Previously published in PGS-CA Bulletin (Issue #82, January 2007)
Translated from the Słownik Geograficzny (1880-1902)
by Helen Bienick
Kościerzyna, in German known as Berent, was also listed in old documents as Costrina, Kustryn, Cosceryna, and Kościna. The town is the seat of the county bearing the same name, Kościerzyna. It is situated in what was once called West Prussia, in the Kaszuby district. It lies in an area noted for its numerous lakes, the closest one being Lake Wierzysko, which is the source of the river Wierzyca. Kościerzyna is located on the high road which runs between Bytów and Starogard, and the route between Gdańsk and Źukowo. Beyond the town, other roads branch out to Chojnice, Zblewo and Gdańsk. The town of Kościerzyna covered 6,677 morgen of land, with 548 buildings and 267 houses. In 1819 there were only 1140 people, but in 1865 the population totaled 4004, of whom 2268 were Roman Catholics, 1305 were Evangelicals, and 431 were Jews. The town had a land registry office, a courthouse (Amtsgerich), a rendamt, a county treasury, a lending bank (Kreis Sparkasse) a post office one kilometer distant, a telegraph office, a Catholic church, a pretty chapel dedicated to the Blessed Lady, a synagogue, a secondary school, a Catholic seminary for educating teachers, and a private Catholic school for girls, wonderfully constructed and arranged. Other institutions were a Catholic city school with four classrooms and a Protestant school with five classrooms. Kościerzyna had a book binding shop, a printery, a water mill, a wind mill, three famous breweries and two dyehouses. There were 55 merchants, 16 eating establishments, 5 coach drivers, 7 traveling salesmen (Hausirer), 9 bakers, 7 butchers, 2 brewers, 2 millers, 1 painter, 1 roofer, 10 blacksmiths, 16 tailors, 27 shoemakers, 1 chimney sweep, 1 rope maker, 6 wheel-wrights, 10 cabinet makers, 5 pott¬ers, 1 watchmaker, 3 carpenters, 1 brick mason, 4 locksmiths, 5 saddle makers, 4 tanners, 3 glaziers, 2 tin workers, 7 furriers, 1 lathe worker, 1 barber and 5 cooperage makers.
The income from taxes amounted to 6283 "talar" in 1865. (One talar was equivalent to 6 złoty). The town of Kościerska Huta (foundry) also belonged to Kościerzyna. Kościerzyna is one of the oldest settlements in Pomerania. It is in an area which was once a very expansive district called Pirsna, Pircha, and Pirsza.
During the days of the Pomeranian Dukes, the following villages were part of this district: Zelenino, Bandomino, Neruse, Lubna, Gostome, Korne, Skorewo, Unerase, Saple, Pirscewo, Golubc, Patuly, Sicorino, Pehuce, Zgorale, Manczewo, Klobucino, and Sarewo.
In 1255, during the times of occupation by the Teutonic Knights, the Grand Master, Poppo von Osterna, issued a decree granting privileges to the parish church. It is not known why he proclaimed this, as the archives in Peplin showed that these rights had already been given before the arrival of the Teutonic Knights into Poland. In 1284, the Pomeranian Duke, Mestwin II, deeded Kościerzyna and its district to his sister and his niece, Gertrude, with the stipulation that the town would be free from any rulings by provincial governors, castellans, and other governing officials. The people would only be required to pay taxes, and serve in the military in event of war.
In 1312, the Countess Gertrude sold Kościerzyna and its surroundings to the Teutonic Knights, for the sum of 300 grzywna, [an ancient silver coin used in Poland and Europe worth several denarii]. The Knights moved their bailiff into the local castle, from which they governed the Kościerzyna area, According to the accounting records, Kościerzyna was then named Bern, and the town paid a rental tax of 720 "scotus", [an ancient monetary unit]. Kościerska Huta, (the foundry) paid taxes on 54 "włóki"(a włóka equals 30 mórgs of land, see footnote 1 pg. 3). As was their custom, the Knights had a large folwark (farmstead) next to the castle. In the year 1466, Kościerzyna and the castle were re-annexed into Poland from the control of the Knights. Their governing body was replaced by Polish authorities. In 1580, the regional administrator, named Mikołaj [Nicholas] Kostka, a staunch Catholic, made provisions forbidding the local Roman Catholic Church to fall into the hands of religious reformers.
Due to its remote location and poverty status, the townspeople did not actively participate in military during the wars and other events. What is known, however, is that the Swedish invasion (see "The Deluge" by Henry Sienkiewicz) circa 1657, did much damage to the town and the church of St. Jerzy was destroyed. The church was subsequently rebuilt, and dedicated to the Holy Cross and St. Barbara. A new brick church was also built in 1642 by the Carthusian Monks from Kartuzy. In later years, the town was once again threatened by a fire. With no help to battle the flames, the parishioners vowed that if the town and the churches were spared by the grace of God, then each year on the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, they would conduct a procession and a pilgrimage to her shrine in town of Trąbki. When their prayers were answered, and the fire was stopped, they kept their word and observed the event until the year 1825, after which the practice was abandoned.
In 1750, after the Bishop's visit to the town, it was noted that the population of Kościerzyna was totally Catholic, with not a single Jewish or Protestant inhabitant. At the start of the Prussian occupation, during the partitions of Poland, people of other religious persuasions began to arrive. Frederick the Great, established the first Lutheran church, and a Jewish synagogue was built. In 1861, the reverend canon, R. Prądzynski, at his own expense funded an institution for young ladies, which was staffed by the Ursuline Sisters from Poznań. It was taken over in 1863 by the Sisters of Mercy, who arrived from Chełm. The school numbered 100 students, who later con-tributed priceless services to the local citizens. About this time, the Catholic Seminary was founded to train teachers. On May 2, 1869, another disastrous fire destroyed the chapel of the Holy Cross, and a section of the town. A valued icon of the Lord was barely saved. In 1878, the Sisters of Mercy, departed the town due to the "kulturkampf" (the culture clash with the Prussian authorities).
The girls institute was then turned into a school for secular teachers. For sometime in the 1800's there was a movement afoot to have a rail¬road line built in Kościerzyna, which would connect to the towns of Skarszewa and Bytów, as the closest station was in Zblewa (Hoch-Stüblau), 5 kilometers from the town. Zblewa was also the location of the post office.
Kościerzyna Powiat (County)
The county (powiat) of Kościerzyna, covered 315,095 morgen of land.
In 1865 the population numbered 38,784. There were 21,327 Catholics and 16,783 Evangelicals, of whom 20,200 were Poles and 18,500 were Germans. There were 55 Catholic elementary schools. A children's shelter housed 221 young boys and 227 girls. The deanery of Kościerzyna consisted of 14 parishes, Kościerzyna, Kartuzy, Chmielno, Goręcin, Gowidlino, Grabowo, Lipusz, Luzin, Parchowo, Sianowo, Sierakowice, Sulęcin, Strzepcz and Stężyca.