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Roman Tubaja

Ethnographic Museum, Toruń

The condition of rural architecture and its protection in the Lower Vistula Valley

The 20th century, and particularly its second half, fundamentally transformed the cultural landscape of the Polish countryside. These changes, whose causes are commonly known, affect traditional rural architecture or more broadly, the rural infrastructure associated with this architecture. However, the landscape in the Lower Vistula Valley underwent a very specific transformation of a negative character. As a result of forced demographic processes, which were a consequence of WWII, the cultural continuity of the region was interrupted. After 1945, the local residents, whose ancestors came from various regions of the present-day Netherlands and Germany, left these areas, and the region was settled by people from southern and southeastern Poland. The cultural legacy found by the newcomers seemed "foreign", and often, they were unable to take advantage of its objects. Thus, the attitude of the new settlers to the cultural past of the region was generally negative. These and other causes, including political and economic situation, for instance, the agrarian reform, which contributed to impoverishment of the local farms, were responsible for very rapid deterioration of the regional landscape, including rural architecture, that is, various forms of buildings, technical devices, and small architectural elements. As a consequence of these processes, only several complete homesteads survived to the present-day in the discussed area. Unfortunately, they do not include all characteristic types of buildings. The development of these types was a result of complex colonization and ethnic processes as well as an adaptation of building forms to the local, specific geographic environment.

The following features were of interest to numerous researchers of many specializations: the characteristic village layout, that is, the riverbank linear layout (rzędówka przyrzeczna), multi-building homesteads with a corner-notched log structure that housed residential, livestock, and farming sections under a common roof, characteristic annexes for the "old folks", and arcaded extensions. These homesteads, erected on natural or artificial rises, were of many subtypes and their layouts had T, L, or straight line shapes. It is not surprising that they have been the subject of interest of conservation agencies and museums, whose aim is to preserve the most valuable and characteristic sites for the future generations.

The interest in protecting the rural architecture in the second half of the 20th century manifested itself in two schemes.

First scheme involved protection of the most valuable historic monuments in situ, which was often achieved by adapting them to the new non-residential and sometimes non-museum functions. This scheme was the most desirable form of historic site protection; it was also very attractive considering rapid development of tourism. The scheme was proposed in 1960s by Maria Znamierowska-Prűfferowa. Her vision was met with acceptance by the conservation agencies, especially by Zdzisław Ciara, who was the head of the Voivodeship Historical Monument Conservation Agency in Bydgoszcz for many years. Unfortunately, with an exception of isolated examples, which sometimes proved to be short-lived, this scheme failed to find wide applications. Apart from one example, which will be discussed here, this form of protection was not introduced to the Lower Vistula Valley due to objective difficulties in its implementation.

The second scheme involved establishing open air museums. The buildings of the Lower Vistula Valley, called "olęder", "holenderski", or "kolonizacyjny", were to be included in this form of protection proportionally in relation to other regions of Pomorze (Pomerania) and Kujawy.

In 1946, Maria Znamierowska-Prüfferowa proposed to establish in Toruń the Pomorskie Muzeum Ludoznawcze (Pomeranian Folk Museum). The museum was to include an open-air section, which would present objects from all historical and ethnographic regions of the then Bydgoszcz Voivodeship and, comparatively, from other regions of northern Poland. The Olęder buildings were to be exhibited as part of this enterprise. Unfortunately, the project was not completed. But already in 1951, Maria Znamierowska-Prüfferowa, who was at the time the director of the Ethnographic Section of the Pomeranian Museum in Toruń, proposed a creation of an open-air museum as part of the then planned Park Tysiąclecia (Millennium Park) in Mietlica on Gopło lake. The debates about the project lasted for many years. In 1967, the author of the project proposed a more detailed concept, according to which the Olęder homestead was to be transferred to the planned museum. This project was not completed either. In the meantime, on January 1, 1959, an autonomous Ethnographic Museum was established in Toruń. The site plan of an open-air museum, which was supposed to be established on the back of the main Museum and include 2.5 ha, was completed as early as 1958. The plan was drawn by an eminent architect Prof. Gerard Ciołek according to the guidelines of Maria Znamierowska-Prüfferowa. The project was to have a form of a park and include the Olęder homestead in addition to complete homesteads from various regions of northern Poland As a result of the reduction of the museum area between 1964 and 1974, the program was cut and the Dutch homestead excluded from the museum; it would take up to much space. The Olęder culture was only mentioned through displaying several movable objects on permanent exhibition "Traditional crafts and folk art of northern Poland".

In 1968, Maria Znamierowska-Prüfferowa prepared a preliminary project for a Ziemia Chełmińska open-air museum based on an existing house in Kaszczorek near Toruń. The museum was to be established in a 7 ha area located at the Drwęca river outlet to the Vistula. The area is very picturesque but its considerable section is a part of a floodplain. The architecture of the Lower Vistula Valley was supposed to play an important role in the project. Monographs of Władysław Łęga and Klemens Krajewski as well as archival materials of the Ethnographic Museum in Toruń were of great assistance in selecting and transferring the buildings. The plan for localization of a Dutch homestead was based on these materials. It also included elements of "small" architecture, for example, a cellar, a well sweep, a fruit drying room, a shack for the orchard caretaker, and chalets on skids or wheels. The completion of the first section of the open-air museum with an updated program, which included a homestead from Ziemia Chełmińska and various types of water related objects, had to wait until 1990s.

At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, the conservation authorities considered establishing an open-air museum, which would include all historic and ethnographic regions of the then Bydgosz voivodeship. The museum was to be located in the Mogilno area or in Rudzki Most near Tuchola. Finally, Zdzisław Ciara, the head of the Voivodeship Historical Monument Conservation Agency decided to locate the museum in Myślęcinek near Bydgoszcz as a part of the planned Park Kultury i Wypoczynku (Park of Culture and Leisure). The preliminary project was drawn up in 1973. Based on field research in the Lower Vistula Valley, the project proposed the transfer of the basic types of the Olęder buildings to the museum. Although the field survey demonstrated that the Olęder architecture is in terrible condition, at the time it was still possible to select examples (among several dozen buildings) of different types of homesteads with a fully preserved log structure and a barn and transfer them to the museum. The question of an open-air museum in Myślęcinek, probably with an updated program, (other museums were established in the meantime) is still open and is included in the development plan of the Park of Culture and Leisure in Myślęcinek near Bydgoszcz. This project was revived in the mid 1990s, but due to organizational and financial difficulties associated with the acquisition of an appropriate terrain, its realization was postponed indefinitely. Back in 1977, Jerzy Feldman, the then Director of the Museum in Grudziąc called for an establishment of the open-air museum of Ziemia Chełmińska. The museum was to be located in Słupski Młyn near Grudziąc based on the preserved manor buildings located in that village. The architecture of the Vistula Valley floodplains located between Ostromecko and Grudziąc, where dozen or so complete Olęder homesteads survived, was to be represented in considerable numbers on the museum grounds.

At the end of 1970s, the conservation activists prepared an initial project for the open-air Ethnographic Museum of Kujawy and Ziemia Dobrzyńska. In 1979, the detailed project was developed. The plan was drawn up on order of Elżbieta Stachurska, the then head of the Voivodeship Historical Monument Conservation Agency. Its program included a homestead of wealthy German colonists from the Vistula riverbank. The homestead included four buildings: a house with a farming building under a common roof (Bógpomóż, replacement - Słońsk Górny), a pigpen with a coach house and a shed (Słońsk Górny), a barn (Bógpomóż), and a cellar (Słońsk Górny). The homestead was also supposed to be equipped with other small architectural objects. And even though the work on the Skansen (open-air museum) Ziemi Kujawskiej i Dobrzyńskiwej in Kłóbka (branch of the Muzeum Ziemi Kujawskiej i Dobrzyńskiej in Włocławek) is well under way, the selected buildings have already been destroyed. The plan of this museum still provides for an inclusion of a Vistula riverbank homestead of the colonization type (the project included substitute buildings), which will house all sections under a common roof (residential and farming buildings and a barn) arranged in a straight line. The homestead will be complemented with small architectural elements from Słońsko or Bógpomóż. This project will probably be completed.

Between 1979 and 1983, the Ethnographic Museum in Toruń conducted extensive field survey of the Lower Vistula Valley, from Świecie to Żuławy. The purpose of this survey was to identify the current condition of the Olęder buildings and, first of all, acquire various movable historic objects and include them in the Museum collection. At the time, our intention was to organize a temporary exhibition devoted to folk culture of the Lower Vistula Valley. Unfortunately, the scanty museum assets and the small amount of objects acquired during this survey prevented us from completing the project. However, the field research revealed the catastrophic condition of the traditional culture, including the traditional buildings of the Lower Vistula Valley region.

Inability to protect the most valuable monuments of the Olęder architecture through their transfer to open-air museums due to the fact that the above mentioned projects were not successfully completed encouraged me to propose an establishment of an ecomuseum in the Lower Vistula Region. I submitted this proposition in 1983 during the "Spotkania Nadwiślańskie (Meetings by the Vistula)" event, which was organized by Roman Klim in the Museum of Vistula in Tczewo. The ecomuseum was supposed to protect various historical sites in the region, including not only architectural forms, but also technical devices as well as Evangelical and Mennonite cemeteries and other sites, that is, the cultural heritage of the settlers from the present-day Netherlands and Germany and also of the ethnically Polish residents. This form of protection would have to secure cooperation of conservation agencies and other institutions (e.g. museums, associations etc.) and would probably be the most beneficial to the historic sites and the most attractive for tourists. However, this proposition, despite the media interest, did not draw a response from the conservation community.

Further attempts to preserve the architecture of the discussed region were made in the 1990s.

At that time, the issue of regulation of the Vistula river was revived. As part of the project, two reservoirs were to be constructed: in Nieszawa and near Solec Kujawski. Both of these reservoirs would diametrically change the water relations of the Vistula and Drwęca rivers, which would positively affect the area of the Ethnographic Park (under construction) in Kaszczorku. The area of the park would not be so severely flooded by both rivers. Furthermore, the planned north-south motorway that was to run only 3 km from the museum in Kaszczorek would also be conducive to other projects, which would make the area more attractive for tourists. These projects induced the Ethnographic Museum in Toruń to prepare a new and much broader plan for the open-air museum development. The conservation authorities made efforts to acquire 5 ha of the terrain on the Drwęca riverbank by its outlet to the Vistula from the Municipal Council in Toruń. On this account, in 1992, architect Lucyna Czyżniewska prepared a developmental plan of the open-air museum based on the thematic program proposed by the Museum. As part of the Lower Vistula Valley architectural complex, the program involved construction of 4 homesteads that would include buildings from various villages.

1. Homestead from Kaniczki consisting of a corner-notched log house with a frontal arcade, which included a masonry farming section under a common roof (18th/19th centuries), and a corner-notched log barn from Bógpomóż.

2. Homestead from Chrystków (ca. 1770) consisting of a house with a frontal arcade - a fragment of an extant residential building, original non-extant homestead, probably in the shape of letters T or L, a barn, and a farming building.

3. Homestead from Niedźwiedź - a house, a cowshed, and a barn located under a common roof (18th/19th centuries); it was to be situated on an artificial rise.

4. Homesteads from Mątawskie Pastwiska - a house with the "old folks" annex, a cowshed, a barn with a L shaped layout (1779), and a workers' hut included in this farmyard (1827).

The complex was planned as a riverbank linear settlement (rzędówka przyrzeczna) with shortened distances between individual homesteads. The homesteads were to be complemented with small architectural objects. This was the most detailed open-air museum program prepared to date. The museum was to present the essential types of homesteads characteristic of the Lower Vistula Valley and, what is very important, the objects were to be composed in the landscape very similar to the original surroundings.

In 1995, the Municipal Council in Toruń granted the requested area. Despite this, as of today, the completion of the project is not very probable due to enormous costs, progressing technical condition of homesteads in Kaniczki and Mątawskie Pastwiska, unavailability of the Chrystków homestead (included in the Nadwiślański Park Krajobrazowy (the Vistula Landscape Park)), lack of substitute buildings, and the fact that the Vistula has not been regulated. However, in 1995, thanks to a kind support of the then Toruń Voivode, Bernard Kwiatkowski, we acquired the homestead in Niedźwiedź and obtained a permit from the Voivodeship Historic Monument Conservation Agency in Bydgoszcz for its transfer to the open-air museum in Kaszczorek. Thus we believe that the homestead with reconstructed small architectural objects (e.g. a cellar, a root cellar, a well, and fences) will be transferred to Kaszczorek.

In the beginning of 1990s, the conservation authorities decided to complement the then developing Ethnographic Park in Toruń with small architectural objects from the areas located on the Vistula banks and included in the Olęder colonization. Restoration specialists reconstructed a hay roof, which is characteristic of the region, and two osier chalets on skids, which used to be an inherent feature of the cultural landscape of the Vistula lowlands.

The survey of the Mennonite cemeteries conducted between 1990 and 1992 in the Lower Vistula Valley confirmed that the condition of the sites is tragic. Therefore, the authorities of the Ethnographic Park in Toruń decided to include a lapidarium in the Park, which would exhibit the most typical and valuable gravestones. After many efforts, due to enormous kindness of Dr. Elżbieta Baniukiewicz from the Ministry of Art and Culture and a minister from the Evangelical parish, Jerzy Molin, in 1993, we obtained a permit from the Voivodeship Historic Monument Conservation Agency in Toruń to transfer the fragments of gravestones from the cemeteries in Słońsk near Ciechocinek, Welka Nieszawka near Toruń, Sosnówka near Grudziądz, Wielkie Łunawy, and Św. Jerzy in Toruń to the Park. The oldest gravestone dates from 1691 and the most recent, from 1941.

According to the facts presented above, it is evident that the homesteads and small elements of architecture characteristic of the Lower Vistula Valley will be presented only in the Ethnographic Parks in Toruń and Kaszczorek an in the Ethnographic Park of Ziemia Kujawska and Dobrzyńska in Kłóbka.

And even though the picture of this architecture presented in these open-air museums will be very fragmentary, incomplete, and out of its cultural context, these unique and scarce objects will be preserved, illustrating the richness of the architecture of the waterside belt of the Lower Vistula Valley.

In 1993, the situation related to the discussed subject changed as a result of establishment of the Landscape Park of the Lower Vistula Valley with headquarters in Świecie. The Park was created with a purpose of protection of the cultural landscape that stretches from Bydgoszcz to Nowe, on both banks of the Vistula river. Even though the Park activities and aims are a subject of a separate report, I would like to emphasize that its establishment presents an unprecedented opportunity for preservation of the cultural landscape in an appropriate way and for its protection against the transformation headed in the wrong direction. This opportunity was created by joint efforts of numerous regional organizations and institutions and with the application the materials and skills these institutions contributed to the project. However the success of this program will depend on available organizational and financial means, among others.

The article presents numerous initiatives and project whose aim was to protect the architecture of the Olęder villages in the Lower Vistula Valley. Unfortunately, despite the enormous effort of the authors and institutions, few of these projects were completed due to reasons that can be described as objective. Can we, the responsible and authorized to protect the cultural heritage that was created by many generations of Dutch, German, and Polish settlers, explain this failure only by citing the objective reasons? I will leave this question unanswered. However, I realize that the reasons responsible for the current state of affairs are very complex, just as complex as the history of the region itself. Although many of the causes responsible for the destruction had historic or political undertones, quite a few of them of them have their origins in people themselves, their convictions, views, mentality, and attitudes to this past. And even though it is too late to save this cultural landscape because it is partially destroyed and transformed, certainly it is not too late to rescue its relics from complete destruction and oblivion.

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