Cleveland’s Polish Community “Fleet Avenue”
Lecture in 2 parts by Dr. John J. Grabowski 1982 Cleveland Heritage Program
From Cleveland State
THE DEVELOPMENT OF A POLISH-AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL COMMUNITY, 1882-1919
On the morning of 3 June 1882 the Cleveland Leader ran a copy of a notice that had been posted by the president of the Cleveland Rolling Mill regarding the condition of the plant in light of the on going strike.
Cleveland Rolling Mill Company
Cleveland, O., June 2, 1882.
On Monday next, the wire mill, rail mill, new
melting furnace, and blooming mill will start
with non-union men, single turn. As soon as
practicable other departments will start, due
notice of which will be given.
(Signed) William Chisholm, President.
A large number of the men referred to by Chisholm were recent Polish immigrants who would come to settle in the area northwest of the rolling mill. Thirty seven years later, in the Fall of 1919, the Cleveland Rolling Mill was again hit by a major strike. By this time, however, Polish-American workings composed approximately fifty percent of the strikers who walked out in support of the twelve point demands of the Amalgamated Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers Association. What caused this shift?
This paper examines the causes of this change in attitude and the growing sense of permanency among the employees of the Cleveland Rolling Mill and their families. In order to understand this transition, one must examine the development of the Polish-American community of Warszawa, located on the southeast side of Cleveland, which experienced a fantastic rate of growth between the years 1882 and 1919. By examining this growth one can identify a shift in attitude among the Polish immigrants from viewing themselves as a temporary “colony” of migrants to a permanent “community” of Polish-American workers. It is this attitudinal evolution which accounts for this transition from strike breakers to strikers.
A number of factors are examined in this paper which illustrate this transition. Primary among these is the development of Saint Stanislaus parish which acted as a center of the community. A statistical analysis of baptisms, marriages, societies and confraternities, and school size illustrates the rate of growth of the Warszawa community. Along with this, the paper examines the development of mutual aid societies, savings and loans and banks, which supported the growing permanency among the residents of Warszawa.
The history of Poles in Cleveland can be traced back to 1848. Through the 1870’s the Polish population of Cleveland was composed primarily of skilled artisans who were either self-employed or employed for wages in small manufacturing plants. At this time, Cleveland’s Poles lived among the Czech community centered around Croton Avenue, three miles north of the Cleveland Rolling Mill. But, with the increasing number of Poles coming to Cleveland, a new settlement was sought. In the late 1870’s between seventy and eighty families left the Croton Avenue community and settled in farmland near the intersection of Fleet Avenue and Tod Street. It would be from this nucleus that the Warszawa community would grow. Along with their personal belongings, the Poles who moved to Warszawa brought with them a Roman Catholic parish, Saint Stanislaus, which had been created by the Cleveland Diocese in 1873. Lacking a permanent location, this community held its services at Saint Mary’s Church in Cleveland’s “Flats” district.
During the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, the Poles of Warszawa came to rely on the Cleveland Rolling Mill for a majority of their jobs. The Cleveland Rolling Mill was part of an industry which had existed in Cleveland since 1856. With the increased demand for iron resulting from the American Civil War, the Cleveland Rolling Mill hired a number of Czechs and Poles to bolster the output of the existing Welsh/Irish work force. Through the 1880’s, the Poles and Czechs came to fill a number of unskilled and semiskilled positions at the mill.
In May of 1882 the Cleveland Rolling Mill received new ownership which immediately enacted a series of wage reduction measures. On the morning of 10 May 1882 five thousand employees of the mill went on strike protesting the reduction in wages, working conditions, and the closing of the mill to labor unions. In that morning’s edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, President Chisholm explained his thoughts on the cause of the walkout. “Until within a few months ago the employes (sic) of our company have not been connected with the labor organization known as the Iron and Steel Workers’ Association. Latterly however, they have been gathered into this organization and the result has been discontent and trouble to the company. The question was not a matter of wages so much as whether the Amalgamated Association should control our affairs and dictate to us our method of doing business.
The strike continued until early June when strike breakers, including between 500 and 1,500 Poles, were brought into the mills. Chisholm continued his stand against the Amalgamated and its membership, stating that no union member would be given a postion in the mill. The lack of experience of the strike breakers soon became evident. One report indicated that approximately one third of the output of the rail-mill was “useless.” Due to the increasing number of strike breakers, and the disorganization of the Amalgamated, though, the strike was quickly broken.
The ineffectiveness of the Polish laborers who were brought in to break the strike can be explained by examining the source population of these workers. Known as the Stara Emigracja, “Old Emigration,” three fourths of the pre-1920 Polish immigrants were farm laborers, unskilled workers, or servants. Only three percent of this population possessed fifty dollars when they entered this country. One quarter of the “old emigrants” had their travel expenses covered by someone else. Many of these laborers were “birds of passage,” who left their wives and family back in Europe in order to find “good” jobs which would allow them to earn enough money to return to Europe and purchase land. Between 1820 and 1870 these laborers left at the rate of ten to twenty per one hundred new immigrants. This number increased to thirty three to forty per one hundred by the period between 1900 to 1914. Those that remained in Cleveland developed a hybrid system of allegiance, mixing Polish culture with American methods to create the permanent community of Warszawa.
In the years following the end of the 1882 Strike, Cleveland experienced a continuous growth of its Polish population. Even with the difficulties of tabulating Polish immigration into Cleveland, with the Polish immigrants regularly being identified as “German,” “Russian,” or “Austrian.” The number of Poles entering Cleveland was quite substantial. By the year 1890, 2,848 Poles were living in the city of Cleveland, making up 1.09 percent of the total population. It was this population which maintained the notion of the Okolica, the neighborhood, with its emphasis on material possessions (land, house and permanent material objects), personal abilities (individual skill and organizational honors), and family status, which came to characterize the Warszawa community.
Over a short period of time the Warszawa community exhibited qualities which indicated a shift away from the “birds of passage,” to a community of Polish immigrants who had been attracted to Cleveland by correspondence with family and friends already living there. This reflects a common immigration pattern among Poles during the late nineteenth century. This sense of purpose and permanency was displayed only three years after the 1882 Cleveland Rolling Mill Strike when a second, and more violent strike broke out. In July of 1885, in the face of a recession, Chisholm cut employee wages. Poles and Czechs, who had been recruited as strike breakers a mere three years earlier, led a “more massive and violent strike” which began on 6 July 1885. This strike was an attempt by the workers to preserve the gains that they had made since moving to Warszawa.
A prime indicator of this permanency in the Warszawa community was the development of the Saint Stanislaus parish. After the shift of the Poles to Warszawa, distance prohibited the use of Saint Mary’s in the Flats as a place of worship. It was in 1881 that the first permanent church building was erected at the intersection of Tod Street and Forman Avenue. Two years later the pastor of Saint Stanislaus, Father Francis Kolaszewski, unveiled plans for a church which would be the largest in the Cleveland Diocese. In 1887, a mere six years after building the first church at Tod and Forman, Kolaszewski’s plans became reality with the dedication of a two hundred foot long, on hundred and forty five feet high brick structure.
Kolaszewski’s grand plans ran into financial difficulties starting in the mid-1890’s. By the seventh of April 1906 the Bishop of Cleveland, Ignatius F. Horstmann, requested that the Franciscan Order take over the parish in order to solve the Saint Stanislaus’ financial problems. This task was made even more difficult when on 21 April 1909 a “cyclone” damaged the church and school buildings. The tall twin steeples of the south facade of the church collapsed during the storm, and were never rebuilt. The final total of the cyclone damage to the Saint Stanislaus property was $27,000. The financial strength and stability of the Warszawa community, however, was clearly exhibited, when only seven years later, the pastor of the church reported to the bishop that Saint Stanislaus was free of debt.
A better representation of the growth of the Warszawa community can be seen by examining the records of marriage and baptism ceremonies as they are recorded in the annual reports to the bishop. (See Graph A and Graph B) In 1882, Saint Stanislaus conducted twenty six marriage ceremonies and one hundred and fifty baptisms. Excluding a slight decrease in baptisms between 1884 and 1885, and marriages between 1883 and 1885, Saint Stanislaus showed a constant rate of growth through 1891/1892. The number of marriage ceremonies peaked in 1891 with 115 weddings, while baptisms reached its highest level one year later, totaling five hundred and thirty one.
Both baptisms and marriages fell drastically after 1891. Two factors played a role in the decreasing number of marriages and baptisms between 1893 and 1894. The United States at this time was suffering through an economic depression, which effected the earnings of the workers at the Cleveland Rolling Mill. But more significant to the Saint Stanislaus parish was the return of Father Kolaszewski from Syracuse, New York. One 8 June 1892, the bishop had replaced Kolaszewski, indicating that he had financially hampered the parish. Some members of the Saint Stanislaus community loyal to Kolaszewski clashed with those who called for his ouster, causing a split in the parish, which resulted in the bishop sending Kilaszewski to Syracuse, New York.
The annual report to the bishop for 1894 notes that Kilaszewski had returned to Cleveland, “…uncalled by the church authority to organize what he calls an independent church on 3rd day of May…” This schism resulted in the creation of a runaway parish, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which acquired property on Fremont Avenue, only six blocks south of Saint Stanislaus. It was the creation of this second Polish Church, in close proximity to Saint Stanislaus, which was the primary cause for the decrease in marriages and baptisms.
During the period from 1894 to 1905, there was little growth in marriages or baptisms. From 1905 to 1907, however, the number of marriages in the parish increased dramatically. The annual report to the bishop for 1905 indicated that seventy marriages were performed at Saint Stanislaus. By 1907, a mere two years later, this number had more than doubled, to one hundred and forty six. Exhibiting a delay factor of one year, the number of baptisms performed also grew dramatically during this period. The year 1905 saw four hundred and one baptisms performed at Saint Stanislaus. Three years later, six hundred and forty five baptisms were performed. The number of marriages and baptisms continued to rise through 1916. It was in this year that Saint Stanislaus reached its prewar peak in marriages with two hundred and thirty ceremonies.
A third indicator of the growth of Warszawa was the growing school population of Saint Stanislaus. (See Graph C) Great emphasis must be placed on this development, for the school was seen as a “new, concrete institutional bond between immigrants.” The parochial school was also seen as one of the first institutions to express a growing sense of community and self-development, which facilitated the shift from a Polish “colony” to a Polish-American community. The statistical data of Saint Stanislaus’ school clearly indicated that the bonds between “immigrants” who had settled in Warszawa developed into bonds between “neighbors.”
Diocesan records indicated that in 1882 two hundred and five students attended Saint Stanislaus school. Four years later, a new school building was opened at the cost of $1,500. By 1893, the school was attended by seven hundred and fifty students, with a staff of ten teachers. In response to a question regarding the number of students that did not attend the parish school, the pastor of Saint Stanislaus wrote: “Some (students) after their first communion attend public school to learn more English.” At this time all instruction was done in Polish. Ten years later, the annual report indicated that two hundred students did not attend Saint Stanislaus school because of the “lack of rooms in our school.” In 1906, the school population of the parish was one thousand two hundred and ninety seven students.
A new school building was completed in 1907, which contained eighteen classrooms, two basement offices and an auditorium. The building was erected at a cost of $9,300. Even with this massive construction project, the population of Warszawa outstripped any progress in the number of classrooms. As late as 1912 the annual report indicated that five hundred students were not attending the school because of the lack of space. At this time, Saint Stanislaus school had twenty four teachers instructing one thousand four hundred and eighty five students in eight grades. This upward trend continued through 1919, with Saint Stanislaus peaking at two thousand one hundred and thirty seven students, with an additional six hundred having to attend public school because of lack of space.
This dramatic growth in school population, along with the increases in marriages and baptisms indicated that by the middle of the 1890’s Saint Stanislaus had entered a third phase of development, one of self-generated growth. This reaching maturity is noted by William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki: “Later when the community is definitely settled marriages and births–at first relatively insignificant–gradually acquire the predominant importance.”
A significant role in the development of Saint Stanislaus, and its school, was that played by the various confraternities and societies which developed between 1882 and 1919. These organizations performed two functions in the parish community, providing devotional support for the priest and economic and cultural support for the community. Taking the economic conditions which effected the parish into consideration, one can observe continuous improvement in the Warszawa community. Returning, once again to the 1882 annual report, one finds that Saint Stanislaus had only two societies. The number of confraternities and societies rose quickly, so that by 1887 Saint Stanislaus boasted five male societies, three female societies, and one children’s society. By 1894, the number of these organizations increased to fifteen.
An interesting situation developed in these societies with the outbreak of the First World War. The 1917 report to the bishop announced that seven military companies had been formed among the parishioners of Saint Stanislaus. Of the five hundred men who entered military service, two hundred and fifty had been drafted by the United States Army, one hundred and twenty five had volunteered for the “American” Army, while one hundred and twenty five volunteered for the Polish Army. This split allegiance was made reference to again in the 1918 annual report. On 24 March 18, Saint Stanislaus held a ceremony in which the pastor blessed the parish’s “service flag.” The flag was decorated with five hundred and fifty five stars, one for each man in the service of the United States, along with eighty eight stars for men serving in the Polish Army. This divided allegiance, as late as 1917-1918, reflects the merging of a “Polish” identity with the reality of making one’s home in the United States.
The years between 1882 and 1919 also saw the development of a number of social and economic institutions, which reinforced the permanency of the Warszawa community while maintaining the cultural traditions brought from Poland. This hybrid of Polish traditions and values with American institutions and methods was well illustrated in the evolution of the mutual aid societies into extraterritorial insurance federations. Initially, Polish immigrants tended to rely on the “wider social group” for assistance during periods of financial difficulty. “The immigrant has been accustomed to see the wider social group hold every narrower social group within its limits responsible for the behavior of every member; the village praises or blames the family as a whole for the activities of an individual, the parish does the same with reference to the village group, the wider community with reference to the parish or village.” It was this attitude which the Polish immigrants brought with them to the Cleveland Rolling mill and the Warszawa community. But over time, with the growth of the community, and the expansion of immigration patterns beyond “chain migration,” mutual aid tended to develop a more impersonal “Americanized” flavor.
Personal assistance among Polish-American communities tended to evolve from a system which functioned on a case by case basis to one of mutual insurance where the membership of an organization collectively insure themselves against accident. Over time, this idea dissolved into a system of self-insurance where individual policyholders protect themselves. “In the older and larger colonies the individual’s desire to be insured plays, therefore, perhaps even a greater part in the development of mutual insurance associations than this desire to insure others.” This personal focus which developed was further evidence of the “Americanization” of the community and its growing sense of permanence.
In Warszawa, the first fraternal insurance clubs were associated with Saint Stanislaus parish. For a low weekly premium, usually around twenty five cents, the individual was able to protect themselves against layoffs and accidents, provide funds for family burials, and have a source for low-interest loans.” The first of Cleveland’s mutual aid societies was founded in 1873 by Anton Dzieweczynski and Andrew Skonieczny, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Seven years later, a Polish Roman Catholic Union lodge (P.R.C.U.) was formed at Saint Stanislaus.
During the 1880’s and early 1890’s, the Warszawa community organized a host of mutual aid societies and fraternal insurance organizations. One of the more unique organizations was the Polish National Alliance, which founded its first Cleveland chapter in 1886. “However, it (Polish National Alliance) did not have strong church ties (though membership was initially limited to Catholic Poles) and worked strongly for the reconstitution of the Polish state.” Considered by many in the Warszawa to be composed of “freethinkers,” and “socialist: the Polish National Alliance, after its 1895 national conference in Cleveland, was abandoned by many Warszawa Poles when the P.N.A. Constitution was amended to allow non-Catholic Poles to join the organization. This led to the splintering off of Group 143 which reconstituted itself first as the Alliance of Poles of Ohio, and after 1917 as the Alliance of Poles in America.
The popularity of these mutual aid societies and fraternal insurance organizations was exhibited by the number of policies opened each year. A survey of new applications was conducted for the P.R.C.U. Lodge of Saint Stanislaus for the years 1909 to 1919. (See Graph D) For the seven months of 1909 that it was recorded, the number of new P.R.C.U. policies increased by one hundred and twenty five. To find the first full year of new memberships, one must turn to the data from 1912, in which three hundred and twelve new memberships were opened. New applications increased again in 1913 with four hundred and twenty three policies being issued.
As a result of the economic depression of 1913, P.R.C.U. applications fell in 1914. For the ten months in which it was recorded, only three hundred and nineteen new policies were opened. The following year, however, new policies skyrocketed to five hundred and seventy five. By the time of the First World War, the organizations which started as societies which provided assistance to its members joined the ranks of national insurance organizations. This was part of a trend among Polish mutual aid societies which only late in their development “added insurance to provide themselves with a broader base and more working capital…” Once again, one observes the evolution of a tradition among Poles, community assistance during times of emergency, into an “Americanized” institution of federated insurance organizations which insured thousands of unrelated individuals.
Beyond the development of a parish community and the growth of mutual aid societies, the creation of a permanent community was best gauged by the geographic growth of the community and the degree of home ownership. For those individuals and families which claimed Warszawa as “home,” home ownership became a primary goal. Along with providing a sense of status, home ownership provided the Polish-American community with a greater control over their environment, an “enforced” form of savings resulting from the buildup of equity in their homes, and a second source of income. It was quite common for home owners to erect a second house on their property to use as a source of rental income.
In 1912, Warszawa was composed of one and a half, two, and two and a half story wooden frame houses with additional sheds or stables. Wooden frame storefronts were common along Tod Street and Fleet Avenue, which continued to be the major intersection of Warszawa. The southern geographic limit of Warszawa at this time was found at Worley Avenue, just south of Fremont Avenue. This area was known as the “Reid Estate Subdivision,” but no construction was indicated in the 1912 Plat Books. Ten years later this area was filled with two-family homes, and the church and school complex of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. By 1920, Poles in Cleveland controlled over twenty million dollars of property, a clear indication of the permanent nature of the community.
By the second decade of the twentieth century, Warszawa had expanded to the south to Harvard Avenue, where its expansion was limited by the northward growth of the Krakowa community, a second Polish-American community, on the west where it reached East 55th Street, on the east at Broadway Avenue by the growing Cleveland Rolling Mill complex, and on the north by the Morgana ravine. With improvements in public transportation, Polish-Americans soon moved out of Warszawa starting satellite communities. In addition to Krakowa, which had developed during the 1870’s, Polish-Americans created the Jackowa community around the Saint Hyacinth parish. By 1910, Polish-American families were moving south along Turney Road, “settling along the side streets lining Turney from just above Warner Road to immediately above Garfield Heights Boulevard.”
Related to this growth in home ownership was the development of community financial institutions. During Warszawa’s early history, its residents did not establish institutions for savings. This responsibility was undertaken by the individual family or through mutual aid societies and fraternal organizations. A second institution which played a financial role in the community was Warszawa’s foreign exchange and travel broker, Michael Kniola. Members of the Warszawa community would “deposit” money with Kniola. His success in this area led him to help found the Warsaw Savings and Loan Association of Cleveland. In the Fall of 1915, Kniola, along with B. Filipiak, C. Orlikowski, Michael Bauza, and S. Ciemnoczolowski organized the Savings and Loan in order to facilitate home buying among the members of the Warszawa community. The organization began operations of 16 September 1916, incorporating six days later. Initially working out of a room in the Sokol Polski Hall on Broadway Avenue, the Warsaw Savings and Loan sold stock subscriptions valued at one hundred dollars each. By the end of 1916, subscriptions were high enough to allow the savings and loan to make its first loan of $1,800.
The Warsaw Savings and Loan, however, was not the only Polish financial institution in Warszawa. Three years earlier, a former employee of Kniola’s, Stanley Klonowski, opened the Bank of Cleveland on the corner of Marcelline and Broadway. By the year 1920, Warszawa had two additional financial institutions, the Broadway Savings and Trust Company on the corner of Broadway and East 55th Street, and the Columbia Savings and Loan Company directly across the street from the Broadway Savings and Trust Company.
By the year 1919, the Warszawa community had developed from an intersection of two roads in the middle of farmland to a bustling, thriving, permanent Polish-American community. Workers from Warszawa played a major role in the 1919 Steel Strike which shut down “all 16 plants of the American Steel and Wire Co. and the plant of the McKinney Steel Co. and the Lake Erie Iron Co. and other independents…” One can easily see the shift of Polish-American workers’ attitude toward the Cleveland Rolling Mill and the Amalgamated Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers Association by examining a list of the members of the strike committee, and their nationality. John Bieski, Lakeside Lodge, Amalgamated Association, A. Bilowski, Fullerton Lodge, Amalgamated, Frank J. Owezarak, Warsaw Lodge, Amalgamated, and John M. Widlanski, Warsaw Lodge, Amalgamated were identified as members of the Cleveland Strike Committee.
In conclusion, when one examines the history of the Warszawa community in Cleveland, Ohio, one is struck by the steady growth of the community, and its fusing of traditions and values brought from Europe with “Americanized” institutions and methods. This growth, along with this mixture of “old” and “new” world created a sense of permanency and belonging. From its beginning as a “homeless” community the parish of Saint Stanislaus developed into one of the largest communities in the Diocese of Cleveland. The development of a parish school, the growth in the number of marriages, and baptisms, and the increasing numbers of confraternities and societies all point to the development of permanency among the Warszawa community. Besides the growth of the parish community, Warszawa, between 1882 and 1919, saw a growth and change in its mutual aid societies. All of these factors, along with the rise in the degree of home ownership and financial institutions indicates that over this period of time a change took place in the thinking of the residents of Warszawa, a change from perceiving themselves as a temporary “colony” of Polish workers to a “community” of Polish-Americans.
From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland written by John J. Grabowski
POLES. Poles formed one of Cleveland’s largest nationality groups in the 20th century and had an important influence on the city, particularly during its period of heavy industrial growth. Individuals may have visited or temporarily settled in the area before the Civil War, but the first cohesive settlement of Poles occurred in BEREA in the late 1860s, where they were employed in the stone quarries. At about this time, isolated groups of Poles arrived in Cleveland; 77 were counted in the 1870 census. The Cleveland Poles did not form a specific neighborhood at this time but settled within the Czech community around Croton St. Several factors subsequently increased Polish migration to Cleveland, especially German cultural pressures in Prussian Poland and poverty and repression in Russian Poland. Combined with relatively safe and inexpensive ocean transport and the need for workers in Cleveland’s rapidly growing industries, the city’s Polish population grew to 35,024 by 1920, with most growth occurring between 1900-14. Travel brokers in the city’s Polish neighborhoods, such as MICHAEL KNIOLA†, made all necessary arrangements for transporting people from Poland to relatives already in Cleveland. All immigration after World War I was inconsequential, so this great pre-World War I influx determined the neighborhoods and organizations of Cleveland’s Poles.
Distinct Polish neighborhoods began forming by the late 1870s as immigrants worked in specific industries and lived nearby. By the late 1870s, a number of Poles worked in Cleveland Rolling Mills inNEWBURGH. Although initially residing with Czechs, Poles eventually created their own settlement adjacent to Tod (E. 65th) St. and what became Fleet Ave.; influenced as much by its proximity to the mills as by their selection of a site at Tod and Forman Ave. for their church, ST. STANISLAUS CHURCH. With construction of a church building in 1881, the settlement, soon known as Warszawa, began a period of growth that continued into the 1920s and remained viable into the 1990s, when it was known as SLAVIC VILLAGE/BROADWAY. By the late 1880s, another Polish settlement, Poznan, was established around E. 79th St. and Superior Ave. Settled as early as 1878, this neighborhood was close to industries that stretched along the railroad lines on the lakefront to the north. A third major settlement, Kantowo, arose in theTREMONT area in the late 1880s and 1890s as steel-mill activity grew in the Cuyahoga valley immediately eastward. By World War I, several smaller neighborhoods were also settled: Josephatowo in the late 1890s near E. 33rd St. and St. Clair Ave., close to Otis Steel works; Barbarowo after 1900 at Denison Ave., near GRASSELLI CHEMICAL CO.; and along Madison Ave. in the early 1890s, settling with other groups, including SLOVAKS, near NATIONAL CARBON CO.
Though the immigrants began a number of small enterprises to serve their neighborhoods–by 1900 there were 32 Polish grocery stores and 67 saloons in Cleveland–the economic base of each neighborhood was strongly linked to its adjacent industry. Indeed, the first CLEVELAND ROLLING MILL STRIKES in 1882 was responsible for a sizable growth in the area’s Polish population, as immigrants were recruited in New York to break the strike. By 1919 Poles constituted over 50% of the workforce of U.S. STEEL CORP. American Steel & Wire Div. (formerly the Rolling Mills). Other enterprises in the Warszawa area employing many Poles included Kaynee Blouse Co., CLEVELAND WORSTED MILL CO. and Grabler Mfg. Co. Until the coming of age of the 2nd and, primarily, 3rd generations, Cleveland’s Poles were largely linked to heavy industry and labor; the entrepreneurial ventures founded were directed toward fellow Poles, not to the community at large.
The Roman Catholic church proved the cultural center of each neighborhood. St. Stanislaus (est. 1873) was the mother parish for Cleveland Poles. Serving Warszawa, it was the basis for 2 other congregations, Sacred Heart of Jesus (1889) and St. Hyacinth (1907). St. John Cantius (1897) served, and gave its name to, the Kantowo region, and St. Casimir (1893) served Poznan. Other parishes were St. Hedwig (1914) inLAKEWOOD; St. Barbara (1905), after which the Barbarowo neighborhood was named; and St. Josaphat (1908), after which Josephatowo was named. As Poles migrated to the suburbs, nationality parishes were established there. St. Mary of Czestochowa (1914) served Poles in the Corlett area around E. 131st and Harvard; SS. Peter & Paul (1925) served the growing GARFIELD HEIGHTS Polish population; and Corpus Christi (1936) at Biddulph and Pearl Rds. served Poles migrating to that area.
Because of the importance of the church, it was often the center of controversy, as priests assumed great influence and often came into conflict with diocesan authorities. Indeed, the major internal conflict in Cleveland’s Polish community came about when Fr. ANTON F. KOLASZEWSKI† was removed from St. Stanislaus parish by the diocese in 1892. Though the exact charges against Kolaszewski are still unclear, it is apparent that his enormous expenditures to construct a new church created a debt that alienated many of his parishioners, as well as the bishop. Sent to Syracuse, NY, Kolaszewski returned to Cleveland in 1894 at the request of some his former parishioners and established IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY PARISH. Having defied diocesan authority, he and the parish members were excommunicated; they were received back into the church and diocese only after Kolaszewski resigned his pastorate in 1908. The rancor between pro- and anti-Kolaszewski factions in Warszawa was extreme and led to the establishment of separate fraternal organizations and newspapers and influenced the outcome of elections, with its stigma remaining into the 1930s. Continued dissatisfaction with a diocese directed by German and Irish interests eventually led some Cleveland Poles to join the independent POLISH NATIONAL CATHOLIC CHURCH. The first parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus (1914), was established in the Kantowo neighborhood. Eventually 4 additional parishes were established in the city.
Despite the overwhelming influence of the Roman Catholic church, several non-Catholic churches served Cleveland’s Poles, including Trinity Baptist (ca. 1910), eventually located at Broadway and Fullerton. In 1943 its building was sold to the Catholic Diocese and used for Transfiguration Church, the last Polish Roman Catholic parish established in Cleveland. In the 1980s a second Baptist church was begun on E. 59th St., occupying a building that once housed Mizpah Mission Church for Poles and Bohemians, a Congregational body established by Schauffler Missionary Training School in the late 1880s.
Outside of the church, fraternal insurance organizations claimed a large hold on the Polish immigrant neighborhood. The 2 major national fraternals, the Polish Roman Catholic Union and the Polish Natl. Alliance, established their first Cleveland branches by 1880 and 1886, respectively. The former was closely linked to the church, while the latter was more secular and a principal advocate of Polish national independence. While the PRCU often met in church facilities, the PNA constructed meeting halls in each of the 3 major neighborhoods; the one serving Kantowo was the Polish Library Home, housing a notable collection of Polish literature until closing in 1982. Religious factionalism also affected the fraternals. The local UNION OF POLES IN AMERICA began in 1894 as the Polish Roman Catholic Union of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for members of the schismatic Immaculate Heart parish. The ALLIANCE OF POLES OF AMERICA was established in 1895 by Clevelanders unhappy with the Polish Natl. Alliance ‘s decision to admit socialists to membership and its strong ties to Chicago. As many of the early fraternals prohibited membership by women, local Polish women established the ASSOCIATION OF POLISH WOMEN IN THE U.S.A. in the U.S. in 1911; it grew out of the Polish Women’s Alliance.
Poles also established cultural organizations, many of which had ties to the fraternals or to the church. Among the more important were HARMONIA CHOPIN SINGING SOCIETY, a choral group founded in 1902; the Polish Natl. Choir of the Polish Natl. Alliance; and the Halka Singing Society of the Assn. of Polish Women. More than a dozen choral and drama groups were active by the 1920s. The Cleveland Society of Poles, formed in 1923 from a branch of the Polish Natl. Alliance, consisted largely of Polish businessmen. Active into the 1990s, it held annual debutante balls for members’ daughters and donated funds to Polish colleges and organizations dedicated to perpetuating Polish culture. A similar women’s group, the American Polish Women’s Club, was also established in 1923. Of great importance in the community’s history was the SOKOL POLSKI, or Polish Falcons, a national organization fostering Polish nationalism through gymnastics. The local branch, Nest 141, was the base for recruiting Polish volunteers to fight with the Allies in World War I. The nest later became known largely for its athletic program, with Olympic gold medal winner STELLA WALSH† being one of its most prominent members.
The local community peaked in 1930 with a population of 36,668 foreign-born Poles. At that time the city supported 2 Polish-language daily newspapers, WIADOMOSCI CODZIENNE and MONITOR CLEVELANDSKI, the latter a descendant of Polonia w Ameryce, which was the first Polish paper to be published in Cleveland (1892). The community also supported banks and savings and loans, including Warsaw Savings & Loan (1916), Bank of Cleveland (1913), and THIRD FEDERAL SAVINGS AND LOAN ASSN. OF CLEVELAND (1938). Despite the size and apparent prosperity of the community, it was still fragmented and already in decline. Though the St. Stanislaus-Immaculate Heart of Mary rift had largely healed, it was replaced by differences over the political situation in the new Polish state. Poles in Kantowo, largely from Russian Poland, tended to be socialist and supported Marshal Joseph Pilsudski, while residents in Warszawa had supported Ignace Paderewski, the first premier (1919) of independent Poland. Pilsudski became Poland’s minister of war in 1926. The split, reflected in the newspapers, with the Wiadomosci being pro-Pilsudski and the Monitor anti-Pilsudski, stifled attempts to unify Polish organizations or opinion in Cleveland, although a League of Polish Organizations attempted to bridge such differences. Only the German invasion of Poland ended the problem, but a similar problem arose after World War II, with the community divided in its opinion of the Communist Polish state. Such division within the community could be the chief reason for the almost total lack of achievement by Polish politicians beyond the ward level. Although Warszawa has almost always been represented on the city council by someone of Polish background since 1905, no Polish-American has seriously contended for the mayoralty despite the size of the community. Predominantly Democratic in outlook since the Depression, Cleveland’s Polish community has produced only a few notable political figures, most importantly JOSEPH SAWICKI†, elected to the state house in 1906 and to municipal court in the 1920s and 1930s.
By 1930 the community began to wane. With no new immigration, the number of foreign-born Poles declined. Not even the influx of displaced persons after World War II did much to reverse the trend. By 1970 only 6,234 Poles resided in Cleveland. In 1980 the number had risen to 8,323. By the 1990s, Poles were one of the ten largest immigrant groups coming to the U.S., their movement being spurred by economic uncertainty as Poland moved from a command to a free economy. In 1990 the U.S. census estimated that 1,635 Poles resided within Cleveland proper, making them the second largest European immigrant community (following that of the states of the former Yugoslavia) in the city. However, these immigrants were scattered throughout the area. All of the old neighborhoods, except that around Fleet Ave., had severely shrunk or disappeared as 1st-generation immigrants died and their offspring moved away. Indeed, the movement to suburban areas began as early as 1910, when Poles followed the streetcar lines out of Warszawa to the Corlett district. Other streetcar lines and automobiles permitted additional movement into GARFIELD HEIGHTS and areas near PARMA in the 1920s. Halted by the Depression and war, movement began again in the 1950s as the old neighborhoods emptied into Garfield Hts., WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, MAPLE HEIGHTS, and Parma. Further exacerbating the situation in the old neighborhoods was the decline of the industries around which they had been built. Many the basic industries around Fleet Ave. had closed by the end of the 1960s.
Despite the decline of the pioneer Polish neighborhoods, all of the city’s Polish Catholic churches remained active as of 1995, a testament to the central position of the Roman Catholic church in the culture. However, most of those attending some of the churches came from suburban homes to do so; whether their offspring continue the tradition is very much in doubt, and it is likely that all of the old neighborhoods, except that along Fleet Ave., will have totally disappeared by the next century. The continued life of Warszawa–Slavic Village–cannot, however, depend on the restricted immigration from Poland or upon nearby industrial opportunities; the area’s residents must make their heritage a viable attraction for tourists, middle-income home buyers, and the nostalgic descendants of the area’s founders.
John J. Grabowski
Western Reserve Historical Society
Coulter, Charles W. The Poles of Cleveland (1919).
Grabowski, John J., et al. Polish Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1976).
U.S. Works Projects Admin. “The Poles of Cleveland” (unpublished manuscript, 1941, WRHS).
From Special Collections at Cleveland State University.