About four sq km large, the Kaunissaari is wooded, low and sandy, and differs from the typical barren, rocky nature of the Gulf of Finland archipelago. The fisher village, however, is a typical fisher village on the Gulf of Finland islands. The lanes between houses were used to get to the shore, outer fields, and forest. Lanes and yards used to be surrounded by fences, as cattle moved freely around the island. The shores were left for public use, and only boathouses and storehouses were built by the water. Residential buildings were built further inland, to protect them from storms.

There are idyllic, narrow lanes between the buildings on Kaunissaari island. Photo: Sanna Lönnfors.

Kaunissaari has been permanently inhabited since the 17th century. The population was at its largest in the middle of the 19th century, when there were around three hundred inhabitants on the island. In 1900, a village school was built for the islanders’ children. Before this, the children had gone to school on the mainland and lived there during the weeks. When the school construction was finished, church services were also held in the classroom. In the earlier years, the islanders had also gone to church in Pyhtää on the mainland or other islands.

A state postal connection began in 1902, and the island got a phone connection in the late 1920s. A regular boat line from Kotka was started in 1955. During the same year, the café-restaurant Kaunissaaren Maja was opened on the island.

The blossoming and fading of the island

The main livelihoods of the islanders have been fishing, seal hunting, cargo sailing, and maritime pilotage. In the 1880s, people on the outer islands started selling round stones, polished by the sea, as street stones to St. Petersburg. Business was blossoming until the First World War.

Food grain was purchased from Estonia in so-called sepra trade, centuries-old exchange of herring and grain practiced by Finnish fishermen and Estonian peasants. The islanders made two trips to Estonia every year, in early summer and in autumn.

The islanders hosted summer guests in their houses already in the 1920s. This farm tourism -like accommodation flourished until the 1970s. Nowadays, there are more than a hundred private summer houses on the island, as well as holiday apartments to rent and a camping area.

The First World War broke the development in the archipelago. Sepra trade waned due to export bans. In 1924, the Kaunissaari pilot station was shut down. Before the Winter War and the Continuation War, there were still a few hundred permanent residents on the island, but in the 1960s the population had decreased below one hundred, and the school was closed as well. Today, there are about a dozen year-round residents in Kaunissaari, but the island comes alive when summer residents arrive.

Islander museum

The Kaunissaari Islander Museum is open during the summer. Collection of the museum’s items began in the 1940s. Today, there are approximately 1500 objects on display. They have been donated by heirs, and they are related to seal hunting, the work of an island midwife, sepra trade, fishing, and the everyday life in the islanders’ homes, ever since the island was first settled. The museum also has an extensive butterfly collection.

Read more

Risto Anttila: Kaunissaari ajan aalloilla. Kaunissaaren kyläkunta ry, Kotka 2008. Museovirasto 2009, Kaunissaaren saaristokylä.

Saaristolaismuseo -Kaunissaari sijaitsee Itäisen Suomenlahden ulkosaaristossa. Kaunissaari kuuluu Pyhtään kuntaan ja on osa Salpausselän jatketta.

Kaunissaaren Saaristolaismuseon kehittäminen: Leader Sepra

Itäisen Suomenlahden kansallispuisto

Valtakunnnallisesti merkittävät rakennetetut kulttuuriympäristöt- Museovirasto