The resort of Saulkrasti was established in the 19th century, when the fishermen of Katrīnbāde village began renting out their houses for the summer and themselves staying in barns in the meantime. Visitors came from as far as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In 1909, the resort town had 150 residents.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, summer cottages began sprouting up near the sea gulf. Only seldomly were construction rights given to Latvians. Over the years, the range of summer-dwellers expanded. Saulkrasti was a popular holiday resort with Latvian cultural society in the first third of the 20th century.
The area of Saulkrasti was only mentioned for the first time in the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia in the late 12th and early 13th century. It refers to small Livonian villages near the sea inhabited by very rebellious Liv peoples. In the 13th century this area was a part of Kubesele province and it was during this time that the first sacral building, St. Peter’s Chapel, was built. It is possible that this chapel has lent its name to Pērļupīte – Pēterupe (Peter’s River) and to the Livonian village of Pēterupe.
In the 14th-15th centuries, the areas surrounding the castle mounds and centres built by Germans belonged to manors.
In mid-16th century, the area of Saulkrasti came under the rule of Bīriņi (Kolcene) manor. The life was very hard in those times, as Vidzeme was very much coveted by Poles and from a German province became a part of Poland.
The political circumstances change over time, but the owners of the Saulkrasti area remain the same.
The life of the area changed rapidly in 1823. The son-in-law of the Count of Bīriņi Manor Ludvig August Mellin (1754-1834), the Baron of Lēdurga Karl von Reutern built the first cottages north of Pēterupe and established a new place for swimming, which was named Neubad (Neibāde) – German for “new bathing place”. In 1835, Alexis I. Gehran Postolkohrs (1792-1870), the other son-in-law of the Count of Bīriņi Ludvig August Mellin, bought this Neibāde resort from his brother-in-law Karl von Reutern. Both were intelligent German nobles who wanted to expand the Bīriņi estate with a large and spacious place for recreation by the sea.
The Neibāde resort started really flourishing in 1857. Following the wedding of August von Pistolkohrs and the adopted daughter of the Saint Petersburg millionaire Stiglitz Emily Harder and the receipt of 8 million (supposedly, golden roubles) in dowry, the construction of Bīriņi manor with a park was completed in 1860 and the construction works at the Neibāde beach commenced. One of the first objects built was the Neibāde resort club – KUHRHAUS. It was surrounded by other buildings related to the resort life, for example, the HAUSEN hotel, KUMĪ restaurant-villa opposite it and another two buildings: one built as a bathing house (an early form of SPA) and a summer hostel for the service staff. A park was built next to the resort building square.
Neibāde resort had become the recreation destination of choice for the nobility of Vidzeme. Nobles from Vidzeme, including Tartu, Viljandi and Pärnu, as well as from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and elsewhere in the Russian Empire came to spend their summers here. There was a very bad connection by road to Riga. Pärnu was more accessible. Thus, this became a somewhat isolated resort.
The nobles came to the new bathing place with their whole families, taking their own cooks, maids and servants with them. Neibāde was popularly known as the summer cottage area of Pēterupe or the “lord’s end”. Until the mid-19th century, Neibāde was wholly owned by the Bīriņi manor. The manor offered cottages for rent, dinners at restaurants and interesting evening events in the resort house for the nobility. The nobles preferred an intelligent kind of relaxation, they spent their leisure time mainly listening to lectures about natural sciences, literature and arts. Recreation was all about mental relaxation, seaside walks and spending a lot of time in fresh air. The swimming in the sea was also very different from the beaches of Riga. There were certain hours when only ladies or only gentlemen were allowed on the beach: it was customary to bathe naked without swimming suits. Evening entertainment consisted of orchestra performances, dances held by a designated dance master who started the balls and announced which dance will be danced.
However, the resort life was very expensive therefore, in 1875, the owner of Bīriņi manor started selling off land plots to other nobles who wanted to build their cottages. However, not everyone who had the money was entitled – the social status and the title were important, although not as strictly as before.
In a short time, by the beginning of the 19th century, the area of Neibāde was covered with new, beautiful and luxurious cottages. Most of the well-known nobles of Vidzeme had a cottage there. Spectacular and magnificent manors were built by Count Kampenhausen, Prince Lieven, Barons Adas, Wolf, Klot, Ulrich and others. The Baron of Ērgļi Gustav Rudolf von Tranzej also visited the place with his suite of servants, including writer Rudolf Blaumanis’ father Matīss Blaumanis, who was a cook.
The Barons Pistolkohrs improved the life around Neibāde by building a doctorate, a church and a pharmacy in Pēterupe, improving roads, opening the Kāpu Ķīši – Plade school for the children of peasants and fishermen.
Neibāde suffered heavily in World War One. There was no heavy bombardment, but the trench life proved to be disastrous for Neibāde. Russian soldiers roamed around Saulkrasti and looted whatever was possible. The books in the barons’ libraries were used for rolling cigarettes and the furniture as firewood.
Land reform commenced following the World War One. The cottages were taken away from the nobles and redistributed according to the reform rules: given to various officials, recipients of the Order of Lāčplēsis, heroes of World War One and others either for free or for a fee.
The economic activity such as markets and different societies had mainly moved to Pēterupe following the war. Neibāde was a quiet area, which only saw some activity in the summer.
In 1933, the villages of Pēterupe and Neibāde were joined together and renamed Saulkrasti.
At this time, there were a number of societies actively functioning in both Neibāde and Pēterupe. Until World Was Two, Saulkrasti was the site of the rest-house of Latvian textile workers and the summer camp of the Latvian children’s aid society in “Rūķīši”.
With the inauguration of the Saulkrasti section of Riga-Rūjiena rail line in 1934, came an increasing number of intellectuals from Riga who wanted to relax in peace and quiet. Among them were Alfrēds Kalniņš, Tija Banga, Lilija Šmithene and others.
World War Two brought great losses to Saulkrasti too. Although there was no actual fighting, almost every year there was the German front line with trenches and fortifications. After the war, the resort life recovered slowly. There was a boom of formation of gardening societies around Saulkrasti, which caused inconvenience to the locals. The infrastructure of the urban village was not ready to cope with the influx of people.
In 1933, the villages of Pēterupe and Neibāde were joined together and renamed Saulkrasti. The name “Saulkraste” was chosen by the local writer Emīls Cīrulis based on the setting of his play “Blossom Time”.
In 1950 Pabaži was annexed to Saulkrasti, in 1967 – Zvejniekciems and in 1991 Saulkrasti was granted a city status.