The 1000 year history of Viðey Island
Viðey was inhabited from soon after the settlement of Iceland around 900 AD. In 1225 a monastery was founded on the island by Þorvaldur Gissurarson, with the assistance of scholar/chieftain Snorri Sturluson. The first monastery in the southern quarter, it soon grew wealthy. At its zenith it was the second richest monastery in Iceland, owning up to 116 estates.
In 1539 the monastery came to a dramatic end when it was raided by Danish soldiers, when the Reformation was imposed on the Icelandic church.
For the next two centuries Viðey belonged to the royal estate of Bessastaðir. A home for paupers was located on the island.
Skúli Magnússon was the first Icelander to become Treasurer, and for half a century he was one of the most powerful men in the country. He had Viðeyjarstofa (Viðey House) built as his official residence; it was completed in 1755.
But Skúli did not only make his mark on Viðey. He also founded the first industrial enterprise inIceland, the Innréttingar woollen workshops, which led to the beginning of urban development in Reykjavík. Hence he is known as the Father of Reykjavík.
Skúli died on Viðey island in 1794, and buried beneath the altar of the church he had built there 20 years before.
The Stephensen family
In 1794 Ólafur Stephensen, the first Icelander to be Governor of Iceland, moved to Viðey, where he lived until his death in 1812. He was renowned for his hospitality. His son Magnús Stephensen, president of the High Court, took over the estate at his death, and in 1817 he bought the island from the royal estate. He installed a printing press on the island, which functioned 1819–44. Magnús died in 1833, and island remained in the Stephensen family until the end of the 19th century.
In 1901 Eggert Briem and his wife Katrín Pétursdóttur started large-scale farming on Viðey. They built a cattle-shed housing 48 cows, and sold about 200,000 litres of milk per year to the inhabitants of Reykjavík.
In 1907 Pétur J. Thorsteinsson and Thor Jensen founded the P. J. Thorsteinsson & Co. fishing company, with share capital of a million krónur, a huge amount at the time. Hence it was always known as Milljónafélagið (the Million Corporation). It was located at the eastern end of the island, where a village of houses and fish processing facilities developed, adjacent to the best harbour facilities onFaxaflói Bay. At that time Reykjavík had no proper harbour.
The Million Corp. went out of business in 1914, but fish processing continued. In 1924 the Kári company made the island its fishing headquarters, and the population of the village rose to a high point of 138 in 1930. A year later the fishing company failed, after which the islanders began to move away. By 1943 the village was uninhabited.
Farming continued on Viðey until the 1950s, after which the island was uninhabited. By 1968, when Viðey House and the church passed to the National Museum of Iceland, the buildings were severely dilapidated. In 1986 the Icelandic state presented the buildings to the City of Reykjavík. Renovation work on the buildings was completed in 1988.