In 1811, Sokołowo was the property of the Białobłocki family. In 1815, the father of Jan [John] Białobłocki, a school friend of Fryderyk Chopin, sold the property to Antoni Wybraniecki. The new owner married Białobłocki’s widow and so became Jan’s stepfather. Jan went to the Warsaw Lyceum and lived in the Chopins’ boarding house during term time. He was therefore able to get to know and befriend Fryderyk, who, despite being five years his junior, a huge difference at that age, referred to him as “Jaś” [Johnny] in his letters.
Wybraniecki kept in touch with the Chopin family. Business connected with the construction of St Catherine’s church in Dobrzyń-on-Drwęca [now Golub-Dobrzyń], which he was financing, brought him to Warsaw. The details of Chopin’s stay in Sokołowo may have been worked out during this visit. We know that his sister Ludwika corresponded with Jaś’s sister Konstancja, although, unfortunately, none of their letters have survived.
Białobłocki often spent his summer holidays in Sokołowo, 5 km from Szafarnia, where Chopin spent his summer holidays in 1824 and 1825. Chopin’s time in Sokołowo was a happy one. Just before leaving Warsaw for Szafarnia at the end of 1825, he finished a letter to his friend by excitedly announcing their upcoming meeting: ‘Oh, I just caught the scent of Sokołowo!’ Białobłocki sadly died an untimely death from bone tuberculosis in 1828, at the age of twenty-three. This was not Chopin’s first serious blow in life: his youngest sister Emilia had died the previous year. Chopin and Białobłocki were very close, as is evidenced by a letter dated September 1825. The composer had to leave Szafarnia shortly and return to Warsaw. He nevertheless decided to go to Sokołowo to say goodbye. Yet when he did not find his friend there, he committed all his bitter disappointment to paper: ‘We leave very early tomorrow morning. I still promised yesterday to be at your place, but it was only today that I could be in Sokołowo. I am very sorry that I won’t see you any more during this vacation; so I must say my farewells to you at least on this piece of paper […]. I wish you the best possible health. I wish that your leg will be completely healed. […] And so, Beloved Jaś, we must part without a proper farewell. I kiss you cordially. Remember me, as I remember you. […] You have no idea how sorry I am, how sorry I am! […] To the point that I don’t feel like leaving. Why did I knock around in a britzka to get this far only in order not to see anyone? But at least you will know that I was here. That I was here, in order to take cordial farewell of you and your Papa. I myself don’t know what I have written. I am in such a state as I have never been in before’.
We learn in the same letter that Antoni Wybraniecki, no doubt with the consent of Chopin’s parents, saw to Chopin’s health during his stay at Sokołowo: ‘Kiss your Papa for me as well, and thank him for the broth, that broth to which I owe so very much. Declare to him that I will never forget this’. Chopin was given medicinal infusions and preparations, such as lightly ground oats and barley, to strengthen his health.
A dozen or more of the letters that Chopin wrote to Białobłocki have survived. Illness forced Białobłocki to discontinue his studies at Warsaw University. He spent what remained of his life at Sokołowo. In his letters, Chopin tried to keep Białobłocki up to date with what was happening in Warsaw, and so many invaluable biographical details have been preserved. These enable us to understand Chopin’s social milieu when he was young and the ambience of Warsaw at the time.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the manor houses where Chopin stayed here have not survived. The earliest reference to a manor in Sokołowo dates back to 1618. It belonged to the Działyński family and was built on the site of the former seat of the Sokołowski clan. It was demolished in the late nineteenth century. Some of the walls were retained, and a neoclassical mansion, which is still there, was erected on its foundations. A book on the four churches in the Dobrzyń district by Fr Maciej Smoleński, published in 1869, gives this clue: ‘Instead of finishing the beautiful mansion that Wybraniecki built in Sokołowo, Mr Borzewski had it demolished’. After the Second World War, the building was used by a State Agricultural Farm and eventually fell into disrepair. Since being thoroughly renovated, in 1979, it has been a hunting manor and the head office of the Game Breeding Centre (mainly pheasants and partridges).
The original layout of the late nineteenth-century landscape park adjacent to the manor house has sadly been eroded through many years of neglect.