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Narva, Estonia

Kreenholm Manufacturing Company

An abandoned textile factory on the "island of crows" was home to Estonia's first workers' strike. 

Kreenholm island sits in the Narva River. The “island of crows” is in the middle of the border between Russia and Estonia, and was once home to the world’s largest cotton spinning mill. Some of the complex is still being used by private companies, but most of the grand buildings lie empty.

In 1857, a year after he bought the whole island, Ludwig Knoop founded the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company. Knoop was a pioneer of the Russian cotton industry, and used English architecture and machinery, and often English technicians and supervisors.

In 1872, after a cholera epidemic took the lives of over 400 employees, the mill’s internal police were forced to disband. When they were reinstated a year later, the workers revolted. The first strike in Estonia led to a riot, and state police were called in. An investigation revealed awful working conditions in the plant—including children forced to work from 5 a.m to 9 p.m. The internal police were officially ended, and, though wages stayed low, Kreenholm began offering health insurance and supplied dorms and schools.

The 32,000-acre plant employed 12,000 people in its heyday, but by 1944 the company was in ruins. The Soviet Union took over until it was privatized in 1994. It limped along until going bankrupt in 2010. The dorms, which were added later, and some other buildings were torn down, but the factory’s earliest buildings still stand—for now. A project to turn it into a shopping mall is in the works.

Know Before You Go

You can only enter with a guide on Sundays at 12:00, at the old gate (opposite Joala street 30/32) guides wait for tourists to come. Tickets are sold on the spot and cost 13 euros per person, cash only. There are guides that do tours in Russian and Estonian. English tours need to be pre-booked via Narva Castle Museum.

Be sure to switch your mobile data not to get a roaming bill! This place literally is on the border (pedestrian border crossing right next to the island), so Russian mobile charges would apply.