Vaasa Burns Down and a New Town Is Built in Its Place
On the morning of August the third in 1852, a disastrous fire destroyed the whole town. A drunken peasant, who had come earlier that morning from Vörå, lay down to sleep in merchant Auren’s shed on top of a pile of moss. When he woke up, groggy and still half asleep, he lit his pipe but dropped it in the moss, which burst into flames. Frightened, the man from Vörå fled the scene on his horse. The only proof of his visit was the cart he left behind.
The town had long been afflicted with a drought, and the fire spread quickly from one house to the next. The wind sent sparks flying onto the flammable roofs of houses near and further away. With the basic equipment available, the townsfolk were unable to put out the fire and had to focus on saving what property they could. By the evening, 3,000 townspeople were without a home and had to seek whatever temporary accommodation they could in the neighbouring area. A few houses on the outskirts of the town, such as the building of the Court of Appeal, were spared. Cash from the bank and the provincial fund was salvaged, but a great many items, as well as written material and documents relating to the town’s history were lost.
Soon after the fire, discussions about rebuilding the town were started. Some people were adamant that the new town should be built on top of the old, whereas others thought the town should be moved closer to the sea on the Klemetsö headland. Because of the land uplift, the harbour had already been moved to Palosaari. Only small vessels were able to reach the old town anymore. On the edict of Emperor Nicholas I, dated 1st of March 1854, the decision was made to build the new town on the Klemetsö headland about 7 kilometres from the burned down site. To please the Emperor, the town was named Nikolainkaupunki (Nikolaistad in Swedish) in 1855. There was strong resistance towards this new name and it was only used in official situations; ordinary folks still called it Vaasa.
The Swedish architect Carl Axel Setterberg was nominated the provincial architect of Vaasa only a few months after the fire and in early 1854 he was also appointed Vaasa’s town architect. Setterberg had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to design a new town from scratch, from town plan to numerous public and private buildings. His expansive town plan incorporated avenues and lanes that functioned as fire breaks within town blocks in order to prevent a fire destroying the town again. Five avenues intersected the town. Running from east to west, Hovioikeudenpuistikko and Vaasanpuistikko and the park areas between them formed the town’s central, horizontal axis where the most important public buildings of the town were located. By the shore at the western end of this axis, Setterberg placed the new Court of Appeal building in all its neogothic glory. Where Kirkkopuistikko intersects the avenues Hovioikeudenpuistikko and Vaasanpuistikko, he placed the town church, also neogothic in style. The town’s expansive market is also located at the crossing of the above mentioned two parallel-running avenues and Kauppapuistikko to the east of the church.
Many of the buildings Setterberg designed still give the city its distinctive look. These buildings, many with corner turrets, were often originally built for private owners, but have later become public buildings. Setterberg’s town plan, with its broad avenues and parks and wide streets, continues to serve the townspeople, business and busy traffic of the city still today, providing a comfortable, well-functioning milieu.