Biržuvėnai Manor is a valuable 18th-19th century example of a large wooden manor homestead, reflecting the natural development of such homesteads during the period of feudalism. Serfdom existed in these homesteads as a means of developing agriculture. The Biržuvėnai Manor homestead has completely preserved the parts characteristic of these homesteads (representative, economic, industrial, and residential areas) with their traditional construction.
Biržuvėnai is a small settlement in Samogitia, three kilometres from the Telšiai-Luokė road. The settlement is surrounded by forests and the beautiful Virvytė Valleys, which are associated with the nearby Bambizkalnis Mound, dating back to the 9th and 12th centuries. It is located on the right bank of the Virvytė River. The mound has steep slopes that are up to five metres high at the top square lot, descending to the west. A Protestant Calvinist church is believed to have stood on the mound during the Protestant Reformation. Calvinists were popularly called bambizai, which is how the mound got the name Bambizkalnis.
Biržuvėnai (Birsine) was first mentioned in 1253 in the Act of Division of the Southern Areas of the Land of Bishop Henrich of Curonia. A large manor owned by the ruler and run by the locals was established there in the 15th century. A factory was built in the manor that used the power of the Virvytė River to turn its machines. Due to excessive taxes in 1537, the peasants revolted, and after the rebellion was suppressed, empty huts were left in the homestead. The fate of the Biržuvėnai Manor homestead changed yet again when in 1720 King Augustus allowed a market to operate in the area of the homestead. Trade was seen as the best way to rebuild and develop the economy and cities. In 1790, privileges recorded in the Lithuanian Metrics were granted to Biržuvėnai. In addition to this economic privilege, there was also a county centre there, but this privilege had only a symbolic meaning, giving the Gorsky family more opportunities to show off against other landowners for several hundred years.
The German army seized food and horses there during the First World War. As a result, locals hid their horses and youth, which the Germans were transporting back to Germany for labour. The German military leadership occupied the manor during World War II, and the farm was overseen by two German officers. The manor suffered the most during the Soviet era, when the centre of the Soviet state farm was on its territory. Farm workers lived in the manor house and a cultural centre was opened there.
Biržuvėnai is the only surviving manor that demonstrates Lithuanian architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. The manor reflects the architectural development spanning more than 200 years and the way the Baroque and Classicism epochs merge into one. The exterior of Biržuvėnai Manor is unpretentious, simple, and corresponds to the folk architectural style. The façade of the residential house is covered in wooden planks, has a tiled roof, and white massive windows with Samogitian-style shutters. The house, which is almost 900 square metres in areas, has preserved authentic fireplaces brought from Paris that feature 18th-century relief tiles. The first floor holds fragments of the life of the gentlemen of Biržuvėnai Manor: various photographs, paintings and preserved authentic objects. Books in a variety of literary genres can be found in the small but cosy library. By the road, almost on the shore of the pond, there is an officina building. Very modern for that time, entrance barns have survived, too.
The forest environment gives the territory of the Biržuvėnai Manor an authentic feel. Old but powerful trees preserve the peace of Biržuvėnai Manor. Multi-coloured flower gardens, paths between the trees and ponds reflecting the sky are pleasing, and the mysterious places of the park awaken the imagination. Today, it is said that health and youth can be restored by drinking water from the park’s magical pond, and that wishes are fulfilled by an old two-trunk pine tree. The Biržuvėnai Manor’s park is home to a laumė (Lithuanian mythological creature) footprint on a huge stone.
The Gorskiai family of nobles has long been famous in Samogitia. The Gorskiai came to Lithuania from the land of Mazovia in Poland in the 16th century. The first was Stanislaw Gorsky, who in 1588 moved to Samogitia. Representatives of the Gorskiai family in Samogitia held important state positions, had many manors and were very influential. Stanislaw Gorsky’s sons Rapolas and Jonas were the founders of the family branch in Samogitia. Mykolas Gorskis, a representative of the family’s third generation, bought the Biržuvėnai Manor from Vladislovas Vaina and his wife Falicija around 1667. This manor was the estate of the Gorskiai family for almost 300 years, until 1940.
Today’s manor house provides insight into Mykolas Gorskis in the second half of 18th century in Biržuvėnai, when he built a wooden palace, two officinas and outbuildings. There is also a wooden forge behind the manor houses that operated throughout all the years of the manor. At one end of the building was a forge, and at the other end lived the blacksmith himself with his family. The blacksmith was very important for the manor – he made and repaired agricultural tools, shoed horses and created works of art. There was also a village warehouse – a community grain storage made from wood with stone foundations and a Gothic roof. Potatoes and agricultural implements, like harrows, plows etc., were stored in the red brick cellar. In the wheelhouse – cartwheels, in the ledaunė – ice for cooling milk. There was also sauna. There was additionally a “pact” – a house where a Jewish family lived and guests stayed overnight, a “pročkarnė” – gentlemen’s laundry room, and a “kumetynas” – a house for workers. By the order of Gorsky, the Virvytė River was dammed and a water and sawmill were built. In 1907, a park was established. In 1909, Gorsky established a cardboard factory that operated until 1938.
During the Second World War, the Gorskiai left their houses and distributed their belongings to the villagers. However, they took their more valuable possessions with them and hid fragile goods like dishes under the floor. Janina Nagourski, the youngest daughter of the landlords who returned to her homeland after 61 years, helped find the hidden treasure. They found a chest with 290 porcelain dishes and two silver-plated vases. Most of the dishes found are products from the 19th-century Saxon manufactory. The heir transferred the treasure to the Samogitian Diocesan Museum where it is still preserved. Wine estimated to be more than 300-years-old was also found.
The wayside shrine on the way to Biržuvėnai dates back to 1764. It is said that one of the sons of Gorskiai fell from a horse and was seriously injured in that place. To celebrate his survival, he arranged for a wayside shrine to be built in that place, as if it was a sign of his rebirth.
The Biržuvėnai Manor house was rebuilt with modern materials in 2011 after a fire. The house is currently decorated with antique style furniture. The surviving authentic fireplaces with the 18th-century embossed tiles, chimney and floor tiles have been preserved. Educational events take place in the attic of the house, which consisted mainly of living rooms. Living rooms, kitchens, cupboards, the master bedroom, a study room and other premises are open to visitors.