Słownik Geograficzny

Słownik Geograficzny


Białystok, incorrectly Bialostok, Russian Bielostok. County town in the Grodno gubernia lies at 53° 8’ latitude and 40° 49’ longitude west, 74 wiorst south west of Grodno, 78 wiorst from Grajewa and 120 from Brzesc and on the river Biala, a tributary of the Suprasl; has a train station on the Warsaw-Petersburg line part of the Warsaw-Wilno route between Lapy and Czarna Wies. 163 wiorst from Warsaw and 882 from Petersburg. Built on the river Biala in 1320 by Giedymin.


Jan Kazimierz presented this then village together with other lands to Stefan Czarniecki, after whose death they were inherited by his daughter’s son, Klemens Branicki. In the middle of the XVIII century, Branicki made this his home, had the palace rebuilt and converted the village into a small town. This must have been a splendid residence. To this day, the palace and garden plans can be viewed in the Louvre in Paris. All that remains today is the main, storied building with horseshoe shaped extensions. Innumerable changes have made it unrecognizable. Entry is through a tiered brick gateway connecting two courtyards. Next to it there are multi floored brick built outbuildings, green houses etc. Behind, stretches the large and once magnificent garden with its ancient trees, ponds, ruined bridges and summerhouses etc. and used to join the animal park, today a park, which is still enjoyed by many. It was one of the best-planned towns in Poland and in the former the Podlaski voivode. It was called the Podlaski Versailles because of its splendid palace, superb gardens and huge, impressive buildings. It was raised to the status of a town in 1749 by August III at the intervention of the Branicki family. In the XIV century it was still a village and in the possession of the Wiesiolowski family. Branicki’s widow was childless and the heirs were the Counts Jan and Feliks Potocki and Countess Maryanna Mostowska nee Potocka. They sold the palace and 5 villages for 270,970 thalers to the Prussian king in 1802. He could not move in as long as Branicki’s widow was alive. As it happened she lived longer than the Prussian rule, which lasted from 1794 to 1807. After her death, the above-mentioned heirs in agreement with the Prussian king sold the lands for the same amount to Emperor Aleksander I in 1809. During his lifetime, hetman Branicki had bequeathed certain sums to various institutions and private individuals including 51,777 thalers to an education fund, 30,844 to the church and 15,591 to the Bielsko region etc. On deduction of these amounts, plus interest meant the sellers only received 97,321 thalers.


The town was a district one from the time of the Tylzycki Peace Treaty when it was annexed to Russia until 1842 and a county town thereafter. It also remembered August II long illness and was partially destroyed by the fire in 1753 (Echard’s Dictionary of 1782). Whilst travelling through the town, Aleksander was so impressed with it that he decided to make it his summer residence and assigned 2,000 rubles for minor repairs. A commission was set up to control the works but instead removed all valuables and when the Emperor was informed of the state of affairs he immediately had a new commission set up. The pillaging did not cease, for instance the large expensive theatre backdrop, which could not be transported, was cut up into 4 pieces and sold to England by Jews. Monuments were removed, floors were torn up and finally the copper roof was removed and replaced by a flat iron one. And so the palace stood roofless the entire Winter. When the Emperor returned to take up residence in the palace a sorry sight awaited him, so sorry that he had to change his initial plan.


During the hetman days, the palace and grounds were run scrupulously and in spite of the scale of grandeur, the books balanced and this can also be seen in the careful and extensive annotations in the household registers, which remain to this day. The surrounds of Białystok had a number of beautiful gardens with palaces and summerhouses e.g. in Wysoki Stoczek, Bazantarnia and Pstragarnia where pheasants and trout were bred for the gentry’s table and for sale. In Choroszcza, 2 miles west of Białystok, stood a beautiful moated Rococo palace, in the middle of a park with ponds, canals, and islets. Guests and servants used the two small storied pavilions and two large buildings in the grounds. Here, there was an enormous kitchen, which had, among other items, a fireplace large enough to cook whole bullocks.

The river Biala flows through Białystok and forms a fairly large pond in the middle of the town. Many factories stand on the riverbanks and deposit their discharges into it causing it to be very muddy and smelly. The streets are respectable and have many one and several storied buildings e.g. Warszawska, Lipowa, Niemiecka, the market place in the town center with the clock tower, erected by the hetman’s wife. The smarter streets are: Wasilkowska, Kleindorf by the lake where the hetman’s Czech musicians used to live, The newer streets are narrow, crooked, smelly; wooden houses and factories are placed willy-nilly. The main buildings, apart from the hetman’s manor, are: the orphanage, known as “prijut” formerly inhabited by the hetman’s officials; Potocki´s former summer residence reminiscent of a palace and situated in Choroszczy on Niemiecka street.


The Catholic parish Church of the Assumption of Our Lady was built by Marshal Piotr Wiesiolowski. There are chapels in the Institute for Young Ladies and in the cemetery. The Białystok deanery’s Catholic parish has 12,180 souls. There used to be a branch in Janopol but is now in Suprasl. The Białystok deanery, which belongs to the Wilno diocese, has 15 parishes: Białystok, Goniądz, Jasionowka, Trzciany, Dolistow, Knyszyn, Turosn, Choroszcza, Gielczyn, Juchnowicze, Kalinowka, Niewodnica, Dobrzyniew, Suraz and Zabludow. There are 70,118 parishioners. The town hall is 564 feet above sea level and the church is 458 feet tall.


The Białystok Protestant parish includes the following counties: Białystok, Bielsko and Sokol. In 1857 it had 3,315 parishioners. There is one Greek Orthodox Church, 2 synagogues and 16 Jewish schools and places of prayer. Worthy of mention are the guardhouse and bazaar. There are countless dirty and inferior inns. The Grand Hotel and the Hotel Europe belong to the largest buildings. There are barracks, hospitals namely the military, county and Jewish ones. There is the Mutual Credit Bank and a branch of the Wilno Merchant Bank etc. There are 16 factories producing various cord in and around the town: Ribbert and Jakoby (250 employees), Commichau (380), F. H. Philipp (150), C. H. Philipp (150), F. T. Timofiejew (200), F. Severin (48), F. Richter, H. Pinagel, C. Krause, Balde and Sieger (150); spinning and weaving plants: A. Surazki, N. Surazki, A. Slonimski, S. Jesionowski; texture finishing E. Kramm; hat factory run by Braimeck and Voss since 1876.

On January 1 1878, Białystok had 34,506 inhabitants of whom 19,009 were male, 15,497 female. The figure includes the army and people living there temporarily, namely 3,680 men, 1,445 women (military 950). According to religion: Greek Orthodox 5,185 (male 3,014, female 2,171), Catholic 3,084 (male 1,674, female 1,414), Protestant 5,560 (male 3,054, female 2,506), Jews 20,365 (male 10,961, female 9,404) and Mohammedan 312 (male 306, female 6).


As to trades and crafts it must be added here that in the outlying villages raw cord is produced on 1-4 looms. The raw product is then sent to town for further processing. Białystok and its surrounds had a 6-month trading turnover of exportation of 2,146,800 poods, worth 28,174,600 rubles, importation of 4,664,200 poods worth 14,613,300 rubles on the Warsaw-Petersburg line. Białystok´s loss when processing raw materials is 2,517,400 poods and they make up the remaining 2,146,800 poods by processing a higher quality product valued at 13,561,300 rubles, which means Białystok has an annual profit of 27,122,600 rubles. In comparison, the turnover on the Grajew-Brzesc line is only the half.


Educational institutions: secondary school: up to 200 male pupils and 125 female. Here are the figures for 1860 (according to Siemienow) to provide a better picture and comparison: inhabitants 16,544 (including 8,146 male): merchants 386, middle class 12,544, guild tradesmen 1,680, Greek Orthodox 643, Catholics 3,887, Protestants 713, Jews 11,288, Mohammedan 13. In that same year there were: 1 Greek Orthodox Church, 1 Catholic Church and 3 chapels, 1 Protestant Church, 2 synagogues, 16 Jewish houses of prayer and schools, (cheder); 819 houses (181 brick-built), 164 shops, town hospital, prison, high school (4 classes divided into 2 sections), Institute for the Daughters of the Gentry and a Jewish school.


In 1860 the city’s income was 10,609 rubles. According to statistics in 1860 there were 3 cloth factories with a turnover of 32,775 rubles, 2 cotton spinneries turnover 9,320 rubles, 5 wool spinneries turnover 201,620 rubles, 2 tallow melting plants turnover 4,942 rubles, 1 tannery turnover 12,425 rubles, 1 small brewery, 2 oil extracting plants and a soap factory. 500 workers, 741 tradesmen and 417 master tradesmen were employed in the above listed businesses. The merchants are engaged in the business of buying and selling grain, timber and handicrafts. Markets take place twice a week and, on 24 June each year, a fair is held where only agricultural produce and products thereof, cattle and horses are bought and sold. There was a time when Białystok was linked to Warsaw by a 26 mile long postal route, which passed through the following towns: Zlotoryja, Tykocin, Mezenin, Zambrow, Ostrow, Budy, Wyszkow, Serock, Nowydwor and Jablonna. From the Tylzycki Peace Treaty, Białystok was annexed to Russia and comprised a so-called Białystok district but in 1808 it was divided into 4 counties: Białystok, Bielsko, Sokol, and Drohiczyn. And so it remained until 1842 when it was incorporated into the Grodno guberniya and the town became a county one. Białystok County in the western part of the Grodno guberniya covers an area of 50 miles or 2,427 sq. wiorst. (Siemienow: 2,552 sq. wiorst Strelbicki), and according to official statistics of 1878 there were 264,791 sq. dziesiecin of which 14,633 belonged to the government and 49,456 woodland. According to the same statistics there were 126,400 people, i.e. 50 per sq. wiorst and 4 cloth factories - turnover 46,126 rubles, 23 cord plants - turnover 1,363,950 rubles, 44 cloth and cord factories - turnover 1,768,316 rubles, 10 wool plants - turnover 445,530 rubles, 1 hat factory - turnover 36,000 rubles, 6 flannel factories - turnover 37,800 rubles, 2 spinneries - turnover 8,700 rubles, 2 tobacco plants - turnover 26,200 rubles, 11 vodka distilleries - turnover 82,801 rubles, 15 breweries - turnover 117,000 rubles, 4 dye plants - turnover 45,000 rubles, 2 soap and candle plants - turnover 15,491 rubles, 6 tanneries - turnover 5,932 rubles, 1 glass works - turnover 25,000 rubles, 9 brick factories - turnover 15,000 rubles and 1 foundry – turnover 48,763 rubles. The factories are located in the following towns; Białystok, Suprasl, Michalowo, Grodek, Choroszcza, Dojlidy, Krolowy Most, Skorupy, Nowosiolki, Zoltki, Krzywa, Topole and Wasilkow.


The oldest plant, dating back to 1826, is in Topole and belongs to the Lyszczynski family. The second oldest (1846) belongs to the Oskragiello Moes family and is in Choroszczy. In Nowosiolkach, near Choroszczy, Mr. Alfred Oskragiello Moes runs a highly progressive farm. His brewery turns out 60,000 pails of Bavarian beer of the highest quality annually. There is another steam brewery in Dojlidy and a third, less known one, in Białystok.

Białystok County is divided into three areas: Zabłudowo, Starosielce, Goniądz and 11 communities (gmina). In 1857, there were 10 rural communities; 216 villages, 12,408 male peasants, 98 landed aristocracy, 16,232 Jews, 10 synagogues, 24 places of worship, 56 Mohammedans and 2,381 Protestants. In the Russian “Our Colonies” (Petersburg 1869), Klaus writes in depth about the German settlers in Białystok County. The county has the least number of populated areas, only 477, of all the counties in the Grodno guberniya but the population density is higher than in Slonim County, which has 1,035 populated pockets. All the Catholic parishes in Białystok County make up one eponymous deanery. The Białystok Greek Orthodox deanery has 11 parishes with 11,025 parishioners as of 1857.


The county is predominantly low-lying and flat, especially in the south. The Narew and Biebrza rivers separate the complete western part of the county from the Kingdom of Poland. The Narew flows through extensive low-lying, muddy fields. Nowhere in the county is it navigable and can only be used by rafts and ferries. The Suprasl, a navigable river, is the most important tributary and attains a breadth of 15 sazen (ancient measure of length approx. 6 feet) and also has three tributaries namely the Biała, Plaska and Niewodysze. The river Biebrz plays an extremely important role in the county’s economy. The Netta is its right-side tributary and from this point on it is navigable throughout the whole summer. The landing stage by Goniądz mainly handles grain. Many unimportant rivulets enter the Biebrz. The salient lakes are the Augustowskie or Czechowskie near Knyszyna and the Nersel between the villages of Kozne and Bialobrzeg (up to 20 wiorst long and 2-3 wide). The river valley is swampy and, in Autumn, filled with water. In Summer it can be traversed apart from the uninhabited abandoned area at the estuary of the Narew and Biebrz. Earlier, the area to the north-west between the rivers Narew and Biebrz was known as the “Zatykocki Tract.” The soil, although stony, is fertile. The Warsaw-Petersburg railway cuts through the county. Below, for comparison purposes, are the 1860 figures according to Siemienow. The county had a population of 75,135 both male and female but excluding Białystok. This included 3,057 aristocracy, 31,069 taxed peasants, 34 colonials and 27,000 other farmers i.e. 1,833 heads per square mile (excluding Białystok).


For policing purposes the county was divided into two parts. There were 10,321 Greek Orthodox, 58,387 Catholics, 2,846 Protestants, 3,527 Jews, 44 Mohammedan, 8 Greek Orthodox churches, 1 monastery with 5 monks, 11 Catholic churches, 3 synagogues and 6 Jewish places of worship. Outside the county town of Białystok, the people lived in: Goniądz, Knyszyn, Suraz, 216 private villages and 276 Treasury villages. There were 7 villages in the county: Grodek, Zabludow, Trzcianna, Choroszcza, Jasionowka, Suprasl and Janopol. Arable land - 122,254 dziesiecin, 26,229 czetwierti rye sown annually, 1,000 cz. wheat, 5447 barley, 8046 oats, 118659 potatoes. Harvested are: 131140cz. rye, up to 6000 wheat, up to 21000 barley, 32184 oats and 1,067,931 potatoes. The grain not only covers the food demand but also the distilleries. The pastureland belongs to the best in the guberniya and, in particular, those alongside the Biebrz, west of Goniądz to the estuaries of the Lososna, Plaska, Orlanka, Brzozowka etc. The Treasury peasants farmed 22304 dz. of land, in other words, 2 dziesiecin per capita (male). In 1860, the county had: 5700 horses, 28,000 heads of cattle, 17,900 regular sheep, 26,451 thin-wool sheep and 18,200 pigs. Forests covered 61,962 dz. (40687 dz. construction timber) and of this 16,090dz. belonged to the nation. The timber is floated down the rivers Narew and Biebrz to the Kingdom of Poland. Forestry is relatively well developed among the peasants but is not their sole occupation.


In 1860, the county had; 21 cord and cloth factories, 16 distilleries, 9 breweries, 2 turpentine factories, 8 brick works, 25 potteries, 1 cotton spinnery, 1 linen spinnery, 1 dye plant, 1 rope and cord factory and 2 tanneries. The cloth factories alone produced materials to the sum of 1,864,116 rubles. Here, Suprasl deserves to be mentioned because the town alone produced 1,483,816 rubles worth of products, followed by Michalow (154,000), Dobrzyniew (105,000) and others. The county’s business is mainly concentrated in Białystok and it is here that the peasants bring their fresh produce and handicraft articles. Artur Sulimierski’s manuscript.


Source: Slownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego - Warsaw [1880, vol. 1, pp.199-202]


This translation, by Jola Jurasinska, is used by Permission.