History of the Iron

Kristinehamn - an important city for the iron trade

The iron was the driving force in the development of Kristinehamn and its establishment as a town. The illustrator Kjell Sundberg has illustrated the various stages of transporting the iron. These illustrations can be seen above and on all the signs with information along the iron trail. A copy of the old scales that were used to weigh the iron can be seen in the centre of Kristinehamn. It is located between the river Varnan and Norra Hamngatan.

The marked trail that is used today follows the exact trail of the iron from Hytte down to Älvbron. From that point onward the trail of today differs from the historical trail. For several hundred years the impact of the iron was huge and Kristinehamn is described as Swedens most important harbour for shipment of iron to the rest of the world.

Already in the year 1413 the king, Erik af Pommern, gave a consent for ore mining in Värmlands Bergslag. This is the oldest document that has been found with connection to the mining industry in Värmlands Bergslag. Sometime around 1550 the current king, called Gustav I (better known as Gustav Vasa), began to understand the importance and value of the iron. The state of Sweden needed income and also means to break the influence of the german Hansa and it's monopoly. To transport the iron from the mines to a suitable port an infrastructure for transportation was needed. The work to establish the Iron Trail was therefore started.

1570 several mills were founded. The mill in Kristinehamn was called Bro Kronobruk – since the city still had the name of Bro (this word means bridge). During the coming years many mills became privately owned by the nobility. For a period of time there were more than a 100 mills active in Värmland. During 1640-1874 Sjöändan (by the lake) was the main place for reloading and unloading iron. Before that time the small place called Hytte in Lungsund was the main centrepoint for the transportation of the iron. To these places iron was transported from several different mills, either on boats or by road. The iron was weighed, measured and then transported along the Iron Trail, west of the lake Bergsjön. 

For over 200 years the Iron Trail was used as a transportation route for the iron from Bergslagen. It was mainly the abundance of wood (in the large forests), running water and the number of lakes that made the area of Värmlands Bergslag such an ideal place for the develpment of the iron. A large number of coal stacks were located in the area. Many settlers made a living out of coaling, performing the task under very primitive conditions. Even if the roads and tracks from Hytte became better and better it was a very tough job to transport the iron with wagons drawn by oxes. During winter the snow made it possible to use sledges which made the journey easier, even if the cold weather conditions gave other types of problems.

From 1600-1800 Kristinehamn was the most important harbour for shipping iron out into the rest of the world. During this period Kristinehamn and Karlstad had the sole right to perform this task. About 90 % of the iron was exported.

In 1642 the reign of Queen Christina gave Bro its town privileges and the town changed name to Kristinehamn. Since then the city arms includes a boeier ship to remind the citizens of the importance of the iron freight. In the old days there would be a number of boeier ships moored along the river Varnan (between the roads Norra Hamngatan and Södra Hamngatan) waiting for iron.

1640 the 1,4 km long channel of Norsbäcken was opened. The fully loaded boats now moved from Filipstad, along parts of the channel of Bergslagskanalen, down to Sjöändan, which became the principal site for loading, weighing and checking the iron. A new iron trail began to take form and due to this modern trail the old one was gradually abandoned. 1n 1850 the 11 km long railway track between Sjöändan and Kristinehamn was opened. This connected the channel of Bergslagskanalen with the harbour of Kristinehamn. At first the wagons were drawn by horses but in 1868 the steam locomotives took over. This railway track was part of a whole network of lakes, channels and railway tracks spread all over the eastern part of Värmland. But all the reloading and unloading procedures were costful for the mill owners. Even with the new channel of Norsbäcken the transportation from Filipstad to Kristinehamn could take up to several months.

In 1666 the mill at Niklasdamm was opened, but due to legal disputes the owners didn't get their mining rights until 1684. Around 1600 the pond at Niklasdamm began to be used as a waterresevoir for the mills in the south. Today the area around the manor of Niklasdamm is a popular touristspot with scenic nature, a flower museum and a café with homebaked cakes.

Between 1689-1902 an annual market called "Fastingsmarknaden" was organized in Kristinehamn. At this market the merchants met to discuss the quality and price of iron. The market price of iron for the whole world was actually decided at this event. One can actually claim that Kristinehamn had the same influence on the world economics then as Wall Street in New York has today. The trade of iron declined and the market "Fastingsmarknaden" lost it's importance and disappeared in 1902. The mills were closed and the glory of the iron industry in Värmlands Bergslag diminished. Then the forest industry became a new area of development and the former mill owners started to establish saw mills instead. In 1968 the market tradition was renewed and the "Fastingsmarknaden" is again organized on a yearly basis, but with another focus than iron.

In 1873 Sjöändan lost it's strategic position as a loading place of iron because of the new railway track to Filipstad. Freight of cargo on the channel of Norsbäcken ceased around 1876, even if there was some continued passengerservice.

Text by Mats Öhman, Manager of Tourism in Kristinehamn (translation Christina Skan)