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.