See you at the assembly hall

Assembly halls were born along with the cultural and political ideals of the end of the 19th century, when the clubs and associations that became active needed places to meet and operate. An assembly hall could be the meeting place for the labour movement, the temperance society, the youth welfare society, the farmers' association, the volunteer fire brigade or any other society. These premises might today be called assembly halls.

The old Jämsä community hall in Seppola. Picture: City of Jämsä picture collectionAssembly halls were usually built in a central and visible position in the town, easily accessible by all and, more importantly, with space for everyone who wanted to attend. Finnish association activity took many forms, and it was not uncommon for a society to have its own drama club, choir and even a sports division. In addition, the assembly rooms might have had a library and the only telephone in town. The societies would collect money for their activities by having social evenings and dances.

The assembly hall as a building

There are some features that are common to assembly halls everywhere. The forms taken by the activities of the societies defined the size of the building and the division of space within the building. An assembly hall was always large, often with two storeys and large windows to maximize the amount of light. The buildings were often made of wood with a log frame that was either cut flat or clad with timber. Brick buildings were rarer and usually only found in larger cities.

Kuva: S. Silén 2006Architects were usually not used when designing the building, but they were made according to local building traditions and were influenced by current trends. Exceptions to the rule were the civil guard houses which were sometimes designed by famous architects and built according to type drawings. Master builders of farmers' associations were also used to design civil guard houses.

The centre of the interior was a large hall with a stage at one end. In addition, the building had to have a kitchen, a buffet or restaurant, smoking room, a coat check and possibly some smaller meeting room or reading hall. The building would often also have a caretaker's apartment situated on the second floor. The buildings were often painted in red earth paint. The window frames and other details were painted with white oil paint.

Current activity

IlveslinnaNowadays Jämsä has a few operating assembly halls and Jämsänkoski has two; the Jämsänkoski farmers' association house in Haavisto and the community hall in Koskenpää. Ilveslinna could also be included, but it does not really have society activity and it is maintained by UPM Kymmene.

Both Jämsä and Jämsänkoski used to have many more assembly halls, but many of them have gone quiet and shut their doors. Some of them have also been demolished, like the large assembly hall in Seppola.

A lot of assembly halls were built in Finland, and at the beginning of the 21st century there were still 2,600 left; that is about six per municipality.

More information (Assembly hall site)
Nuorisoseurantalot (Youth club houses)
Suomen Kotiseutuliitto (Finnish home area association)

Copy: Saija Silén

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