Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston was one of the first US metropolises and the heartland of US independence war (some Lithuanians, deeply pro-freedom, also joined the fight for US cause there). The extensive Boston Lithuanian community, however, dates to late 19th century when the city was 5th largest in the USA. Its numbers mushroomed in some 1904. There were so many Lithuanians that a demonstration at Boston Commons urging the USA to recognize newly independent Lithuania attracted 5 000 in the year 1919.

In South Boston, traditionally the heartland of Lithuanian community, there is Boston Lithuanian Citizen's Club (368 West Broadway) which houses a Lithuanian food bar and an auditorium for events where the bands from Lithuania have their gigs. This district also has a Lithuanian Saturday school, ethnographic bands, self-support community, credit union and local groups of Lithuanian organizations (Scouts, Knights, Ateitininkai).

The last remaining open Lithuanian church in Massachusetts is also located in South Boston, 75 Flaherty Way (others were closed down ~2009). Built in 1901 it is dedicated to St. Peter. The parish was established in 1896 through a hard struggle as the Irish community then dominated South Boston and Irish bishop Williams opposed the move. In 2008 the parish had 1000 member families, 100 of them newly immigrated and 900 descendants of earlier immigration "waves". Lithuanian and English mass are both celebrated.

St. Peter Lithuanian church; its car park has Lithuanian an American flags. Google Street View.

Previously other Boston conurbation areas had their Lithuanian churches as well. Immaculate Conception church of Cambridge (432 Windsor Street) has been built in 1913 and has been recently transformed into "affordable housing" by the "Just a Start Corporation". This corporation acquired the building in 2007. A municipal commission formed in 2009 deemed it to be of great significance as an example of Mission Style / Arts and Crafts (created by famous Maginnis and Walsh company) and for its possible inspirations in the Gothic architecture of Lithuania. It asked not to alter facades (was unaltered) and not to remove religious references where possible (crosses were however removed and frescoes whitened). The owners were however given a free hand in the interior which was entirely changed.

The small square in front of the Immaculate Conception church is named after a Lithuanian-American Peter D. Sarapas who died fighting for the USA in the World War 2. This renaming was a part of a WW2-era campaign by various parishes that sought to have places near them renamed after the war heroes who were parish members.

Immaculate Conception church undergoing reconstruction into affordable housing. Google Street View.

Boston is also famous for the Lithuanian encyclopedia first published there in 1953-1966 (nicknamed the Boston encyclopedia). This 37 volume work is still the largest encyclopedia ever published in the Lithuanian language. At the time Lithuania had been occupied by the Soviet Union so there was no state funding and many sources were very hard to access making the job undertaken by some 200 Lithuanian American authors even more tremendous. The authors wished that liberated Lithuania would have its encyclopedia and their work is indeed still used. In 1970-1978 they translated the Lithuania-related articles to create 6 volume English "Encyclopedia Lituanica", still the most comprehensive English work on Lithuania.

Lithuania's Jews also moved to Boston before World War 1 forming the community of "Anshei Vilner" (Yiddish for "People of Vilnius"). Their modest synagogue (Vilna Shul) was built near the Boston Commons. It was abandoned in 1985 after the Jews left the district but unlike many other similar buildings, it was saved from demolition. It has since been repurposed as a museum which offers a chance to return back in time to the era when Jewish communities were poor.

Vilna Shul in Central Boston. Google Street View.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Massachusetts Leave a comment
Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hi Augustinas, My maternal grandfather, Joseph Tamoszaitis, married Ona Ambrakaiteuke on 4 July 1909 in St Peter’s Lithuanian Church, South Boston. I still live in the 3 family house they bought on Ticknor Street in 1912-1913. My grandfather had an orchestra in the late 1800’s early 1900’s. My aunt, Myra, played the piano, my grandfather the violin, and there was also a coronet player. I have a photo of him, holding his violin, and wearing a tuxedo! It was done by Stukas Photography. I was told he played for local dances. My grandmother wasn’t fond of “Pa and his dreams!”. She worked hard, took in boarders, etc. to make ends meet. I know they lived at 5 Thomas Park, rented or owned, I don’t know, prior to buying on Ticknor Street. I would love to find out more information about him, he died in 1957. I have been searching various internet ancestry websites, for over a year, but never came across anything regarding his music. Do you have any other ideas I could use for my search? Any help would be much appreciated. Gerri

    • Hi Geraldine.

      If they made any records, you may search for those. For example, there is this “Shenandorio Lietuviška Mainerių Orkestra” Lithuanian orchestra from PA that had its records and information is available online.

      In any case, it would help to learn the name of their orchestra before further search. Both the name or additional information may be acquired from reviewing things at home or (even better) contacting people who knew them, if any. With name (chances are he used his surname) there are also possibilities to review respective newspapers for listings of his events, etc. That said, if that orchestra did not have many concerts or recordings, if its name was not used at all in adverts/information and if there are few people alive who would have listened to it, information may just be not avaiblable. Unfortunately, music is pretty ephemeral art (just like theater) if one does not record it – and recording was not as easy as today back in those days. Furthermore, it is quite possible that he did not had his own repertoire and just sang songs popular at that time, depending on context.

      Perhaps an American interested in musical history could tell you more ideas on this research.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.