraised on a wooden boom using counter-weights. To refill the basket, the boom was lowered; once the firewood had caught, the basket was hoisted back up. In 1650, this was replaced with a stone tower.
The lighthouse was destroyed during the World Wars. Temporary towers were replaced in 1960 with one of Estonia’s tallest reinforced-concrete towers. The lantern room housed a spinning lamp, powered by a diesel generator and batteries. The light source stood at 52 meters above sea level, visible from 19 miles away.
Author of photos Olev Mihkelmaa
“Industrial Heritage for Tourism” (Revival of Industrial Heritage for Tourism Development) is a project implemented within the Interreg cross-border cooperation programme Estonia–Latvia 2014-2020.
The aim of the project is to promote the industrial heritage resources in Estonia and Latvia (mills, hydroelectric power stations, old manufacturing sites, railway heritage, lighthouses and water towers) as touristic attractions, draw attention to its value as cultural heritage and share information and ideas how to improve it, how to use it as a tourism product. In 2019 it will be possible to discover new tourist routes introducing industrial heritage sites improved with entertaining and educational elements.
Project manager Sille Roomets sille(at)westestonia.ee, ph +372 5871 6101
Marketing and product development specialist
Kati Aus kati(at)visitsaaremaa.ee, ph +372 45 33 120
Project lead partner: Kurzeme planning region
Project duration: 01.05.2017 – 30.04.2019
Project total budget is 1 431 135.40€, ERDF contribution is 971 665.09€. Total budget of West-Estonia Tourism is 82 208€.
This page reflects the views of the author. The managing authority of the programme is not liable for how this information may be used.