Broadway/FillmoreNeighborhood - Polish-American History in Buffalo, NY

On this page, below:

See also on Buffalo History and Architecture Website:

See also on other Websites:
  Our History: Polish Union of America - Unia Polska w Ameryce  (online December 2020)

Click on illustrations for larger size -- and for more information

Fr. Pitass

St. Stanislaus RC Church

Corpus Christi Church

Corpus Christi Church

Plaque on Corpus Christi Church: The Father Justin Rosary Hour

Leon Czolgosz, Pres. McKinley's assassin

Czolgosz's written confession

Mayor Joseph Mruk

Mayor Steven Pankow

Mayor Chester Kowal

Mayor Stanley Makowski

Francis E. Fronczak

Kensington High School

Unia Polska w Ameryce, 761 Fillmore Ave.

Unia Polska w Ameryce, 761 Fillmore Ave.


Excerpts from
Broadway-Fillmore, Buffalo, NY
Intensive Level Historic Resources Survey

Olmsted and Vaux anticipated that their park system would be eventually extended to benefit the southern part of the city. Fillmore Avenue (named for Millard Fillmore, who, as a resident of Buffalo after his presidency, aided the park movement) was eventually designated a parkway leading south from The Parade [Martin Luther King, Jr. Park today] to South Park, the plans for which Olmsted, who had terminated his partnership with Vaux, outlined in 1887. Although not as grand as the earlier parkways such as Lincoln and Chapin, Fillmore Avenue was laid out through the Broadway-Fillmore area with double rows of elms on either side of a wide roadbed.

- Section 3, page 9

From its earliest days as an urban neighborhood, the Broadway-Fillmore area was home to a large community of Polish immigrants. Known in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the “Polish colony,” it embraced as many as 100,000 Polish- Americans in the early twentieth century. Buffalo, in fact, had the sixth largest Polish-American community in the United States at the time.

Serious Polish immigration to America began in the 1850s. At the time, there was no formal nation of Poland, for since 1772, Germany, Austria, and Russia had partitioned the country into three areas. Despite attempts by Polish patriots to throw off outside domination in 1830, 1846, 1848, and 1863, Poland did not become an independent nation until 1918. The immigrants of Polish extraction who eventually settled in Buffalo came here as German, Austrian, or Russian citizens.

During the 1880s a wave of Polish settlers arrived in the city, and the area around Broadway and Fillmore Avenue became firmly established as the main Polish quarter. “Most of the men were working as street laborers, and many of them were employed in sewing for dealers in ready made clothing,” observed John Daniels, a local physician who took a serious interest in Buffalo’s Polish community.
- Section 3, page 15

The Polish influence in Western New York can be traced back to Pieter Stadnitski, one of the partners of the Holland Land Office Company; the Dutch company which purchased and brought settlers to the area in the early 19th century.

More specifically, Polish settlers of Jewish heritage began arriving in the area before 1860, while Catholic Poles began arriving in large numbers soon after. Between 1873 and 1922, Polish Americans established 34 church parishes in Greater Buffalo and Western New York.

By 1940, there were 76,465 Western New Yorkers of Polish ancestry, and in the 1990's a great number of people from this area claim to be of some Polish descent. Many of them still live in the areas of the city that their grandparents and parents first settled: Broadway-Filmore, Clinton-Bailey, Black Rock and Riverside as well as Cheektowaga, Depew and Lackawanna.

Population Statistics
Year City of Buffalo Population Polish-American Population in Buffalo
1850 42,261 50
1870 117,714 150
1873 127,000 (estimated) 500
1879 150,000 (estimated) 3,500
1880 151,340 5,500
1881 160,000 (estimated) 9,500
1890 255,664 20,000
1940 575,901 76,465

 Jews in Buffalo

Excerpts from
"Second Looks: A Pictorial History of Buffalo and Erie County," by Scott Eberle and Joseph A. Grande.
Donning Co., 1993, p. 85

The census of 1850 lists only fifty people born in Poland, and these were not the Roman Catholic peasants we most often think of as Polish immigrants, but Yiddish-speaking Jews who fled persecution and discrimination in the Russian-Polish pale of control. Czar Nicholas I broke his covenant not to draft Jews into the Russian army before they were granted civil rights, and this prompted others to leave.

After 1830 the Niagara Frontier settled rapidly. The population of Buffalo, for instance, doubled, doubled, and then doubled again in the first three decades after it was incorporated. The county experienced growth that was only slightly less dramatic.

The many new households demanded all the little useful utensils, "Yankee notions," and modest fineries that elevated material life in a frontier and boom town. The invention of the department store was decades off, so peddlers supplied these needs. Many of the peddlers were Jews.

With a small investment in goods, and a sturdy pair of shoes, (later, perhaps, a wagon) peddlers on the Niagara Frontier looked forward to quick returns. However profitable, this life was not easy. It required a great deal of time away from home.

Jewish peddlers endured anti-Semitism that denied them credit {a special disadvantage to peddlers). Nevertheless Jewish immigrants from Poland prospered in this occupation. Over time they established a stable community.

The Belt Line Railroad and Assumption Parish
Excerpts from
"High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York." by Mark Goldman. Pub. by State U. of New York Press, Albany, 1983, pp. 178-183

It was industry and the nature of work in an industrial society that most influenced the development of neighborhood patterns in Buffalo. By 1910 over fifty percent of the city's work force worked in industry. Most of these workers were immigrants, particularly Poles. Writing in 1910, a crusading reporter and director of the Buffalo Social Survey, wrote in a local paper that "if all the Poles in Buffalo would be taken away over night many of the large factories in the city might as well go away also."

Most of these factories were on the East Side and it was here, where railroads, factories, and cheap housing converged, that the Polish immigrants made their first homes in Buffalo.

Belt Line Railroad: In 1883, in an effort to decentralize industrial development and to better link the factories of the city, the New York Central Railroad built the Belt Line Railroad, a freight and commuter line. This railroad, by circling the city around the unsettled sections of Buffalo, opened up whole new areas for residential and industrial development.

One such place was Assumption Parish. Located in the northwestern part of Buffalo, this area was barely settled until the 1890s. Because of its excellent connection with the rest of the city's railroad system, factories quickly located here. Settlers came too, primarily young Poles eager to move out and away from the older Polish section on the city's East Side; Now they had the opportunity, and beginning in 1883 hundreds and eventually thousands of Poles abandoned their old neighborhood.

In 1888 the Church of the Assumption was built here, and by 1900 Assumption Parish had become the second largest Polish neighborhood in Buffalo.

While railroads created new neighborhoods, they also divided and separated existing neighborhoods from each other. The Belt Line, like all railroads in nineteenth century cities, traveled along street rights-of-way at street level. Not only were these railroad crossings extremely dangerous (the papers in the late nineteenth century were filled with gruesome details of the accidents caused to both men and beast by the street. level railroads), but by crisscrossing whole sections of the city they permanently and absolutely divided the city into separate sections that were virtually impassable.

Black Rock and Assumption Parish, for example, although immediately adjacent to each other, were completely isolated and divided from each other by a fortresslike conglomeration of street-level railroad crossings. Thus lending tangible significance to the notion of "the other side of the tracks," the street-level railroads, a daily part of life in the late nineteenth century city, served to dramatically reinforce the legacy of neighborhood separatism that had already grown so strong.

The Johnson Immigration Restriction Law
An Excerpt from
The"High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York." by Mark Goldman. Pub. by State U. of New York Press, Albany, 1983, pp. 212-215, 279

In late 1923 and early 1924 it became increasingly clear that the Johnson immigration restriction bill, favored by die-hards throughout the United States, would become law. The bill, more so than the legislation of the early 1920s, threatened to end completely the whole character of American immigration. The bill was a direct assault on the eastern European Catholic and Jewish communities in cities throughout the Northeast. A major source of urban vitality was ending.

The number of Poles permitted to immigrate dropped from 26,000 to 9,000 a year, Italians from 42,000 to 4,000, Czechs from 14,000 to 2,000, Hungarians from 5,000 to 688, and Greeks from 3,000 to 235.

Families, neighbors, and villagers would far less frequently be united on the streets and neighborhoods of America's cities. And yet, for some unexplained and mysterious reason, there was little attempt within these communities, at least in Buffalo, to fight the bill.

Michael Pasczek
Excerpts from
"High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York." by Mark Goldman. Pub. by State U. of New York Press, Albany, 1983, pp. 183-184

The tavern augmented the church as the social and cultural center of the Polish community. And on the East Side no tavern was more typical than Pasczek's. One of close to two hundred saloons on the East Side, Pasczek's. was one of the most popular, making its proprietor, Michael Pasczek, a prosperous man.

Michael Pasczek lived with his wife and three of his children on the ground floor of a large, two-story house that he owned on Gibson Street, just off Broadway. Upstairs, in an identical eight-room apartment, lived his two married daughters and their families. Pasczek owned three other homes which he rented to six Polish families.

In addition to his tavern and real estate interests, Pasczek was extremely active in the affairs of his community. He was the treasurer of the Parish Committee of St. Stanislaus, and president of both the Society of St. Adalbert and the Young Men's Society of St. Joseph. In 1901, he became the first Pole in Buffalo who owned an automobile. But it was the saloon that he cared most about.

On the Polish East Side, this "terra incognita where saloons often occupy each of the four corners of every street," Pasczek's tavern was on the ground floor of a two-story frame building. On two large, plate-glass windows were heavy white letters which spelled out the name of the owner. Over these were two large canvas awnings that protected the benches that Pasczek kept in front of the tavern during the warmer months of the year.

Inside, a tile floor and tile walls reflected the low-burning gas light that lit the large room. The walls were decorated with religious icons, a picture of President McKinley, several calendars, and fliers announcing meetings of the Polish Cadets and the Parish Committee of St. Stanislaus. To the right of the door was a large bulletin board reserved for announcements: the Sokol Society baseball team practice, flats for rent and houses for sale, a subscription list for the Polish Relief Fund and the Polish Army Fund, departure and arrival dates of leading steamship lines, and other news related to the life of the neighborhood.

At the end of the room was a long wooden bar -- "The Longest Bar in Polonia" -- tended during the lunch hour and the after-work rush by both Pasczek and his wife. At other times, Pasczek's son, Michael, ]r., presided over the rows of wine, whiskey, beer, brandied fruits, hard-boiled eggs, pickled vegetables, packages of cheese, and bread all neatly arranged on the long wooden shelves.

Toward one end of the bar was a cash register and a small safe. Next to it was a counter where people could buy stamps and receive their mail.

To the far left of the bar was a narrow, short hall which led beyond to a closed door into a large interior office. It was here that Pasczek presided over his many diverse activities. Not only was he a ticket agent for two steamship lines, but he was also a registered real estate broker and a bona fide insurance salesman for the Hartford Life Insurance Company.

The first person in Polonia to own an automobile, by 1905 Pasczek had become the neighborhood's most worldly and mobile man in terms of his contact with the rest of the city. As such, his most important function in the neighborhood was to serve as the liaison man with the outside world.

In addition to his activities as a ticket broker and as an insurance agent, one of the more interesting services he performed was that of a local banker. In the absence of branch banks in the community, many people deposited their savings with Pasczek, and he in turn deposited the money in a trust account in a downtown bank.

Although the services which he performed on behalf of his neighbors were significant in the life of the community, as an individual Pasczek was still more important. Above all he was a model for the Polish-speaking day laborer who harbored dreams of one day becoming successful himself. The tavern, then, by serving as a social center where the workers of the area could seek the comforting company of their own kind, and the tavern keeper, who had achieved a degree of success far more visible than any other person in the neighborhood, solidified the ties that bound this peer group society together and kept alive the dreams of success which must often have been derailed by the difficulties of everyday life. By serving as a model of success while still retaining his deep ties to the community, Pasczek not only kindled faith in the future but provided a major source stability in the present.

East Buffalo Stockyards
Excerpt from
East Buffalo 1846-1976, by Fred Jablonski

The early East Buffalo stockyards comprised one of the most important industries of the city. Livestock was shipped here from many states as well as from surrounding farms. This industry dates back to 1846. East Buffalo was the center of Polish settlement in Western New York. The stockyards were often the first place where Poles would be hired. Ironically, the Polish peasant immigrants' only skills were animal husbandry and knowledge of the land, which they were seldom to exploit in their new country.

Thrift conscious peasant workers accepted unsanitary and often dangerous working conditions such as stirring vats of lard or scalding hogs before scraping. They accepted pitiful wages in order to obtain any work at all. The next step from the stockyards for the unskilled laborer was often the meatpacking industry. Polish sausagemakers attempted to produce their village specialty. Similar home made plants led many immigrants such as Redlinski, Wardynski, Szelagowski, and Chihocki out of the ranks of poorly paid workers into businesses of their own.

"Polonia": Joseph Bork and St. Stanislaus Church
Excerpts from
"Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York," by James Napora. Master of Architecture Thesis. Found at Buffalo Central Library, pp. 297-298

rior 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.

St. Adalbert's: 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.

Other developers: 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.

Franciszek (Francis) Fronczak: Fronczak was born in Buffalo to Polish immigrant parents, was a young and articulate doctor, who graduated both from Canisius College and the University of Buffalo Medical School. Although only in his mid-twenties, he took a leadership role in the Polish community, encouraging participation in the Pan-American Exposition, and chairing the convention of the Alliance of Polish Singers, which met in Buffalo in 1901. Fronczak is still highly respected for his varied roles as doctor, Buffalo's health commissioner (starting in 1910), journalist, and supporter of Poland's independence.

The Polish Press: The most popular Polish-language newspaper in 1901 was the daily Polak w Ameryce , which had circulation over 6,000 in a local population of about 75,000 Poles. The paper began publication in 1885 under the name Ojczyzna. By 1887 the name had changed to Polak w Ameryce, which translates as "The Pole in America." Stanislaw Slisz and his brother Jozef, both of whom came to Buffalo in 1885, became the publishers of Polak w Ameryce. The Slisz's Polak Amerykanski Press also published magazines and books for Polish-speaking people throughout the United States.

The Polak w Ameryce promoted the Pan-American Exposition and urged Polish residents to buy shares. The response must have gratified the promoters: about 230 Poles bought roughly $8,300 worth of Exposition Company shares. (Overall, 11,000 investors spent $1.5 million on Pan-American shares.) At a time when hourly pay for railroad workers, for example, was 14 to 16 cents, a ten-dollar expenditure was considerable. This represented a strong commitment of Polish immigrants to their adopted city. (See photo the advertisement that appeared in the March 31, 1899 issue of Polak w Ameryce.)

Other Polish newspapers at the time of the Pan-American Exposition were, Gazeta Buffaloska (Buffalo Gazette), the Echo, the SlonceSun), and the Warta (Guard)

( The Polish Singers' Alliance: From August 19 to 22, 1901 Polish singers came to Buffalo and the Pan-American Exposition from all over the United States. See photos of several local singing societies.

Assassination and the Polish Community: In 1901, workers were still agitating for union-organizing rights and for the eight-hour day, but strikes and worker demonstrations were commonly crushed by private troops (e.g., the Pinkertons) and government forces (police, National Guard). Wages for laborers were low, workdays were 10 or more hours, six days a week, and most children went to work at age 13 or 14.

Like most other immigrants groups, the Poles, generally thought of as industrious workers, were caught in this difficult situation, and only the educated few were able to rise above it. One who did not manage to rise above it was Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed laborer who came to Buffalo and the Exposition intending to shoot President William McKinley. He did just that on September 6, 1901 and on September 14, the President died. (For more information on Czolgosz and the assassination trial, see 'Lights out in the City of Light': Anarchy and Assassination at the Pan-American Exposition.)

The fact that he was the American-born son of Polish immigrants was a source of shame and anger for Poles in Buffalo. The planned parade and celebration of Polish Day at the Pan-American Exposition were canceled by community leaders, despite months of preparation.

The Polish-language press was apparently shocked and disgusted at the assassination. Police arrested a number of Polish residents, some of whom were held for questioning, as well as a number of Italians. However, no conspiracy was discoveredńCzolgosz had acted independently.

Color photos and their arrangement © 2003 Chuck LaChiusa
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index... .|....E-Mail ...| ..

web site consulting by ingenious, inc.