The fortunes of the Dziewanowski family (Jastrzębiec coat of arms) were linked with Szafarnia. From the middle of the seventeenth century, the Dziewanowskis owned land in the District of Rypin. The name of the estate is first evidenced in writing in a Prussian taxation register of 1772–1773.
In Chopin’s day, Szafarnia was owned by Juliusz Dziewanowski, the father of his friend and schoolmate Dominik. Some scholars (e.g. Piotr Mysłakowski) assume that the composer’s father (Mikołaj) was employed at Szafarnia in 1791–1800, i.e. before he was married, as a teacher and tutor of the Dziewanowski children. That the two families were close is further evidenced by the fact that Dominik’s uncle, Jan Nepomucen Dziewanowski, was godfather to Ludwika, the Chopins’ eldest daughter.
After finishing his fourth year at the Warsaw Lyceum, at the end of July 1824, Chopin accepted the Dziewanowskis’ hospitality and stayed at Szafarnia until the end of September. The trip was a happy one, and Chopin spent his holidays there the following year as well. The details of these visits come to us from the composer himself. Chopin wrote letters home in the form of a newspaper he dubbed the ‘Kuryer Szafarski’ [Szafarnia courier], in imitation of the popular Kuryer Warszawski [Warsaw courier]. Chopin told of his adventures and related events that he had either seen or heard about, writing as a professional journalist and editor under the nom de plume of Mr Pichon Esq.
The information in the ‘Couriers’ was divided into ‘national’ (i.e. covering Szafarnia) and ‘foreign’ (covering the nearby villages). Here is a sample of Chopin humorously describing the day-to-day problems of the good folk of Szafarnia: ‘National News. On the 28th of the m[onth] in the c[urrent] y[ear], when His Lordship Pichon, occupied with his toilet, was telling of breakfast, some lady flies barefoot into the room with a scream. Little Pichon, having opened his mug in surprise, stood at first like a ninny. After a brief moment, however, he discovered the reason for the tears and lament: His Lordship Esquire Carver Wiktor Sikorowski, commonly called Fichtur by Miss Michuchna, had quarrelled with Miss Kozaczka; and after long arguments and fussing, he whacked the fine lady with his fist so prettily in the head that she was obliged to seek satisfaction from a higher instance’.
The ‘Couriers’ also told Chopin’s parents how he was spending his time. A story from the ‘Foreign News’ dated 16 August 1824 reads: ‘On the 11th of August of the current year, His Lordship Fryderyk Chopin ran races on a courageous horse. He did his mightiest to cross the finish line, and although several times he was unable to overtake Mrs Dziewanowska, who was going on foot (which was not his, but the horse’s fault), he nonetheless achieved a victory over Miss Ludwika, who had gotten already rather near the finish line on foot. His Lordship Franciszek Chopin goes for a ride every day, but with such honours that he always sits in the rear. His Lordship Jakub Chopin drinks six cups of acorn coffee per day, whereas Mikołajek eats four rolls every day, nota bene in addition to a huge dinner and a three-course supper’.
Chopin did not limit himself to social gatherings and having fun while in Szafarnia. He was also able to play the piano, as this instrument was increasingly becoming an indispensable item of furniture in country manors. Chopin’s 1824 and 1825 Szafarnia holidays occasionally moulded his artistic sensibilities as well, for instance by putting him into direct contact with authentic folk music, the strains of which are all so apparent in his work. The composer wrote down the songs he heard, took part in rural amusements, and even made music with village musicians, as he wrote in a letter home dated 26 August 1825: ‘It was already almost 11 o’clock when Freddie's wife brought out the cello, which was worse than the fiddle, with only one string. Having grabbed the dusty old bow, as I begin to accompany on the bass, so mightily did I struggle that they all came to see the two Freddies, one playing sleepily on his fiddle, the other sawing away on the one-string, monochord, […] dusty old cello'.
During his walks and excursions, Chopin visited neighbouring towns and cities (e.g. Golub and Toruń) and the properties of befriended rural families (e.g. the Cissowskis, Piwnickis, Borzewskis, Ciżewskis and Romockis). He was definitely invited to nearby properties with a view to making Dobrzyń Land more attractive to him and to hearing this famous, albeit very young, virtuoso play the piano. Nor did Chopin forget to visit his close friend, Jan Białobłocki, from the Warsaw Lyceum, in Sokołowo, only a few kilometres from Szafarnia, while he was holidaying in the area.
Very few of the actual buildings in which Chopin stayed in the surrounding towns and villages have survived. In Chopin’s day, Szafarnia had a wooden manor house, a park with a garden, a couple of orchards and two small ponds. The Dziewanowski residence was pulled down in 1910. The mansion there now dates from the second half of the nineteenth century and was probably not erected on the site where Chopin stayed. The building now houses a Chopin Centre, a concert hall and a small museum. The small annexe on the right of the mansion is probably one of the few buildings that existed when Chopin was there.
The surrounding three-hectare park has six natural monuments, including the “Chopin lime tree” and the “Dziewanowski Oaks”.