The Ahlström Family and the Noormarkku Ironworks
Maire Gullichsen’s paternal grandfather Antti Ahlström (1827–1896) purchased the Noormarkku Ironworks in 1870. The ironworks had been established in 1806 by Baron Carl Constantin de Carnall who built a bar iron shop by the Makkarakoski rapids on the river Noormarkunjoki and its peak years of production awaited until after Antti Ahlström made improvements. In 1896 an electric power plant was built and it is still in operation today. In the 1920s the primary operation of the bar iron shop was terminated, but work in the building continued in the form of small hand-forged products. Later, in the years 1961–1977, the building was used by Noormarkku Handcrafts established by Maire Gullichsen.
Antti built a sawmill in Noormarkku in 1875. Ahlström also expanded rapidly to several locations, when Antti bought e.g. the ironworks of Leineperi, Kauttua and Strömfors. In spite of the depression that started in the 1870s, the last decades of the 19th century saw Ahlström grow into a flourishing Finnish sawmill business, partly owing to the deregulation of sawmill industry and the ensuing powerful growth of the field.
Anna Ahlström, Antti´s first wife, died in 1870, and a year later Antti married Eva Holmström (1848–1920). They built a family house (Isotalo) in the ironworks area in Noormarkku in 1881, designed by the architect Evert Lagerspetz. Antti established a Finnish primary school in Noormarkku in 1874, and from 1903 a refuge was maintained with support from the company’s sick and poor fund. Eva Ahlström’s donations made it possible to build a hospital in Noormarkku in 1912.
After Antti Ahlström’s death in 1896, the company was directed by Eva until 1907, when it was incorporated. During the leadership of Walter Ahlström (1875–1931), the eldest son of the family of seven children, the company became Finland’s biggest industrial enterprise in paper, metal and glass industries. Walter married Hildur “Lilli” Newander (1877–1939), who came from a family living in Pori, and they also built a house (Havulinna) on the company’s land, designed by G. A. Lindberg and completed in 1901. It was the childhood home of Maire and her siblings Erkki, Antti and Irma.
They had another home in Pihlava, Pori. This villa, Honkala, situated by a bay at the mouth of the river Kokemäenjoki, had been built by Maire’s maternal grandfather Johan Newander for his wife Hildegard and his daughter Lilli in 1882. Walter Ahlström bought the villa and donated it to his wife. Honkala had special meaning for Maire, for it was the place of her birth and of the summers she described as the happiest in her childhood. After her mother died, Maire tended to the house and garden with great love all her age, and finally she died in Honkala in 1990 in the same room in which she had been born.
Walter built company headquarters designed by Emil Fabritius in 1916, and adjacent to it, two houses for office staff, Villa Ett (‘villa one’) and Villa Två (‘villa two’). The company bought the Noormarkku Club in 1919 and constructed four more office staff houses around it. Thus housing areas for workers and office staff, bordered by the river, were formed in the ironworks village, for in the late 19th century housing had been built for the families of the smiths working in the bar iron shop. There were two other workers’ housing areas a little further away from the centre. The housing benefit contributed to the development of a close-knit social community.
Walter and Lilli Ahlström engaged in work for the public good in the same way as Walter’s parents. They established a fund for child welfare, later transferred to Maire Gullichsen’s name. By Walter’s decision, the Ahlström Company helped to rebuild Noormarkku Church, which was destroyed in the Finnish Civil War (1918–1919). In 1931–1933 a stone church designed by Armas Lindgren was built in place of the old wooden church.
In her memoirs, Maire Gullichsen describes the ironworks village of her childhood as follows:
“In the early 20th century a placid, patriarchal atmosphere prevailed in Noormarkku… The company headquarters originally occupied the present library of the Isotalo house. It was situated in a beautiful place, the windows overlooking the river that flowed slowly below and glistened between the whitewashed trunks of the apple garden…Noormarkku before the fateful world war and the following revolution was like an idyll shadowed by a thundercloud, a happy world now lost.”
After Walter Ahlström’s death in 1931, his daughter Maire’s husband Harry Gullichsen became CEO in the company and they had the chance to build a home in the ironworks village, just as the previous generations had done. The construction of Villa Mairea continued the story of a family who loved architecture. Up until today the A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy has kept its registered office in the ironworks village in Noormarkku, and the cultural heritage of the Ahlström family has been preserved in the form of a historical milieu.