Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Prior to 1870, a small community of Poles resided within the city. Centered in the area of Broadway and Sycamore between Pine and Walnut Streets, they numbered only around 150 people total. These immigrants, the majority of who were aristocrats and professionals, were drawn here by the sense of adventure the New World promised them. By 1873, this community had grown to include 500 people.
The majority of the immigrants did not stay in Buffalo longer than a few days, instead opting to travel further west to the already established Polish communities in cities such as Chicago and Detroit.
Joseph Bork, owner of a vast tract of land bounded by Smith and the Belt Line Railroad, and Howard and Broadway recognized this trend. Noticing that the Polish communities in other cities were centered around a house of worship, he felt that more would stay here if they too, had a house of worship they could call their own. Aspiring that his property serve as a newly developed Polish Community, he donated a tract of land on Peckham Street to the Diocese of Buffalo, intending it to be the location of a new Polish parish.
Saint Stanislaus parish
In December, 1872 Rev. Ivaneff Marie Gartner began a series of Polish services at Saint Michael's Church. Upon the conclusion of this work, he advised the Poles attending to organize as a congregation, thus forming the roots of Saint Stanislaus parish. The following year, Bishop Ryan ordained John Pitass as a Catholic Priest. He celebrated his first mass for the Polish people of what had become to be known as the Saint Stanislaus Society.
With a parish organized, Polish people passing through the city on their way west were given an impetus to stay. By January, 1874 Rev. Pitass had completed the first building for St. Stanislaus thus initiating the colonization of the East Side by Polish immigrants. Wishing to make the most of the opportunity, Bork immediately began constructing homes in the southwest corner of his holdings. Within three months, he had completed almost 400 single story frame homes in the area bounded by Smith, Fillmore and William Streets, By 1876, the majority of the Poles residing in the Pine Street area had moved into homes here.
Following an initially slow period of growth from 1873 to 1877, the number of Poles arriving in the area increased dramatically. Drawn to the community formed within the shadows of St. Stanislaus Church, their numbers increased almost exponentially.
In January, 1879, 2,500 Poles resided in the area, a number which increased to 3,500 by December.
With those already here writing home and telling of the prosperity of the city, their numbers increased to 5,500 by 1880 and to 9,500 the following year.
This large influx of people initially resulted in a few problems for the area. As many Poles would send money to their relatives in the homeland to pay for passage to the united States, they initially could not secure a strong financial foothold here. The problem was only compounded by the arrival of people from the homeland and the added financial burden placed upon the families here.
To ease the mounting problems and assist in the transition to life in the New World, the city arranged for the former army barracks on Fillmore Avenue near Paderewski to be opened as an temporary living quarters for the immigrants.
In the 1880s, Bork began constructing two story homes, thus providing a source of income for owners who elected to rent out a portion of their building. This added income enabled the majority of the homeowners to pay for their property within two years of purchase.
The period of 1884-1888 saw the largest influx of Poles arriving to the city with peasants, seeking an improved economic climate in the States, constituting the majority of these arrivals. By 1890 over 20,000 Poles resided in the Polish East Side on land which twenty years previous had been undeveloped.
With additional immigrants arriving, conditions within St. Stanislaus became exceedingly crowded resulting in the establishment of other Polish Roman Catholic parishes. In 1886 St. Adalbert's parish became the first new congregation to be formed out of the parish boundaries of St. Stanislaus. The diocese located the house of worship north of Broadway in a relatively unsettled area. Consequently, to keep pace with the high demand for housing in the vicinity of the new parish, during the course of that year, Bork constructed 300 homes adjacent to the church and an additional 800 the following year.
Bork did-not stand alone as the sole developer of the east Side. Although he is responsible for the majority of growth to the area west of the Belt Line, the streets to its east reflect the influences of their German developers. Edward L. and Frank Koons, Robert C. Titus, and Frank Goodyear purchased and developed over 100 acres immediately east of the Belt Line from Broadway to Genesee during the 1890s. August E. Rother, whose farmhouse stood at 129 Walden, cut Rother Avenue through land on which he once grazed cattle and raised vegetables.
Polonia, the East Side enclave of what was one of the largest Polish communities in the United States, is a pure demonstration of the power of the house of worship in establishing a distinctly cohesive neighborhood. It also constitutes the only neighborhood in the city where Catholicism reigns supreme. Out of the thirteen religious buildings remaining, only two were not affiliated with Catholicism.
© 1995 James Napora
Page by Chuck LaChiusa with the assistance of David Torke
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