On September 9, 2018, attendees at PAHA 75th Anniversary Conference were treated to a Sunday morning bus tour of the “Polish Downtown” with Victoria Granacki, an architectural historian, as a guide. Chicago’s Polish Downtown, from the late 19th throughout the first half of the 20th century, was the capital of American Polonia. It was known to its Polish residents as “Stanisławowo-Trójcowo,” after St. Stanislaus Kostka and the Holy Trinity, two of the largest Catholic parishes in the world.
Abakanowicz sculpture in the park
The community grew on the northwest side of the city of Chicago, around Division, Ashland, and Milwaukee Avenues, and by 1890 was the city’s largest Polish settlement, with almost half of all Chicago Poles living there. The neighborhood contained a rich complex of parish and community institutions so complete that the local community could provide nearly all the services its members required without ever leaving—religious, educational, political, economic and recreational. Yet though its physical size was compact, its influence was far-reaching. Nearly all Polish undertakings of any consequence in the United States through the World Wars either started or were directed from this tight-knit neighborhood in Chicago.
Buffalo grass on Loyola University Campus
The tour began at the Polish Museum of America, housed within the historic Polish Roman Catholic Union of America head-quarters at 984 N. Milwaukee Avenue. This building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Managing Director Małgorzata Kot guided the group through highlights of the collection in the Great Hall, Kusmierczak Art Gallery, and the Paderewski Room.
Polish Museum of America, courtesy of the museum.
The 16 mostly out-of-town visitors were greatly impressed with historic artifacts from the 1939 New York World’s Fair aglow under new lighting in their oak cases, as well as by “Poland Reborn” (a massive stained-glass window), newly restored paintings from the interwar period, and a peek into the archives behind the Paderewski Room. A special treat was a look at the PRCUA offices and board room with its intricate wood carvings and trim.
Church of Sw. Wojciech (Adalbertus)
Visits to the two most significant churches in Polish Downtown, St. Stanislaus Kostka, and the Holy Trinity, were squeezed in between the Sunday mass schedules. St. Stanislaus, founded in 1867 is considered the “mother church” of Chicago’s Polonia. The parish today serves a multi-ethnic congregation with services in English, Polish, and Spanish and also houses a Shrine of Divine Mercy, open for adoration 24/7. At the Holy Trinity Polish Mission Rev. Andrzej Totzke greeted us and proudly directed us to the lower level catacombs which display 267 relics collected from 1911—present. Holy Trinity (left) was magnificently restored from 2002-2007 under the leadership of the Society of Christ Fathers from Poland and all services today are in the Polish language.
Commentary was also offered from either the bus or standing around on the sidewalk about other notable structures in Polish Downtown including Noble Street businesses, Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, Holy Trinity and Holy Family high schools, the former Polish National Alliance headquarters and the Northwestern Trust and Savings Bank/Daily Zgoda building. ~
~ Victoria Granacki
Tour with Dominic Pacyga, Photo Marcin Szerle.
South Side Polonia Tour Guided by Dr. Dominic Pacyga
During the 75th PAHA Anniversary meeting in Chicago, Dominic A. Pacyga took members on a tour of South Side Polonia neighborhoods. The excursion began at Loyola University and made its way south to Roosevelt Road were the bus headed west through the old Praha neighborhood, at first a Czech neighborhood that included St. Wenceslaus Parish, but later both the parish became largely Polish in ethnicity.
The tour then went south on Halsted Street, past the site of the old Maxwell Street Market, to 18th Street to visit Pilsen, another Czech neighborhood in which Poles soon arrived to found the parish of St. Adalbert, the second Polish parish recognized by the Diocese of Chicago. There parishioners hoping to save the parish, which is threatened to be closed, greeted the group. The beautiful church, designed in the Polish Cathedral style, was being prepared for a concert by the Chicago Chopin Society to raise money with the hope of preserving the church.
After touring Wojciechowo, the bus took members to Bridgeport and St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church (Kościół Matki Bożej Nieustającej Pomocy). This church continues to provide services to the quickly gentrifying Bridgeport neighborhood. Originally the large Polish community that worked, for the most part, in the nearby Union Stock Yards created the parish.
Another Polish parish, St. Barbara’s also serves the Bridgeport Polonia. The tour then returned to Halsted Street and followed it south to the Union Stock Yard, which provided the economic/symbolic base for much of Chicago’s South Side.
The bus stopped at the Stone Gate entrance to the stockyards where visitors were given a short history of the Union Stock Yard, which opened on Christmas Day 1865. Today the site holds the most successful industrial park in the city and some 15,000 people are employed in the district. The tour saw an old packinghouse and the newer structures that have largely replaced the meat industry in the area. After touring the yards and neighboring Packingtown the bus headed west of the stockyards to the neighborhood called Back of the Yards.
Three parishes once served the Polish community in the area. Today the parish of St. Joseph still serves the now largely Hispanic neighborhood. The bus passed Davis Square Park, a park designed by Jane Addams and Daniel Burnham. It was the site of a 1917 rally of the Stock Yard Labor Council and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Union to announce the first agreement between organized labor and the meat packers. It also witnessed much of the fighting during the 1921-22 packinghouse strike.
After touring the Back of the Yards, the bus made its way to Garfield Boulevard and headed east towards Hyde Park passing through the northern edge of West Englewood, Englewood and through a neighborhood once called “Between the Tracks.” Finally, the tour passed the University of Chicago and then made its way along Lake Shore Drive back to Loyola University. Hopefully the tour gave PAHA members at least an introduction to a part of Chicago largely unexplored by many histories of Polish Chicago.
Dominic A. Pacyga, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of History, Columbia College/Chicago
All photos by Maja Trochimczyk, unless otherwise noted.
Text: Reprinted from PAHA Newsletter, Fall 2018