Month: April 2014

Polish Push and Pull Factors: Immaculate Heart of Mary Church

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As I walk up the debris littered slope of Polish Hill, the turquoise cupola atop the massive dome of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church stands sentinel over the panorama of Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  This Catholic Church, according to an earnest usher within the main foyer, was built by Polish immigrants who would labor an additional eight hours upon arriving home from a 12 hour shift.  His enthusiasm is soon dampened, however as he explains that “many young people are abandoning the beautiful church” and its congregation is shrinking.  Despite this modern exodus, however, the traditional beliefs and practices of the original parish are evident in the ethnic traditions still celebrated and the ornate artwork filling the interior of the sanctuary (“Catholic Church Pittsburgh”).

Polish immigrants came to America seeking land and a better economic prospects.  The steel mills of Pittsburgh provided a steady, if dangerous, source of income.  However, Polish Americans often were accused of “ruining” the economy, as they sent money back home to relatives who had not yet emigrated (“Immigration Library.”).  Some anti- immigrant vigilante groups, including militant members of the Know Nothing Party, violently reacted to this stigma with raids and assaults (Hay 25).  According to an elderly churchgoer of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Party once destroyed the enormous stained glass windows that adorn the sides of the church with stones, attempting to drive the Catholics out of Polish Hill.  Despite these accusations and hardships, the Polish Americans continued to arrive and work, becoming an important factor in the Industrial Revolution.

Although financial incentives spurred the migration to America from Poland, the poor and dangerous conditions back home served to force many immigrants out of the country.  In 1919, in fact, “60% of the land was owned by 2% of the population”.  This discrepancy forced thousands of Poles to seek land and property elsewhere (“Immigration Library.”).  Religious liberty, too, spurred the mass exodus from Europe.  The largely Roman Catholic Polish immigrants, such as those that founded the Immaculate Heart of Mary, were scattered and persecuted by the Russian, Austria-Hungarian, and Prussian Empires (“Polish/Russian – The Nation of Polonia”). These and other factors galvanized the mass departure of Polish immigrants out of Europe and into Pittsburgh.

1-“Catholic Church Pittsburgh, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church History.” Catholic Church Pittsburgh, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church History. Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

2- Hay, Jeff. Immigration. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Print.

3-“Immigration Library.” Immigration Library. The Advocates for Human Rights, 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.

4-“An Interior Ellis Island.” An Interior Ellis Island. MTU Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, 2007. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.

5-“Polish/Russian – The Nation of Polonia – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress.”Polish/Russian – The Nation of Polonia – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.



Teutonia Mannerchor and Penn Brewery: Pittsburgh’s German Community

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The Fachwerk facade of the Teutonia Mannerchor building stands out in stark contrast to the dilapidated brick of the surrounding neighborhood.  As I walk through the adjacent parking lot, signs indicating the spaces of the Hausmeister and the President mark a center of the German-American community in Pittsburgh.

The private choral society, founded in 1854, first occupied the building on July 15, 1888 (“Teutonia Mannerchor History”).  The group was founded by German immigrants arriving in Pittsburgh, evolving from a previous group known as the Liedertafel.  These men and women wanted to preserve their heritage and formed a closely-knit community around this organization.  The chorus performs traditional German music, traveling around the Tri-State Area on tour.  Their official goal, to “further choral singing, promote our German cultural tradition and extend good fellowship.” is maintained by over 3,000 members to this day (“Choir Activities”).

Walking up the steep Troy Hill Road, the neon sign of Penn Brewery beckons.  In the distance, the H.J. Heinz factory billows steam, a remnant of the Industrial Age.  Heinz himself was the son of German immigrants, his success serving as a testament to the rising influence of Pittsburgh immigrants (Wiggin, Sally).

The Penn Brewery was founded as the E&O Brewery in 1848 by the German immigrant families of Eberhart and Ober, but became the Pittsburgh Brewing Company in 1899 with several other small breweries.  The original buildings still stand, and include labyrinthine stone tunnels underground to chill, or lager beer (“Penn Brewery – Pennsylvania Brewing Co. – Est. 1986 Home History of Penn Brewery.”).  Like Teutonia Mannerchor, the Penn Brewery served as a center of the German immigrant population, providing a cultural center and continuing German brewing traditions.

1- “Teutonia Mannerchor History.” Teutonia Mannerchor in Pittsburgh Deutschtown PA. Teutonia Mannerchor, 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

2-“Choir Activities.” Teutonia Mnnerchor in Pittsburgh Deutschtown PA. Teutonia Mannerchor, 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

3- Wiggin, Sally. “History of the H. J. Heinz Company.” WTAE Pittsburgh. Hearst Stations, Inc., 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

4- “Penn Brewery – Pennsylvania Brewing Co. – Est. 1986 Home History of Penn Brewery.” Penn Brewery – Pennsylvania Brewing Co. – Est. 1986 Home History of Penn Brewery. Penn Brewery, 2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

German Immigration: Push and Pull Factors

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I walk a Pittsburgh street studded with plaques commemorating the German immigrants who first settled here, finally arriving at the historic Priory hotel, formerly a home for Benedictine priests and Brothers (“Priory Hotel History”).

The German immigrants who worshipped here arrived in their greatest numbers in the 1880s. In this decade, almost 1.5 million emigrated to the United States, seeking better lives and new opportunities (“The Germans in America”). Catholic immigrants, especially priests like those in the Priory, fled Bismark’s Kulturkampf, in which the Catholic Church and the Prussian State fought for influence and control. The German 1878 -1890 Anti-Socialist law forced many Democratic and Socialist activists to emigrate to American cities, hoping to campaign in an environment more conducive to free speech. Finally, many German minority immigrants fled to America to escape the horrors of the Holocaust in the 1935- 1945 era (Adams, Willi Paul).

The many German immigrants who are commemorated with the plaques along Pittsburgh’s Lockhart Street left their homes for a multitude of reasons, propelled by the desire for a better life. They sought to gain religious and intellectual freedom, finding a dearth of such liberties under the regimes of Bismarck and Hitler (Addams, Willi Paul). Another motivational factor in this great migration was economic prosperity, as America’s industries surpassed those of Germany and offered a chance at greater riches (“Waves of German Immigrants”)

As I walk through the ornate hallways of the Priory Hotel, I appreciate the beautiful architecture and array of historic artifacts lining the walls. The building itself, repurposed as a hotel in 1888, still maintains strong ties with its rich history (“Priory Hotel History.”). Framed maps, blueprints, and photographs provide physical testimony to the changes wrought in Pittsburgh society by arriving immigrants. Building this edifice was, for many, a fulfillment of the American Dream.

1- “Priory Hotel History.” The Historic Priory Hotel in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The Priory Hotel, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

2- “The Germans in America.” Chronology : (European Reading Room, Library of Congress). The Library of Congress, 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

3- Adams, Willi Paul, Lavern J. Rippley, and Eberhard Reichmann. “The German-Americans-Chapter Two.” The German-Americans: An Ethnic Experience. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

4- “Waves of German Immigrants.” Immigration Library. The Advocates for Human Rights, 2011. Web. 04 Apr. 2014.