A section of Lakewood, Ohio
It was common to see various heritages that immigrated to the United States set up their own "sections" of a town. Many of these sections resembled the resident’s village of origins. To feel more comfortable, immigrants built churches, shops and stores. These immigrants resided within a small area that offered a feeling of security in a new land. One such place is a section of Lakewood, Ohio, which is known by the name of "Bird Town." This town was settled in 1892 with the advent of the National Carbon Company (also known as Union Carbide). This company, which built a massive factory at Madison and West 177th Street, needed large numbers to operate their business. To house the workers an area, which consisted of 424 lots, was designed. The lots were arranged into eight streets and were in close proximity to the company. During the height of immigration, Eastern European Slavs came in massive numbers seeking employment No one is quite sure how the first Slavs came to Bird Town but it is felt that the factories had a few Slovak employees as laborers. This area would soon become a fully functioning Slavic enclave. The name "Bird Town" probably became popular as all the streets in this section were named after birds. Names such as Lark, Robin, Quail and Thrush helped earn this Lakewood section its name. Other names mentioned were the "Carbon District," "Birds Nest" and "Duck Town." The National Carbon Company and other businesses asked their workers to find more people to fill employment spaces in their factories. The workers called upon family members and friends from Eastern Europe to come to America, as work was plentiful. Due to this, Slavs populated Bird Town almost in its entirety. Most who worked at the factories were unskilled laborers of various Slavic heritages. The hours were long and pay rates were very low. Slovaks comprised most of the population but also to be found were Carpatho-Rusyns, Ukrainians, Polish and Hungarians. Since many of these immigrants came from the same regions, and even the same villages, Bird Town began to resemble their former homelands in style, and in language.
Housing for the workers was very basic. The homes were made available by the Pleasant Hill Land Company (which was established by the National Carbon Company). The largest number of people who worked at the National Carbon Company plant during peak years was approximately 2,600. The company was close enough so that the workers could walk to work. In 1900, there were only 429 residents but by 1910, there were 2,186 residents. Most houses were two and three stories high. The double houses could contain seven to eight families. Many of these homes were expanded and upgraded by immigrants who had carpentry skills. This unique combination of the old and new world architecture gives Bird Town a genuine charm. Immigrants worked hard to improve their homes since most did not have electricity, were cold-water flats and had limited plumbing. A sad aspect of this area is due to a high population in a small area with limited health care, and the rates of disease and deaths were large especially in the winter months. To purchase homes, Slavs worked together and started the Oral Savings and Loan Company in approximately 1911. This company aided individuals to purchase homes and start businesses. If they could not secure funding, immigrants would also assist in the upgrades of another’s home. An immigrant would rent himself out to help with the construction project. When the immigrant needed these services himself, the resident of the home he assisted with would return the favor. It was a general practice for immigrants to rent out space or have "boarders" to aide with expenses. Since immigrants worked all types of shifts, it was common for one set to get up in the morning for work and have the night shifts come home to take their sleeping place. These dedicated individuals worked hard by day but also held to their old world traditions.
Along with the material, spiritual matters were important to the residents of Bird Town. Various churches were built by the Slavs, which reflected their faith and particular heritage. The main churches in this town are still Saints Cyril & Methodius Roman Catholic, St. Hedwig Roman Catholic, St. Gregory Byzantine-Rite Catholic, Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox and Saints Peter and Paul Slovak Lutheran. St. Cyril and Methdodius built a parochial school in 1905 (and is still in existence), which offered along with the educational curriculum classes in the Slovak language, history and culture. St. Hedwig’s also built a parochial school in 1926 and this school operated until 1968. These construction projects were financially massive considering the periods they were built. Members gave fully to have a church and all of the buildings associated with it. It is to all of the these heritages credit that many of these churches were built in short periods of time and paid off just as quickly. A Slovak weekly newspaper "Hlas" (Voice) was also published in Bird Town until 1947 and brought news from Eastern Europe and America to those who could read the Slovak language. Bird Town became so populated that by 1920, no other Cleveland census tract reached Bird Town’s numbers for the same size area. In conjunction with working in the factory, many residents of Bird Town had their own businesses. Many garages and sheds held dairies and other service-based stores. Many individuals built a small room onto the front of their homes to house a shop or store for added income. Many women oversaw this practice. Numerous fabric and clothing apparel stores were run entirely by female owners. These shops and stores helped bird town grow and remain self-sufficient. Many residents advanced financially and most funds were kept in the community.
By 1930 there were approximately 120 businesses in Bird Town. A basic count shows twenty-five grocers, seventeen bakers, eighteen retail establishments, one full-time midwife, three undertakers a billiard and bowling hall, dance halls and a movie theater for the residents enjoyment among others. Most life in bird town revolved around the family and the church. Retaining customs was important but also was respect for their new country and the adaptation to some of its practices. In the early years, most shops and conversations on the street corners were conducted fully in the individual’s native language. Later, the children of these immigrants not only could converse in their parent’s native language, but also in English which was considered necessary for upward mobility. Bird Town was a unique Slavic oasis within a surrounding American community. The mixing of these cultures and communities offers a fascinating look at early immigration and the past generations who made up this distinctive town. Few places can boast of such a colorful exclusively Slavic community who retained their cultures and languages fully. Many places in America saw Slavs who "conformed" to a majority heritage for the sake of uniformity but this did not take place in Bird Town. Churches held various ethnic festivals and feast days, which helped to educate the younger members as to the heritage and language of the membership. Many classes were held at each church to teach children the language of their parents and grandparents. Not only religious but also social events were held at all the churches in bird town. A remarkable item to mention is that most residents attended all without thought of the particular religion or heritage sponsoring the particular event.
As times progressed, many factories closed or disbanded. Bird Town remained and her residents adapted to modern changes. Many of the offspring of these original immigrants had been schooled at higher levels than their ancestors could ever have imagined. By 1940, many of the younger residents of bird town worked at skilled or semi-skilled employment and more than 13% held white-collar jobs. Numerous Slavs still reside in bird town and would not consider life anywhere else. Bird Town today remains as a glimpse into the immigrant experience. It is a sterling showcase of what immigrants endured to advance. It is also a true American success story. Bird Town is the perfect example of immigration revolving around abundant work. Many immigrants from all countries came to the United States and other new countries for the sold purpose to secure employment. Bird Town is a classic study of the major basis for turn of the century immigration. It explores the simple progression of immigration due to employment opportunity, resettlement that continued with the addition of family members being brought over and building a "village" to mirror the one which was left behind. These strong ethnic communities are lost in many American towns and cities today but not in Bird Town. A good number of young families have discovered a special community to raise their children. These new residents have taken many of the old homes to heart and are expending great sums to upgrade them. The result of this influx is a renaissance in Bird Town. A modern day connection to Bird Town’s Slavic past is the senior center, which was constructed in 1983. The Fedor Manor is an 11-story state-of-the-art building for Senior Citizens. The builder of this project was himself born in Slovakia and relocated to Bird Town in 1913. Slavs still offer their talents and assistance to Bird Town and continue to relocate here. Large influxes of Romanians have come to Bird Town in the recent past. Bird Town continues to re-develop and shows no sign of disappearing. Slavs seem to be drawn to bird town by an invisible magnet. The future of this intriguing town surely will be just as fascinating as its past glory was.
George J. Malinich
May 1, 1925 - May 26, 2001
The Carpathian Connection wishes to acknowledge the countless hours spent by Mr. George J. Malinich who compiled information for this page. George passed away on May 26, 2001 and all who knew him were graced by his gentle demeanor and depth of genuine character. Born in Conemaugh, Pennsylvania, a son of George and Anna Bules Malinich, he received a bachelors degree in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. George served his country valiantly during World War II in the Navy (SeaBees) and received the Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Point System and Two Asiatic Pacific Stars. A faithful communicant of St. Matthias Slovak Roman Catholic Church, he was a lector and also designed a web page about St. Matthias. George was a tireless champion of all Slovak based organizations. He was voted “1999 Man of the Year” by The American Slovak Cultural Association of The Manoning Valley, Inc., of Youngstown, Ohio and was also a past trustee. A man of superior talents, he hosted the on-air WKTL Radio’s “Slovak Hour” based in Ohio, assisted yearly with The Miss Ohio Czech-Slovak Queen Pageant and was involved with other groups and organizations. George was a steadfast family researcher and his natural enthusiasm was appreciated and admired. To his credit, he compiled and printed a “First Edition” of his family history. Unfortunately, he was not able to complete the final edition of his research. As a testament to George, the first edition was displayed during his wake. For a researcher/genealogist, having compiled research viewed in your memory is the ultimate honor. We are honored that the work he offered to us for viewing will be a permanent legacy to this gifted and distinguished man.
of The Mahoning Valley, Inc.
The American Slovak Cultural Association of the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown, Ohio was formed on July 5, 1976 to participate in America's Bi-Centennial Celebration. This date coincided with the Centennial Anniversary of the arrival of Slovaks into the Mahoning Valley. The Association continued to meet and on June 27,1991, presented Articles of Incorporation to the Ohio Secretary of State. The incorporation was finalized on September 2, 1993.
The Association's purpose is to display and nurture the cultivation of Slovak cultural and to preserve and pass on the traditions of their heritage. During the Youngstown Bi-Centennial "Grand Parade" our float won the premier prize. It was entitled "From Slovakia to the Moon" and on the float was Astronaut Captain Eugene Cernan who on three occasions commanded flights to the moon. He is of Slovak descent, his grandparents were born in Vysaka, Slovakia.
The Association's specific purposes are to promote and preserve the Slovak language, heritage, cultural and civic activities through the dissemination of literature, music, history ideals and to implement scholarship grants.
In 1976 the association published a documentary entitled, "History of Slovaks in the Mahoning Valley--1876 to 1976."
The association meets 4 times a year: February--May--August--November. Membership dues must be paid by February 1 of each year and are valid until the end of that year.
The Association has a Slovak Display Booth at the Canfield Fair, a Slovak Scholarship Picnic with all proceeds going towards Scholarship grants to students of Slovak descent of the Mahoning Valley and a Traditional Slovak Vilija Dinner on the second Sunday of December.
We encourage all Slovaks in the Mahoning Valley to join us in carrying on our Slovak Traditions and pass them on to our children and grandchildren. As the first line of the Slovak National Anthem states "Hej Slovaci! este nasa slovenska rec zije", (Heh, Slovaks! our Slovak language still lives). So its up to us to see that it continues to live.
Youngstown, Ohio - 1913 to 1998
Original Wooden Church - 1915
The present Saint Matthias Roman Catholic Slovak Church is located on the southeast side of Youngstown, which was called Lansingville in the early 1900s.
In 1913, a handful of Slovak families from Lansingville, who attended Saints Cyril and Methodius Roman Catholic Slovak Church, met regularly and with the assistance and advice of the pastor of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Reverend Oldrich Zlamal, petitioned The Most Reverend John Farrelly, Bishop of the Cleveland Diocese, to authorize the establishment of the Saint Matthias Parish in Lansingville. In 1914, permission was granted and the Slovak people of Lansingville enthusiastically and gratefully received the newly ordained Father John Gerenda, shown at the left, as their first pastor.
Minutes of a July 5, 1914 meeting of the new church, indicated 35 families in attendance and a week later, 52 families attended another meeting indicating their strong support of the new parish. Construction of the new church, a wooden frame structure began and was dedicated on July 5, 1915. During construction of the church, masses were offered in the “Gergus family home” on Homewood Avenue shown at the right in a 1914 photograph. Financial assistance and other support was generously offered by Saints Cyril and Methodius Church.
In 1917, a rectory of red brick was constructed and in September of that same year the first parish school was opened in the basement of the church, consisting of grades one through four. The remaining grades, students went to Adams School. The Slovak Vincentian Sisters of Charity from Perrysville, Pa. were in charge of the parish school and a convent for them was built in 1921.
The Reverend John M. Gerenda served the parish until February 4, 1922, at which time The Reverend Francis Kozelek, shown at the left, was appointed pastor. In the 1922 Census of Slovak People Living in Mahoning County, a list of 276 different Slovak surnames in the Lansingville area are noted. The parish grew so rapidly that the church was found to be too small to serve its needs and on June 18, 1925, a new church of red brick with sandstone trimming was begun to replace the wooden church. It was built on the corner of Indianola and Homewood Avenues. On June 13, 1926 the new church was dedicated by The Most Reverend Joseph Schrembs. The wooden church was then remodeled and grades five and six were added. Grades seven and eight were then opened in the basement of the new church. Some of the students that went to Adams School after the fourth grade returned to the Saint Matthias School. The first eighth grade class, graduated on June 19, 1927. There were 13 girls and 12 boys in the class.
Rectory and Brick Church - 1925
In 1929, marble altars were installed in the new church and consecrated in 1932 by The Most Reverend James A. McFadden, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland.
The Reverend Francis Kozelak resigned on May 1, 1938, and Bishop Schrembs appointed a native son of the parish, The Reverend John G. Hamrak, shown at the left, as Saint Matthias’ new pastor. Under his guidance, the parish advanced in spiritual strength, increased in membership and more frequent reception of the sacraments. Saint Matthias School increased in enrollment to nearly 400 students.
In August 1948, the parish community had increased to 625 families and it was decided to purchase 7 ½ acres of property bordered by Shady Run Road, Florida and Cornell Avenues, and Zedaker Street. This property was located more in the center of the parish population. The parishioners were unanimous in building a new school on the new property.
Saint Matthias School - 1952
Approval to build the school was given by The Most Reverend Emmet M. Walsh in October 1950. Ground breaking for the school took place in February 1951 and was completed on September 8, 1952. The new school was a vast improvement for students and teachers. The enrollment at this time had reached 463 students.
Saint Matthias Convent - 1957
In November 1957, a new convent to house 16 sisters was completed on Cornell Avenue. This new building was a vast improvement in living quarters for the sisters, who for 40 years lived in limited facilities.
In May 1961, Saint Matthias Parish was honored as The Reverend John Hamrak was rewarded for his priestly work by being made a Domestic Prelate with the title of “Right Reverend Monsignor” by His Holiness, Pope John XXIII.
Monsignor John G. Hamrak was called to his eternal reward by the Heavenly Father on February 18, 1965. The Reverend George Winca, shown at the left, a former associate pastor at Saint Matthias, became the parish pastor on March 25, 1965.
In 1966, the parishioners of Saint Matthias became separated from Rev. George M. Winca their church by the construction of Interstate Highway 680 , causing many parishioners on Homewood and Taylor Avenues to move elsewhere. The interstate dissected the parish, causing the church and rectory to be east of the freeway and the school, convent, and a majority of the parishioners west of the freeway. The only solution to the problem was to construct the rectory, offices, and church on the new property. Permission was granted by the bishop to build the priest’s rectory and office facilities on the Cornell Avenue and Zedaker Street location. On July 1, 1968 the buildings were completed.
Saint Matthias Rectory - 1968
For the parishioners it was a dream to have all the parish facilities at one location and this dream became a reality when the construction of the church began on November 6, 1971 on the corner of Cornell Avenue and Zedaker Street next to the rectory.
Saint Matthias Church - 1973
On April 8, 1973 dedication of the church was held. The church is of contemporary style and seats 582 parishioners in a semi-circular arrangement. Many of the new church items were salvaged from the old church. The rose window that graced the back of the old church is now a backdrop to the tabernacle in the front of the new building. All of the stained glass windows were worked into the new structure. Other items that are used in the new church is the organ, part of the old altar, and the huge crucifix which is suspended by black chains and hangs over the sanctuary. On the outside, the huge copper bell and the cornerstone of the old church is encased in a special-designed encasement.
In the spring of 1974, The Reverend George Winca retired and The Reverend Francis Snock, shown at the left, former assistant pastor to Monsignor Hamrak, was appointed pastor.
From 1975 to 1987 there was continual renovations and remodeling to modernize the facilities, including the school kitchen, auditorium, renovation of the 62 year old organ, new roofs on the school and convent and landscaping the entire property.
In May of 1988, the Marian Shrine, on the northwest portion of the property, was dedicated and in September 1988, the Kindergarten was added to the curriculum.
The Reverend Francis Snock retired in August 1994 and The Reverend Peter M. Polando, shown at the left, was appointed pastor. In addition to being pastor of Saint Matthias, he serves as judge in the diocesan tribunal. On March 23, 1997, Saint Matthias Parish was again honored, as The Reverend Peter M. Polando was rewarded for his priestly work by being appointed “Chaplain of His Holiness”, by Pope John Paul II. His title now is Reverend Monsignor Peter M. Polando.
Renovations and repairs continued to the property and computers were added to the school.
Today there are 1127 families registered at Saint Matthias. The school is the only Slovak school in Youngstown with 164 students and is the only school that requires its students to attend daily mass before school.
Saint Matthias continues to be a vibrant parish community and many of its members are first and second generation American-Slovaks who treasure the heritage of their Slovak ancestors. Saint Matthias Slovak Parish community is proud that it has been able to continue its positive influence on the upper south side of the City of Youngstown (Lansingville) and hopes to be a visible presence there for many more years to come.
Written by George Malinich - June 24, 1997
Edited by Reverend Monsignor Peter M. Polando September 1, 1998
Information was obtained from:
The History of the Slovak People of the Mahoning Valley by The Slovak Bicentennial Committee
The Saint Matthias 75th anniversary booklet
1921 Encyclopedia of Youngstown
1922 Census of Slovaks in the Mahoning Valley