Livonian Institute / Events / Monthly items

Monthly Item 07/2021

Baiba Šuvcāne, 2021

Cape of Kolka Lighthouse’s residential building in the mid-1930s

The one hundred years of Cape of Kolka Lighthouse residential building

In the Livonian cultural space, the residential building of Kolka lighthouse was an integral part of the Cape of Kolka landscape for several generations. Cape of Kolka itself changed significantly over the years, but the house on the coastal dune, although worn out, stood very stable, and it seemed that it always will be. However, the hundredth year of the building’s existence was the last – in February 2021, the old building was demolished.

A brief look into its old history

The residential building of Cape of Kolka lighthouse was only one of the residences for keepers of Kolka lighthouse that has existed for many centuries. The dangerous lighthouse of Cape of Kolka has been marked by coastal lighthouses since the middle of the 16th century. It is not known where the men serving the towers of the shore lighthouse lived at that time. The first reliable information about the lighthouse’s keeper and his servants is given in the books of the Irbe-Ģipka parish church, which shows that the Kolka lighthouse manor has been operating since at least 1743. It is believed that it was located on the coast, near the lighthouse’s towers. This is at least understandable from the descriptions of several visitors to the lighthouse farm at that time.

The first entry in the book of Irbe-Ģipka parish church about Kolka Lighthouse’s manor

The first entry in the book of the Irbe-Ģipka parish church about Kolka Lighthouse’s manor shows that Fricis died on January 26, 1743 – “The old owner of Valka place and a free man who had looked after the lighthouse manor before …”

Judging by the metrics of the church, the 18th century. at the end of life in the lighthouse manor was lively. Both boys and girls served in the manor. Children began to be born … In 1790, a daughter Anna was born to the manor’s husband Kaspars, but in 1792 – a son Krišs. We also learn that the lighthouse keeper had horses because the 1813 death record said, “The lighthouse keeper’s old coach, 56 years old.” The record of 13 October 1801 suggests that the lighthouse keeper also fished. Of course, he did not do it himself, but rather his servants. According to the records, it is difficult to judge whether the men of the manor themselves lit a fire in the towers of the lighthouse, or whether they were men who lived elsewhere.

About a trip to Kolka in the summer of 1846, the Baltic German painter and cultural worker Julius Döring (1818–1898) wrote in his memoirs:

“(..) We have long seen both white light towers, or as they are called here, “bākas”or “ugunsbākas”on the very northern tip of Kurzeme, shining in front of us. Finally, with fifteen minutes until twelve, we reached the adjacent lighthouse manor and settled down with the lighthouse inspector Mr. Perlmanis. The lighthouse manor has 4–5 houses / warehouses, where the belongings and remains of the ships in distress are brought to, a quarter of which belongs to the Dundaga’s nobleman for rescue. Shipwrecks are quite common here. “

At the beginning of the 19th century, Baron Ulrich Heinrich Gustav von Schlippenbach (1774–1826), a lawyer and poet, also left interesting information about the warehouses under the supervision of the lighthouse inspector:

“The inspector of the lighthouse – a respectable old man – received us kindly and hospitably. He has lived in this lonely corner of Kurzeme for many years. (..) We arrived around four in the afternoon and decided to see the village and the speakers. There are already many wrecked shipwrecks in the lighthouse inspector’s yard and around the warehouses. There was a wooden syren – oh, her magical sounds had not saved her from destruction, she was taken ashore and nailed to the wall without mercy. There were wooden cannons that were once installed on board instead of metal cannons. (..) There lies Minerva’s head, which was once attached to the steering wheel – this is also a testimony that Minerva, as a symbol of wisdom, does not always steer the steering wheel properly, and the head of wisdom itself crashes on reefs and shoals.”

The lighthouse’s manor was destroyed in 1855 during the Crimean War. The main events of the war took place far from Kolka, but warfare was also felt here. Pastor Ernst Friedrich Kupffer (1779–1858) wrote about the events of 1855 in the chronicle of the Irbe-Ģipka parish:

“1855. A sad year. The war came with all its devastation. 200 Bashkirs and Cossacks were housed near Dundaga to be at hand when the English wanted to stand on this shore. They were shot by enemies: the British brought cannons ashore near Kolka, burned down Jaunzēni with a murderous hand, a cordon house in Kolka and Saunaga, many fishing boats and barges, ignoring the fishermen’s pitiful requests. Finally, the lighthouse with all the warehouses and outbuildings was destroyed. Kolka was bombed from two sides. August 27 – the Lighthouse. Kolka’s manager Perlmanis was now poor! He had lost everything, even the rye crop died in the flames of the fire.”

The lighthouse’s manor was apparently restored soon, because the list of settlements of Dundaga parish compiled in 1859 again mentions the lighthouse’s manor, where three men and five women lived. In 1878, the writer and journalist Juris Māters (1845–1885) visited Kolka, and in the description of the trip he reported that in addition to the church in Kolka, the most notable buildings were the houses of tul (fire) guards, the lighthouse inspector’s house, the rescue station and the telegraph. An excerpt from Joachim von Osten-Saken writes about life in a family-owned house in Dundaga between 1859 and 1919 in “Kurland” (No. 5, 1997), suggesting that after the Crimean War there was another building where the lighthouse tower staff lived:

“The “crown” has built a house for them on the shore. The top floor is inhabited by an officer and his wife and child, as well as a doctor hired at the time; there are soldier barracks at the bottom, two of them together with two farmers of Dundaga seaside are always guarding the lighthouse. “

In its turn, the list of settlements of Dundaga parish, which was established in 1896 in preparation for the general census of 1897, refers to the house of Kolka lighthouse, where 13 men and five women served at that time. Book records of Irbe-Ģipka church parish show that at the end of the 19th century, not a single person from Kolka worked in the Kolka lighthouse residential house. For example, the servants of Kolka lighthouse in 1881 were Jānis and Bete Rozenfelde’s, Lizabete Puriņa, Didriķis Friedenbergs and Pēteris Friedmans.

Time of Latvia’s independence

Overseer of Kolka lighthouse – Johans Grīnvalds

After the establishment of the State of Latvia on November 18, 1918, a new stage in the history of Kolka Lighthouse began. In 1918, Johan Grīnvalds, the overseer of the lighthouse, returned, and under his leadership, the renovation of the lighthouse began. Until 1920, the lighthouse was still called Domesne lighthouse. In 1919, Johann Grīnvalds, the supervisor of the Domesne’s lighthouse, and Kārlis Derzevics, two servants of the lighthouse, and Vladimirs Veide, a Livonian who worked all his life at the Kolka lighthouse. His wife Melānija is also a notable mention as during her lifetime she was a folklore tale-teller to Estonian scientists.

Livonians Vladimirs and Melānija Veide with their children in the 30s of the 20th century. In front –Helēna, standing – Sergejs, Emīlija and Olga.

The lighthouse workers had nowhere to live, because during the war the lighthouse residential house with its outbuildings was destroyed. It was not optimal to restore them in the same place, because it would then need reinforcement of the sea shore, which would be expensive. Long-term observations at this site showed that lightweight structures – simply cobblestone fences with stone embankments – could not withstand the shocks of the waves and could not stop the erosion of the shoreline. With this in mind, another suitable site for the construction of the buildings was selected, which was further away from the sea shore. In the spring of 1920, the Ventspils Port Construction Board began building a brick residential house with an observation tower for the lighthouse’s supervisor and three guards. The building was completed in 1921, the all the rights were given on October 11. The materials needed for the construction were delivered by ferries by sea from Ventspils, as well as by rail to Mazirbe and then 24 km by dirt road.

The Construction Board found some of the building materials among the belongings that had been abandoned without the owner and supervision at the end of the war, and took them for free, paying only for the collection of materials. The works were performed by K. Jansbergs and H. Krastiņš with the materials provided by the Construction Board, except for the windows and doors, which were made of the material provided by the workers. Employees were paid 2,362,333.12 rubles or 4,726.88 lats.

Premises plan of the residential building

Jānis Grīnvalds, the manager of the Kolka lighthouse, was unable to settle in the new house due to passing away on February 10, 1922. He was buried in the Kolka Lutheran cemetery. Even now, in the very corner of the cemetery, there is an impressive stone cross on a gray granite pedestal, which marks J. Grīnvalds’ resting place.

From September 1, 1924, Hugo Mihelson (1890–1975, Toronto), whose family roots are connected with Miķeļtornis, became the manager of Kolka lighthouse. His grandfather, Uldriķis Mihelsons, was a blacksmith in the Miķeļtornis in the middle of the 19th century, while his father, Ulrihs Mihelsons, was a sea captain on sailing vessels. Hugo Mihelsons started his career as a sailor in 1905, but in 1914 he graduated from Ventspils Maritime School. He sailed on Russian steamers as a navigating officer; participated in the Latvian Freedom Fights, where he was a navigating officer on steamers in Holsatia, Gauja.

In 1926, in addition to the supervisor Hugo Mihelsons, three lighthouse guards, a radio telegraphist and a driver worked in the Kolka lighthouse. H. Mihelsons lived in a service apartment in the newly built lighthouse residential house until the end of 1929, when he left the position of lighthouse’s supervisor.

Captain Hugo Mihelsons in Liepāja in 1935. Photo from the funds of the Riga History and Navigation Museum

In the 1930s, he was the captain of several steamers, but in 1937 he became the chief of the port of Liepāja. On November 16, 1938, Hugo Mihelson was awarded the Fifth Class Cross of Recognition. In 1939, he became the captain of the Latvian merchant navy motor ship Hercogs Jēkabs. After the occupation of Latvia in June 1940, Hercogs Jēkabs was in the United States, but in August arrived in the port of Callao, Peru. The Port Authority arrested the ship and forbade it to leave the port, and the Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Washington also tried to delay the departure of the ship. Captain Hugo Mihelson was forced to obey the Augusts Kirhenšteins government’s order and had to go to the USSR port of Vladivostok, where the ship arrived in February 1941 and got a new name – Sovetskaya Latvia. The team returned to Riga. Captain Hugo Mihelson’s decision to hand over Hercogs Jēkabs to the Soviets was apparently not driven by conviction, as evidenced by his courageous step in May 1945 to flee to Sweden with the tugboat Una. Mihelsons graduated from being a captain in Sweden in 1951. After moving to Canada, he worked for the Toronto Port Authority.

On January 16, 1930, the Livonian Rūdolfs Freimanis (1888–1962) took over the duties of overseeing the lighthouse. He was born on November 21, 1888, in the Taizeli owners family in Mazirbe – Livonians Niks and Jūlija Freimanis. Nine children were born in the family, three died very young, and four of Rūdolfs’ brothers went somewhere abroad. Rūdolfs had graduated from Mazirbe and Ventspils naval schools. In 1914, R. Freimanis had obtained the degree of Deep Sea Navigator at the St. Petersburg Maritime School. From 1903, R. Freimanis sailed on merchant sailing ships and steamers, but at the beginning of the World War, he navigated minesweepers and mine layers as a ship’s officer and commander of the Russian Imperial Navy. From 1920 to 1930, R. Freimanis lived in Mazirbe and was engaged in fishing and fish processing. He knew Livonian and Russian languages completely and was less fluent in English and Estonian. In the winter of 1937, Rūdolfs Freimanis left his job at the Cape of Kolka Lighthouse and began working as a captain on the light ship Laima.

Deep Sea navigator Rūdolfs Freimanis

At the Cape of Kolka Lighthouse’s residential house in the mid-1930s. From the right – lighthouse’s supervisor Rūdolfs Freimanis with Mrs. Emīlija, Rūdolfs’ mother Jūle (b. Rozenfelde, 1847–1939), Mr. Benson from USA.

The next inhabitant of the Kolka lighthouse’s residential house was the Deep Sea Captain Jānis Zemturis (b. 1880), who worked as the supervisor of the Kolka lighthouse from 1937 to 1942. He had graduated from the Liepāja Naval School in 1907, served in the Russian navy in Kronstadt, sailed on the Liepāja-New York line. He was also involved in rescuing the crew and passengers of the British steamer Volturno in the Atlantic Ocean. He returned to Latvia in 1919, and was a captain and a navigating officer in Liepāja.

Deep Sea Captain Jānis Zemturis

In 1938, Vladimirs Veide; a holder of the Lāčplēsis Military Order Eduards Grīslis (1895–1941), a technician Mihails Dīriņš, and desk manager Eduards Fricbergs worked as guards at the lighthouse. On June 14, 1941, E. Grīslis and his family were taen to Russia. The Chekists followed him to the Cape of Kolka Lighthouse, where he was on duty at the time. Grīslis’ life ended on October 24, 1941 in Vyatlag, Kirov Oblast.

View from the observation tower of the Kolka lighthouse’s residential building to the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga in the mid-1930s

Years of Soviet occupation

After the occupation of Latvia on June 17, 1940, the Kolka lighthouse was operated by sailors of the Baltic fleet, but local people worked with them as well. During World War II, the Kolka lighthouse was destroyed. After the war, the lighthouse’s farm was again taken over by the Baltic fleet, to which all ship lighthouses in the Soviet Baltic Sea area were subordinated. In 1951, Aleksejs Soproņuks, serving in the Pacific and Baltic Fleet, was appointed to supervise the Kolka Lighthouse. Zigurds Veide, grandson of V. Veide:

“Grandfather Veide Vladimirs was the manager of the lighthouse until Soproņuks appeared. He then retired. My grandfather did nothing but serve at the Kolka lighthouse. ”

During the Soviet years, the state border in Kolka was monitored by a border guard post located in the village and a technical observation point of the Baltic Fleet in Cape of Kolka, whose staff used the Kolka lighthouse residential building built in 1921. Resident of Kolka Līga Kalmane:

“Border guards lived in the former forestry – Piekūni. There were soldiers and headquarters in that building. Everything around was fenced. The border guards did not walk through the village. They came only for duty. Rarely they twere aken to a club, to a cinema. They came organized. There was another group – sailors. They were at the very end of the cape, where the big house stands. That was their territory. There were no interactions with the sailors. Neither did the village have contacts with them. Often fights broke out with them. Oh, oh! With chains, with chair legs – there was weapon variety. Most often with sailors. And most often after balls. They had more freedom. There was no discipline. They walked around the village, behaving blusterous and arrogantly. ”

As the lighthouse house in Cape of Kolka had become barracks for seafarers guarding the sea border, the lighthouse staff lived in the village, near the Orthodox Church, in the house “Austrumi”. In 1964, two new houses were built nearby, and the whole complex was named “Lighthouse House”.

„Austrumi” (The East) in 2007

One of the new houses built in 1964 in the complex “Lighthoue House”, today “Bura” (Sails)

Time of the restored Republic of Latvia

In September 1992, the Soviet army and border guards left Latvia, and the protection of the sea coast passed to the Latvian state border guards. The Latvian national flag was hoisted on the flagpole of the Kolka border guard unit.

After starting long-service retirement on December 1, 1993, Visvaldis Feldmanis (1938–2017), a Deep Sea Captain from the village of Saunaga, became the overseer of the Kolka lighthouse. V. Feldmanis obtained the Deep Sea Navigator diploma in 1961, but the Deep Sea Captain diploma – in 1995. He sailed as a sailor, boatswain, short voyage and deep sea navigator, first mate and captain. From 1965 to 1993, his work and seafaring were connected with the fisherman’s collective farm Selga in Lapmežciems.

Visvaldis Feldmanis was a member of the Līvõd Īt, and for several years also a member of its board. For many years during the Livonian festivals he was a flag bearer in the traditional festive sea voyage.

Visvaldis Feldmanis on his way to Kolka’s Lighthouse

V. Feldmanis was the last overseer of Kolka lighthouse. Until his death in 2017, he lived in the house of the lighthouse complex, which after privatisation had acquired a new house name “Buras” (Sails).

Cape of Kolka is now freely available to everyone. The maritime surveillance system has changed radically. In recent times, the installed observation tower operates in automatic mode, and the presence of people is necessary only for control and preventive measures. The old lighthouse overseer’s house, built in 1921, was no longer used and gradually perished.

Cape of Kolka Lighthouse’s old residential house in 2013

On July 18, 2015, during the celebration of the traditional Sea Festival, the people of Kolka organized an exhibition of their photos in the old lighthouse’s guard building, trying to inspire hope for a revival of the old house.

Exhibition of photographs by residents of Kolka in the old lighthouse guard house on July 18, 2015

Jānis Dambītis, Executive Director of SIA Kolkasrags:

“There were attempts to look for new uses for the old building. A development plan for the lighthouse house was prepared, taking into account the rapidly growing flow of visitors to the Cape of Kolka. The plan was to expand the Cape of Kolka visitor center, to create exhibition halls, an observation tower, to provide catering services and to offer exclusive accommodation in the off-season months.

The year 2021 came, which fatefully coincided with the centenary of the building. Those were sunny spring days of late February when the old building was demolished.

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