In the early 20th century, the Nellim area was sparsely populated. At the time, Nellim was part of the geographically wide village of Paatsjoki, which extended to the northern shore of Lake Inarijärvi all the way to Partakko. There were only 14 farms in the village of Paatsjoki. Originally, Nellim was the name of the farm that was located in the area of the current village of Nellim. The Nellim area was invigorated in the 1920s thanks to road construction and the large logging sites.

The Road Brings Tourists to the Area

The area of Petsamo was annexed to Finland in the Treaty of Tartu between Finland and Soviet Russia in 1920. The new connection to the Arctic Ocean opened up many opportunities, which is why a road had to be constructed. Road construction began in 1916 but the subsequent wars delayed the project. It was planned that the road from Rovaniemi to Liinakhamari would run via Nellim and Virtaniemi.

At the time, road construction required a lot of manpower. Almost all of the male inhabitants of Inari participated in the construction work. They dug the earth with spades and carried it away in a wheelbarrow or by horse. This contract work was carried out in stretches that were one hundred metres long. These stretches were called plots. One or two men worked one plot. The agreed sum of money was paid right after the completion of each plot and the men then got straight to work on a new plot. This road, which is called the Arctic Ocean Road, was finally completed in 1931. 

Besides cargo transport, the road also attracted tourists to the area. The Arctic Ocean and Petsamo, or "The Klondike of the North", were exotic destinations that also attracted foreign tourists. Due to the growing numbers of tourists, a hostel was built in Virtaniemi in 1924 and a camping ground in 1937. In addition to the tourists heading to the Arctic Ocean, many recreational fishermen also stayed at the hostel. There were also two rowing boats and a motor boat that could be hired by the guests. 

The Era of Intensive Logging

Photo: Pasi NivasaloThe busy logging period in the area surrounding Lake Inarijärvi started in 1921. In 1915, a Norwegian-English company named ATIF had bought 2 million log trees from Metsähallitus as there were not enough forests to be cut in northern Norway. The new-found felling industry was very important to the development of the municipality of Inari. There was a lack of work throughout Finland, so workers arrived at the Inari logging sites from as far afield as Ostrobothnia. 

In winter, the logs were transported onto the storage sites that were located on the shores of Lake Inarijärvi. From there, the logs were transported in summer by boat to Virtaniemi, to the neck of River Paatsjoki. The logs were floated to the sawmill located in Jakobsnes at the mouth of the River Paatsjoki. The sawmill was considered to be the largest in northern Europe. Later on, some of the logs were sawn at Nellim, in the centre of which a large sawmilll had been built.

Resettlement of the Skolt Sámi People

At the time of the Winter War (1939-1940), the Skolt Sámi people from Petsamo were evacuated to Ostrobothnia, amongst other places. At the end of the wars, Finland had to hand over Petsamo to the Soviet Union and its Skolt Sámi inhabitants were no longer able to return to their traditional dwelling areas. Nellim was one of the three dwelling areas allocated to the Skolt Sámi in Finland. A total of 35 Skolt Sámi families moved to the area.