In one of the most beautiful nooks of southern Poland, in the borderland between the Pieniny and Beskid Sdecki, in the picturesque Grajcarek Valley, at the height of 430 - 560 m above see level, you can find Szczawnica. The town is rated among the oldest spas in the Carpathian group, because - judging by its name (szczawa - sour water) - one knew about its mineral waters from the very beginning.
The first mention of the settlement comes from the beginning of the 15th century and tells about bequeathing 400 golden coins to Abraham from Goszczyce, and on the occasion of the bequest two Szczawnicas within the limits of Czorsztyn Starostwo (Polish medieval administrative unit), lower and upper, were mentioned.
Szczawnica Parish had existed as early as in the first half of the 15th century, but in 1529 it was incorporated, due to few inhabitants, into Krocienko Parish, under a decree of Piotr Tomicki. Despite of this, a temple with presbytery was soon built in the place of the first church, burned down in 1550. The church survived until 1892. The present, Neo-Gothic church was erected in the years 1882-1892, and its designer was S. Eliasz - Radzikowski.
As early as before the first partition of Poland, in 1770, Austria annexed the land of Czorsztyn Starostwo. The Austrian government finally liquidated Starostwo in 1770, selling its property to private customers.
The significant part of Szczawnica land was then sold to peasants, while the rest was acquired in 1820 by a townsman from Spisz, Jan Kutschera. Kutschera built the first, modest spa buildings, made a wooden casing over a mineral spring, founded a park (later Upper Park) and built several houses for health resort visitors. Unfortunately, the health resort did not yield the expected profit, so in 1828 Kutschera, being in debt to Józefina Szalayowa from Kamienica, sold her the property with the spring and health resort buildings.
During ten years' period of Jozefina and her husband Jozef Szalay's management of Szczawnica a big building - boarding house called the Castle - and a classicistic arbour over the main spring were put up, and the park was expanded. However, the spa was in full bloom as early as in 1839, thanks to activities of their son Józef, who was the actual creator of the spa in Szczawnica. He built first mineral water treatment bathrooms, put up new villas and boarding houses (the most of buildings on Plac Dietla date back to this period), encased newly discovered springs: Magdalena, Waleria, Jan, Szymon, Helena and Aniela (the two latter bear presently the name Wanda). He expanded and modernized the Upper Park, planting interesting specimens of tree and bush species. He built Kaplica Zdrojowa (Spa Chapel) and equipped it with church instruments and personally painted picture of Madonna with the Child Jesus. He also painted (as tradition says) first emblems of Szczawnica families, their icongraphic copies still hang on highlanders' houses (Pod sercem - Under the Heart, Pod smokiem - Under the Dragon, Pod papuk - Under the Parrot). Józef Szalay made drawings of the Pieniny Mountains and Szczawnica, publishing all of them in 1858 in so-called "Album Szczawnicki". The first guided rafting tours along the Dunajec Gorge were also led by him. He was friends with outstanding personalities of the epoch and invited them to Szczawnica.
Józef Szalay died in 1876, bequeathing Spa Institute in Szczawnica to the Academy of Skills in Cracow. The Academy made further transformation of Spa Institute. In the period 1880-1884 they built Guest Manor (it burnt down in 1962), ordered the park, finished started by Szalay road to Czerwony Klasztor through the Pieniny Mountains. But financial troubles and organizational problems in 1909 forced the Academy to sell Szczawnica to Adam Stadnicki from Nawojowa. The activity of Stadnicki falls in principle on the period between WW I and WW II, but already before the outbreak of WW I the effects of good management could be seen. The majority of spa houses were repaired, new springs encased, and Upper Park enlarged by Pooniny.
However, the greatest development falls on the thirties: in the period 1933-1936 the Inhalation House (equipped in the first in Poland pneumatic chambers) was built, in 1938 Modrzewie guest-house was erected, in 1935 electrification works started, and in 1937 first sewage system was built. Unfortunately, the Second World War stopped execution of the manager's ambitious plans.
During the occupation the Germans had strong support in the town in the form of Gestapo, Genzchutz, German Military Police and Criminal Police. The whole Szczawnica's community was afflicted by arrests, death sentences, sending to forced labour, and extermination of the Jews. The occupier's reign of terror mobilized the highlanders to intensive contraction. Transfer and courier activities started, the inhabitants took part in underground war, fighting in partisan units of Home Army and all the other formations on European fronts. During the occupation the spa was closed to the Poles.
Szczawnica was liberated on the January 18th, 1945. The first bathing season was arranged already in the summer that year. On the January 18th, 1948, under the Regulation of Minister of Health, Szczawnica spa town was officially taken over by the Treasury, while it received city rights on the July 18th, 1962.