The Town and its Time
Note from Stephen F Payer:
The following is a transcription of the work of Kathleen (Pusaver) Dorsam. It is an account of the present day Slovakian city of Presov. The city was renamed Presov after World War 1 when Czechoslovakia was formed from the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Previous to that time it was known from the 13th century on as Eperjes (phonetically, Ep-pair-jesh in Magyar), and appears as such on the maps of that time.
Once a prospering town, the early 1700's plunged Presov into unbelievable decline. In 1703 the last anti-Habsburg uprising began and during the more than year long siege, Presov sustained enormous damage and the army drained the town of its financial resources. The catastrophe was made worse by an epidemic of plague in 1710 to which a great part of the population fell victim and successive fires in 1711, 1714 and 1720. The long period of wars and events connected with them created widespread poverty, great debt and departure of almost half the population.
The year 1752 marked an historical change in the excavation and production of salt in Solivar. A catastrophe caused by the flow of water which flooded the salt mine led to new technology of gaining salt through the evaporation of brine in large pans
A feature of Presov was its stone reservoirs for water. Cisterns had been present in the square since the fifteenth century. By equipment called "kumst" located in one of the towers of the towns fortifications, water was diverted into them by a wooden pipe from the mill stream.
The Emperor Jozef II visited Presov in 1783. The town notables welcomed him at the South Gate. The Emperor walked up the town, stopped at the town hall and walked to the Kumst. The mayor explained to him that it was part of the town's water mains. The Emperor, as a great member of the Enlightenment, was not satisfied with an explanation of how the waterworks functioned, but he also wanted to taste the water. The council hesitated as the day before it had rained and the water was cloudy. They invited the Emperor for good Presov wine or, even better, "Kvasna vodka - borkutka": sour water. The Emperor laconically observed that now he knew why so many people had died in the town during the last epidemic.
Between the years 1711 and 1848, Presov citizens lived in peace. This influenced the growth of the population , which in this period rose from about 2,000 to 9,000 inhabitants. In the everyday life of the town's inhabitants, trade had an unrivalled place and with it, the fairs and markets. Presov's importance stretched beyond local and regional limits. An individual group of traders from the eighteenth century represented what were known as the "Balkan salesmen: Greeks, Serbian, Armenian and also Jewish although they still lived outside the town walls. From this time, active trade was set up with Poland and Russia. The most important items traded were linen and other textiles, wine and leather goods.
Presov citizens were also interested in agriculture. As well as wheat and rye, barley was grown for making beer and industrial crops for making linen: flax and hemp. At this time, the tradition of growing fruit and vegetables began.
Because the town had been destroyed by the events of war and epidemics of plague, the population of Presov was increased by new immigration, mostly of Slovak nationality, replacing Germans and Hungarians. In the eighteenth century Slovaks became a majority in town even among the rich. The Germans now formed a weak minority and Hungarians were practically non-existent.
With regard to the languages used at the end of the eighteenth century, materials in the archives contain this insight. "There are four languages used in the town: Judges, priest, teachers and students speak Latin, the nobility Hungarian, the townsfolk German and everybody, Slovak."
From a Monarchy to Republic: In the middle of March, 1848 revolutionary events began in Budapest which meant the end of the feudal system. These events were welcomed by the citizens of Presov, chiefly the working class people, the Hungarian townsfolk and a sub group who were progressively unhappy with the feudal system. After an explosion of armed conflict between Budapest and Vienna a few dozen volunteers were armed from among the citizens. As a result of its strategic position and the rapid escalation of events, Presov changed rulers a number of times during the revolution. In December 1848 the town was occupied by the Emperor's army to give way to Hungarian honveds at the beginning of February 1849 and these in turn were replaced by a garrison of Slovak volunteers fighting on the side of the Emperor. At that time, Presov was visited by the Slovak patriot, Ludovit Stur and his companions at a ceremonial meeting in Cierny Orol Hall and spoke to the towns citizens. Yet once again in March, the honveds marched in to change twice more with the Emperors army with which the Russian army came to support the interest of the court of Vienna. The movements and support of a large number of armies and the numerous changes in the political situation brought substantial material damage.
The economic importance of Presov at this time declined even more. Craft workshops or smaller factories held a dominant position until the end of the century. The most important was a factory for producing ceramic tiles belonging to the Presov People's Bank. Aside from a few short-lived textile concerns, brickwork and quarry, commercial activities had a food provision character using the traditions of the previous period. There were two old mills, a small liquor distilling business, a vinegar business and a brewery. The single Hungarian representative was the large and relatively stable saltworks at Solivar.
According to the number of citizens, Presov was among the smaller towns. In 1863, around 10,000 people lived there and in 1900 there were less than 14,500 people, 1,300 of which were soldiers. The composition of the town was a prevailing number of Slovaks, a growing number of Hungarians and a still dwindling number of Germans.
The greatest catastrophe in the town's history occurred in June 1887. In the Hortulani house in Jarkova St. a fire broke out which a strong wind quickly carried to the Main St. and continued to spread. The greater part of the town was burnt to the ground. Firemen who were called in from as far away as Kosice were unable to do anything because of a water shortage. The damage was estimated at two million in gold.
Economic development was slow, but an important event in transportation made its way to Presov in 1870. A locomotive with two wagons from Kosice, the opening of work on the rail track from Presov to Orlov and Plavec in 1873, and the track fro Presov to Bardjov in 1893. In 1894 the town gained a sewage system and in the same year the building of the first power station began and the following year saw the introduction of electric light.
The Power of the Cross: - During the centuries of Presov's existence, the history of the town has also been the history of the individual churches existing within its territory. Documents from the middle of the thirteenth century indicate that Presov, at that time, was a fully developed community with a Roman Catholic parish church. The first Evangelical religious group was founded in the town in 1531.
The Presov citizens of the middle ages were very religious. The name of God was only permitted to be pronounced with great reverence, not lightly. For light speech in public the head of the family had to be responsible. During Sunday services and holidays the town gates were closed. Taverns and inns were also closed.
In connection with the Counter Reformation, the Franciscans, Jesuits and Minorites came to Presov in the second half of the seventeenth century. Due to the activities of the monks' pastoral work and the lavish support of the Emperor, reconversions continued. By the end of the seventeenth century, one third of Presov's population had changed to the Catholic faith.
During the eighteenth century other changes occurred in the composition of the Presov citizenry. By 1711 the Evangelicals had left Presov for the suburbs where they built wooden churches and schools. The town churches and Parish property reverted to the Catholics, especially the Jesuits. In 1773 the order of the Jesuits were dispersed and in 1787 Emperor Josef II also dispersed the Minorites. Until 1781 the only church allowed in the territory or the town was the Catholic church.
After the edict of Toleration 1781 and the individual initiative of Josef II during his visit to Presov in 1783, the Evangelical church regained its college building and the former Hungarian Evangelical Church.
In the nineteenth century two-thirds of the population of Presov were Roman Catholic and approximately the same proportion about ten percent were either Uniate or Evangelical.
The most dramatic years from the point of view of the Christian churches were the years during totalitarian Communist regime when the church was pushed to the edge of society. The regime was particularly severe towards the Uniate Church, although the Roman Catholics and Evangelicals did not escape persecution. The liquidation of religious orders in 1949 and 1950 was one of the darkest sides of the whole decade.