tumblr visitor
Buffalo: Our Polish Colony


Buffalo: Our Polish Colony

The following is a report on the status of Buffalo's Polish community originally published in the 
Buffalo Courier, March 29, 1892:

Wonderful Growth of a Frugal and Prosperous People.
Where They Come From, and the important Part They Play in Local Politics.

Of all the striking features of the development of Buffalo in recent years, perhaps the most remarkable and least considered is the immigration and settlement here of vast numbers of Poles, a people possessed of striking characteristics and heir to a most instructive and pathetic history. The statements herein published concerning the Polish population of Buffalo, have been obtained through conversations with the Chevalier and Madame de Kontski, Dr. Wladyslaw M. Wolf, Supervisor James M. Rozan, Ald. Jacob Johnson, John D. Goshleski, and others. 

Twenty years ago when Mr. Rozan came to Buffalo, he found only four or five Polish families in the city. Now, according to his estimate based on the results of the recent enumeration, there are no fewer than 35,000 Poles in the city, and this estimate is extremely conservative, as in several of the Polish districts the enumeration was taken by Germans; and, in addition to the usual errors attributed to enumerators, they failed quite generally to distinguish between the Prussian Poles and other inhabitants who came from Germany.

This mistake was due, in a large measure, to the custom of the Poles of designating themselves according to the country from which they emigrated. Thus, when a Prussian Pole is asked where he comes from, his answer is almost always, “From Germany.” Similarly, the Galicians, or Austrian Poles, describe themselves as Austrians, and the Russian Poles call themselves Russians. There is no reason to believe that if this error were corrected, we should find about 50,000 Poles in Buffalo.
These people have colonized principally in the 4th and 5th districts of the 9th Ward, the 2nd district of the 11th Ward, the 2nd and 3rd districts of the 14th Ward, and, to a less extent, in Black Rock. The Prussian Poles greatly outnumber those who hail from other countries, constituting perhaps two thirds of the Polish population, while the “Galicians” rank next in numbers, and the Russian Poles are comparatively few.

This element of the foreign-born population of the city is here to stay, nearly all the Polish immigrants having fled from almost indescribable oppressions in the Old World and sought permanent refuge in a land which guarantees them equality of opportunity and all the liberty they can handle. A certain proportion of the Austrian Poles, it is said come here with the intention of amassing a competence and returning to the Old World. This is explained by the fact that they enjoy greater privileges under the Austrian Government than are vouchsafed to their less fortunate compatriots in Prussia and Russia.

Mr. Rozan and Ald. Johnson agree that the first marked impulse given to Polish immigration was in 1881 and 1882, when the “May Laws” of Bismark, as they are called, directed against the Catholic Church and Polish people in Germany, started a sudden and vast exodus of Poles from Germany, 
which has continued almost without abatement to the present time.

The Polish population of Buffalo is exceeded by that of Chicago, which heads the list, Milwaukee, which ranks next, and Detroit.

By the time Father Pitass arrived in Buffalo in 1873 the Polish population had increased to about 50 families, and five or six years later had grown to a colony of probably 15,000 persons.

A particularly noticeable and praiseworthy characteristic of these 19th century slaves (sic) is their frugality and acquisitiveness. It would be hard to find a Pole of a year’s residence in Buffalo who has not taken title to a piece of land and built or started a home of his own, and in proportion as they acquire property do they become interested in the conservation of our laws and free institutions. They learn the English language readily, and the children, even among themselves, do nearly all their talking in the English language. They naturally ally themselves with the Democratic party, but are notably against tendencies or practices which they believe to be unwise or unjust.

A very fair idea of what they have accomplished in the city may be learned from the wealth of their churches and schools, which they have built up in a incredibly short time, even while they have been acquiring property, and, in some instances amassing comfortable fortunes.

According to Messrs. Johnson and Rozan, there are now four Polish churches in the city with their parochial schools, besides one which in process of construction. There are the St. Stanislaus Church, of which the Rev. John Pitass is priest, connected with which are seven church or benevolent societies, having each a membership of 400; a singing or dramatic society; a military organization, the Knights of St. John, or the Polish Hussars, and a parochial school with an attendance of nearly 2,000 children; St. Adalbert’s Church, the Rev. Lex, priest, with its parochial school and appropriate societies, besides a military organization called the Uhlans; the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Black Rock, the Rev. Victor Zarenczny, priest, with a military society called the Crakusy, from the city of Cracow, the Church of St. John de Kanty, on Broadway, between the Belt Line and the Erie tracks, nearing completion, of which the Rev. Father Flaszek is director, and the St. Casimir Church on Clinton Street, near Weimar, which has no pastor at present.

Here is a statement, giving a rough estimate made by Messrs. Johnson & Rozan of the total value of the church and school property of the Poles in Buffalo:

St. Stanislaus - $203,000, St. Adalbert’s - $100,000, St. John’s - $100,000, 
Black Rock Church - $25,000, Clinton Street Church - $6,000; Total - $439,000

This makes nearly half a million, which speaks pretty well for a people to shelter whom the City, about 10 year ago, erected barracks on Fillmore Avenue, in order that the army of almost penniless immigrants might not be absolutely houseless. This property, however, is covered by an indebtedness of perhaps on third its value

The Poles of Buffalo have become an important factor in politics, and have three Supervisors, James M. Rozan, John Laszewicz, and Jacob Gazdecki, and on Alderman, Jacob Johnson. They are ambitious to send an Assemblyman to Albany this fall. The Poles of Milwaukee and Chicago have gone farther, in the former city having an Assemblyman and Comptroller, and in the latter having a City Treasurer who was required, it is said to give a bond in the sum of $15,000,000. The Polish Democratic Club is a very strong and effective organization, formed in 1887, with Jacob Johnson for its first president, and having independent branches working in every Polish ward.
Such is the history and condition, in rough outline, of the Polish people of Buffalo, whose ancestors were struggling toward constitutional liberty in Europe centuries ago, while all the countries surrounding them and separated from them by no natural boundaries were immersed in the hopeless gloom of a slavish despotism, maintained by the perpetuation of ignorance, superstition, 
and fear.​- The Buffalo Courier (p.5),  March 29, 1892

Polonia Music
Alderman Jacob Johnson (Jasiek)
9th Ward
Supervisor James M. Rozan
5th Ward
"Awakening of the Lion" 
by Antoni Kątski
Cover of sheet music for "Awakening the Lion"
Chevalier Antoine de Kontski*
(Antoni Kątski)
Anton de Kontski (27 October 1817, Krakow – 7 December 1899) was a Polish pianist and composer. He was also known as Antoni Kątski and Antoine de Kontski, sometimes with the appellation "Chevalier."

Anton de Kontski was one of five children, all musical. His sister Eugenia (b. 1816) was a singer; brother Stanislaw (b. 1820) a pianist who taught piano in Paris and composed salon pieces; brother Apolinary (1825-1879) a virtuoso violinist, composer and teacher who debuted at five at the St. Petersburg court, studied with Paganini, toured Europe, and finally settled in Warsaw where in 1860 he founded the Music Institute; and brother Karol (1815-1867), violinist and composer, member of the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique in Paris.

Anton himself was a pianist and composer, a student of John Field in Moscow and a child prodigy. He was also something of a showman: he advertised himself as the only living pupil of Beethoven and used to play at least one piece in each concert with his hands under a folded blanket placed on the keyboard. In 1896, when de Kontski was visiting pianist with the Wellington Orchestral Society in New Zealand, the conductor Alfred Hill resigned in protest at this trick which he considered charlatanry.

Two years before his death he embarked on a world tour, giving concerts in California and the Far East. His piece entitled "Polish Patrol" was published in Los Angeles in 1895 by The Barlett Music Co. with a portrait of the composer on the cover, and his "Awaking the Lion" was very popular in 1870s California. A sign of his popularity is the fact that The Etude used his "Dance des Sorcières" as their first title when they began publishing sheet music in 1883.
- Wiki

​​* NOTE: ​ Antoine de Kontski resided at 488 Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y.
Chevalier Antoine de Kontski
(Antoni Kątski)
Antoine de Kontski: La Cerrito, Mazurka Favorite Op.84 
Antoine de Kontski: Le Rouet, Impromptu Op.325 


The Attack of the Toughs, on the Unhappy Polish Girl

Continuation of the Trial of O'Brien, Strong and Direct Evidence, 
The Complainant's Testimony, The Case for the Prosecution Closed.

The case of the people against Thomas O'Brien was continued yesterday and the Superior Court. Daniel Barrett was recalled for cross-examination.

When attorney Hennig took the witness stand, Barrett's past career was shown to be clouded. He had lived for some time with his brother's wife in Erie, and came to Buffalo as a witness in a suit for divorce brought by his brother. The map drawn by Surveyor White only puzzled the witness when he tried to point out where he walked with the girl previous to meeting the crowd. In the main his testimony remained unshaken.

Victoria Somiedna, the sister of Sophie, was the next witness called. She gave her testimony in Polish, and Jacob Johnson was sworn as interpreter. She is 18 years old, and said that she came to Buffalo from Austria last July. She had nothing important to tell. She and her sister had $5 when they came to Buffalo. She found employment shortly with Peter Streich, but Sophie was not so fortunate, and went to live with a Polish family on the South Side.

Sophie Somiedna, the victim of the outrage of which O'Brien is charged with having been one of perpetrators, was then called to the stand. She said, through the interpreter, that she was 20 years old, and was living with the Streich family on the Sunday in question. That morning she attended church with Peter Streich. Later she went to an intelligence office, and from there to buy a hat, which she now wore. She could not tell where any of these places were, and said that when she started to return she was lost. She could not tell how long she walked about. Barrett was the first person she met. She asked him to show her the way to a Polish school near Streich's house. He took her by the hand and walked on until they meet these boys.

Witness was asked if she could pick out the first one of them they met.
She was not sure of the first one met, but recognized O'Brien as the first one who took hold of her, when confronted by the whole crowd.

Mr. Quinby asked the girl to pronounce "Polish School," and she did so, plainly.
She said she had been crying when Barrett met her.

She was now asked to point out the second one that took hold of her. She said it was the "one with the long face." Crotty was asked to stand, and the witness recognized him as the one.
She said that the whole crowd set upon her at once, covering her eyes and mouth, for she cried out and struggled when they took hold of her, and someone struck her. She could not remember whether they had crossed any railroad tracks. They struck her in the face, choked her, and threw her to the ground. She identified O'Brien positively.

The poor girl cried bitterly as she told of the brutality of her assailants, and several women came to her to try to comfort her. She further testified that after the crowd left her she laid on the ground for two hours. She walked away slowly, resting frequently, until she met a watchman, who took her to the police station. She was sick three weeks from her injuries. The examination for the People closed here. The witness again burst into tears.

Attorney Hennig's long cross-examination brought out only the same sad story. His effort, obviously enough, was to impugn the moral standing of the witness, but the attempt was not successful.
Mr. Quinby again took the witness, and it was revealed that after they had struck and abused her the crowd tried to bundle her into a railroad car.

The next witness called was Police Matron Meldrum. She told of the girl's condition when brought to police headquarters. One eye was so badly swollen that she could not see out of it for two weeks. Her whole body was bruised as it she had been kicked again and again. Her nervous conditioned was very bad. She appeared as if crazy. She was confined to her bed for a number of days, and when she left the bed she was so weak that she could not walk alone.

Daniel Leary, a boy from the Rochester Industrial School, testified that he saw the assault from the top of the Lehigh Valley trestle. He identified O'Brien, Sheehan, Crotty, Bush, Quinn, Doyle, and Merkt. He recognized them because he knew them all before.

When asked why he was around there that day, he replied that he was running away from home, and that the police were after him. He told Mr. Henning that he had been arrested "six or seven times." He answered promptly and decisively every question and was not puzzled by the attorneys. Every member of the gang looked scared during the testimony, and the toughs winced at the boy's positive assertions.
After Leary's testimony the court adjourned until 2:30 o'clock. When it again convened Patrolman James Hanrahan told of his finding the girl wondering about the next morning, and of his arresting some of the defendants.

At 3:30 o'clock prosecution rested, and the defense opened. Mr. Hennig petitioned for a postponement, saying that he was not ready. The court ordered him to proceed. He then addressed the jury, indicating that on the behalf of O'Brien an alibi would be proved and that he would be show that the girl was a consenting party to what had occurred. The court then adjourned until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.

​The Buffalo Courier
Contributed by New York Contributors
Description: The Attack of the Toughs, on the Unhappy Polish Girl.
Date: November 22 1891
Newspaper published in: Buffalo, NY
Source: New York State Library Microfilm
Page/Column: Page 5/Column 6



Denounced Recent Massacre of Miners


Attendance Was Large - Eloquent Speeches Were Made and Vigorous Resolutions Adopted

A meeting of Polish residents of Buffalo was held last night at St. Stanislaus Hall (see photo), Peckham Street and Fillmore Avenue, to take action concerning the firing on Polish citizens by Sheriff Martin and his deputies at Lattimer, Pa.

The hall was nearly full of interested Polish men when the meeting was called to order, the audience numbering nearly 1,000.

Jacob Johnson was made chairman. In a short address in the Polish tongue, he stated the object for which the meeting had been called.

The Massacre Denounced
James Rozerne, Stanislaus Urbanski and Alexander Cwiklinski made speeches denouncing the action of the Pennsylvania authorities, and advocating financial aid for the widows and children of the dead miners.
The addresses were loudly applauded, the large audience being as one in desiring to help the unfortunate victims of the affair.

A committee on resolutions consisting of J. M. Rozan, A. Cwiklinski, F. Kwinkowski, S. Dekauski, F. A. Kwasrnk, L. Winiwicy and A. Bogalki presented resolutions which were read in English and Polish. The resolutions were unanimously adopted. They are as follows:

The Resolutions

Whereas, with sorrow we have heard of the unjustified and murderous attack on our brethren by the Sheriff and his deputies at Lattimer, Pa., and

Whereas, such conduct of said officers whose duties are to preserve and protect the lives of people and defend them from unwarranted attacks, are not in accord with the oath which they took at assuming the duties of such high office, be it

Resolved, That we, the Polish-American citizens of Buffalo, deeply sympathize with the widows and orphans of the slain and, further that we emphatically condemn the unwarranted and ill-judged action of the Sheriff and his deputies by which action so many workmen lost their lives and left orphans and widows in poverty and despair; and, further, we ask our Polish people in Luzerne County, Pa., to obey the laws of this country, but stand firm for their honest convictions; and, further, we pledge our help in every honest and lawful way to bring the perpetuators of this awful crime to just punishment.

Jacab Johnson, Anton Bozacki, Matt Oruszck, Frank Keviat Kowski, Frank Kwicckowski and Frank Knoszak were appointed a committee to procure funds to be sent to the widows of the miners who were shot. Men were stationed at the door and landings of the hall, who received contributions from the audience. The money, with other gifts, will be sent at once to Hazelton.

Date: September 16 1897
Newspaper published in: Buffalo, NY
Source: Buffalo Central Library Microfilm


ABOVE: Photo of the old St. Stanislaus Hall mentioned in the article. Source: St. Stanislaus B&M Parish "Jubilee Book" (1923)
Buffalo Courier, Sunday, January 1923

There is a nice article about the early days of Buffalo's Polonia that mentions many of its founders. I will only cite the part about Jacob Johnson, but you can read the entire article HERE.
Parish Started Unity

   The first unity, however, followed the organization of St. Stanislaus parish. Poles, hitherto scattered about the city, folked to the neighborhood. Relatives and friends in the homeland were notified of the pleasant community and hastened to add their numbers to the group.

   In the first parochial school, established with the church, Francis Gorski and Jacob Johnson were pioneer teachers. Mr. Johnson now conducts a real estate business and resides at No. 341 Peckham Street. His childhood home was in Dunkirk, which with North Tonawanda, boasted a thriving Polish colony long before the Buffalo community had begun to take form. In order that he might be able to teach his people English, he studied in the schools of Dunkirk and Fredonia and finally registered at Cornell University. His teaching career began and closed in Buffalo and was followed by successful participation in politics. Her served as alderman and as chief deputy of Internal Revenue.

​And here is another. This publication includes a nice map of Buffalo's ethnic neighborhoods:
Reformers in Search of Yesterday: Buffalo in the 1890's
By Brenda Kurtz Shelton

   The most important person in the growth of Buffalo's Polish community was Father John Pitass. The details behind his original decision to come to Buffalo remain obscure. Some sources indicate that Buffalo's Bishop Stephen Ryan, aware that the city's Poles had no church of their own, persuaded Pitass, then at a seminary in Rome, to come to Buffalo where Ryan ordained him in 1875. Others suggest that the initiative came from a German real estate dealer and builder, Joseph Bork, who had a financial interest in encouraging Polish settlement. He generously donated land on the east side where Pitass built St. Stanislaus Church, and then Bork sold the land surrounding it to members of the parish. Usually he built the houses as well, little one-story wooden dwellings which he sold for $25 to $50 dollars down and then provided the mortgage for the rest. Bork profited greatly from this real estate development, and there were hints that Father Pitass did too. A newspaper article in 1891 claimed that the priest was worth half a million dollars, and religious and political opponents later attacked him for his real estate dealings.

    From the beginning, Father Pitass encouraged his people to retain their national identity. Polish was spoken at all church activities, and the parish schools used no English. For many years Father Pitass owned and edited Polak w Ameryce, a local Polish newspaper which was usually staunchly Democratic and urge its readers to vote Democratic and work for Polish nominations within the party. By 1892 their efforts resulted in the elections of a Pole with the Anglicized name of Jacob Johnson, as night ward alderman. The growing electoral strength of the Poles led the Republicans to woo them, and Polak w Ameryce periodically threatened to accept their overtures unless the Democrats awarded them more power and patronage. By the end of the decade neither party could afford to ignore the Polish vote.

You can read the rest HERE.
Mine workers began their protest march near Harwood; 19 were later killed by the Luzerne County sheriff in Lattimer, PA. Most were shot in the back.
The crossroads where the Lattimer massacre occurred remained unmarked for 80 years. In 1972, the United Labor Council of Lower Luzerne and Carbon Counties and the UMW erected a small memorial on the site