Chełmno, a bird's eye view

Administrative District

The history of Chełmno administrative district goes back to 1466, when after the end of wars against the Teutonic Knights, the lands of Chełmno were to be returned to Poland. Initially the area of the district was more or less comparable to the territory including the area under the rule of the Order of Teutonic Knights around Chełmno and Kowalewo and was one out of the seven districts of Chełmno province. During its long history the administrative district has undergone numerous alterations and governmental transformations. In 1772, after the first partition of Poland, Chełmno district was incorporated into Westpreussen province with the capital in Kwidzyń. After Poland had regained her independence, Chełmno administrative district was integrated into Pomeranian province with its capital city in Toruń. And after World War II until 1950 the district belonged to Pomeranian province with its capital city in Bydgoszcz. In the years 1950 to 1975, it was included in Bydgoszcz province, again, with its capital city in Bydgoszcz. The district discontinued its existence in 1975 in the result of the administrative reorganization of the country and its area was assigned to Toruń province. Then again, the last administrative transformation had lead to the fact that on January 1, 1999, Chełmno district reappeared on the administrative map of Poland and was incorporated into the new Kujawsko-pomorskie province.

Mascaron, the Cywiński family house in Chełmno.

The center of Chełmno district both in the Medieval times and now was and is the town of Chełmno that has been the capital of that historic land, the territory located among the Vistula, the Drwęca and Osa rivers, ever since the dawn of the history of the region.
The first written information about Chełmno, in Latin called Culmen (i.e. hill, summit, mount), appeared in 1065 in the document issued for the Benedictine Cloister of Mogilno possibly by Bolesław Szczodry, a prince at that time and later the king.

Portrait of L.Rydygier (MZCh).

The archeological research has evidenced, that the former town, and to be more correct barely a fortified settlement, was located on the site of the present village of Kałdus, at the foot of so called Mountain of St. Wawrzyniec. At that time, some pagan tribes of Prussia often invaded that area. In the early part of the XIII century, having reduced the medieval town to rubble, Conrad, Duke of Mazovia, endowed a missionary bishop Chrystian with the title to the stronghold to enable the bishop to organize crusades into the territory of Prussia, in virtue of privileges granted by the Pope. Despite that, the Prussian attacks were growing more and more intense and the Polish population of Chełmno land suffered from them. Then, in 1226, Conrad, Duke of Mazovia, decided to invite to Poland, and later to Chełmno territory, the knights of the Order of the Mary Virgin Hospital of the German House in Jerusalem (commonly called Teutonic Knights). The preserved traces of the formation of the Piasts' state of that area are the early medieval remnants of some fortified settlements of IX - XII centuries (Jeleniec - a fortified settlement on an island, Wabcz, Unisław, Żygląd).
In the XIII century, Chełmno, a settlement at that time, was devastated again and moved to the site of contemporary Starogród, where the Teutonic Knights erected their castle soon.

On December 28, 1233, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Herman von Salza, and the Master of this Country, Herman Balk, issued the foundation document for Chełmno and Toruń. That grant proclaimed the famous Chełmno privilege. The Chełmno law was based on the Magdeburg law and some elements of the Flemish and Hungarian laws. The Chełmno law warranted foundations of over 200 towns all over Polish territory of that time. The document that was issued in 1233 went up in flames during the fire of the town around 1244. That was the reason that the Master of the Teutonic Knights of Germany and the General Master of Prussia and Inflants, Eberhard von Sayn, confirmed thereof on October 1, 1251.

Ruins of the castle in Papowo Biskupie.

The Teutonic Knights possibly moved the town to its present location in the mid of the XII century. Chełmno was set up on so-called "raw root". This means that it was very carefully planned, which explains the regular character of the town. The town hall is located in the very center of the town, all streets intersect on the square (so called chessboard layout), and the whole town is encompassed with defensive walls. Chełmno originally was meant to be the capital of the state of the Teutonic Knights. However, they finally decided to alter the plans and Malbork was made the choice. In 1243, Chełmno became the seat of the set up Chełmno diocese, the cathedral of which was erected in Chełmża.

During the Piasts' era, the town developed into a strong commercial and trade center. The core of its importance was transit business. As early as in the latter part of the XIII century, the inhabitants of Chełmno came into contacts with the markets of Western Europe. The Baltic Sea countries grew to be a place of intense trade activities between East and West. The trade routes fell into hands of the merchants of the cities of Lower Germany led by Lubeka city who, in order to monopolize the trade activities, set up Hanza union in the latter part of the XIII century. The integrating factor was the common trade business. Hanza was joined also by the biggest cities of the Teutonic Knights' state that established a separate so called Prussian group. Since 1347 they were represented by the same sequence: Chełmno, Toruń, Elbląg, Gdańsk, Królewiec and Braniewo.

At that time, one more crucial initiative of cultural character appeared. In 1385, the Order made efforts to set up a university (general studies) in Chełmno in order to follow the example of the studies in Bologna. One year later in 1386, Pope Urban VI issued the bulla in virtue of which the new university was to be founded. The project has never been carried out. However, owing to some efforts made by the inhabitants and patricians "studium particulare" (higher grammar-school) was established in 1473. It was put under the management of the Brethrens of Common Life who had been brought from the Netherlands. Soon, the school was ranked the best scientific institution of the Kingdom Prussia.

St Lawrence Hill.

The first symptoms of dissatisfaction among the towns and Polish knights within the territory of the Teutonic Knights' state appeared on the turn of the XIV century. That was manifested, in 1939, through the setting up of the Salamander Society by Mikołaj of Ryńsk. The joining together aimed at protecting of the common interests of the Polish Knighthood against the Teutonic Knights. Another evidence might be the fact of giving up of the Chełmno Company commanded by Mikołaj of Ryńsk to the Polish king during the Grunwald battle.

Chełmno played also an important role in establishing the Prussian Alliance. That coalition was founded during the meeting held in Kwidzyń in 1440. The Alliance was to secure the rights and privileges of the Polish towns and knights within the territory of the Teutonic Knights' state. In 1454, the Prussian Alliance refused obedience to the Teutonic Knights, which was a direct reason of the outbreak of the Thirteen Years' War (1454 - 1466). At that time the town was under the Polish rule, however, in 1457 it was deceitfully seized by Bernard Szumborski, a mercenary of the Order. The occupation of Chełmno had continued until 1479. The town was reduced to rubble. It broke most of its trade contacts that were overtaken by the merchants of Toruń. In 1505, the king Aleksander Jagiellończyk handed over the impoverished and plundered Chełmno and the castles of Starogród and Papowo to the bishop of Chełmno. Despite the fact that powers of the bishop extended over the town, in the first part of the XVI century some reformation novelties turned up. They were promoted mainly by the mayors, Jan Wahl and Eberhard Roggen, as well as, Jan Hoppe, a professor and rector of the grammar school.

The XVII and XVIII centuries left a considerable impression on the town's history. Polish - Swedish wars (1626 - 1629 and 1655 - 1660), marching of troops during the Northern War (1700 - 1721), the Succession War (1735), the Seven Years' War (1756 - 1763), as well as numerous plagues and diseases brought about a total impoverishment of the town. Notwithstanding that strenuous period of time, in 1692, Chełmno made a substantial effort and reactivated the grammar school that was renamed to take official name of the Chełmno Academy. In 1756 the school was both scientifically and organizationally subordinated to the Jagiellonian University of Krakow.

Portret założycieli Chełmna znajdujący się w ratuszu w Chełmnie.

In 1772, in the aftermath of the first partition of Poland, Chełmno and the surrounding lands were incorporated into Prussia. The invader's policy aimed at a germanization of territory. In order to carry out the policy, in 1776, the Cadet School was founded as a result of the efforts made by Frederic II, and in 1779, the professors of the Chełmno Academy were made to leave the town.

The years of 1807 - 1815 gave a short period when Chełmno was included into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. In 1815 it was returned back to Prussia. Despite those facts, Chełmno became a strong center of Polish traits of the time. In 1837, the Chełmno grammar school was founded to educate many outstanding Poles. A worldwide renowned surgeon Ludwik Rydygier, among others, attended the school. Polish newspapers were published: "National Nursery School" later, "National School", "Piast", "People's Friend", "On the Vistula River". The inhabitants of Chełmno also distinguished themselves with their generous contributions to the January Uprising.

On January 22, 1920, the town returned to the revived Polish state. It was summoned by Józef Haller, "the azure general".

The period of twenty years between the two World Wars was characteristic of a weak development of the economic life, which had an effect on the prosperity and living conditions of families. A great economic crisis and the consequential unemployment were quandaries of that time. There were no big factories in the town so most of the necessary production rested on the shoulders of small craft corporations. There were 22 guilds in Chełmno in 1922. Throughout that period the municipal utility companies were rebuilt and modernized, among others the water supply and sewage system company and the gas station. It was then, that the Municipal Electricity Company was set up, and the Municipal Construction Office, as well as, the Municipal Slaughter House were very active. As far as the cultural life of the period between the Wars is concerned, it was characteristic of variety and intense activities. There were numerous amateur theatre groups, choral societies, cinemas, as well as exhibitions and sport events were held. Polish newspapers were published: "On the Vistula River", "Voice of Chełmno Land", "Day of Chełmno", "Chełmno Review", "Cadet", and "Local Advocate". There were also three grammar schools in the town: male - classical one, female - arts one, as well as mathematics and science one subordinated to the Cadet Corps No 2.

At that time Chełmno also had a strong military garrison. Its core consisted of: the 66 Infantry Regiment of Kaszuby after Marshal Józef Piłsudzki, the 8 Mounted Regiment of Riflemen and in years 1926- 1936 the Cadet Corps No 2.

The September of 1939 brought severe years of occupation. Chełmno and the whole Pomeranian region were included into the III Reich. Since the very first day of the occupation the Hitler's authorities started the process of feminization of the inhabitants along with the displacement-settlement activities. Mass detentions and executions were carried out. The highest number of Poles was put before a firing squad in Klamry village (some 2000 people). At night between 26 and 27 January, 1945 the town was liberated by Soviet armed troops of the 2 Front of Byelorussia and was not ruined. Though, as early as on January 30 of that year, NKWD started arrests in the Chełmno district. After the liberation, Chełmno became a Polish town, and this time an inseparable one from Poland.

"Powiat Chełmiński beauty of history and nature". © PWR