The oldest wooden house in Helsinki
In 1812, Helsinki became capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland. Based on the new detailed city plan, the city began to spread out in different directions, including the northern part of Kruununhaka, which until then was mostly pastures.
The petite bourgeoisie, handicraftsmen and minor officials built small wooden homes on the harsh Siltavuori ridges in what was then the northern periphery of Helsinki. The single surviving house today is located at Kristianinkatu 12. It is the oldest wooden house in central Helsinki, and now home of the Burgher’s House Museum.
The house was built for Christina Wörtin, a seafarer’s wife. The exact time of construction is not known, but the house records show it has been standing since at least 1818. The floor plan of the house was the same as it is today, but the exterior walls were originally painted with red ochre and the house had a mansard roof. There was no veranda.
There has been another building in the yard since the very beginning, used at different times as a sauna, a baking cabin and an apartment. At the other end of the plot there was an outbuilding that housed a stable, a cowhouse, a carriage house and a woodshed, as well as an outhouse. The plot also had a well.
After Wörtin, the property had several short-term owners, some of whom did not live in the house themselves but instead rented it to others. In 1859, the plot and its buildings were purchased by Alexander Wickholm. At that time, he worked as a hose master and was in charge of the city’s firefighting fleet and overseeing chimney sweeping, among other things. Wickholm lived there with his wife Erika and his children Augusta, Alexander and Frans. In 1863, the family moved to town hall, where Alexander Wickholm was hired as a caretaker. The Kristianinkatu houses were put up for rent.
In 1868, Wickholm planned to expand the house, but the only plans to be realised were renovating the roof to a saddled roof and opening up the attic. In 1870, the family moved back to Kristianinkatu. Alexander Wickholm, who had by then been promoted to city bailiff, lived in the house until his death in 1896.
Wickholm’s daughter, Augusta Nevalainen, inherited the plot and its buildings. She had the wooden houses refurbished and new fireplaces built, and converted the open veranda of the main building into a closed one. In 1905, she had the maintenance buildings at the end of the plot demolished, and had a three-storey stone building with rental apartments built in its place.
When Augusta Nevalainen died in 1912, the house was left to her daughter Martta, who later changed her last name to Bröyer. After a long time living abroad and elsewhere in Helsinki, Martta Bröyer, a dance artist, moved back into the house in 1956. In 1974, she sold the culturally and historically valuable property to the City of Helsinki.
After detailed research and restoration, the Helsinki City Museum opened the wooden buildings to the public as a museum called the Burgher’s House in 1980. The houses and museum have undergone subsequent renovation and refurbishment a few times, the last of which was in 2016–17.