Ethnographic Museum of West Wielkopolska Region in Wolsztyn

The Open-air Museum of Folk Architecture of Western Greater Poland, Division of the Regional Museum in Wolsztyn

Wolsztyn is a surprising town. It is the location of the last operating steam-engine plant in Europe, the Robert Koch Memorial Museum, devoted to the Nobel Prize winner who identified the bacteria of anthrax and tuberculosis, and the home, now museum, of the painter and sculptor Marcin Rożek. Last but not least, it is also the location of the Open-air Museum of Folk Architecture of Western Greater Poland. The idea to establish the skansen was conceived in 1972. The 3.5 ha plot of land, a long rectangle adjacent to the Wolsztyn Lake on the one side and the road from Chorzemin to Wolsztyn on the other, was acquired for the purpose. Museum exhibits and documentation began to be gathered, and the time-consuming and often difficult process of deciding which buildings merit inclusion began. Work on relocating an inn and a cottage started in 1974, but a decade passed before the two homesteads were finished and first visitors came to the skansen. Since then the inn holds the pride of place in the centre of the village.

The 18th-century inn from Solec Nowy is one of the museum’s oldest buildings. It is a large structure consisting of two parts – one for the guests, with an old bar, heavy long tables and benches, and the other the living quarters of the innkeeper and his family. In the innkeeper’s rooms, the observant visitor will notice a cast-iron waffle pan with a recipe on its lid, a hand-operated mixer, two sets of hair curlers which were heated in an oven, and a special tool for removing shoes.

The Wolsztyn museum has fourteen buildings, some relocated originals and some faithful reconstructions. Among the original structures, a few date from the early 17th century (with later interior furnishings), some are late 19th-century, and they come mainly from the Wolsztyn, Grodzisk and Nowy Tomyśl districts. The village buildings are oriented, typically, along the axes of a number of roads. “My dream is for us to have also a schoolhouse and a trempel, a Dutch house with a drying room on the upper floor”, says one of the museum’s employees.

One of the homesteads boasts a late-1920’s engine from a Berlin factory. It was used to power farming machines, e.g. a thresher. This marvel of technology was available only to the most affluent farmers, however; the less fortunate had to use the power of their own muscles, or those of the horses walking round in a treadmill.

Passing the homestead from Reklin, the daring visitor may pat the inquisitive head of Kuba, the black billy-goat. The cottage in this homestead is particularly interesting, as it has the living quarters and the utility spaces all under one roof. The difference is the roof covering, the first is thatched with rushes, the latter with straw. The wall construction also differs – the living quarters are built entirely of timber with the logs joined in dovetails, while the barn, byre and cart storage space have a timber frame filled with brick. The cottage from Świętno, in turn, is the smallest and most modest. Its roof is noteworthy, though, as it is covered with tiles. Inside, there is a complete workshop of a cobbler.

The windmill from Wroniawy, which belongs to the tail mill type, is the most interesting structure in the museum collection. Despite two relocations: from Sława Śląska to Wroniawy and then to Wolsztyn, it is still operational (although, of course, much repaired). Since 1998 it has been fulfilling its duties in the skansen, reminding the visitors that such foodstuffs as flour or oil do not originate in a supermarket. According to the miller’s calculations, a sack of flour has to be lifted and carried round ten times before it is ready. Considering that a widmill could process c. 2 tons of grain a day, a miller and his helpers had to move 20 tons, every working day. “In a village, work was really hard”, say the museum’s employees.

Inside the windmill, several dates carved on its timbers attest to its venerable age. The date 1603 is well visible on the pole that is the axis on which the whole structure turns; the supports bear the date 1733. It should be stressed that similar windmills provided inhabitants of the nearby Poznań with flour even as late as the 1950’s.

The Wolsztyn skansen would not be complete without an operating smithy. The building itself is a copy of the smithy in the village of Ziemin, but the tools and furnishings are not only original, but not a long time ago were still in use. Their owners, Wolsztyn blacksmiths Józef and Jan Chałupka, donated them to the museum, and today the vistors can see what a blacksmith’s skilful hammer can fashion from red-hot iron.

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