by Þórdís Edda Guðjónsdóttir
Photo credit: Alda Berglind Sverrisdóttir
Icelandic Roots' mission is to educate, preserve and promote Icelandic heritage. Each year the organization funds special projects and other activities which focus on Icelandic heritage, genealogy, literature, language, culture and traditions in the United States, Canada and Iceland. This year, 2020, one of the projects that Icelandic Roots supported was the Riishús restoration.
In the small town of Borðeyri in Hrútafjörður, Iceland, is an old merchant house, called Riishús (Riis' House). This house is one of the oldest merchant houses in Iceland, built in 1862, and plays a significant role in the local history.
In 1858 a man by the name Pétur Eggerz settled in Borðeyri. He had studied commercial science in England, and was an ambitious man. Pétur Eggerz built Riishús as a general store and a residence for him and his family. The Riishús consists of two floors, ground floor and attic, and was built of high quality timber on top of stone foundation. The ground plan measures approximately 7.6m x 14.7m (24ft x 48ft). Around 1890 the house was sold to a Danish merchant, Richard Peter Riis, hence the name Riishús (Riis' House).
Even before the house was built, local people and people from nearby counties came to Borðeyri to buy merchandise. A general store was run in the Riishús house for 40 years until the store was bought out and moved into a new building. In 1941 a fire, accidentally caused by British soldiers stationed at Borðeyri, burnt down many of the houses in Borðeyri, including the new general store, but Riishús was untouched. That same year the store was moved back into the first floor of the Riishús, and the attic was used to house the staff. There the store remained until 1960 when it moved to the building next door, but the last resident moved out in 1965.
Around 1990 a discussion on protecting and restoring this historic house began. So the Society for the Restoration of Riishús was founded and in 1994 the work on restoring the house began. In 2000 the Riishús was put on the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture's list of protected buildings. The exterior work is almost finished and much has been done on the ground floor interior, but the upper floor is unfinished.
Riishús is open during the summertime and houses a coffeehouse and a local market. There you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a waffle with cream after browsing through the store 's second hand items, such as clothes and books, and homemade things made by local people, such as jam, kleinur (Icelandic twisted donuts), lopapeysur (wool sweaters), mittens etc. All profits from the sales and donations is used towards the renovation and upkeep of the house.
Please stop by next time you are in the neighbourhood, it's only about an 8 km detour from Highway 1.
You can check more pictures from the Riishús here: https://www.facebook.com/riishusbo
If you know of an Icelandic heritage project that needs funding for 2021, tell us about it in an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Georg Jón Georgsson. (1996). Saga Riishúss á Borðeyri. http://www.angelfire.com/ex/solheimar/riis.html
Icelandic Roots. (2020). Our Mission. www.icelandicroots.com
Riishús á Borðeyri. A brochure available at the Riishús.
Vilhelm Vilhelmsson. (2018). Borðeyri – Verndarsvæði í byggð: Tillaga og greinargerð. https://www.hunathing.is/static/files/Skipulag/Verndarsv-bordeyri-verndarsvaedi-i-byggd.pdf