Mill Island - the spatial heart of Bydgoszcz. A green enclave in the heart of a vibrant city. The island has not yet been seized by our greedy modern civilization. How surprising! A park and alleys flanked by old trees: chestnuts and lindens. Vast lawns, alleys with benches and the sound of water falling rapidly through the weir.
Water all around. From the old town flows the fast, restless Brda-Młynówka, following the wall of Bydgoszcz Venice – named so because of its countless picturesque blocks of old houses, outbuildings and annexes. On the other side the mighty main canal of the Upper Brda, the outlines of the dignified Fara Cathedral and the New Opera House.
Crossing the border of Mill Island, over the bridge in Niedźwiedzia Street, or using the embankment coming from Foch Street, is like travelling back in time...
In recent times, Mill Island has seen a revival project, a joint effort of the city and European funds, also the Norwegian Fund, making it one of the most visited attractions in the city. The contemporary revitalization project was discreetly concerned with: modernly-organized museums, gastronomy, water transport, recreational areas on the grass, modern marina, a playground and also a sequence of modern footbridges connecting the island with other central parts of Bydgoszcz.
So what was here before?
MILL ISLAND – THE MINT "ON THE WATER"
At first, before they started to make coins for the Polish king on Mill Island in Bydgoszcz, we could find here a church mill which was mentioned before 1408, a large mill from 1541, the City Bath, and also a sawmill. However, it was the king's coin mint that made Bydgoszcz a real feature on the map of the First Republic.
"To all and sundry, namely, to our governors and their deputies – we designate the administration of and supervision over the Mint…” And he continues: “I order that no one shall dictate otherwise, that this should pertain to us only, and the Bydgoszcz coin is to be taken as legal tender." So ordered King Sigismund III Vasa in 1614, when the Mints in Bydgoszcz and Krakow provided coins for the entire Commonwealth.
It is certain that from 1594 (maybe even earlier), under a royal privilege, a private mint belonging to Stanislaw Cikowski existed here. The 1693 resolution of the Senate, which met in Grodno, spoke of the Mint as being no longer private but royal:
"The Bydgoszcz Mint, placed upon the water, barely having equal in Europe, is hereby to be conserved and protected from all forms of devastation by the Honorable Treasurer of the Crown. By power of law, any expenses towards this goal should be charged to the Crown Treasury."
It was a huge factory, which occupied the entire eastern part of the island. The Middle Ages mint consisted of several buildings of different sizes and various uses. For centuries it remained strictly isolated due to the nature of the production, surrounded by a wall, partly wooden, and a solid fence.
The most important building was the cutting shop . In the cutting shop there were 5 posts for cutting metal sheets and weighing ores and metals. The front of the building had a series of arcades and next to it was the mill, the place where coins were struck. The final production of the coins took place here. In the lower part of the building coins were milled, and the attic was home to 39 crucibles for melting silver. Relics of the mill survived in the basement of the present-day building at Mennica 4.
In Bydgoszcz, the Royal Mint produced a lot of different coins, from the bulk or so-called minor, casual coins, like the popular tymfs, boratyns and thalers, to coins and medals of high monetary and artistic value.
What about the scale of production at the Bydgoszcz mint? 620-900 kg of silver were turned into coins each day. So what can we say about the number of coins produced? Very hard to say. Enough said that boratyns truly flooded the Republic and its neighbors. At some point, this triggered protests by the nobility in the Sejm, which actually sought to ban the production of small coins. At a time when the Royal Treasury ran into problems, the proportion of silver in coins had to be reduced. This was the case with tymfs and boratyns. When the Tymf brothers, tenants of the Bydgoszcz mint, exaggerated with the amount of silver content in their coins, leading to their banishment, the following saying remained "A good joke is worth a tymf".
The mint stopped working probably around 1702, but it was only in 1765 that the Sejm Commission ordered the Treasury to draw up an inventory of the Bydgoszcz mint, and send everything of value that was left to Warsaw. The mint stamps were sent to the capital, and the dilapidated, abandoned buildings remained in this state throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
MILL ISLAND - THE BEGINNING OF THE BYDGOSZCZ CANAL
In the eighteenth century Bydgoszcz was not in the best economic condition. After bouts of epidemics and war, there followed a very serious economic decline. Also, the old mint buildings were demolished or poorly used and fell into disrepair.
New and better times for Mill Island came as a result of an extraordinary, massive-scale European investment. Immediately after the occupation of Bydgoszcz in the Polish partition of 1772, King Frederick II of Prussia undertook the implementation of the bold projects. They concerned the linking of the natural waterways of Eastern and Western Europe.
During the construction of the first section of the canal, an embankment leading from Mill Island to the present bridge on Foch Street was constructed. Most probably at the same time, rows of young trees were planted on the embankment, trees which today form an unusual green tunnel in the centre of the town. Also then, the third important entry to the island was built, as an extension of Niedźwiedzia Street, coming from the Old Town. The so-called Mill Bridge was built around 1791, with the current bridge more or less retaining its position.
When the Royal Granaries were built, the construction had to be carefully planned, as there were other industrial buildings and equipment on the island. For this purpose, around 1789, the Warehouse Bridge was built, which was recently rebuilt as a modern pedestrian footbridge linking the Old Town with the New Opera House. It was also then that the road to the Warehouse Bridge was built, a paved section of which survived to this day, next to the so-called White Granary (built in 1789).
Most likely as early as 1772, the new Miller’s House was built as a small one-storey house (currently the building at Mennica 8). Still in the eighteenth century, a much larger administrative building was erected next to it (currently at Mennica 6). Up to the eighteenth century the large spaces in the center of Mill Island continue to be used as gardens for the townspeople, probably not carefully maintained orchards, but rather ordinary meadows.
MILL ISLAND- AGE OF STEAM
The introduction of steam-powered machines, and later electricity, forced the modernization of existing equipment. Entirely new buildings also appeared. A lot changed on the island around the present-day Farny Weir. In the 1840s there arose two new mills "Wilhelm" (currently a grain warehouse), and "Rudolph" Both have been completely rebuilt from scratch in the late nineteenth century, due to the introduction of electrical equipment. In 1849 the biggest building complex on Mill Island was erected, the so-called "Rother’s Mills".
On the site of the old mint cutting shop the modern Camphausen Mill replaced Henry Mill, which is now called the Red Granary. Both the Rother and Camphausen Mills saw the introduction of steam boilers next to their water turbines, and in 1886 electricity was introduced in all the mills on Mill Island.
At the turn of the twentieth century a new administrative building of modest Art Nouveau features was built on the island, presently at Mennica 7
In the twentieth century, in 1936, a new water-sports center was built. In 2008, an international architectural competition was announced, for a new sports-marina for water-sports and tourists. The result is a very interesting modern building, completed in 2012, which fits in perfectly with the existing character of Mill Island.
Recently, in the framework of the revitalization of Mill Island, Międzywodzie, buried after World War II, was reconstructed in the form of a series of spectacular, cascading streams, accompanied by pedestrian footpaths and historical bridges.
The former townspeople’s gardens were transformed into allotments, and only very recently into a park facing Bydgoszcz Venice, a park where you can freely play Frisbee or volleyball, bask in the grass, play with your kids in the playground or enjoy concerts, open-air performances, etc. The park also has an amphitheater, a water tram stop , a beach overlooking the Opera House, the cathedral and Bydgoszcz Venice ....
In the old granaries and mills there are now museum exhibitions.
The mid-nineteenth century granary at 1 Mennica Street has been beautifully transformed into the stylish Młyńską Tavern. The building at 6 Mennica Street has been turned into the Labor and Business Centre after careful adaptation and restoration work.
It's amazing. Truly a unique situation for the center of a crowded, large, modern city at the beginning of the twenty-first century to have preserved and remembered an area shaped nearly two centuries ago, and in part even much earlier times! It is equally remarkable that this area has become the most visited site in Bydgoszcz. The value of the modern Mill Island in Bydgoszcz has also been nationally and internationally recognized and has won numerous awards.