Szolnok anno – history of Damjanich János Museum

The building of the Damjanich János Museum of Szolnok is 160 years old this year, but besides this, it is also interesting because it is among the few buildings that preserved something from the heydays of the former plains town, thus safeguarding the past. This week, we are going to Szolnok.

Urbanisation on the Great Plain

VF_30418.jpgIn Hungary, romanticism – the dominating style of the 19th century – had a great role in arousing interest in the national past. Art- and culture-patronising associations were opened one after the other, which can be regarded as the ancestor institutes of museums and libraries. In the case of Szolnok, another factor also contributed to this: the opening of the railway. The town started developing, became a county seat in 1876, transformed into a kind of centre and attracted the leading intellectual and officer layers of the county.

2151.jpgBy 1860, the third storeyed building of the urbanisating settlement was built. Master carpenter Lajos Obermayer built the house in late classicistic style for tenement house. First, it was an accommodation for military officers, but it turned out soon that the building can be utilised more profitably. At the end of the century, the increasing population’s demands also grew, which was also true for entertainment possibilities that were modest back then. Thus, the “Magyar Király” (Hungarian King) became a hotel and café. The popularity of the hotel lasted until a rival was opened: the Nemzeti Szálloda (National Hotel) operated as of 1895. 

The inventor of the museum

It was never questionable that the city needed a museum, but the opening was always postponed. Viktor Hild, who kept the idea of museum foundation alive, moved to Szolnok in 1902. József Hild’s grandson fought for the establishment of the museum, partly as an archaeological and numismatic private collector and partly as a journalist. An institutional forerunner, the Alföldi Magyar Közművelődési Egylet (Hungarian Public Educational Association of the Plains) was established in 1911 in order to develop the Great Plain culturally. Later, the museum and library committee of the organisation was formed with Hild’s leadership. Unfortunately, all his efforts failed due to the disinterest of the city, and the outbreak of the World War I did not help his case either. As of the middle of the 1920s, Dr. Béla Balogh, teacher at Verseghy Grammar School, patronised the local historical research and did a lot for sustaining Viktor Hild’s idea.


Meanwhile, an exhibition was set up for the itinerary congress of the Magyar Földrajzi Társaság (Hungarian Geographical Society) in Szolnok, and the plan of a culture palace by the river Tisza integrating the museum and the library already occurred on it. The plan was drafted by painter Lajos Zombory, a regular member of the art colony of Szolnok, but only the park was created, the culture palace was not realised due to lack of money.
After many years of waiting, the Szolnoki Könyvtár- és Múzeumegyesület (Library and Museum Association of Szolnok) was established on 2 May in 1933. It was opened in Táncsics Street in 1934. Director Dr. Béla Balogh moved to Debrecen in 1941, thus the institute was left alone before the war.

A new impulse

After the war in 1948, the restored library was re-opened, and the museum also started operating in 1949, with the exhibition “Szolnoki csata” (Battle of Szolnok). This time, the museum collections place of Szolnok began its way to become a real museum, and adopted the name of General Officer János Damjanich in the same year. The institute started using a part of the monument Magyar Király Hotel, since then the whole building, and it is still there.
The development of a city can be estimated well by its intellectual potential and it is also meaningful how it safeguards its values. Despite of the large industrialisations and constructions of the 20th century, Szolnok preserved its monuments: the museum building and the synagogue that gives shelter to the Gallery of Szolnok nowadays.

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Translated by Zita Aknai

Sources:

https://library.hungaricana.hu/hu/view/MEGY_JNSZ_Sk_2004_nyitott_kapuk/?pg=39&layout=s
http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/terstat/2020/01/ts600106.pdf

https://www.djm.hu/

https://magyarmuzeumok.hu/cikk/160-eves-a-szolnoki-damjanich-janos-muzeum-epulete