Traces of Stone Age hearths have been found in the Ilola area, which implies that the area has been inhabited for a long time. In the 14th century the King's Road through the Swedish kingdom was constructed, passing right past the Postimäki hill. In 1638 the first post route was established between Turku and Viipuri, and one of the homesteads at Postimäki was given responsibility for passing down the incoming mail. The peasant in charge had to bring the mail bag to the next post homestead as soon as it arrived. This is the reason for the name Postimäki (or Postbacken as it was called in Swedish, the main language of the area) meaning Post hill.
18th and 19th century
The first half of the 19th century was characterised by violent Russian occupations, rigorous taxation, crop failure and plague. Most of the Postimäki buildings burned down, and the majority of inhabitants deceased. However, people began resettling on the hill little by little, and new buildings were erected. In the end of the 18th century the hill’s settlement was made up of three independent homesteads: Krauvas, Jontas and Ers. Other homesteads around the hill were Gästgivars and Upper and Lower Nikus (split 1785). The post activity increased, and so did the traffic at Postimäki.
After the union with Russia in the beginning of the 19th century the post system was reorganised, and postilions whom innkeepers had to provide horses for replaced the post homestead system. At Postimäki the habitation was denser than ever before, and the big hall of Krauvas homestead was in frequent use for all kinds of events. In the middle of the century the hill had about fifty inhabitants: peasants and farmers with their families, farm maidens and hands. Scattered across the hill you could find small side-cottages with lodgers. Many of these cottagers were craftsmen.
In 1889 there was a Great Redistribution of Land Holdings in Finland. The properties of the three homesteads on Postimäki were partly reallocated, and many buildings were moved away from their lots on the hill. The only main buildings that was left was most likely the residential building of Jontas, which is what we now call the coffee house. As no independent homestead was left on the hill, the number of side-cottages grew. At the end of the 19th century Postimäki was quite a typical side-cottage dwelling. In other parts of Finland it was also common with small communities of cottagers, often a group of craftsmen residing on a hill or other lot that was considered unsuitable for farming. At Postimäki there was a blacksmith, a tailor, a shoemaker, seamstresses, weavers and straw braiders. In 1892 the Porvoo Straw Hat Factory initiated its business, and many of the inhabitants of Postimäki made their living more or less from braiding rye straw.
The beginning of the century was a time for great changes in society. The mail system was modernised once more, and the inn at Klements homestead was suspended. After Finland’s independence the cottagers obtained the right to the ownership of their properties, and Postimäki was split into 12 lots. By the 1920’s straw hats were out of fashion, but some of the inhabitants such as Fanny Ingelin and Lina Sandström who’s houses remain continued to produce straw products such as baskets, coasters and Christmas decorations that were sold in Helsinki.
Towards the middle of the 20th century many of the approximately thirty inhabitants of the Postimäki hill were already aged, and many of the buildings started showing signs of decay.
Preservation of Postimäki
In the 1960’s the idea of protecting and preserving the area was brought up, and discussed in several forums. The Board of Native Environments at the Porvoo Rural Municipality decided to found a guild responsible for investigating the possibilities of preserving the Postimäki area in Ilola. They called the national Archaeological Commission to Postimäki, who’s statement said that the area is worth preserving due to its uniform environment that represents an architectural culture that used to be common but is now virtually extinct. In 1966, however, Porvoo Rural Municipality decided not to buy the area, and the guild fell apart.
In 1968 the Swedish Youth Association of the Porvoo region, Borgåbydgens Ungdomsförbund, decided to take matters into its own hands, and took a loan to finance the purchase of the area. The first properties – the Winter cottage and the Englund house – were bought on November 22, 1968. Gradually one building after another was bought, and some donated to the association. The residents of Ilola were engaged in the project, and sold their cottages to beneficial prices.
In 1969 the new era of Postimäki as an outdoor museum began with an outdoor church service. Soon the first theatre show was performed, and there were concerts, radio broadcasting and different kinds of events. The most urgent reparations on the buildings were soon fixed, thanks to the engaged youth association.
To finance the mortgage payments and more reparations a coffee house was opened in the “smith’s cottage”, and the outdoor theatre was established. Many plays by Rolf “Offe” Söderling were performed, some based on the Finnoswedish folklore. The theatre was successful and drew a wide audience to Postimäki.
In the summers of the 70’s there was a whole lot of activity on Postimäki. In 1974 a Handicrafts Day was arranged for the first time. The 800 visitors got to see many traditional handicrafts such as spinning with a spinning wheel, straw braiding, lace-making and roof covering with straw, and taste things like brandered herring, fried potato porridge and rustic cheese.
In addition to the theatre, music gradually got an important role at Postimäki. The Swedish troubadour Curre Svensson played with his trio in 1975 for the first time, and came back many summers. 1976 a lied festival was organised the first time in collaboration with the local troubadour association Visans Vänner.
In 1981 an association separate to Borgåbygdens Ungdomsförbud, called Postbackens Garantiförening rf – Postimäen Kannatusyhdistys ry, was founded to superintend the Postimäki project. This association is now the owner of Postimäki.
From the end of the 80’s onwards a less active phase in the history of Postimäki began. The events were sporadic until the 00’s when there was an upturn. Summer theatre was performed once again by Lillteatern and the theatre course at Borgå Folkakademi.
During all the years the council of the Postbacken association has made sure that necessary reparations and maintenance has been taken care of, and the buildings are therefore in a relatively good condition today.
There is a total of 18 buildings on the Postimäki hill. The oldest one, the Krau loft, was built in 1760. The majority date back to the 19th century. The only newcomer is the arena theatre that was built in 1979 to accommodate the summer theatre performances.