This issue of the special “Legends of Voronezh” project is focused on the history of a regional importance monument of in the Empire style known as the House of Cantonists (76 Sacco and Vanzetti Street). One of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in the region reminds of the era of the reign of Nicholas I when it had been the place of study of children of the lower military ranks, the cantonists. Inside the building, there is a unique preserved basement with arched vaults and the rooms of residents have high (3.8 m) ceilings. The building of the beginning of the 19th century which has survived the war is now in a deplorable state and has been waiting for an overhaul for 56 years.
Unique and exemplary
The construction of the House of Cantonists began in 1816 by Voronezh nobleman Timofei Borodin. As historian Pavel Popov noted, the building was erected in accordance with the exemplary design of a wealthy citizen’s house. Today, there are no more monuments based on this model in Voronezh.
“At the beginning of the 19th century, there were albums with typical designs released and distributed throughout Russia. Drawings and sketches made it easier for architects. At the beginning of the 19th century, this model could not particularly be changed because classicism implied mandatory proportions between floors, porticos, windows. You could only change the number of floors in the building. This is why architects adhered to accurate designs. The House of Cantonists is not just an example of late classicism architecture but an interesting monument of urban development of the first half of the 19th century,” said Pavel Popov.
The building was not completed - Borodin suddenly died and his heirs who were in great debts had no choice but to sell the house. Collegiate counselor Nenarokomova became its owner in 1817 and sold it to the military department two years later.
From 1819 to 1859, the building was a cantonist school. Cantonists (from the German word kantonist - liable for military service) is what they used to call under-age soldiers' sons who, due to their origin, were obliged to perform military service. Basically, these children were serfs who belonged to the military department.
The predecessors of cantonist schools were garrison schools created under Peter I. There was a garrison school in Voronezh as well. Its smallest pupils were seven-year-old boys. The future soldiers were taught literacy, arithmetics, clerical work, crafts - shoemaking, tailoring, carpentry – and depending on the school’s area of expertise, artillery, and engineering science, playing the drum and flute, drill training.
During the military reform, the garrison school was renamed the military orphan branch of the Imperial Orphan's House, and at the beginning of the 19th century - the military orphan school. In 1805, soldiers' children received the title of cantonists. In 1821, the Voronezh branch of military cantonists was formed on the basis of the military orphan branch (school) operating in Voronezh.
“In the time of Nicholas I, they began actively enlisting Jewish children who were 10 years old as cantonists by the decree of 1827. They studied at the school of cantonists until they were 18. But the periodical press of the 19th century often mentioned that boys under 10 also became the school’s pupils. The percentage of recruitment of Jewish children was higher than that of Christian peoples - 10 recruits per 1,000 men annually as opposed to seven per 1,000 men for Christians. Basically, the cantonists came from poor Jewish families - wealthy parents bought their children off,” said historian Viktor Bakhtin.
Troubled children - young tramps, gypsy children, children of Old Believers and Polish rebels - were also taken to the cantonist school.
The years of study at this school did not count as the years in service for Jewish boys, so after school, they were forced to serve in the army for another 25 years.
Russian literature of the 19th century contains much evidence that the era of the cantonists was a gloomy page for history for Jews. 7-12-year-old boys were regularly kidnapped. In every Jewish community, there were so-called catchers who caught the children of the poor. As a rule, they were sent to the most remote cantonist battalions from the Pale of Settlement. Often young children did not survive the hard road and died of hunger, cold, and ill-treatment. Those who reached the battalion were forced to abandon their religion. The boys were baptized into Orthodoxy, they received a new Russian surname from the godparents - non-commissioned officers. Jews were forbidden to speak their native language. This way they lost all connection not only with their relatives but also with the beliefs and traditions of their people.
In the book “My Wanderings”, Vladimir Gilyarovsky described Lieutenant Yarilov, a Jew who had gone through a cantonist school: “We were given thrashings as children... Ah, how they flogged me! Yes, you, cadet gentlemen, think that I am Ivan Ivanovich Yarilov? I, brothers, do not even know who I am. I was brought to a training regiment in a bag from Volyn Province. Military teams traveled through villages with wagons and caught Jewish children in the backyards. They would put you in a bag and then into the wagon. Many died on the road, but those who did not die were brought to the barracks and christened - that's all there is to it. And there goes your cantonist.
- Did the parents recognize the kids?
- No parents. There is a reason we sung such songs: “Our sisters are sharp sabers”... There is no telling of the number of rod and sticks I’ve eaten...”
Historians do not know if it was like this in Voronezh – there is no preserved archival information about the life of the local cantonist battalion.
“Obviously, the sources are stored in the Russian State Military Historical Archive in Moscow. We only know the house where the cantonists studied, the names of some officers who headed the battalion, but we don’t know the internal history,” Voronezh historian Alexander Akinshin explained.
Many Jews, even after finishing the cantonist school and 25 years of military training, managed to maintain their beliefs. According to Voronezh rabbi Avigdor Nosikov, the Jewish cantonists who had already served in the tsarist army formed the original core of the Voronezh Jewish community in the second half of the 19th century.
“The Voronezh Region was not included in the Jewish Pale of Settlement. These were those who were taken from the Pale of Settlement in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. After the service, they had the right to settle anywhere in the Russian Empire, even despite their nationality. This is how the former cantonists ended up in Voronezh,” Avigdor Nosikov said.
A teacher who became a Decembrist
In the middle of the 19th century, the cantonist school became the largest educational institution in Voronezh. Its pupils lived in barracks scattered around the city. The building at the current address of 76 Sacco and Vanzetti Street housed the training premises and apartments of the officers. Even then, the cantonist school owned a large garden with an observation platform. In summer, a cantonist orchestra played here.
Pavel Popov noted that one of the school buildings used to be located in the building which is now the Arsenal Museum. It had a training ground for the drills of gunners.
The Voronezh cantonist school had two battalions. Both were commanded by Colonel German von Brinkman. It was he who in 1853 turned his estate into a public garden which became a favorite recreation place for Voronezh residents. This is how Brinkmansky Garden was created.
Among the most famous teachers and officers of the cantonist school was nobleman Pyotr Mukhanov. He is a military historian, prose writer, adjutant to the hero of the 1812 Patriotic War, cavalry general Nikolay Raevsky. According to Viktor Bakhtin, Pyotr Mukhanov developed a curriculum for the Voronezh military orphan school, organized the first classes in geography, history, and tactics.
“Pyotr Mukhanov was friends with famous Decembrist Kondraty Ryleyev, participated in the Decembrist movement. He was a supporter of tough measures - he advocated the murder of Nicholas I. Mukhanov was sentenced to eight years in hard labor in Siberia. There he was engaged in the study of the Angara and wrote poetry. It is believed that he wrote the libretto for Alexander Alyabyev’s opera Moonlit Night, or The House Spirits,” Viktor Bakhtin added.
In 1856, Emperor Alexander II freed soldiers' children from recruitment. Cantonist schools across the country were abolished. The building of the cantonist school of and the barracks were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Provincial Gendarme Office. Here it was based until the 1890s. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was a clothing depot, in the 1920-1930s - the headquarters of the 19th Rifle Division.
Dungeons and high ceilings
During the war, the building was damaged. Upon restoration, it was turned into a residential building.
“A resident of the house said that during the war, an air bomb fell on the stairs but did not explode. The old staircase still had to be replaced. The current – the post-war one - is modeled after its predecessor, its shape has remained the same,” noted local historian Olga Rudeva.
It was also when the apartments were redeveloped. The spacious rooms which the new residents started settling in were not divided into rooms of the right size.
“People themselves installed walls and partitions, made arches, isolated the rooms that used to form an enfilade,” Olga Rudeva explained.
Apartment № 4 was divided in half by the same principle which resulted in the creation of another apartment, № 4A. It still has a separate side entrance through a wooden extension.
The height of the ceilings in the house is as much as 3.8 m. Anastasia Kekina, a resident of the house, admitted that the high ceilings allowed dividing the space of the room in her apartment into two levels.
The highlight of the building is the old basement with small windows visible only from Sacco and Vanzetti Street. In the spacious rooms, there is a remaining system of ancient domes with arches. Here you can walk with your head proudly raised without being afraid of hitting the ceiling.
The premises of the basement are called sheds but they resemble apartments with bars instead of doors. On one of the doors, there was an inscription: “Apartment № 13”.
According to Valentina Rasseeva, whose daughter lives in the House of Cantonists, a woman used to live in one of these "sheds" not so long ago:
“People who walked along Sacco and Vanzetti Street past her room admired her window. There were violets growing on the windowsill. Unfortunately, a tragedy occurred: the woman was killed.”
General’s house and garden
Valentina Rasseeva, who grew up on Kommunarov Street, has vivid memories of the House of Cantonists. There used to be an old entrance gate leading to the courtyard. There was a round wooden arbor in the courtyard where tenants liked to gather.
“It was always noisy and fun here, people played board games, talked. Each apartment had its own small vegetable garden. The whole yard was sinking in lilacs and greenery. Here grew a big old bird cherry tree...”
On the right side of the House of Cantonists is a huge old garden that used to belong to the "general's house", as the old-timers call this building. Which general lived in that house, local historians do not know. According to Valentina Rasseeva, the house and garden are the same age as the House of Cantonists.
“In the garden, there was a bird cherry tree, lilacs of all kinds, fruit trees - apples, apricots, pears, currants, and gooseberries. There were deep cellars with stone steps that led deep into the ground. Perhaps it was an underground passage to the House of Cantonists or the barracks, located nearby,” Valentina Rasseeva suggested.
Behind the general's house stood the old barracks which today are residential buildings. According to Rasseeva, when she was a child, "soldiers naked to the waist ran out to the river every morning" out of these barracks.
The quiet life of the residents of the House of Cantonists with its green courtyard ended in 2008, when the construction of a 22-storey building had begun nearby. The developer – Monolitnye Sistemy LLC - bought the "general's house" and leveled to the ground together with the garden. Of the 15 apartments in the House of Cantonists, the construction company bought 12. After the bankruptcy of the developer, most of the apartments were acquired by a new owner.
Now there are three families living in the memorial house. According to them, a new neighbor has illegally seized the territory of their courtyard - now it is a playground for the new high-rise building.
“There is no one to fight for the courtyard - most of the inhabitants of the house were offered new apartments,” Valentina Rasseeva explained.
The close proximity to the high-riser has already caused damage to the House of Cantonists. Cracks have appeared along the facade of the house from the side of Sacco and Vanzetti Street and the southern wall of the house. The residents believe that the four-level underground parking built by the developer close to the memorial house made his “contribution” to the house’s destruction. The strength with which the piles were hammered could not but affect its condition.
The south wall of the house adjacent to the parking lot constantly gets wet and deteriorates. Because of this, the basement is damp.
“The city authorities allocated money for the examination of the house. The experts said that the building needed urgent waterproofing,” Anastasia Kekina noted.
In some places, the plaster on the facade had crumbled a long time ago exposing the brickwork. Residents joke gloomily: until a brick falls on someone’s head, no one will begin to overhaul. And there have been no repairs since 1964.
In 2017, the residents of the house insisted on a decision on the repairs and restoration of the house from the city authorities in court. As the mayor’s correspondent explained to RIA Voronezh, in the same year, the contractor GenStroyProekt LLC developed design estimates for the preservation of the monument and conducted a historical and cultural examination. However, the Chamber of Control and Audit recommended that the city authorities considered an alternative way to enforce a court decision – an overhaul of the house.
In 2018, they decided to carry out a major overhaul at the expense of the Regional Fund for the Overhaul of Apartment Buildings (FKR). Initially, the House of Cantonists was included in the municipal short-term plan for the implementation of the regional overhaul program for 2017-2019.
In 2019, the GorDEZ Housing and Public Utilities Company announced a competition to determine the contractor. Tender conditions had been published three times during the year, but not a single application was received for the tender auctions.
In 2020, MKU "City Directorate of a Single Customer in Housing and Public Utilities" (GorDEZ) will carry out major repairs of cold water, wastewater and power supply systems in the house. The remaining types of work will be carried out already by order of the overhaul of the Voronezh Region. Comprehensive modernization of the building was included in the 2020–2022 overhaul program.
“In 2020, the Voronezh administration ordered the repairs of electrical equipment, electric lighting, cold water supply and sanitation systems in the amount of 1,190 thousand rubles, field supervision in the amount of 39 thousand rubles and technical control in the amount of 31 thousand rubles. MKU GorDEZ is carrying out the adjustment of design and estimate documentation,” the City Hall representatives noted.
As the Regional Fund for the Overhaul of Apartment Buildings explained, there are also plans for repairing the facade, basements, roof, and foundation of the house. The regional operator is preparing the terms of reference for the development of the relevant documentation.
“The construction and installation works on the roof, facade, heating system, foundation and in the basement will most likely begin in 2021. It is worth considering the legislative requirements for the development of projects for the repair and restoration work at cultural heritage sites, as well as the timing of tenders for the selection of a contractor,” said Vasily Smolyanov, head of the Department of Public Relations and Information Technology of the regional FKR.