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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 the US cause there).

The extensive Boston Lithuanian community and its heritage, however, dates to the 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. Lithuanians then have established two churches and a massive club.

After the Soviet occupation of Lithuania halted free Lithuanian cultural life there, Boston became important for Lithuanians worldwide as Boston was the site where the world‘s first Lithuanian-language encyclopedia was published. After the 1990 independence, new immigrants from Soviet-ravaged Lithuania helped to save the Boston Lithuanian institutions from extinction such as happened elsewhere.

Lithuanian club in South Boston

In South Boston, traditionally the heartland of Lithuanian community, there is a massive four-floored Boston Lithuanian Citizen's Club (368 West Broadway). It has been acquired in 1949 from a bank, and much of the building interior remains authentic (stair balustrades, etc.).

Boston Lithuanian club

Boston Lithuanian club. US and Lithuanian flags wave at the entrance

In its basement is the only Lithuanian cuisine restaurant in New England („Lithuanian Kitchen“), open in weekends only (you need to ring a bell, but everybody may come in and non-Lithuanians taste the great Lithuanian meals there too. The walls have memorabilia of Boston Lithuanian sportsmen.

Inside the Boston Lithuanian restaurant

Inside the Boston Lithuanian restaurant

The upper floors house a Lithuanian credit union (that offers credits, credit cards and more to people of Lithuanian heritage) and a auditorium where Lithuanian band gigs take place. Some of the premises are rented out, helping to pay for the club‘s existence. The credit union is open every day save for Sundays and by ringing a bell there, you may also check the interior of the club.

Inside the Lithuanian Credit Union

Inside the Lithuanian Credit Union

In general, the club and the Lithuanian institutions there are increasingly run by new (post-1990) immigrants to the USA who in Boston seem to get well with the previous generations. Every institution, however, has many Lithuanian details in its interior (images, artworks), some of which date to much older times (e.g. a 1968 plaque listing Lithuanians who donated for elevator renovation at the ground floor).

World‘s first Lithuanian encyclopedia publication sites

South Boston also once housed the Publishing house of the Lithuanian Encyclopedia, still commonly referred to in Lithuanian as the „Boston encyclopedia“. Nothing Lithuanian remains in any of the multiple places of publication, however.

The encyclopedia has been published 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.

South Boston Lithuanian church

The last remaining open Lithuanian church in Boston is also located in South Boston, 75 Flaherty Way. 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.

Boston St. Peter Lithuanian church

Boston St. Peter Lithuanian church

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.

The church interior is authentic. It has many Lithuanian details, including the stained-glass windows with Lithuanian donators marked on them. Over the time, the Lithuanity of the interior increased as the community sought to mark its roots: for example, Lithuanian names of the saints were inscribed under the frescos of these saints in addition to the English names. The candles that may be lit for donations are painted in the colors of the Lithuanian flag. At the entrance hall, three new Lithuanian stained-glass windows were installed with Lithuanian slogans about Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit, while the paintings of Our Lady of Šiluva (Virgin Mary appearance in Lithuania) and St. Casimir (the only Lithuanian saint) were hanged.

The interior of the Boston Lithuanian church

The interior of the Boston Lithuanian church

Lithuanian details inside the Boston Lithuanian church

Lithuanian details inside the Boston Lithuanian church (flag, the candle-flag, the sun-crosses, etc.)

One of the vault saints with both his Lithuanian and English names

One of the vault saints with both his Lithuanian and English names

Like many historic Lithuanian-American churches, Boston‘s St. Peter‘s „Lithuanian cathedral“ is two floored, with the first floor dedicated to secular affairs and also holding many Lithuanian memorabilia.

The church is locked outside of the mass, but even outside there are many Lithuanian details, such as the Lithuanian-flag colored wall at the parking lot as well as the improvised Hill of Crosses - a collection of crosses under the church entrance aimed to remind the world-famous Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, Lithuania. While the Hill of Crosses received its millions of crosses from people who clandestinely protested against the Russian and Soviet occupations and anti-Catholic regimes, the Boston‘s „Hill of Crosses“ was created as a protest against the planned closure of the church in 2004. The closure ultimately did not happen. Many of the crosses, ranging in size from very small to ~2-meter height, have traditional Lithuanian designs (sun-cross).

The Hill of Crosses at the Boston St. Peter Lithuanian church entrance

The Hill of Crosses at the Boston St. Peter Lithuanian church entrance

Close to the church is St. Casimir street.

Cambridge Lithuanian sites

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); for complying the building got a Cambridge Historical Commission's „Preservation award 2013“. The owners were, however, given a free hand in the interior which was entirely changed.

The Immaculate Conception Lithuanian church in Cambridge

The Immaculate Conception Lithuanian church in Cambridge

The main surviving Lithuanian artwork is the rather impressive Virgin Mary hos-relief over the entrance, that includes prie-modern Lithuanian words „Lietuviu Rymo Kataliku Bažnyčia Nekalto Panos Marijos prasidejimo“ („Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church of Immaculate Conception). The church‘s Lithuanian roots are also mentioned in its cornerstone.

Lithuanian hos-relief on the Cambridge church of Immaculate Conception

Lithuanian hos-relief on the Cambridge church of Immaculate Conception

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.

Peter Sarapas Square sign in Cambridge

Peter Sarapas Square sign in Cambridge

Vilna Shul synagogue

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, erected 1919) 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 synagogue in Boston

Vilna Shul synagogue in Boston

Other Boston Lithuanian sites

Boston also has a Saturday Lithuanian school. However, it operates on rented-out premises of a regular Christian school. It was one of the first such schools to be established after World War 2 by the refugees from the Soviet occupation who established a network of such schools quickly after immigrating in order to ensure that their children do not forget the Lithuanian ways. However, as the school has changed sites and has no own property, it is not a Lithuanian site per se.

In the suburb of Norwood, a former Lithuanian church has been converted into apartments. Nothing Lithuanian remains there.

Norwood Lithuanian church

Norwood Lithuanian church

The Monument for Lithuanians who died in World War 2 has been relocated from a place in front of the church to the Highland Cemetery. It includes St. george (the patron saint of the former church and Lithuania) as well as a list of Lithuanian veterans.

Lithuanian WW2 veterans memorial in Norwood

Lithuanian WW2 veterans memorial in Norwood


Map of the Lithuanian sites

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination - America" expedition (click the link):

Map of Boston Lithuanian sites


Destination America 2017 expedition diary

Destination America map

2017 09 22: Boston still has active Lithuanian church, a Lithuanian bank (credit union) and a Lithuanian club. Some of these, as well as the Lithuanian school, we will visit tomorrow.

2017 09 23: we have spent the morning in Boston, tasting the great food of America's rare remaining Lithuanian restaurant, entering the Lithuanian church and more (wasn't easy outside the mass - but thanks to the Boston Lithuanians, it was possible).

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 22-23.

Destination - America 2017 team leader Auigustinas Žemaitis with Boston Lithuanians at the Boston Lithuanian school

Destination - America 2017 team leader Auigustinas Žemaitis with Boston Lithuanians at the Boston Lithuanian school

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  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.

      • Dear Augustinas, Such a long time for me to respond, sorry.
        My grandfather’s trunk was uncovered in the basement just this year as we are preparing to sell the house. In it we found a wealth of music scores, for orchestras!.
        The words are in Lithuanian. There is a book, written in English, on how to conduct an orchestra. I think he probably was a player of classical music as well as music for dance halls. I know there was a dance hall in South Boston, the Dean Dance Hall. I don’t know if there were any Lithuanian dance halls. Maybe dances were held at the Lith club, don’t know if any historical information is available from the Club.
        I have no idea what his band or group were called. I will search entertainment sections of the local paper around that time.
        I found his violin, gave it to a friend to have it restored. Saw it once, and a piece had come loose and I asked the friend to bring it back to the restorer, in Lexington, MA. I didn’t get the name of the restorer and now both the person I trusted with it, and the violin are nowhere to be found, very unfortunate.

        Appreciate your response. Thank you, Gerri

        • Often indeed, the Lithuanian Halls/Clubs/Houses did indeed serve as ballrooms as well; to this day the Club has a festivities hall. Some people claimed that Lithuanian dances used to take place at the Gothic revival building on the opposite side of the street of Lithuanian club but I am not sure how reliable is this info. Does the music scores have any Lithuanian lyrics, or are there just music?

          • Hey Augustinas!
            My grandfather was born in Cambridge and I assume was baptized at the Immaculate Conception church that was once there (since converted into affordable housing). Do you know where the baptismal records would be now? Saint Peter’s in Boston?
            Thanks for all your amazing, continued support.

          • Unfortunately, while we do work with data on the archives in Lithuania, we collect only the information about immovable Lithuanian heritage in the USA – the archives of US churches are outside the project, so far, where they document only people and not the buildings. That said, I think you should contact the St. Peter church and the archdioceses with this question. Once a church is closed, its records are moved but there are different ways of doing this, ranging from moving to another Lithuanian church, or to a closest territorial parish (the one with which the closed church was formally unified) or to the archdiocese itself.

  2. Hi
    i am trying to find out more information about my Lithuanian Family our family name
    is Gencevicius but there are corruptions to the spellings i know they landed in Boston and Baltimore and of course married and died there but its extremely difficult to get this information , can you help

    • In order to facilitate research, it is important if you know:
      -Where they hailed from (at least approximately)?
      -At what time did they immigrate (at least approximately)?
      -When those immigrants were born, married (at least approximately)?

  3. Dear Augustinas, Thank you for this very informative site about the Lithuanian community in Boston. As I’m sure you know, Marija and Jurgis Gimbutas, their daughters and Jurgis’s mother immigrated to Boston in 1950. Marija and Jurgis were very active in the Lithuanian community. In 1960 Marija received the “New American Award” to acknowledge her tireless work to assist new immigrants. It is my understanding that she was instrumental in establishing the Lithuanian Saturday school in Boston. Do you have information about who worked together to form the school and the curriculum beyond Lithuanian language? Two of her daughters were students there. I would appreciate any information you may have about this and other activities Marija Gimbutas took part in to further Lithuanian culture in the US. Thanks so much, Joan Marler

  4. Dear Augustinas – my paternal grandmother lived in Panevesyz as a young child before emigrating to Montreal in the early 1900’s, and then to Boston. I was actually able to visit the area where she had lived and took several pictures of old homes, the small synagogue (no longer in use), and the Gimnasium where I believe she attended school.

    I’m wondering if anyone might be able to help me find some information because I don’t know where she was born and which ship she took to Montreal, or any conclusive proof of where she lived or studied in Panevesyz. Her name at the time was Rachel Gilman, or perhaps Gelman.

    Any assistance you might be able to provide would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Augustinas,

    I noticed in a posting by Cait Murphy on July 10, 2020 that she sought records from the now closed Immaculate Conception Lithuanian Church in Cambridge. All the parish records were moved to the Sacred Heart Church on sixth Street East Cambridge.

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