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The history of Choroszcz

Choroszcz, which is situated 12 km west from Białystok, is one of the oldest settlements of the region. According to archaeologists humans have been present here since Middle Stone Age. A holy copse was located here in thick "roszcza" (forest) and sacrifices were made to Slavonic god Światowid by the pagan people on a nearby hill called Świtkowizna, Sieśkowizna or, later, Babia Góra. Forests were not deserted at the time of the 12th and 13th century wars at Polish-Russian-Samogitian frontier. Apiaries, pitch-makers, beaver-hunters as well as woodsmen provided honey, wax, pitch, lye, wood and other goods. It was them, too, who named many sites, like: Przełajna Góra, Porosły, Izbiszcza, Złotoria or Choroszcza.

Settlement in the region increased after the union between Poland and Lithuania, when the then administrator of the lands situated on the banks of Narew, the Lithuanian prince Michał, son of Zygmunt made numerous assignments of the land. Stanisław Ostosz and Mikołaj Myń were given the area Rogowo in 1437, and Piotr from Gumowo gained forest called Choroszcza which was situated in the neighbourhood . Villages named Kruszewo, Śliwno, Izbiszcze, Konowały and Pańki were settled on the lands which were probably assigned at the same time. In the end of the 15th century the officials from Suraż settled the family of Klepaczewicz in the place which is called Klepacze since then, as well as the family of Oliszko in Oliszki. Russian settlers from Suraż were settled there as well. One of them - Stefan Czaplicz donated part of his land to the monastery in Supraśl and the village of Gajowniki was founded on the land. He built his residence in another place, which was the foundation of the village Czaplino.

As long ago as in 1459 the church in Choroszcz was granted over 30 hectares of land with two inns by Piotr Gumowski. In the end of the 15th century a settler from the region of Kijów, province administrator Iwan Chodkiewicz became the owner of Choroszcz with its estate. His son Aleksander turned out to be very dynamic holder. He cut down the woods, built flourmills, felt-hammers, settled people from Ruś and Mazowsze. Gradually in Chodkiewicz's lands several villages were found: Ruszczany, Zastawie, Sienkiewicze, Barszczewo, Jeroniki, Żółtki, as well as flourmills of millers from Dzikie. In 1506 Aleksander made a donation of Choroszcz with its grounds to the monastery in Supraśl. The monks erected an orthodox church there and performed religious duties for people of Greek denomination. In 1533 the family of Chodkiewicz became the owners of Choroszcz again. As the result of Aleksander's efforts Choroszcz was given town privileges by the king Zygmunt I. Its citizens were obliged to send an armed group of five in the case of a war. In the 16th century the town developed rapidly. Jewish settlers were first mentioned in the middle of the 16th. Choroszcz was then the heart of surrounding lands. Tracks connected it with major towns of Podlasie. Markets and fairs were held there as well as numerous religious ceremonies. At the end of the 16th century it consisted of about 200 houses and its population was about 1200.

In 1587 Choroszcz property became Anna Chodkiewicz's dowry in her marriage to Paweł Pac. It was later inhabited by Stefan Mikołaj Pac, who was province administrator of Troki. In future he was to become the bishop of Wilno, who invited Dominican monks to Choroszcz in 1654.

We have no knowledge of the town's spatial configuration in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its life probably centred around the market. The church, the monastery, the orthodox church were situated there as well as the Chodkiewicz residence in which the bishop of Wilno Stefan Mikołaj Pac used to stay. The 17th century was the tragic time for Poland and so it was for Choroszcz because of wars, epidemics and fires.

In 1683 great fire destroyed the town completely - 600 houses, the monastery, the church as well as orthodox church were burnt to ashes. Stefan Mikołaj Branicki bought the town with surrounding villages from general Jerzy Mniszech. The following fire in 1707, however, contributed to its downfall.

In 1709 Choroszcz grounds became the property of Great Hetman of the Crown Jan Klemens Branicki. The town was so charming that the hetman built his summer residence there for many years with much financial effort. Next to the magnificent dwelling, Branicki founded a brick church of baroque style together with a Dominican monastery. He also set up an almshouse-hospital as well as a Greek orthodox church.

It was probably then when the grange was created. At the farm weavers worked and produced tablecloths, threads, wicks as well as wool yarn, which were used by the residents of the mansion. The then town market was encircled by the church, monastery, town hall with six stalls of Jewish merchants, synagogue with a school. In 1771 the town consisted of 126 homesteads, 43 of them owned by Jews. The most popular beverage of the époque, beer, was produced in Choroszcz by fifteen breweries.

After the hetman had died the Choroszcz estate together with Rogowo became lifelong property of princess Izabela Branicka. Till the third partition it was a part of Grodno district in the Troki province though it was situated in Podlasie province. After the third partition it belonged to Prussia annexation and after the Tylża peace agreement in 1807 to Russia. Prussian registers at the end of the 18th century showed:" 584 inhabitants including 156 Jews, 122 houses, 4 streets, 9 inns, 8 breweries, 8 distilleries, 7 priests, 4 police officers and one troop of Bośnia von Guenther regiment that is 6 men. When princess Branicka had died, part of the Choroszcz estate was bought by Komar family while the remaining part was incorporated to Potocki property. The Potocki family sold it shortly afterwards to Tadeusz Mostowski. Textile workshop in the countess Mostowska grounds developed in 1840 to form the largest factory in the region that produced wool fabrics and hats and contributed to the town's career. The factory expansion influenced the percentages of national and religious groups of Choroszcz inhabitants. In 1886 765 townspeople (out of the total number of 1512) were of Jewish denomination . There were also 300 Roman Catholics, about 200 Lutherans (German specialists, who worked at the factory) and about 200 orthodox. The factory settlement, which was independent of the town consisted of 20 workshop buildings, 11 residential buildings, a school, a bakery, two shops, a pharmacy as well as a Lutheran church.

In 1839 Dominican Order was liquidated. It was punishment for participation in January Uprising. After the Uprising the monastery buildings housed a Russian school. The priest of the orthodox parish lived there as well. In 1865 the wooden orthodox church was demolished. The new one was consecrated in 1878.

A hill situated not far from Choroszcz, which is called "Szubienica" ("Gallows") was the place where 11 insurgents were executed in 1863. Three other insurgents were killed by Russian soldiers at the road to Zastawie. Thanks to the efforts of Choroszcz people a chapel was built at the Choroszcz cemetery in the years 1913 - 1926 and in 1989 a monument was erected on the hill.

The beginning of World War I was the end of the factory. Before the War five thousand inhabitants lived in Choroszcz, while in 1921 - only 2405. In the time between the World Wars the town entered a new stage of its history.

Thanks to Dr Zygmunt Brodowicz initiative a psychiatric diseases hospital was organised at the former factory. Until now the hospital plays an important role in the town.

The time of the World War II was tragic. During Soviet occupation between the years 1939 and 1941 some patients were moved to Russia. In 1941 Nazis seized Choroszcz and in the nearby forest of Nowosiółki village shot the sick and disabled (464 people). In huge graves in Nowosiółki four thousand bodies have been buried: civilians, partisans, numerous priests and nuns who were murdered between 1941 and 1944. After the war Branicki summer residence was rebuilt and nowadays it houses the Palace Indoor Museum.

Halina Surynowicz