A village at the crossing point of waterway routes
The location of Jyväskylä at the northern end of Lake Päijänne, at the crossing point of three major waterway routes, has meant that the area has enjoyed guaranteed traffic since prehistoric times. The rock paintings and artefacts found at Saraakallio (Laukaa) and Halsvuori (Rural Commune of Jyväskylä) are proof of those early travellers.
The district of Jyväskylä belonged to the usufruct lands of Häme villages and it was the destination of hunting and fishing expeditions right up to the 1400s.
The first inhabitant of this district who is known by name was Heikki Ihanninpoika Jyväsjoki, and his name is mentioned in documents dating back to 1506. His house was located at the mouth of the Äijälänjoki River. In 1539, there were seven houses in the surroundings of Jyväskylä: Kekkola, Kuokkala, Äijälä, Mattila, Tourula, and Mankola and Rutala in Palokka.
Since then, the number of farmhouses increased steadily so that by the 1830s, when the town was founded, the village of Jyväskylä was the biggest village in the parent parish of Laukaa. By then there were 40 farms and a chapel serving as a landmark uniting the village between Harju and Lake Jyväsjärvi.
In addition to having excellent connections by water, the area benefited from the road to Keuruu and the north-bound road from Hämeenlinna, which intersected next to the church. So it was no wonder that this was where a busy marketplace came into being. Jyväskylä was granted official market rights in 1801. Even before this recognition, Jyväskylä had been mentioned in various connections as a fitting place for an inland town.
In 1821, when the number of marketplaces in Finland began to be reduced, a project aimed at founding a town in the area began in earnest. After many phases and land expropriation disputes, the Town of Jyväskylä was at last founded in March of 1837.
A town founded between an esker and a lake
“Thus the town has been founded, but it lacks inhabitants as did ancient Rome.” This statement by a historian was very true as there were only a couple of houses, a few crofters’ cottages and a marketplace within the town limits, and even these were swept aside by the new rectangular town plan. The selection of inhabitants was a task for the bench of magistrates.
At its first meeting held in December 1837, it granted nine persons the rights of townsmen. The following year these rights were granted to 22 burghers and a few workmen. The first inhabitants, young shopkeepers and craftsmen, came mainly from the coastal towns of southern Finland. At the end of 1838, Jyväskylä was home to a total of 189 people.
The building of the town began as soon as the streets and building blocks set out in the town plan had been marked out. The building lots were auctioned. The most expensive building lots were those along Kauppakatu, the high-street-to-be, which served as the main thoroughfare, and naturally those who bought them were shopkeepers.
The smallest building lots were located along the edges of the town plan area and these were reserved for the less well-to-do population. All 143 lots were sold by the year 1863.
The early decades of the young town were spent in building activities in addition to arranging the administration of the town. The goal was to have an independent and fully empowered town, the centre of Central Finland.
Important milestones in this development were the establishment of the registry office in 1861, the founding of the office of the first preacher in 1864, and at last separation from the rural parish and the establishment of the Jyväskylä parish in 1875.
Schools for non-swedish speakers
The establishment of schools in the 1850s and 1860s proved to be the most important step from the point of view of the later development of Jyväskylä. A small lower elementary school with tuition conducted in Swedish had operated in the town earlier, but further studies necessitated attending school in Kuopio, which had the nearest upper elementary school.
There was one feature connected to the development of schooling in Jyväskylä from the very beginning which all other towns in Finland lacked: instruction in Finnish. That this matter was taken up at various stages was largely the result of the persistent efforts of district physician Wolmar Styrbjörn Schildt.
The schools debate eventually ended with the founding of the country’s first three Finnish-speaking schools: the lycée in 1858, the teachers’ college in 1863, and the girls’ school in 1864. The schools represented important steps forward as such, but further significance to the development and atmosphere of Jyväskylä was given by the well-trained teaching staff and pupils from different parts of the country.