Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

United States of America

According to the US census of 2001, there are some 700 000 Lithuanian-Americans. This is the largest Lithuanian community outside Lithuania and the most important one. There is much Lithuanian heritage in the USA, especially in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and the industrial cities of the Midwest.

Lithuanians settled in the USA in three separate eras, so-called "waves". The first wave arrived in the late 19th century (when Lithuania was occupied and discriminated by Russian Empire). Some 300 000 Lithuanian peasants left their agricultural lives for workplaces in Pennsylvanian mines, slaughterhouses of Chicago and factories in other major cities. Speaking little English they formed their own districts and communities, founded Lithuanian newspapers and orchestras, funded extremely lavish churches (for their humble lifestyle) and now lay in cemeteries covered by massive tombstones.The first wave was curbed by the limits on immigration imposed in 1908 by the US government but its legacy continued.

The first wave Lithuanian-Americans campaign for the liberty of Lithuania in the 1910s. Some of them returned after 1918 independence to help their homeland get on its feet.

The second wave came after World War 2. People who managed to escape the Soviet regime were finally able to leave overcrowded refugee camps in Germany in some 1948. The USA welcomed up to 100 000 of them, never having recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. These refugees were primarily intellectuals, artists, and the elite. Feeling to have been forced from their homeland rather than leaving it due to economical reasons they were/are very patriotic, taking part in various Lithuanian groups and social gatherings, Lithuanian churches being among the most important. Even many people born in the USA to such Lithuanian parents are more attached to Lithuania than to their new homeland. The massive second wave of immigrants fought hard to advance the Lithuanian cause and established an entire nation of Lithuania-in-exile, with its government in Washington, DC and all the necessary institutions. Their tireless work contributed to the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990. This event came just at the time when time started to take its toll on the second wave Lithuanian-American communities. However many were still in good health in the 1990s and some left their comfortable American lives for restored free Lithuania using their experience and money to help rebuild their homeland after decades of Soviet misrule. Among these returnees was president Valdas Adamkus (1998-2009), two presidential candidates and multiple businessmen. In a sense, this helped to make Lithuania of the late 1990s more American than European in various ways.

Lithuanians DPs in a ship which moves them from refugee camps in Germany to a new world (left image). They later established cohesive communities, such as the one centered around this new (1950s) Nativity BVM church in Marquette Park, Chicago (right image).

The third wave immigrated after the restoration of independence opened the borders yet again. The reasons for migration were economical as years of Soviet rule left Lithuanian economy shattered. At one time some half of Lithuanian US tourist visa holders would not return home. After Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004 this migration diminished as more people opted for Western Europe instead. Third wave immigrants are generally less attached to their native culture than the previous waves. Influenced by long Soviet state atheism they are also less religious. They failed to replenish Lithuanian churches and therefore American dioceses went on to Lithuanian church closure and demolition spree in the 2000s. The number of people that consider Lithuanian culture important also decrease as the older generations pass away. Some of the things you can see today may no longer be there after a couple of years, so be quick.

Mini-museum of Lithuania at St. Anthony church in Detroit (closed 2013). Old Lithuanian American parishes, clubs, and other institutions typically include memorabilia such as Lithuanian flags, emblems, anthem texts, ethnic clothes, religious symbols, historical and modern images, names of important people and freedom fighters. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Chicago is regarded to be the capital of Lithuanian Americans. There were several Lithuanian neighborhoods and two streets are still named after Lithuania. Lithuanians constructed many churches, the most elaborate being Holy Cross in the Back of the Yards (1913). There are two extensive Lithuanian cemeteries: the Roman Catholic St. Casimir and multidenominational Lithuanian National Cemetary. Several monuments and plaques exist, the most famous being the memorial for pilots S. Darius and S. Girėnas, the first Lithuanians to perform a transatlantic flight. The world's oldest Lithuanian language newspaper Draugas is published in Chicago since 1909. There are opportunities for tasting Lithuanian dishes (even though they are less common than in the 1990s or before). You may also visit the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian culture, the only such institution outside Lithuania.

The rule of the thumb is that in every city that used to be major in early 20th century exist be Lithuanian communities and heritage, primarily churches and cemeteries. This can be said about Cleveland and Detroit near the Great Lakes as well as Boston, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia on the Eastern coast. Los Angeles is the only city in the west to have a sizeable Lithuanian community (and a church). Ater all the America's West was much less populated at the time of second and especially the first waves of Lithuanian immigration.

Pennsylvania has a large population of Lithuanians in its small Coal Region towns, in some places exceeding 10%. Shenandoah used to be called Vilnius of America. Here you may also find Lithuanian churches and cemeteries (unfortunately many churches, such as the 19th century one in Shenandoah, were condemned to demolition or are no longer used for religious purposes). Lake Kasulaitis in Pennsylvania is a rare Lithuanian toponym on the American continent.

Washington DC has a Lithuanian embassy that served like a shadow government in the years of Soviet occupation.

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Chicago, Illinois

Home to some 80 000 Lithuanians Illinois is perhaps the second important center of Lithuanian nation after Lithuania itself. Lithuanians are nothing new to Chicago, having worked side-by-side with Germans, Poles and the Irish in its massive slaughterhouses as early as late 19th century. Between 1890s and 1930s there were more Lithuanians in Chicago than in any town or city of their still agricultural former homeland. Chicago Lithuanian numbers increased rapidly from 14 000 in 1900 to 80 000 in 1924.

After earning enough money some Lithuanians went back to Europe yet others remained, starting influential families. Elaborate churches were built, Lithuanian restaurants, shops, cultural institutions and media opened. The center of Lithuanian settlement gradually moved: from Bridgeport and Back of the Yards (in 1900s - 1910s) to Marquette Park (in 1950s). After Marquette Park was overtaken by Blacks there is no longer a Lithuanian district in Chicago, but a community center exists in the Lemont suburb.

Sadly, Lituanity in Illinois seems to be somewhat on decline. In 1990s - 2000s several Lithuanian churches were demolished or no longer celebrate Mass in Lithuanian. The older generation of Lithuanians ("second-wave immigrants") pass away, and the third wave fails to replenish Lituanity. Many decades-old Lithuanian restaurants and diners closed down, leaving Marquette Park neighborhood without Lithuanian food for the first time.

Back of the Yards Lithuanian heritage

The prettiest of Chicago's Lithuanian churches is the Baroque revival Holy Cross in Back of the Yards. Built by the original community of slaughterhouse workers in 1913 the elaborate church once anchored a district full of Lithuanian homes and institutions. With immigrants from Latin America displacing Lithuanians the parish was abolished in 1970s and the Lithuanian Mass ceased to be celebrated in ~2005. Condition of the building deterioriated as now only the Sunday Mass is held (in Spanish). Plaque "Lietuvių Rymo katalikų bažnyčia" remains near the entrance ("Lithuanian Roman Catholic church" in pre-modern Lithuanian language when "Rome" was still called "Rymas"), as do the vaults depicting scenes from both Lithuanian and American history.

Holy Cross Lithuanian church and its pre-modern Lithuanian language plaque. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The life of Lithuanian butchers of the era is described in the fictionalized account "Jungle" by journalist Upton Sinclair still held to be of great importance to Chicago history. It was in these slaughterhouses where the industrial might of the Chicago was born. For the first time the animals were slaughtered in a single city only to be sold in far away places like New York or Boston. Prior to this "to buy meat" meant "to visit a local butcher", something changed for good by the Chicago's businessmen and countless immigrants from thousands of cities and towns around Europe (the number of Lithuanian butchers was only surpassed by Poles).

Bridgeport Lithuanian heritage

Bridgeport was once outflanked by a beautiful massive tower of 1902 Gothic revival St. George Lithuanian church. It was the oldest Lithuanian parish in Chicago (and, in fact, west of the Appalachians). Unfortunately by bishop's decision the church was demolished in 1990 and replaced by a modern building, after donating the church's works of art and furniture to a parish in the recently-independent Lithuania. The riches of the fading emigre were thus symbolically repatriated.

The nearby former 3-floored parish school (1908), declared by to be the "best Lithuanian school in America" by an 1916 Lithuanian-American almanach, still stands although is a non-Lithuanian Philip Armour school (but the plaque "MOKYKLA ŠV. JURGIO K." (St. George C. school) still remains on top). In 1916 it had 450 pupils and a parish hall with 1500 seats (the parish was among the US richest Lithuanian parishes).

Bridgeport St. George Lithuanian church (demolished; left and center), its parish school (top right) and rectory (bottom right).

Bridgeoport also had a 1000-seat Lithuanian theater Milda (est. 1914) that has been also demolished in the same period after a long decline. Another theater "Ramova" still stands albeit closed (3518 S. Halsted Street) with a movement to save it. The name is Lithuanian but the crumbling decor is Spanish.

Bridgeport Ramova theater with its crumbling Lithuanian sign meaning 'Pagan temple'. Google Street View.

A street in Bridgeport is still named Lituanica Avenue. Lithuanian pilots Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas left for their doomed flight from the St. George church there. They became instant martyrs in 1933 when after flying across the Atlantic ocean their plane "Lituanica" crashed in what is now Poland, only several hundred kilometers from destination Kaunas. S. Darius and S. Girėnas were also worldwide pioneers of air mail and their continuous flight time was the second largest ever at the time (6 411 km).

The two pilots who perished while trying to make Lithuania's name famous are still the key figures for the Lithuanian-American community. In 1993 a plaque was unveiled for them in Midway Airport which happens to be at the center of various past and present Lithuanian districts. In 2008 this plaque was reinstated after reconstruction through titanious efforts of some Lithuanians.

Marquette Park Lithuanian heritage

Main historical monument for S. Darius and S. Girėnas stands at the northeastern corner of Marquette Park. The unveiling of this art deco sculpture in 1935 was attended by 60 000 people. The anniversaries of their "glorious but doomed" flight are still celebrated annually there, even if drawing only 100 people. By the way, S. Darius, a lover of sport and Olympic participant, is also credited for writing one of the first books on basketball in Lithuanian (in 1922), making foundations for this American invention to become Lithuania's national
sport.

Darius and Girėnas monument on the Marquette Park corner. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

It was east of Marquette Park where post-WW2 Lithuanian community has developed, after the old immigrants were joined by the "second wave" of refugees fleeing from almost certain deaths in their Soviet-occupied country. Coming from intellectual backgrounds these refugees created a well crafted and rich community, centered around Lithuania Plaza street. In its heyday Marquette Park area housed 30 000 Lithuanians (out of total population of 45 000).

Lithuanian church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.) in Lithuanian Plaza Road. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A large 1957 Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.) towers over the district. It combines post-war architectural austerity with pre-war size and historicist details. Initially criticized this joint work of architect Jonas Mulokas and interior designer V. K. Jonynas was eventually praised and set the style for later Lithuanian American churches. Lithuanian Mass is still celebrated there and everything tells of the longing for their lost homeland. The tricolor is always waving and patriotic historical mosaics, such as "The coronation of King Mindaugas" adorn the walls. External Bas-reliefs represent the sites of Lithuanian Maryan visions and internal stained glass windows show the religiously important Lithuanian towns.

Corronation of Mindaugas mosaic on the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.) church exterior. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The district itself, however, is now populated by blacks who started moving in in the 1970s displacing the Lithuanians. Some buildings are now abandoned, but in Lithuanian Plaza Avenue (named so in 1970) you may still see crumbling Lithuania-inspired tricolor and Vytis decor. The last Lithuanian restaurants have been closed in ~2007. There was Antano Kampas, for example, its premises now searching for a new tenant. Several years old maps still have "Gintaras Club" marked. Even this was already only a shade of the original community which had many businesses and cultural institutions in extensive area between 63rd st., 73rd st., Western Avenue and California Avenue.

Lithuanian architectural details in Lithuanian Plaza Road. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

This district also boasts a St. Casimir Convent that keeps exceptional relations with Lithuania. A neighboring street is called "Honorary Maria Kaupas road" after the 1880-born Lithuanian woman who established the convent. The Casimir sisters were also instrumental in building a large Holy Cross hospital nearby.

West of the Marquette park there is other important Lithuanian heritage. Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture established in 1966 is the largest such institution outside Lithuania (South Pulaski Rd. 6500). The "Draugas" ("Friend") publishing house building is home to the oldest continuously published Lithuanian language newspaper (first edition in 1909). Aimed at Lithuanian Americans it used to be daily until 2011 and now is issued three times a week with circulation halved since 1960s. Unlike non-Lithuanian-owned "Čikagos Aidas" ("Echo of Chicago") "Draugas" publishes solely its own material on its website.

Entrance to Balzekas Museum. The local road is named Honorary Stanley Balzekas Road. Google Street View.

Another massive key Lithuanian hub in Chicago is Lithuanian Jesuit Youth Center (5620 S Claremont Avenue, ~3 km north of the Marquette Park). This is yet another Cold War-era institution (built 1958) funded by Lithuanian diaspora desperately trying to help their culture survive for the generations to come (even as a minority). Lithuania-themed activities/education for children and teenagers had been its goal. The massive building complex uses patriotic architecture with a large modernized Vytis forming its façade Given the Catholic nature of the institution there is also a chapel and a traditional wooden cross. While Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and religion was persecuted there Lithuanian Jesuit province was effectively based here in Chicago.

The Lithuanian Jesuit Youth Center houses a multitude of other Lithuanian institutions, amalgamated in 1981 to form the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, which is the largest Lithuanian scholarly organization outside of Lithuania. It includes the World Lithuanian Archives and numerous other related archives (musicology, medicine, photo, audio-visual, fine art), which are the best repository of Lithuanian American works but also include works by other Lithuanians. The scholarly wing (responsible for studies, education and publishing) consists of the Institute of Lithuanian studies, Center for the Study of Genocide in Lithuania and Lithuanian Institute of Education. Furthermore the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center owns three museums: Ramovėnai Lithuanian Military Museum, Lithuanian Museum and the Lithuanian Museum of Medicine.

The main entrance of the Lithuanian Youth center with Lithuanian coat of arms Vytis. Google Street View.

While today the Lithuanian nation is predominantly Catholic prior to World War 2 up to 15% of ethnic Lithuanians were Lutheran. These people hailed from Lithuania Minor region of what was then Germany. Tragically they were wiped off almost completely by the Soviets in the Genocide of Lithuania Minor (1944-1949). Two Lithuanian Lutheran communities of the 1910s, however, exist in Chicago centered around their modest churches not too far from the Marquette Park. On a walking distance north of the park stands a former historic Lithuanian Lutheran church, now sold to a Black-dominated Heart Church Ministries church. The more modern Zion Lithuanian Lutheran church further away is still open, as is the Tėviškė (Homeland) Lithuanian church at 5129 Wolf Road, Western Springs.

While small a Zion Lithuanian Lutheran church (9000 Menard Avenue) shows that Lithuanian community in Chicagoland is large and colorful enough to even have a minority-within-minority. Google Street View.

Pilsen Lithuanian heritage

Back in the 1920s, Chicago had 11 Lithuanian Catholic parishes, each of them centering a Lithuanian community. One of the Chicago districts - Pilsen (north of Bridgeport) - even had two Lithuanian churches at once.

The church of Providence of God (1927) is the closest Lithuanian church to downtown (since the 1960s, the district population was replaced by Hispanics and the Mass is now celebrated in English and Spanish). It has been founded by St. George parishioners from Bridgeport.

Providence of God church no longer dominates the panorama as much after the highways were constructed. Google Street View.

Pilsen's 2nd Lithuanian church was a more modest Our Lady of Vilna church (2327 W 23rd Place), now closed. The two-floored residential-like building used to host the church in the main floor and a parish school above it. The parish name now remains only in the relocated St Paul-Our Lady of Vilna school (closed 2013). Chicago Sun Times reported an interesting story in 2013 of scrapyard worker noticing Lithuanian inscription on a bell and the diocese requiring it. It turns out this bell has disappeared from Our Lady of Vilna site after closure; it will now call the residents of Tinley Park suburb to prayer, thus itself completing a migration that so many did before: from the inner city to suburbs and from ethnic culture to "United American" culture. The inscription on the bell reads (reminding that Lithuania of 1900s-1918s was still under the rule of Russian Empire and giving reasons why Lithuanians migrated to Chicago so eagerly): "Bell, little bell, sorrowfully ring and proclaim the Miraculous Madonna of the Gate of Dawn in Lithuania, where our enemies suppress us. Our oppressed fellow countrymen are comforted. Call us to prayer, to the Church, in her name, so that we may feel a part of God’s flock. Call us three times daily, without fail, and the deceased lead with your sound. From this day forward, speak to the living, and accompany the dead to the cemetery".

Brighton Park and Cicero Lithuanian heritage

Brighton Park district west of former stockyards is now also largely Hispanic but its modernist Lithuanian Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (built in 1964, 2745 W. 44th St.) still offers Lithuanian Mass. The parish dates to 1914 but like some other churches, this one was rebuilt post-WW2 to accommodate a major influx of Lithuanian refugees.

Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary includes secular institutions as well. Google Street View.

Brighton Park also had a Darius-Girėnas American Legion post 271, comprised mostly of ethnic Lithuanians. The post has sold its rather large building (corner of W 44th and S Western Ave) that once hosted many Lithuanian events and now meets at various locations. The post's former building is used as the "Way church".

On the W 43rd (near S Western Ave) stands a small building belonging to the Lithuanian Rifleman Union (Šaulių sąjunga). This patriotic paramilitary organization used to be especially important in interwar Lithuania and then banned by Soviets (its members persecuted or killed). Like was the case with many such organizations, the survivors who fled Lithuania continued its existence in the USA. After independence Rifleman Union was reestablished in Lithuania as well but it didn't reach the pre-war glory.

Lithuanian Rifleman Union building at Brighton Park, covered in the Cross of Jogaila and Columns of Gediminas patriotic symbols. Google Street View.

Further west from the downtown Cicero has a massive St. Anthony Lithuanian church and school. Lithuanian, English and Spanish mas is now offered and only the US flag waves.

Romance Revival St. Anthony church in Cicero is among the more impressive Lithuanian churches in America. Massive parish school and other buildings are behind. Google Street View.

Historic St. Anthony parish school, boasting a massive old Lithuanian plaque, is an example of how old and well entrenched the Lithuanian community of Chicago is. Google Street View.

Chicago far southside Lithuanian heritage

The Chicago district further south are currently nearly completely inhabited by Blacks. There have been Lithuanian districts there but they collapsed even earlier (most churches closed in 1985-1990 when most Lithuanians left).

South Chicago area is only 1,92% White. Its small single-floored St. Joseph Lithuanian church (8801 S Saginaw) has been closed in 1986, now used as part of McKinley public school (itself built in 1953 as parish school). A former priest's house stands next, it is older and more interesting; the priest used to have an animal sanctuary between the buildings.

Former St. Joseph Lithuanian church is an example of the south Chicago's small Lithuanian parishes. Google Street View.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Chicago Heights (283 E 14th Street) suffered a similar fate (closed 1987). It looks like a century-old residential. Its two floors used to house a school as well as a church and just like on Holy Cross the former fashion to inscribe institution names on stone led to the survival of its Lithuanian name. Empty lots are now all around the building.

All Saints Lithuanian church in Roseland (0,42% White district today) with art nouveau inspired nice semi-open metal tower has been sold to the Baptists in 1989 (a more popular faith among Blacks than Catholicism). The survival of the church still is not easy at it has been robbed numerous times recently.

All Saints Lithuanian church in Roseland. The tower looks similar to the Nativity BVM church in Marquette Park. All Saints was designed by Stasys Kudokas, an architect that took part in shaping interwar Kaunas modernism before taking refuge in America. Google Street view.

The only area's Lithuanian church to remain in Catholic use is St. Peter and Paul church in West Pullman (12433 S Halsted St). The building modernist with some gothic inspirations (built 1959). The parish has been established in 1913 and celebrated centenary in 2013 but it has nothing to do with Lithuanians today. West Pullman is only 0,56% White and the Lithuanian share is now negligible. Pullman was once famous for its world-class factory of railway carriages. Modern Far South Chicago, however differs from that of 1900-1915 (when most Lithuanian parishes were established) like day and night. The industry collapsed ~1970, the ethnic groups are also all different.

Lithuanian cemeteries in southern Chicago

Deceased Lithuanians used to be buried in Lithuanian cemeteries since well before World War 1. St. Casimir Catholic Cemetery was established in 1903 at the extreme south of Chicago. The entrance plaque "Lithuanian Cemetery" was removed in 1997. This is not the first such move - in 1965 Cardinal Cody removed the word "Lithuanian" from the cemetery's official name, leading to mass demonstrations of post-war Lithuanian refugees. This is one of many similar episodes in the history of Lithuanian Chicagoans. E.g. in 1972 local Lithuanians chartered a plane to Rome in order to protest in St. Peter square against the presenting of first Holy Communion to Lithuanian children in the English language.

Latin Americans (today the largest Catholic community of Chicago) now have joined Lithuanians in the St. Casimir Cemetery rows. Yet the massive Lithuanian gravestones, built throughout eight previous decades, far outflank small American plaques. It seems that entire major city is buried here and everywhere the surnames are Lithuanian, some of them shortened or spelled in English. Among those interred is the Lithuanian general Povilas Plechavičius who moved to the USA as a refugee in 1949. There is a monument to Romas Kalanta who self- immolated in Kaunas to protest against the Soviet occupation. It was built the same year in 1972 by sculptor Ramojus Mazoliauskas.

Romas Kalanta monument in the St. Casimir cemetery. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another Lithuanian cemetery is next to a small forest outside the official borders of Chicago. This is the multi-denominational Lithuanian National Cemetery and the word "Lithuanian" remains in the official name. It was established in 1911 when a local priest refused to bury Lithuanians who did not actively participated in Lithuanian communities in the St. Casimir Cemetery. There are some 2500 graves. Among those buried here is the 1925-1926 President of Lithuania Kazys Grinius (the remains were repatriated in 1994 but the gravestone remains). Art deco buildings are pretty.

Art deco pavillion at the Lithuanian National Cemetery. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lemont and the modern Lithuanian community

Further southwest lies the modern heart of the Chicago Lithuanian community. After the disintegration of Marquette Park there are no longer any district where Lithuanians would make more than a few percent of the population. But in the automobile-loving USA driving 10 or 20 km is no obstacle. In 1987 the "Lithuanian World Center" was opened in Lemont suburb. Various events such as concerts and Chicago Lithuanian Basketball League matches are held there (basketball is the Lithuania's national sport and the Chicago League was established in 2003; its ~15 teams play using the FIBA rather than NBA rules). There are sport, event halls, schools, Blessed J. Matulaitis Catholic Mission. To the southwest of Chicago stands the Grand Duke Lithuanian cuisine restaurant which replaced those closed in Marquette Park and Bridgeport.

Lithuanian-related sites in northern Chicago

While most immigrants from Lithuania have settled in the less fancy southern Chicago, the northern Chicago once also had a Lithuanian church, dedicated to St. Michael (since demolished). The area also has Telshe yeshiva - a Jewish religious school named after the Lithuanian town of Telšiai. The history of the name is such: the yeshiva was established by the identically named Telshe yeshiva of Cleveland, which was in turn established by the teachers of the original Telšiai yeshiva after it was closed down by the Soviet occupational force.

A larger Lithuanian community exists in the suburb of Waukegan. As the suburb is far from Chicago center, it is described in a separate article.

Maps of Chicago Lithuanian heritage

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in entire Chicagoland.

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Southside Chicago.

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Marquette Park (Chicago Lawn, Lithuania Plaza) area of Chicago.

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Bridgeport area of Chicago.

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is the home to the world's oldest Lithuanian overseas community, started in ~1865 by coal miners. 82 000-strong it is also the second largest in the USA.

The strongest presence of Lithuanian heritage is in the parts of eastern Pennsylvania known as the Coal Region. Coal, the oil of 19th century, was discovered there in the 1860s. People from poor European regions were recruited for hard and dangerous work (10 hours a day, 6 days a week, 25 ct wage per hour) living in the newly erected towns. Lithuania was at the time occupied and heavily persecuted by the Russian Empire, giving rise to emigrants known as "grynoriai" ("Free Air Men") for whom the conditions in Pennsylvanian mines were far better than persecution back in their agricultural homeland, where the Lithuanian language had been banned and serfdom abolished only recently (1861).

Map of Pennsylvania with Coal Region shaded in red and main Lithuanian locations marked. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Coal Region ran out of coal but the towns remained, in many of them Lithuanian population still ranging between 5% and 35%. There are lavish Lithuanian churches built of the hard-earned money by the early settlers and large Lithuanian cemeteries with their typical massive tombstones. Out of ~45 churches, only 20 to 10 survived the parish consolidations. Lithuanian mass is no longer celebrated and Lithuanian dedications (Our Lady of Šiluva, Our Lady of Vilnius, St. Casimir, St. George) are largely removed where they existed, especially during the church closure spree of ~2008. After all, the Coal Region Lithuanian communities, unlike those in major cities, were not replenished by new immigrants and English language became dominant in the communities over some 4-5 generations. However, Lithuanian inscriptions, Lithuanian history-inspired church interiors and exteriors still remain where the churches are still used for religious purposes. It should be noted that Lithuanian church attendances were growing until at least 1980, contrary to regional trends.

Lithuanian mass is still held in state's largest city Philadelphia, St. Andrew church (19th and Wallace Sts). Another Lithuanian church dedicated to St. Casimir (324 Wharton Street) has been attached to St. Andrew parish in 2011 but remains in operation. The third Lithuanian church, St. George, stands at 3580 Salmon St. It is double floored with school at the first floor.

Philadelphia also hosts the Lithuanian Music Hall (2715 East Alegheny Avenue), a comprehensive Lithuanian institution which includes a restaurant, reading room, language courses, folk art exhibition, cultural center and annual Lithuanian fairs ("Mugė"). The building was constructed in 1908 when various Lithuanian clubs merged.

In addition to the usual Roman Catholic churches, there is a schismatic Lithuanian National Catholic Church in Scranton, working together with similar Polish and Slovak churches.

The most Lithuanian town in the USA is also in the Pennsylvanian Coal Region. This is Shenandoah where 14,65% inhabitants consider themselves Lithuanians today. In the turn of the 20th century, it used to be called "Vilnius of America". Here the world's first Lithuanian novel was printed ("Algimantas" by V. Pietaris in 1904 when Lithuanian language was still banned back home), Lithuanian miner orchestra and other cultural institutions, newspapers, existed. Shenandoah had Lithuanian mayors for 42 years. The most imposing piece of Lithuanian heritage was the massive gothic revival St. George church (1891), the heart of oldest Lithuanian parish in the Americas (est. 1872). The church was recognized by the Pennsylvanian history museum commission to hold a historical value of state and national significance. Despite protests by local Lithuanians it was closed and demolished by the diocese in 2010. The town itself is also undergoing depopulation. According to Ripley's in the early 20th century it was the most densely populated place on earth. By 1910 it had 25774 people, only 11073 remained in 1960, while 2010 census counted merely 5071. This fate is shared by the entire area as it lost 30% of its population in 1930-2010 while the entire USA gained 130%. Abandoned mines where Lithuanians and others worked so hard are now off the beaten path tourist attractions.

1950s postcard of Shenandoah churches (Lithuanian St. George church on the right).

The 20 miles wide area surrounding Shenandoah hosts many Lithuanian villages. In Seltzer (pop. 307) Lithuanians make 27,46%, in New Philadelphia (pop. 1616) - 16,97%, in Cumbola (pop. 382) - 15,06%. Lithuanian populations surpass 9% in the area's towns of Minersville (pop. 4686), Mahanoy City (pop. 5725), Barnesville (pop. 2076), Frackville (pop. 8631). All these locations are in top 20 US locations by the share of Lithuanians. Among these 20 as much as 16 locations are in Pennsylvania, 15 in the Coal Region.

These areas also host the annual Lithuanian Days which is the longest running ethnic festival in the USA (every August since 1914). It outlived two parks it was previously held at (Lakewood and Rocky Glen) and was moved to Schuylkill Mall. Lithuanian arts, crafts, dances, cuisine, and customs are celebrated and proceeds go to Lithuanian causes. Before World War 2 the event used to attract some 25 000 participants and the mines were closed for that day.

Pittston (pop. 37883), the suburb of Scranton, hosts 4,15% Lithuanians, making it the largest share of Lithuanians in a US city of comparable size. Scranton is in the Northern Coal Region where the cities are larger.

Not far south of Scranton, there is Lake Kasulaitis, likely the location furthest from Lithuania to be named after a Lithuanian surname. The Lithuanian Book of Records mistakenly gives this title to Čiurlionis mountains in Franz Joseph Land, Russia (~3500 km away), but Pennsylvania is twice that far (~7000 km).

Kasulaitis is also among a minority of surnames among those of Lithuanian Pennsylvanians which are still written as they are written in Lithuania. By the time immigration to Pennsylvania took place, there was no standardized Lithuanian orthography yet and the immigration service transcribed the surnames using various orthographies, including English, Polish or created ad hoc; they either added or removed word endings at will. Therefore in the Shenandoah Lithuanian cemetery, you may see surnames such as Bakszis and Bakszys (the modern Lithuanian spelling is Bakšys), Kutchinskas and Kutchinsky (modern Lithuanian: Kučinskas), Abrachinsky and Abraczinsai (modern Lithuanian: Abračinskas).

The fourth major Lithuanian area in Pennsylvania is located in Pittsburgh, where the Coal Region coal used to be turned into steel. Pittsburg has Lithuanian communities, cemeteries, and churches (both closed). Back in 1930 three Pennsylvanian cities were among the US top ten by the total number (rather than percentage) of ethnic Lithuanians: Philadelphia (3rd), Pittsburg (8th) and Scranton (10th).

Additional sources:
Popalis family website (Lithuanians from Shenandoah). Includes Shenandoah and local Lithuanian history.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Pennsylvania, USA 12 Comments

Shenandoah and southern Coal Region, Pennsylvania

Attention: this article is undergoing a major overhaul after the "Destination America" project when volunteers visited and pictured nearly every site mentioned in this article as well as discovered many additional Lithuanian sites in the area. The article will be updated with much new information and images before the 14th of December, 2017!

The Southern Coal region of Pennsylvania is also known as "Little Lithuania". It's not only that many Lithuanian Americans inhabit its towns - this region had been especially important for Lithuanian cultural history. Almost every town here has (or had) a Lithuanian church, cemetery, and club. The surrounding countryside is full of derelict closed coal (anthracite) mines which lured all those Lithuanians in during the 1860s-1910s era. Currently, the local Schuylkill county is the most Lithuanian one in the entire USA, with Lithuanians making 6% of local population.

Shenandoah - American Vilnius

The heart of the region is Shenandoah (pop. 5500) that used to be nicknamed "Vilnius of America". Even today it is ~12% Lithuanian. The heart of Lituanity here used to be a twin-towered St. George church, the oldest Lithuanian church in the entire continent (built in 1891), full of Lithuanian art paid for by meager coal miner salaries. It was even recognized as heritage yet after a controversial process and many protests the diocese decided to tear it down. Lithuanians who collected money to save the church decided to spend it on a commemorative plaque for the Shenandoah's "Little Lithuania" (Main and Centre streets corner).

The nickname is not an overstatement as the town had Lithuanian mayors for 42 years. More than that: the first Lithuanian-language novel in the world "Algimantas" has been published in Shenandoah in 1904. The reason for this (as well as Lithuanian migration to Coal Region in general) was that Lithuanians back home were discriminated under the Russian Imperial rule with their language banned between years 1865 and 1904.

Back then Shenandoah was a much larger town than it is today, with a population of 20 000 (some say 40 000), a quarter of them Lithuanians. "Ripley's Believe it or Not" claimed Shenandoah to be the world's most densely populated locality.

Shenandoah St. George Lithuanian church on a historic postcard (left) and the empty lot today (right).

Such decline has been common in all the regional towns: they lost at least half of population since 1930 while some even lost three-quarters. Perhaps this helped to save the Lithuanian culture - there are comparatively few new migrants (Blacks, Latin Americans), therefore the old communities continue to dominate culturally. When there are so many Lithuanians the probability of having a Lithuanian husband or wife is also not that small so there are 100% Lithuanians up to 3rd, 4th and further generations of immigrants.

Still what exists today is far under what existed in 1898 when Shenandoah Lithuanians owned 59 Taverns, 17 shops, 5 meat markets, 8 stonemasons, 3 barber shops, 4 tailors, 1 blacksmith, 5 mortuaries, 5 stables and 2 publishers!

The glory of the era may be glimpsed in six Lithuanian cemeteries of the town. St. George is the oldest one with burials 1892-1934. Later Lithuanians have been buried in Our Lady of Calvary, Lady of Lourdes, Lady of Fatima and Lady of Dawn cemeteries. A small and old Liberty Cemetery of the Supreme Lodge of Lithuanians in America served the similarly named local organization; it has ~50 of its members buried. Most of the Shenandoah cemeteries are in the Shenandoah Heights suburb.

Lithuanian towns that surround Shenandoah

Merely a few miles separate Shenandoah from some other "Lithuanian" neighboring villages and towns. However, Lithuanians moved in here at the time when the world could have only dreamt about automobiles and that distance was still too big to travel on foot. Therefore every town had its own Lithuanian church commissioned. All of them small, with a single tower or towerless. When there were so many Lithuanians the ethnic traditions were easier to safeguard and even ~1970s the attendances of Lithuanian churches were increasing (those of other ethnic parishes were already declining). Even at ~1985 some Lithuanian parishes constructed new church buildings (thus although all the parishes are ~100 years old some churches are new). However ~2008 the dioceses decided to abolish most of the ethnic parishes and close their churches down. After all, Lithuanian masses had been abolished quite long ago in all of them: 3 or more generations have passed since the coal miner immigrants, thus the bishop thought there is no reason to keep multiple open churches in small-and-diminishing towns/villages. However, the churches with their old Lithuanian inscriptions, paintings, decor are also important culturally and historically. Therefore their communities defend them at all costs. Even though the language had been largely forgotten, other Lithuanian traditions (crafts, dances, food) are cherished. The southern coal region hosts Lithuanian Days since 1914 - this is the oldest ethnic festival in the USA. It is also mentioned in the new commemorative plaque. Currently, the event takes place in Schuylkill Mall; before the Lakewood Park closed it used to take place there (1922-1984).

In the same way as Shenandoah is important to Lithuanian literature, Mahanoy City (pop. 4 000 today, 16 000 in 1910) should be known to every fan of Lithuanian music. The coal miners of years gone-by have established the world's first Lithuanian wind instrument orchestra ("Mainerių orkestra"). The town has a 1923 St. Joseph Lithuanian church. Unlike in the other towns, the Mahanoy City parishes have been amalgamated into this church in 2008 so it continues to be open, albeit renamed after Mother Theresa of Calcutta who visited it in 1995.

Maizeville village had the USA's sole Our Lady of Šiluva church (14 North Nice Street), named after the oldest church-recognized Marian vision in Europe that took place near the village of Šiluva in Lithuania. It has been constructed in 1967 after the old one burned down. The old church has been named St. Louis as is the local Lithuanian cemetery - however, the parish, even though already dominated by American-born Lithuanians, decided to adopt a more Lithuanian name. Maizeville and the nearby Gilberton lost extremely many people even by Coal Region standards: in 1910 they had a population of 5500 yet only 750 live there today. Maizeville still has an Our Lady of Siluva Boulevard (actually a small side-road).

Our Lady of Šiluva church in Maizeville. Google Street View.

Girardville's (pop. 1500 today, 5000 in 1930) St. Vincent de Paul church is one of the final 3 remaining Lithuanian churches in the southern Coal Region of Pennsylvania. First mass has been celebrated in an opera theater at 27 E. Main St. (as the town turned into a village it became a cinema, roller skating hall and finally has been demolished). Current brick English gothic revival church has been built in 1926, its lavish interior simplified in 1978. Although no Lithuanian mass has been held for long the parish celebrates its Lithuanian minority heritage. The official website declares that "our roots will always be in Lithuania", there are some Lithuanian phrases even if most of them seem to be Google-translated.

To churches, two fates: the Girardville one (right) is still Lithuanian, while the Mahanoy City one is multiethnic. Both of them are old, built while the original immigrants were still alive. Google Street View.

Another still open Lithuanian church is Annunciation BVM in Frackville (pop. 4000 today, 8000 in 1930). A Lithuanian inscription still greets at the door and while the building itself is modest parish has an entire complex of other buildings. Next door stands a Lithuanian Museum and Cultural Center (est. 1982) with artifacts of the 19th-century Lithuanian immigrants and Lithuanian crafts. It is unclear how long will this all survive as the three local ethnic parishes have been unified in 2013. West Pine Street has an Annunciation BVM Lithuanian cemetery.

Frackville Lithuanian church and parish buildings. Google Street View.

Further south: Lithuanian heritage at 209 road

209 road ~15 miles south of Shenandoah has much of Lithuanian heritage in the towns along it.

Tamaqa town has the third still open Lithuanian church (St. Peter and Paul, 307 Pine St.). Tamaqa is one of the larger towns in the area with 7000 inhabitants (13 000 back in the "golden days"). In its southern part at Owl Creek Road, there is Lithuanian cemetery.

Tamaqa Lithuanian church. Google Street View.

The same cemetery was also jointly used by a parish ~5 miles east in Coaldale based in a white Ascension church (227 Second street). This church has been closed while the town itself lost nearly three-quarters of its population decreasing from 7000 to 2000 people.

Shenandoah is the most Lithuanian US town among those above 5000 inhabitants but if you count all villages with population above 1000 the New Philadelphia has that title. ~25% people there are Lithuanians (more than of any other ancestry). In 1910 when the village was double in size there was a confrontation between two ethnicities: Lithuanians and Irish. Both established a church and both remained open nearly until today. Unfortunately, in 2008 the Lithuanian Sacred Heart church was closed (its building constructed in 1984). Massive Sacred Heart Lithuanian cemetery still exists.

Minersville (pop. 4000 today, 9000 in 1930) Lithuanian parish of St. Francis of Assisi has been also condemned but its people achieved an impressive victory in Vatican. After their complaint, Vatican recognized that bishop illegally closed down their church. Unfortunately, the bishop refuses to concede and decided to reopen the church merely symbolically (for a single holy mass celebration annually).

St. Clair town (pop. 3000 today, 7000 in 1930) also saw its Lithuanian church (St. Casimir, 441 South Nicholas St.) closed down recently. St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery remains.

Among the closed-down churches, the fate of Branchdale Out Lady Star of the Seas Lithuanian church is somewhat merrier. The only church of a 400-strong village has been purchased in 2011 by a music teacher from Philadelphia. He permits sermons of all Christians here and also organizes concerts and other events. He said that he pitied for an important village building that got closed and plans to acquire more churches in the region.

Branchdale Lithuanian church should remain an important cultural center. Google Street View.

Brockton is too small a village to be incorporated but even here Lithuanians had their St. Bartholomew church (214 E Green Street). Now it is closed though the St. Bartholomew cemetery survives.

Lithuanian heritage west of Shenandoah

Mt. Carmel township (pop. 6 000 today, 18 000 back in 1930) still has a Lithuanian Social Club (309 S. Oak St.) with a door painted in Lithuanian tricolor. There is also a massive Holy Cross Lithuanian cemetery (south of town, Cemetery road). It was named after a Lithuanian church, closed in 1992. Marija Kaupas, a Lithuanian nun worked here (she is on the route of canonization and a street has been named in her honor in Chicago).

Lithuanian Social Club of Mt. Carmel, est. 1926 Google Street View.

In Marion Heights even further west the Lithuanian church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been transformed into an Easter Rite Catholic (Ukrainian) church: stained glass windows have been removed and an iconostasis moved in, while the tower has been crowned by a dome. It is now hard to recognize the church's Lithuanian roots. The similarly-named Lithuanian cemetery has remained. In general, it is easier for Ukrainians to protect their religious heritage - even though they are also Catholic, they have a different rite thus the dioceses are unable to amalgamate their parishes into non-Ukrainian ones.

Shamokin town has been famous for the America's first Lithuanian publishing house (which published Lithuanian-English dictionary by Markas Tvarauskas). It also had a Lithuanian St. Michael Archangel church (Cherry St.) that was closed in 1995 and demolished in 2015. Its Lithuanian club still functions as a pub.

Lithuanian heritage east of Shenandoah

The area's largest town east of Shenandoah is Hazleton (pop. 17 000 today, 38 000 back in 1940). Its brownish Sts. Peter and Paul's Lithuanian church used to be an extensive multiple building complex. Unfortunately, it all has been sold in 2010 by the diocese. Hazleton Lithuanian cemetery is at the Cemetery road / E Broad corner.

McAdoo (pop. 2000 today, 5000 back in 1930) had a wooden St. Casimir Lithuanian church near the Cleveland and Adams street corner (a residential house now occupies the place). It is interesting that this church has been born out of anti-Catholic sentiment as its builders planned to stay independent of Vatican. However after the works had begun in 1928 they disagreed among themselves and were short on money, therefore went back to Catholicism. The completed church then served as Catholic as Catholic although the congregation was never big enough to support a separate parish.

Although Kelayres (pop. 500) is nearly joined to McAdoo it had a separate Immaculate Conception Lithuanian church, which has been sold by the diocese in 2010 to serve as a residential home.

The hard labor conditions in the mines led Lithuanians to protest but back then the worker's rights weren't that much protected. This had some tragic outcomes: a few Lithuanians have been killed by police in 1897 when they stroke and illegally marched in Lattimer town. 19 workers died that day and they are commemorated by a plaque in Harwood which declares that the victims were "Poles, Lithuanians, and Slovaks". A bigger memorial stands at the place of the massacre; a victim list there has a single obviously Lithuanian surname but more people may have been Lithuanians as in that era Lithuanian language was not standardized yet and surnames changed after migration. Lattimer massacre became well known in the USA and it caused the trade union ranks to swell. In spite of this many Lithuanians who disliked the local conditions left the Pennsylvanian coal region for surrounding states, e.g. Upstate New York.

The map of Lithuanian locations in Southern Coal Region Pennsylvania.

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia is among the "most Lithuanian" cities of USA and has the fourth largest total number of ethnic Lithuanians after Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles (~6000)

It has 3 great Lithuanian churches, pre-war art nouveau Lithuanian halls, a synagogue named after Vilnius, and an abandoned Lithuanian cemetery in its suburbs.

Lithuanian Music Hall in Philadelphia

The prettiest and the last one surviving among Philadelphia's Lithuanian clubs is its especially old (erected 1906) Lithuanian Music Hall, also known as Lietuvių namai ("Lithuanian House") in Lithuanian language and "Big Lit" in English (2715 E. Allegheny Ave). It is a separate red brick building inspired by art nouveau.

Lithuanian Music Hall in Philadelphia.

Inside, there are three halls, of which the upper floor one is the most impressive. It is named after M.K. Čiurlionis, Lithuania's most famous painter. Previously, it had full arched windows, but those have been partly bricked up during the shortage times.

In the basement, the Hall has an exhibition of Lithuanian folk arts (Surdėnas Lithuanian cultural center, etsablished in 1980). You may also see authentic heating system from the pre-WW1 era in that room.

The hall hosts many Lithuanian activities and an annual fair. To this day, it also hosts Lithuanian concerts of the musicians arriving from Lithuania.

Kanklės (traditional Lithuanian musical instrument) is the symbol of the Hall, adorning its entrance.

Kanklės detail at the Lithuanian Music Hall.

The surronding district is mostly Polish (still strong on that identity). Poles too, however, come at the Music Hall's fair.

Lithuanian Naitonal Hall in Philadelphia

The second Lithuanian Club of Philadelphia, known as the Lithuanian National Hall, used to be located close to 2nd Avenue. Its building still stands and the name is still chiseled in stones but it has been remodeled into apartments (the Lithuanian Club closed in 1984). In a way it's going back to the roots as when the Hall was completed in 1900 it also included apartments. Afterward, the expanding Club needs and rental halls had pushed the residential use out.

Lithuanian National Hall in Philadelphia.

St. Andrew: the grandest of Philadelphia's Lithuanian churches

Philadelphia still has all three of its Lithuanian churches open.

Towered neo-romanesque St. Andrew Church (1913 Wallace St.) still hosts Sunday mass in Lithuanian. The building has been acquired from Protestants in 1942 after the Great Depression and War shattered hopes of the parish to erect its own new building.

St. Andrew Lithuanian church in Philadelphia.

St. Andrew has a grand interior, the most impressive among the Philadelphia's Lithuanian churches.

St. Andrew Lithuanian church in Philadelphia (interior).

Despite its non-Lithuanian origins, St. Andrew church has many Lithuanian details, ranging from a freestanding wayside cross outside, to a true "Shrine of Lithuanian history" inside.

On that shrine, one may see a railroad going towards a cross, which is a symbol of the Soviet Genocide (1940-1953) when hundreds of thousands Lithuanians, some third of them children and babies, were forced into cattle carriages and moved to the ice-cold Siberia where many of them died due to cold, hunger, forced labor and other reasons.

There is also a cross with the victims of January 13, 1991 massacre, a final Soviet bid to stop Lithuanian independence. Lithuanian civilians were stopping the tanks with their bodies then and many died. Vilnius TV Tower, one of the key locations Soviets attempted to take over, is also painted there. There is also the Our Lady of Vilnius in a folk-craft-inspired wooden frame and a Lithuanian flag.

Soviet Genocide is an important topic here, as much of the congregation has originated in the refugees who fled Lithuania before the Soviet re-occupation in 1944. These refugees always saw themselves as exiled people, as staying would have meant death to nearly all of them (or another exile to Siberia, a much worse location).

St. Andrew 'Shrine of Lithuanian history'. From left to right: American, Lithuanian, and Vatican flags; the Soviet Genocide painting; the Mary painting in a folk-craft frame; the TV tower painting; the cross with images of those killed in January 13, 1991.

The church also has Lithunian religious images. Over the altar, Lithuanians Mečislovas Reinys (a Lithuanian priest killed for refusing to collaborate with the Soviets) and Marija Kaupaitė (the venerable founder of a Lithuanian-American nun order) are painted. Near the altar, Jurgis Matulaitis, a beatified Lithuanian has his image in a large folk-art frame. Outside, there is a Lithuanian wooden cross.

St. Andrew Lithuanian church in Philadelphia Mečislovas Reinys and Marija Kaupaitė over the altar, with a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross in between.

There are still some curious details left from the Episcopal era, such as numbered pews (in Episcopal church, they used to be rented to families but in the Lithuanian church, anybody is free to sit anywhere). Before using this church, the Episcopals had a small church nearby which is also Lithuanian-owned and used as a parish hall and Vincas Krėvė Saturday school where Philadelphia Lithuanian kids learn their language and culture.

Exterior of the former Episcopal church (now St. Andrew parish hall and Vincas Krėvė school).

St. Andrew Lithuanian church in Philadelphia parish hall.

There are Lithuanian details even in the sacristy of St. Andrews. Lithuanian cross stands outside.

Lithuanian details at the sacristy of St. Andrew.

St. Casimir: the most Lithuanian church in Philadelphia

While St. Andrew Lithuanian church has many Lithuanian details, it couldn't compare with St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Southern Philadelphia (324 Wharton Street).

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Philadelphia. A Lithuanian tricolor is waving nearby.

There, the Lithuanian details are nearly countless. At the entrance, a Lithuanian quote "Izenk geras, iseik gerensis" ("Enter a good person, leave a better one") greets the people. Inside, the stations of the cross are all done on Lithuanian designs, there are paintings like the opening of St. Casimir's grave in Vilnius Cathedral, there are stained glass windows of Marija Kaupas and much more.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Philadelphia stations of the cross, with Lithuanain inscriptions and Lithuanian traditional ornamentation. A Lithuanian tricolor is waving nearby.

In fact, nearly everything here has a relation to both religion and Lithuania. For example, among the images of the saints, blessed people and the venerable, many are either from Lithuania or Lithuanian-Americans. The Lithuanian atmosphere was supported by priest Burkauskas, a long-term Lithuanian priest in the church.

Altar of the St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Philadelphia. The slogoan on tops, surrounded by two Lithuanian flags, declares: 'St. Casimir. Wonderful on earth, more wonderful in heaven.'

Outside, there is a traditional Lithuanian chapel-post and the inscription at its bottom even describes it as having both Christian and Pagan motifs. This is a fact, as the Lithuanian folk motifs (such as the sun often found on the traditional crosses) are undoubtedly pagan-inspired even though undeniably Christian today. Yet, few churches dare to reognize this. However, Lithuanaian-American churches are built on two pillars, religious and ethnicity, and that ethnic pillar includes the non-Christian Lithuanian history as well.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Philadelphia entrance. A Lithuanian tricolor is waving nearby.

St. Casimir is the oldest Lithuanian church (parish established in 1893) but the current building was erected after a fire in 1930. In 2007 its 100-year old school has been closed while in 2011 the parish has been amalgamated with St. Andrew. It is still the easiest among the Philadelphia's Lithuanian churches to visit, as the Holy Mass is held there everyday (come around the mass time).

St. George: the church of blue-collar Lithuanians

St. George Lithuanian church (3580 Salmon Street) has two floors, the first of them built for a school and still used as such. Non-Lithuanian kids predominate now, but the entrance still has Vytis (the Lithuanian Coat of Arms) on it and there are other Lithuanian details inside. Stations of the cross have Lithuanian inscriptions, there is a medal to the king Jogaila and much more.

St. George Lithuanian church in Philadelphia.

The St. George church building was erected in 1920, with school being preferred to a tower. The former church building stand nearby, now serving as a parish hall.

St. George Lithuanian church in Philadelphia. Entrance with the Lithuanian Coat of Arms.

Traditionally, St. George church used to be frequented by the blue-collar Lithuanian workers (in contrast to St. Andrew, which was a domain of intellectuals, especially the Soviet-Genocide-refugees). Therefore, it is the most modest among the three Philadelphia Lithuanian churches. Still, it has nice Lithuanian-donated stained glass windows with donors names under them.

St. George Lithuanian church in Philadelphia interior.

The bottom of St. George Lithuanian church in Philadelphia stained glass windows with Lithuanian donors marked.

Vilna Congregation (Vilnius synagogue) in Philadelphia

A rather unique Lithuania-related site is the Vilna Congregation, named after Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania (Vilna being its old Russian name). This is a synagogue located in a house once owned by a Jewish person from Vilnius. He promise dto God that should his business succeed, he'd donate his home for the religion (and this is what happened).

Vilna Congregation synagogue in Philadelphia (exterior).

Eventually, the original "People of Vilnius" who worshipped there have left the area and the synagogue is now kept by the Chabad Lubavitch movement. While it has few worshippers, the rabbis seek to keep it open and are trying to add a ritual bath there.

Vilna Congregation synagogue in Philadelphia.

The word "Vilna" is still visible on numerous locations inside. The synagogue, however, has collected donor plaques from the area's other synagogues, so, not every plaque is originating at Vilna Synagogue. There is also the establishement charter on the second floor, as well as newspaper clippings about the synagogue's history and the images of the synagogue founders who came from Vilnius.

Vilna Congregation synagogue in Philadelphia plaque with 'Vilna' name mentioned.

The synagogue is usually closed outside of prayer times.

Bensalem abandoned Lithuanian cemetery

The saddest Lithuanian site in Philadelphia is the abandoned Lithuanian cemetery at Bensalem suburb (est. 1926). Once owned by the unique and independent Lithuanian National Catholic church, the cemetery became abandoned after most Lithuanians returned from that church to the Vatican-led Roman Catholic church.

Bensalem Lithuanian cemetery entrance.

Currently, the cemetery is so overgrown that it requires a painful pushing through spiky plants to access some of the graves (what you see near the road is just part of the cemetery; the other parts are deeper into the forest). Still, that makes the cemetery unique and interesting to those who like such abandoned sites.

A grave deep inside the Bensalem Lithuanian cemetery.

Recommended literature: "Where Have All the Lithuanians Gone? A Study of St. Casimir’s Lithuanian Parish in South Philadelphia"

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Pennsylvania, USA 2 Comments

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is among the US cities that have the most ethnic Lithuanians. The community here is especially old, dating to ~1870 - although those who associate Lithuanian ethnicity with the language may be disappointed as the community now primarily speaks English.

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Hall

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Hall

In 1930, Pittsburgh had ~4000 Lithuanians and it was the 8th US city by this number. Currently, there are ~6000 people of Lithuanian ancestry, making up ~0,65% of total population. This percentage is the largest among all the US cities of such size (Pittsburgh has a population of 736 000). Most Lithuanians came to work at the steel mills that made Pittsburgh famous. This industry used coal in metallurgy, much of it mined by the Lithuanians of Shenandoah and Scranton.

Lithuanian media has recently capitalized on the remarkable geographic similarity of Lithuania's second largest city Kaunas (left) and Pittsburgh (right). Both maps have north at the top. Bing Maps.

South Side Pittsburgh Lithuanian sites

Many Pittsburgh Lithuanians used to live on the South Side of Pittsburgh and the red brick Lithuanian Hall still stands there with a stylized Lithuanian coat of arms (Vytis) proudly hanging above its entrance. A commemorative plaque declares that the building was constructed in 1870 and rebuilt in 1908. The building was sold in 2014 and the Lithuanian Citizens’ Society of Western PA moved to their other property in Jefferson Hills (see below). In its later years, the South Side building was supported by hosting multiethnic bingo games, but the legalization of casinos effectively killed the bingo business.

 Vytis of the Lithuanian Hall in Pittsburgh

Vytis of the Lithuanian Hall in Pittsburgh

The South Side of Pittsburgh also had the largest and oldest Lithuanian church in the city: St. Casimir‘s. A Protestant building at this location was acquired by Lithuanians in 1893 but soon it became too small and was replaced by the current massive one (uniting red bricks with the Baroque revival) in 1902. In 1992, the church was closed and the interior pews, organ and other artifacts moved to Holy Trinity Church in Pilviskiai, Lithuania. The interior was then inhabited by a single family (they used only a small part of the premises, leaving the rest untouched) until 2017 when its conversion to apartments began.

South Pittsburgh St. Casimir Lithuanian church

South Pittsburgh St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Next to St. Casimir church there is the former St. Casimir school; its name is recollected by the fact that it is called „Casimir apartments“. The school has an inscription over its front entrance „St. Casimir High School“ (in English). Likewise, the church cornerstone has an inscription indicating its original purpose, however, it is in Latin rather than Lithuanian.

Casimir Lithuanian school

Casimir Lithuanian school

Moreover, South Pittsburgh still has a building of Polithania bank, which was a bank for Poles and Lithuanians. At that time, the local banks used to avoid giving credit to immigrants, facilitating the need for immigrants to create their own banks. Currently, a dentist is operating in the former bank. However, the over-entrance sign still remains.

Plithania Bank in Pittsburgh

Polithania Bank in Pittsburgh

Lithuanian Classroom at the Cathedral of Learning

The Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh, one of the most famous buildings of Pittsburgh, has a Lithuanian Nationality Class among its many nationality classrooms (located on the 1st floor, on the left from the Bigelow Blvd entrance).

Lithuanian classroom back

Lithuanian classroom back

The back wall of the Lithuanian Nationality Class is proudly covered by a copy of the famous "Karalių pasaka" ("Tale of Kings") painting by symbolist M. K. Čiurlionis. Wooden blackboard sides and furniture are of traditional Lithuanian folk style. Heaters have rue (Lithuanian national flower) details while ceiling moldings are filled with names of the famous Lithuanians, mostly the Lithuanian national revival heroes (the author of first Lithuanian-language history of Lithuania Daukantas, the patriarch of the nation Basanavičius, the author of the national anthem Kudirka, the author of first Lithuanian book of fiction Donelaitis...).

Lithuanian classroom front

Lithuanian classroom front

Other accents of the Lithuanian classroom are the „School of Sorrows“ statuette (representing the secret teaching of the Lithuanian language to kids in the later 19th century when the occupying Russian Empire banned the Lithuanian language) and the linen „wallpaper“ (linen having a strong cultural importance). Both of these have been secured by plexiglass after vandalism and thievery attempts.

Radiator rues in the Lithuanian class

Radiator rues in the Lithuanian classroom

It is difficult to list all the symbols of the classroom as nearly everything could be considered a Lithuanian symbol there.

The Cathedral of Learning is an impressive gothic revival/art deco skyscraper (42 floors) dating to 1926-1934. Its massive central hall looks like a real cathedral nave. It is surrounded by some 30 (and growing) nationality classrooms, each of them a small tasteful museum glorifying a particular nation (unlike in museums, however, nearly every detail here has some purpose). They have been crafted, furnished and still are supported by the respective ethnicity; a single classroom now costs up to 1 million USD to construct. The Lithuanian classroom was designed by Kaunas architect Antanas Gudaitis (who received this honor after a competition) and it was opened in a sad era: October 1940 when Lithuania had been recently occupied by the Soviets. Due to this, the original „School of Sorrows“ sculpture did not reach the USA and disappeared (it was recreated locally).

Cathedral of Learning

Cathedral of Learning

The Lithuanians became one of the first Pittsburgh ethnicities to have their classroom in the Cathedral (with just Scottish, Russian, German, Swedish, Chinese, Czechoslovak, Hungarian, American and Polish classes created in the initial 1938-1940 period). All the classrooms may be explored when they are not used by the university. The entry is free on weekdays outside of tours.

Pittsburgh outer districts Lithuanian churches and clubs

The Pittsburgh outer districts and suburbs are full of Lithuanian churches, all established ~1900-1910. Many of the buildings were acquired from Protestants, therefore, they lack Lithuanian details or cornerstones. Unfortunately, many Lithuanian churches were closed by 1993. As the city population decreased and the immigrants became English-speaking after multiple generations, the former ethnic Catholic parishes were consolidated into a single church. All of the Lithuanian churches have been closed and sold for non-Catholic use, thus condemning the Lithuanian interior. Most of the buildings remain but little reminds one of their Lithuanian histories today.

St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian church in Esplen was closed in 1993 but by then the parish was already a shadow of its former self. The main church building of 1903 was closed in 1962 and sold in 1970 (since demolished after numerous arsons). The cornerstone of that old church still remains, however, at a corner of a small warehouse-like basement-only building (inscription in Latin).

The remains of St. Vincent de Paul church

The remains of St. Vincent de Paul church

After the main church was closed, the mass was celebrated in a former parish school (Tabor St.) that already lacked children. After the parish closure, it became a pastoral center but was closed and sold to the Sons of God church in 1997. The remains of the „St. Vincent De Paul“ name are still visible in the building, but no Lithuanian inscriptions exist.

Vincent De Paul school that later was a church

Vincent De Paul school that later was a church

The former citizens of Esplen remember the district as full of Lithuanians and other Eastern Europeans but today many of its buildings are abandoned, only ~300 people live there.

Some smaller Lithuanian parishes were closed even earlier for a variety of reasons. Ascension Lithuanian parish of northern Pittsburgh once used a single-floored church was acquired from Presbyterians in 1906, however, was demolished in 1962 to make way for an industrial zone.

The suburb of Braddock suburb followed the rhythm of a local U.S. Steel plant. During the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s, many workers moved away. The local parishes were consolidated in 1985 and the St. Isidore Lithuanian church (built 1918 on Talbot and 7th corner) was closed. Now it serves as the First Church of God in Christ (non-Catholic). As the building had been acquired from another community, it has only an English inscription on its cornerstone („1901 Erected to the Glory of God”).

Braddock St. Isidore Lithuanian church

Braddock St. Isidore Lithuanian church

St. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church in the suburb of Homestead also became a victim of the steel industry, albeit in a different fashion. Constructed in 1901 it was demolished ~1941 when it blocked the way for the expansion of a nearby steel mill that was needed to meet the needs of World War II. The parish was still lively and acquired a new (1929) building from the Reformed Christians in 1941 (this church closed in 1992, with its building sold for 20,000 USD to the Apostolic Faith Assembly; the building still stands at 1321 Mifflin St. after recently changing hands again for a mere 1 dollar, being acquired by the Higher Call church. All this shows the deterioration of the district).

Homestead Lithuanian church

Homestead Lithuanian church

In the suburb of Bridgeville, St. Anthony Lithuanian church closed in 2007 after the collapse of the local industry. The building had been acquired from Methodists in 1915 and expanded ~1970 after it has been saved from demolition due to highway construction. The parish was closed in 1994, however, the church stayed open for more than a decade after that. It has been demolished since.

The suburb of Duquesne never had a Lithuanian church, however, it had a Lithuanian club. As the area is now depressed and little development takes place there, the long-closed club still has its name plaque up and visible.

Lithuanian club of Duquesne

Lithuanian club of Duquesne

Lithuanian club of Duquesne (close-up)

Lithuanian club of Duquesne (close-up)

The only Lithuanian building still operating in the near suburbs of Pittsburgh is the Lithuanian Country club. It is the home of the Lithuanian Citizens’ Society of Western PA. Despite the name, it is not a golf club but rather a location where Lithuanians may spend time in the country area. The club has rather massive landholds, although much has been sold over the time. The two remaining buildings host things removed from the Lithuanian Hall on the SouthSide of Pittsburgh. A local urban legend says that Darius and Girėnas spent a night in the other building (a barn) while visiting Lithuanian communities in the U.S. to raise funds for their flight to Lithuania. On the exterior, there is nothing Lithuanian there.

Pittsburgh Lithuanian club interior

Pittsburgh Lithuanian club interior

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Country Club barn

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Country Club barn

Pittsburgh Sisters of St. Francis Motherhouse and Academy

For 93 years before 2015, Pittsburgh also had a grand St. Francis Convent of Lithuanian nuns.

However, in 2015, the youngest among them were in their 60s; unable to care for the 13 ha land with the motherhouse and chapel, they sold it. In 2017, the motherhouse was demolished, only the former academy school remains (without Lithuanian details). A nearby private road is still named "Chesna drive".

School of the former Lithuanian monastery

School of the former Lithuanian monastery

Chesna Drive

Chesna Drive

Lithuanian cemeteries in Pittsburgh area

Pittsburgh's largest Lithuanian cemetery was owned by the St. Casimir parish. It is located at Whitehall on Hamilton Road and near the former Sisters of St. Francis Motherhouse. The most impressive monument in the cemetery is the Nuns memorial (1938) with a statue of an angel and Lithuanian inscriptions. Symbolically, after the destruction of the motherhouse, the motherhouse cornerstone was laid there. Another key monument is a belfry of Our Lady of Fatima (1954) at the entrance, where all the Pittsburgh Lithuanians who fought for the USA during WW II are listed (240 of them, and those are just members of St. Casimir parish). The Lithuanian inscription on it declares: „Let the echo of this bell lead the soul to eternal life“.

Pittsburgh St. Casimir cemetery Nuns' memorial

Pittsburgh St. Casimir cemetery Nuns' memorial

Lithuanian belfry in St. Casimir cemetery

Lithuanian belfry in St. Casimir cemetery

A smaller Lithuanian cemetery exists in the suburb of West View, accessed by a small road off of Bellevue Rd near Perry Hwy (Rt 19). The entrance plaque there reads "Lithuanian Cemetery Association, incorporated June 14, 1919" signifying that this cemetery used to be associated just with ethnicity rather than Catholic faith. This cemetery was also used by the leftists, there is a rather unique Memorial to the Lithuanian workers; after the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, the leftist ideas became rare among Lithuanians and many of the „Lithuanian workers organizations“ (such as the Lithuanian Workers Association that erected the particular memorial) faded into obscurity.

Lithuanian national cemetery of Pittsburgh

Lithuanian national cemetery of Pittsburgh

Lithuanian workers memorial

Lithuanian workers memorial

Both cemeteries are surrounded by trees and cover a slight slope. Lithuanian inscriptions ("motina" ("mother"), "brolis" ("brother"), "amžiaus 28 m." ("aged 28"), etc.) are more common at the old graves (especially pre-WW II). Pittsburgh cemeteries also tend to have a great amount of surviving old portrait images.

An old Lithuanian grave

An old Lithuanian grave

Surviving images of long-dead people in the Lithuanian cemeteries

Surviving images of long-dead people in the Lithuanian cemeteries

Lithuanian churches and clubs in the towns around Pittsburgh

Interestingly, there seem to be as many surviving Lithuanian locations in the small towns around Pittsburgh (especially Bentleyville and East Vandergrift) as in the Pittsburgh itself.

Bentleyville has a Lithuanian club (nothing Lithuanian is visible from the outside save for the name; inside is accessible to members-only). The proper address is 217 Main St. but it stands next to Lithuanian Street. There is also Wilna street (named after Vilnius) and Abromaitis Street (named after a Lithuanian priest who has helped establish the local Polish-Lithuanian parish), making it an impressive list of three Lithuanian-related street-names in a village of 2500. The former Polish-Lithuanian St. Luke church was merged into Ave Maria parish in 1994 and again into St. Katharine Drexel parish in 2017, but in all cases, it remained an open church. Given its bi-ethnic (before the Slovaks separated, tri-ethnic) history, there is nothing Lithuanian inside, however.

Bentleyville Lithuanian club

Bentleyville Lithuanian club

Abromaitis street in Bentleyville

Abromaitis street in Bentleyville

Behind the church, there is the St. Luke cemetery. The Lithuanian graves there are further from the church. Like in other Pittsburgh area cemeteries, old portrait images of those buried are often well preserved.

Bentleyville St. Luke church and cemetery

Bentleyville St. Luke church and cemetery

In a similar case to parish consolidations to that of Bentleyville, the East Vandergrift Lithuanian church of St. Casimir (which used to be Lithuanian-only, not bi-ethnic) has been also renamed in 1985 (to Our Lady, Queen of Peace), but survived as a Catholic church. The former Polish and Slovak parishes have been added to it (the Polish church burned down beforehand) in what is now a village of just 600 people. The church is thus small. Out of the Lithuanian period, just the stained-glass windows remain, and those are rather modest compared to most Lithuanian-American churches (some have Lithuanian sponsor names at their bottom). Much else has been remodeled and the front of the church was rebuilt after the parish consolidation.

East Vandergrift Lithuanian church

East Vandergrift Lithuanian church

East Vandergrift Lithuanian stained glass inscription

East Vandergrift Lithuanian stained glass inscription

There is also a Lithuanian club in front of the East Vandergrift church, now doubling as a members-only pub but decorated with Vytis and Lithuanian colors. The facade inscription on it says „Club of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas near the St. Casimir Lithuanian church, 1908-1915“.

East Vandergrift Lithuanian club

East Vandergrift Lithuanian club

St. Joseph Lithuanian church in the suburb of Donora operated in a former Presbyterian building acquired in 1906. It was the Pittsburgh area's first Lithuanian church to be closed; this happened in 1963 when there were just 13 families left in the parish.

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Detroit, Michigan

Like other industrial megalopolises of the USA Detroit attracted a Lithuanian community since well before World War 2. Detroit Lithuanians worked at the automobile factories of what was the world automobile manufacturing capital (it still is the home for Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler). 4879 Lithuanians lived in Detroit during the 1930 census.

St. Anthony Roman Catholic Lithuanian church was built in 1920 in Southwest Detroit (1750 25th St.). The massive brick building has two floors. The main church hall is on the second floor while the first (ground) floor once housed a Lithuanian school. Later it had only a chapel where ordinary Sunday Mass was held (the diminishing parish no longer needed main upper hall and elderly people find it hard to ascend the stairs). Also on the first floor a large hall for parish meetings after the mass was located, its walls covered with pictures of Lithuanian cities, a list of people killed by Russian soldiers on January 13, 1991, and similar memorabilia. Another small room was dedicated to a museum. The church was closed in 2013.

St. Anthony Lithuanian church. The building to the left is Lithuanian Hall. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A nicely renovated building on the opposite side of W Vernor Highway still bears the words „Lithuanian Hall“ on its facade. Now owned by real estate developer and transformed into rental offices it was once constructed by the parish and used for the community celebrations (holidays, marriages). On the surrounding private homes, you may still see names of the Lithuanians who once inhabited them.

Facade of the Lithuanian Hall building. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

But like all over Detroit some buildings are now abandoned or burned out. Detroit population more than halved after the 1967 racial riots and the city is now 85% Black with most Whites having left for suburbs. The area around St. Anthony church is now however dominated by Hispanics and is known as Mexicantown. It is safer than average Detroit area. Most of the Lithuanians moved to the suburbs, but Mexicantown still has the largest percentage of Lithuanians in Detroit area.

Like many Detroit houses, this one is abandoned. The old advertisement still reminds of the Valys Bauza (Lithuanian name) funeral home. The house was constructed in 1930 when the city and the Lithuanian district were still thriving. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

St. Anthony parish was the strongest immediately after World War 2 when a large share of the Lithuanian intellectual elite emigrated to the USA fearing Soviet persecutions. In these days the church was too small for the congregation and many people had to partake in the Mass from outside the building. In some 1985 the church was damaged by fire but repaired afterward. Until 2009 the daily mass was still celebrated (twice daily on Sundays). However, in 2009, the priest died and only a single weekly Sunday mass remained. There was no mass in any other language, therefore the building became scarcely used and its parking is used by the owners of Lithuanian Hall in weekdays. In 2011 the bishop of Detroit decided to abolish the parish, which was done in 2013.

St. Anthony Lithuanian church main hall (2nd floor) interior. Lithuanian and US flags stand beside the altar. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In Detroit (more correctly, its suburb Southfield) there is a more lively Lithuanian parish, dedicated to Divine Providence (255335 W 9 Mile Road). This church moved together with its community. Its roots are in the St. George church within Detroit City limits (constructed in 1908). In 1949 a new God‘s Wisdom church was constructed further from the center. During the 1960s highway construction program both churches were demolished to make way for new wide roads. Bishop wanted to abolish the parishes but Lithuanians collected the necessary funds to build and support a new Divine Providence church (1972). As it is not in the poor Detroit but in the rich suburbs it is frequented by newer, younger immigrants as well. There are sports and other events, ateitininkai, šauliai, boy scouts, ethnic dance and other organizations. Lithuanian language school works on Saturdays. The church is low-roof and small, with a modern triangular leaning tower.

Divine Providence church. Extensive single-floored building for social needs is nearby. Google street view.

Interesting Lithuanian memento may be found in the eerily empty streets of downtown Detroit. On a building in Grand River Avenue and Times Square corner hangs a memorial plaque with a sole Lithuanian inscription „Čia gimė Fluxus įkūrėjas Jurgis Mačiūnas“. The English translation is not provided (it would be „The founder of Fluxus George Mačiūnas was born here“). It is likely an art object created by some follower of Mačiūnas, a Lithuanian-American avant-garde artist. In reality, Jurgis Mačiūnas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania (1931) and emmigrated to the USA in 1948. There is no information about this plaque available online – please write in the comment section if you know more about it.

False George Mačiūnas memorial plaque. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Michigan, USA 24 Comments

New York City, New York

New York (pop 8,5 mln., 14 mln. with suburbs) is undeniably one of the centers of the world. Between 1930 and 1950 (when the Lithuanian refugees arrived) it was the world's largest city and it has been the US top city throughout its history.

By the time it received its first 100-floor building in 1931 the tallest "skyscraper" of Lithuania stood at 8 floors. New York must have truly impressed the contemporary immigrants from agricultural Lithuania (of which there were 15 000 in New York in 1930). Unlike some other once-industrial US cities, New York continued to be important and its Lithuanian community constantly renews itself.

Among the New York Lithuanian sites are numerous memorials and memorial plaques, some of them symbolically created in key locations to mark the importance of Lithuanian-Americans. There were 5 Lithuanian churches, 2 of which survive and are very impressively decorated. Several key Lithuanian organization HQs are located in Manhattan.

Altar of the New York Transfiguration Lithuanian church

Altar of the New York Transfiguration Lithuanian church. Lithuanian symboils such as th eflag, the sun-crosses and more are well visible

New York also played an important role in lives of numerous famous Lithuanians, giving birth to sites related to them. This includes the Transatlantic pilots Darius and Girėnas (who took off from New York for their famous flight), the writer Antanas Škėma (who wrote a semi-autobiographical work about a Lithuanian emigrant in New York that is now considered among the best Lithuanian books ever) and modern artists Jonas Mekas and Jurgis Mačiūnas (who developed their Fluxus art movement in New York).

Jogaila (Jagiello) statue in the New York Central Park

Jogaila (Jagiello) statue in the New York Central Park

Queens and its modern-ethnic church

Even before World War 1, Lithuanians had their churches in New York. The most unique among the New York‘s Lithuanian churches is Transfiguration church (64-14 Clinton Avenue). Although originally constructed 1908, it was twice rebuilt (once after a fire and after WW2 due to expanded Lithuanian community). The current building dates to 1962. It is an attempt to create a modern-yet-ethnic Lithuanian style, something impossible in the Soviet-occupied Lithuania at the time and only existing in the USA. It is sometimes considered a magnum opus of architect Jonas Mulokas and interior designer V. K. Jonynas who also collaborated on multiple Lithuanian American churches in 1950s Illinois.

New York Transfiguration Lithuanian church

New York Transfiguration Lithuanian church

While the building uses modern materials (brick, metal, and glass instead of wood), as well as modern designs (e.g. the statue over the entrance), it has countless Lithuanian symbols in nearly everything. Firstly, the form of the church itself reminds the traditional Lithuanian barn and so does its rooftop „horses“. The church belfry is similar to Lithuanian traditional wooden chapel-posts in its form (one chapel-post, by the way, stands in the churchyard). It is crowned by a Lithuanian sun-cross which also incorporates a moon (a merging of Lithuanian Christian and pre-Christian beliefs). Nearly all the crosses inside the building are also such sun-crosses (including a massive one over the altar). Over the church entrance, Lithuanian words „Mano namai – maldos namai“ greets the visitors („My house – Prayer house“) and the Lithuanian flag is perennially waving together with the US one.

Pews adorned in crosses of Vytis at the Transfiguration Lithuanian church

Pews adorned in crosses of Vytis at the Transfiguration Lithuanian church

Lithuanian-carved confession rooms at the Transfiguration church

Lithuanian-carved confession rooms at the Transfiguration church. V. K. Jonynas style

Inside the church, Lithuanian ornaments are visible even on the lights, while every pew has a Cross of Vytis on its side. Of course, there are images of Lithuania-related saints and religious traditions, such as St. Casimir. There is also a Lithuanian flag. A memorial plaque to the long-term pastor Frank Bulovas is immediately beyond the entrance. By the way, a street near the church (Perry Av) has an honorary name of Monsignor Frank Bulovas Avenue.

The church is open everyday for mass.

Monsignor Frank Bulovas Avenue sign

Monsignor Frank Bulovas Avenue sign

The building near the church houses the Lithuanian-American religious charity organization Šalpa

Brooklyn‘s Williamsburg, the former Lithuanian district

Williamsburg in Brooklyn was a Lithuanian district in the early 20th century. While most Lithuanian institutions there have since closed down, two church buildings and a Lithuania square remain.

Brooklyn Annunciation Lithuanian Roman Catholic church is the hub of the district. It is a century older than the Queens church (built 1863, 259 N. 5th Street, architect Francis Himpler). It has been constructed by Germans and acquired by a Lithuanian parish in 1914. The interior has been partly redecorated the Lithuanian way: Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis and Gate of Dawn altars created (moved in from the other closed Lithuanian churches, as Annunciation remained the liveliest Lithuanian church in New York). There is also a fresco of Our Lady of Vilnius, surrounded by Lithuanian ethnic strip and coats of arms of Lithuania and Vilnius (left side of the altar, created ~1972 in place of a former nun balcony), and St. Casimir praying to its image (right side, 1929). Lithuanians have also added the top part of the altar and the stained-glass windows around the altar (1929 renovation). These meticulous details, together with the older impressive German details (stained-glass windows of 1870, 1860s nave-side frescos by the Munich court painter Esthel, etc.), attract many architecture-loving visitors to the church and it regularly participates in the „Open House New York“ events.

New York Annunciation Lithuanian church exterior

New York Annunciation Lithuanian church exterior

Annunciation Lithuanian church in Williamsburg interior

Annunciation Lithuanian church in Williamsburg interior

Our Lady of Vilnius with the coats of arms of Lithuania (left) and Vilnius (right)

Our Lady of Vilnius with the coats of arms of Lithuania (left) and Vilnius (right), as she appears at the Annunciation Lithuanian church of New York

The Lithuanian altars of Jurgis Matulaitis (left) and Our Lady of Vilnius (right) at the Annunciation Lithuanian church in Williamsburg, New York

The Lithuanian altars of Jurgis Matulaitis (left) and Our Lady of Vilnius (right) at the Annunciation Lithuanian church in Williamsburg, New York

The mass is held in Lithuanian and Spanish (as the neighborhood has large Hispanic population).

Outside of the church, a Lithuanian sun-cross and a Lithuanian chapel-post were erected. The chapel-post has a Lithuanian inscription „Šv. Marija, saugok Lietuvą ir jos vaikus“ („Holy Mary, save Lithuania and its children“) and a Rūpintojėlis (traditional Lithuanian sad Jesus) figure on top. Such Lithuanian Christian carvings (with some pagan details) are UNESCO immaterial World heritage.

Rūpintojėlis at the chapel-post near the Annunciation church

Rūpintojėlis at the chapel-post near the Annunciation church

Lithuanian sun-cross at the Annunciation church

Lithuanian sun-cross at the Annunciation church

Previously a monastery of Lithuanian nuns was located near the church (until being sold in 1975), however, it has closed, just like the Lithuanian school where the nuns taught at (1972). The number of parishioners declined from ~4000 families to ~1000 families in 1990 and ~250 families today.

Brooklyn also had a St Mary of the Angels Lithuanian church (corner of 4th S St. and Roebling St.), closed 1981, now El Puente academy devoid of any Lithuanian marks inside or outside. A simple neoclassical edifice it was famous for the stained glass windows by sculptor V. K. Jonynas it had, which were then moved to Our Lady of Vilnius church in Manhattan (see below).

St. Mary of the Angels ex-Lithuanian church

St. Mary of the Angels ex-Lithuanian church

In between of both churches is perhaps the last surviving Lithuanian sign in the area, „Bar Vasikauskas“ (the bar itself is long closed, however).

Abandoned bar Vasikauskas sign

Abandoned bar Vasikauskas sign

Another key Lithuanian feature of Williamsburg, between the 2nd street, Hewes Street, and Union Avenue, is the Lituanica square, also known as Lithuania square, a small patch of land with a monument and flagpole (1957). It is dedicated to pilots Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas who became the first Lithuanians to cross the Atlantic by air and the pioneers of Transatlantic air mail. Sadly their 1933 flight which departed from New York Floyd Bennett Field (in Brooklyn southwest of Williamsburg) ended up in a tragedy near their destination in Kaunas, making them martyrs of both Lithuania and Lithuanian-American community. The monument includes a plaque with Darius and Girėnas faces, their Lithuanian quote „Šį savo skridimą skiriame ir aukojame tau, jaunoji Lietuva“ („We dedicate and sacrifice this our flight to thee, young Lithuania“). The monument has been funded by New York Lithuanians.

Lithuania square main monument in Brooklyn

Lithuania square main monument in Brooklyn

Lithuania, independent by then, sought to build a symbolic wing in that airport in 2013 (70th anniversary) but the airport administration denied this. Only a memorial post reminds of Darius and Girėnas there, located in the green line of Flatbush Ave, erected by New York Lithuanian artists Laura Zaveckaitė and Julius Ludavičius in 2013. The airport itself is no longer used (as it became far too small for the New York City). However, currently, it is more like a park where everyone can walk or drive the former runways, see the crumbling hangars and the terminal building, all of which were some of the last ground-level sites seen by Darius and Girėnas.

Lituanica memorial post by Ludavičius and Zaveckaitė near the Floyd-Bennet airfield

Lituanica memorial post by Ludavičius and Zaveckaitė near the Floyd-Bennet airfield

Floyd Bennet airfield terminal

Floyd Bennet airfield terminal

The runway at Floyd-Bennet airport

The runway at Floyd-Bennet airport

Another Lithuanian location in Brooklyn outside Williamsburg was the Cultural Heart (Kultūros židinys), a building constructed in 1974 to be a heart of New York Lithuanian activities. It was constructed within the Lithuanian Franciscan monastery. There, the monks together with lay Lithuanians cooperated in furthering both religious and secular Lithuanian goals and countering the Soviet propaganda. However, after 1990 independence, Lithuanian Franciscan leadership was able to relocate back to Lithuania and it decided to raise money by selling the expensive Brooklyn monastery, including the Lithuanian Cultural Heart. This led to an expensive court battle between the monks and the Lithuanians who donated for the Cultural Heart expecting it to serve the Lithuanian cause for far longer than ~20 years it did. Eventually, an agreement was reached that the monastery and the Heart would be sold, however, a part of the proceeds would go to Lithuanian-American secular activities. In any case, nothing reminds the Lithuanian past of the former Franciscan monastery and the Cultural Heart today. It is a non-Lithuanian monastery now.

The former Lithuanian Cultural Heart in Brooklyn

The former Lithuanian Cultural Heart in Brooklyn

The demolished Lithuanian churches of New York

Unfortunately, some of the key Lithuanian locations in New York did not survive.

The most "infamous" Lithuanian church in New York is the gothic revival Our Lady of Vilnius (1910). This only Lithuanian church in Manhattan but it has been closed in 2007. The diocese plans to demolish it and sell the expensive land, triggering the largest Lithuanian community protests since independence. It included mass prayers, vigils, demonstrations attempting to save this "shard of Lithuania", among the last Our Lady of Vilnius churches of Lithuania. Even the Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus, himself a former Lithuanian-American, protested to the Pope against the church closure. However, all these were unsuccessful and the church was demolished.

Our Lady of Vilnius church squeezed between massive skyscrapers. It no longer exists. Google Street View.

At about the same time, New York's fifth Lithuanian church, the Renaissance Revival St. George's, has been destroyed and replaced by apartment blocks without much attention, likely because of its less glamorous Brooklyn location. Google Street View of 2007 has the only online image of it.

Lithuanian institutional HQs in Manhattan

New York is also the home to a major Lithuanian secular institution. The Lithuanian Alliance of America HQ (307 W. 30th Street) is its small but well-located heart. Now surrounded by skyscrapers, the historic 19th-century four-floored building recently had its exterior renovated to its former glory.

Lithuanian Alliance of America HQ building

Lithuanian Alliance of America HQ building

The Lithuanian Alliance was the largest pre-war Lithuanian-American organization. It was founded in 1886 by the Lithuanian-American nationalists and leftists who dissented against the central role the Catholic church and its parishes played in many Lithuanian-American activities. Lithuanian Alliance has also served as a life insurance company for Lithuanians. Its membership has declined over the time since World War 2, however, as the new generations of Lithuanians were less likely to join. It went down from 11948 in 1955 to just 2446 in 2007 and merely several hundred today. The Alliance has abandoned its no-longer-lucrative insurance business to become a non-profit. The insurance business, once the major one, was severely hit by the Roosevelt's New Deal which made it mandatory for the employers to insure the employees (immigrants thus no longer needed the ethnic incurances, although these survived many decades afterwards due to people being used to them).

An image of Jonas Šliūpas at the Lithuanian Alliance HQ

An image of Jonas Šliūpas at the Lithuanian Alliance HQ

In its basement, the Alliance HQ has a massive archive documenting as the former insurance business made it collect more information on its members than usual. Possibly useful for genealogy research, the archive is not digitized so far. The second floor has offices with some authentic interwar furniture (you may be allowed to visit if asked during working hours) while the top floors have apartments that are rented out making the main profit for the Alliance today.

Lithuanian Alliance archives

Lithuanian Alliance archives

Lithuanian Alliance publishes the oldest Lithuanian newspaper ("Tėvynė", since 1896), albeit currently the publishing dates are scarce and the printing is done outside the building. Sla 307 gallery has been recently opened on the ground floor of the building, celebrating both Lithuanian and American art. It has regular working hours but you need to ring a bell.

Ground floor of the Lithuanian Alliance in America with SLA307 gallery name

Ground floor of the Lithuanian Alliance in America with SLA307 gallery name

New York is also a political center. It is the location of United Nations HQ and thus the Lithuanian representative office to the UN. It also has a consulate-general. Both of those work on rented premises, however, and have no permanent Lithuanian details.

Lithuanian consulate interior

Lithuanian consulate interior

Manhattan Lithuanian memorials

In addition to the Brooklyn memorials for pilots Darius and Girėnas, there are many Lithuanian memorials in the key places of Manhattan as well.

On the New York stock market in Broad Street (Manhattan), there is a commemorative plaque for the first famous Lithuanian-American Aleksandras Karolis Kuršius (better known in Latin as Alexander Carolus Cursius-Curtius). This nobleman established the NYC's first Latin school on the location (at the time New York was still a Dutch colony known as New Amsterdam). The plaque for him was created in 1976 for the US 200 anniversary and has been a part of a Lithuanian American struggle to widen the knowledge of the name "Lithuania" and its Soviet occupation.

New York City Stock Exchange where the Cursius plaque is located

New York City Stock Exchange where the Cursius plaque is located

Cursius memorial plaque

Cursius memorial plaque

Before the massive immigration from Eastern Europe began in the late 19th century such isolated noblemen were the only Lithuanians to set foot on New York shore. One of them - Tadeusz Kosciuszko (Lithuanian: Tadas Kosciuška) - fought for US freedom before unsuccessfully attempting to defend his homeland Poland-Lithuania (united at the time) from European great powers. A commemorative plaque for him has been jointly funded by Lithuanian and Polish Americans in 1997.

Another Lithuania-related memorial plaque is on the floor of the New York Library at 476 5th Ave. It cites Martin Radtke, an immigrant from Lithuania, who had a few opportunities for formal education and so educated himself in the library, amassing a fortune he then bequeathed to the library. There is next to none information available about him online, however, save for the plaque. "Radtke" surname was, however, somewhat common among Lithuania's Germans, so it is likely Martin Radtke hailed from that community. It is possible that "Radtke" is a Germanized version of a Lithuanian surname Ratkevičius (Germanization of Lithuanian surnames was common in the German-ruled parts of Lithuania).

The grand interior of New York libarary at the place where Radtke's plaque is

The grand interior of New York libarary at the place where Radtke's plaque is

Martin Radtke memorial plaque in the New York library

Martin Radtke memorial plaque in the New York library

The first leader of both Poland and Lithuania, ethnic Lithuanian King Jogaila lived at the time America was not even discovered by the Europeans (1348-1434). However, New York Central Park includes a massive Jogaila statue, created by S. Ostrowski. It is one of the most impressive Lithuania-related sites in New York. Symbolically it is a copy of a sculpture in Warsaw (Poland) that had been destroyed to make WW1 bullets. The Central Park sculpture was made to decorate Polish pavilion in 1939 New York Expo but while that Expo was still ongoing Poland itself was invaded and occupied by Soviet Russians and Nazi Germans. The property of Polish pavilion has then been transferred to the Polish museum but a joint request of New York mayor and Polish consul made it a gift to New York City. As the sculpture has been built by Poles the Polonized version of king's name is used (Jagiello) and the word "Poland" inscribed. However, the description of the king includes Lithuania, and the coat of Jogaila is covered in both Polish and Lithuanian coats of arms.

Close-up of Jogaila with Vytis visible

Close-up of Jogaila with Vytis visible

Anatanas Škėma and Lithuanian artists related sites

New York lacks a Lithuanian cemetery, however, the massive private Cypress Hills cemetery includes many Lithuanian graves. Arguably the most famous among them is the Grave of Antanas Škėma, one of the most famous Lithuanian writers. His semi-autobiographical existentialist magnum opus "White Shroud" described the toil and thoughts of an underemployed Lithuanian Soviet-Genocide-refugee in New York, who had to work in an elevator of a prestigious hotel despite being qualified to a white-collar work.

Antanas Škėma grave

Antanas Škėma grave

Antanas Škėma actually worked in the elevator himself at the Roosevelt Hotel in central Manhattan, which still has the opulent interior Škėma was once surrounded by.

It is often claimed that Antanas Škėma would be considered among the world's top 20th century writers had he written his work in English, as he effectively debuted existentialism. However, with his work in Lithuanian and accessible only to Lithuanian-Americans (having been effectively banned in the Soviet-held Lithuania), he had very limited readers. He was discovered in Lithuania after 1990 independence (and added to school literature programs there) but is yet-to-be-discovered in America (even many Lithuanian-Americans of today do not know him).

Roosevelt hotel interior, where Škėma worked at

Roosevelt hotel interior, where Škėma worked at. The elevators are on the left.

Other famous Lithuanian-American artists who developed their careers in New York are the FLUXUS artists Jonas Mekas and Jurgis (George) Mačiūnas. Anthology Film Archives is a cinema established by Jonas Mekas which doubles as a repository for independent films.

Anthology film archives, established by a Lithuanian Jonas Mekas

Anthology film archives, established by a Lithuanian Jonas Mekas

Ellis Island

Not just for the Lithuanians, but for most immigrant ethnicities Ellis Island is important as a point through where 12 million immigrants came to the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, among them hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians. The massive halls of the facility are now the US largest museum of immigration.

Ellis Island museum of immigration

Ellis Island museum of immigration

Main hall of the Ellis Island immigration facility, passed by most Lithuanian-American pre-war migrants

Main hall of the Ellis Island immigration facility, passed by most Lithuanian-American pre-war migrants

Still, Lithuanians were among the smaller immigrant groups (compared to the Poles, Italians, Germans, Jews...), so, relatively little is available particularly on them in the Ellis Island. But the place is great for learning the experience many Lithuanian migrants had, epitomised in a local quote from an immigrant from Lithuania that basically says that emigration was similar to death in that you wouldn't ever see even your parents anymore.

A quote of a (most likely) Jewess from Lithuania at the Ellis Island museum

A quote of a (most likely) Jewess from Lithuania at the Ellis Island museum

A rather new attraction in Ellis Island is the now-abandoned Ellis Island hospital which may be visited on tours. There, those who could be cured would be allowed to immigrate but those who couldn‘t be deported. At the time, health was almost the only one criteria which decided who would be allowed to immigrate to the USA, and the experience of Ellis Island hospital was universal for immigrants of all ethnicities, Lithuanians included. As the deportation of the unhealthy met separating families, Ellis Island was also known as the Island of Tears.

Images of immigrants as an art project at the abandoned Ellis Island hospital

Images of immigrants as an art project at the abandoned Ellis Island hospital

Washing room of the Ellis Island hospital

Washing room of the Ellis Island hospital

Visiting Ellis Island is possible using the Liberty Island ferries everyday. The visit is easily combinable with the visit to Liberty Island.

New York consists of five massive boroughs. Queens has ~6000 Lithuanians, Manhattan ~5000, Brooklyn ~3000, Bronx ~500, Staten Island ~750.

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Upstate New York

Many associates "New York" with the city but unlike the small neighboring states the State of New York is truly expansive (larger than the entire New England save for Maine) and merely a half of its population live in the NYC. The state's remaining part is nicknamed Upstate New York. It consists of smaller cities where the population has halved since the 1960s (total regional population remained the same).

Many of these cities have old Lithuanian communities with old cemeteries and churches. Unfortunately, the recent years have been sad to them: local dioceses have been hastily closing the Lithuanian parishes that survived a century or more. Not only the Lithuanian mass would be canceled but the buildings themselves were sold to other religions in many cases, destroying the Lithuanian-inspired interiors. Some exterior Lithuanian details often remain though.

The cemeteries, where they exist, still survive, offering a glimpse to Lithuanian surnames and their anglicizations.

Amsterdam St. Casimir Lithuanian chruch.

Mohawk Valley Lithuanian heritage

Mohawk Valley, a conurbation around the New York state capital Albany, had 3 Lithuanian churches, a chapel and 2 cemeteries.

With some 2,5% of its population of Lithuanian heritage, Amsterdam is the most Lithuanian city in the New York state. It has a large Lithuanian cemetery (Cemetery Rd.), unique for having many of its gravestones inscribed with two surnames: one original Lithuanian and the other one Americanized (i.e. the one immigrants were made to take by the immigration authorities who misheard the surname).

Amsterdam cemetery in New York. This grave has both the Lithuanian (Balčys) and Anglicized (Baltch) surnames marked, and the Lithuanian sun-cross as an ethnic symbol that unites Christian and Pagan beliefs.

At the heart of the cemetery stands St. Anne chapel commissioned by a Lithuanian Kiškis for his beloved wife and built by a famous Lithuanian-American author V. K. Jonynas in 1971. It now serves as a location for the funerary rites with are banned at the graveside in the diocese (previously it also served for the storage of the dead bodies through the winter). The exterior has Lithuanian inscriptions and the Lithuanian sun-cross, a traditional Lithuanian ethnic symbol, as well as bas-reliefs of St. Anne and St. Casimir (with the Lithuanian names of these saints written, Ona and Kazimieras).

St. Anne chapel in the Amsterdam Lithuanian cemetery of New York. The facade incorporates the Lithuanian sun-cross.

The cemetery also has a memorial for local Lithuanians who died in America's wars (6 in WW1, 17 in WW2 and 3 in Vietnam, according to the inscribed surnames).

A memorial for the Lithuanians who died in America‘s wars at the Amsterdam Lithuanain cemetery.

Amsterdam St. Casimir church has been sold to Buddhists after its closure; they established the Five Buddhas Temple there. The community leader Lucas Wang (a.k.a. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi) claimed that he received a revelation to purchase the church. United into the World Peace and Health Organization the local Buddhists plan a massive expansion that will even include theme park - but the fate of Lithuanian details of the St. Casimir church is likely sealed. Amsterdam Buddhists typically don't allow outsiders inside, although some sources claim the stained glass windows remain there. The most striking reminder of Lituanity is the St. Casimir statue with Lithuanian inscription on the tower.

St. Casimir statue still remaining on the Amsterdam Lithuanian church facade, with a Lithuanian inscription.

Previously the church area hosted other Lithuanian institutions such as Pakėnas laundry, Piliponis grocery. Today their owners are probably resting in the St. Casimir Lithuanian Cemetery.

The Lithuanian memorabilia from the church (once collected by the priests who visited Lithuania) had been relocated to Walter Elwood museum of Amsterdam history, where many artifacts are presented in a former factory (one in which many Lithuanians surely worked as well).

A Lithuanian exhibit in the Walter Elwood museum.

The Lithuanian church building with a dome survives in Schenectady, another Mohawk Valley city (Holy Cross church, 19 N. College Street). It doesn't look like a church as it was built to be a synagogue in 1891; in 1920, however, Jews sold it to Lithuanians as they built a bigger synagogue. Currently, nothing reminds of the buildings many-decades-long Lithuanian history after it was transformed into a stained glass workshop. A large Lithuanian wooden wayside cross that used to stand outside has been removed or destroyed.

The former Lithuanian church at Schenectady.

Schenectady also has a rather small Holy Cross Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1930). As the parish had, in later stages, many Italians as its members, the cemetery also has Italian graves.

Lithuanian cemetery at Schenectady.

Schenectady is a suburb of the state capital of Albany. Albany itself had a Lithuanian church of St. George once (corner of Thornton and Livingston streets). Built in 1917, it has been closed in 1986. Today the building is used as a community center/soup kitchen dedicated to Sister Maureen Joyce. Blessed Mary statue from the original church, as well as a plaque reminding of Lithuanian history, remains (immediately beyond the entrance) but the interior was destroyed. According to priest Valkavičius who documented Lithuanian churches, the interior used to be shown to architecture students in how to create a grandeur with little available as the church had a pretty tin ceiling. All that was destroyed when transforming into the soup kitchen, however, due to fire prevention requirements (sprinkler installation). Stations of the Cross have been moved to the Lithuanian camp Neringa chapel in Brattleboro. That said, the Albany church was never especially rich in decor, as it was basically just a basement with a wooden belfry: the community never did build a full church which was planned on top of the current church. Therefore, the church never even had stained glass windows.

Albany St. George Lithuanian church.

Western Upstate New York Lithuanian sites

In all of the Upstate New York, the number of parishes is lowered as the population falls. ~2010 a parish reform in Niagara Falls left 9 Catholic churches open out of the previous 21 (in 1960 the city had a population of 102 394, 2010 census counted merely 50 193). Niagara Falls St. George Lithuanian church (1910 Falls Street) has been among those closed. Built in 1928, its congregation peaked in 1971. The building has been sold to Anglo-Catholics who turned it into their pro-cathedral. Typically, this small Christian community left the St. George dedication untouched and even invited the Lithuanians to continue using the premises. No interior details have been destroyed; on the contrary, Anglo-Catholics felt sad that Roman Catholics removed some pieces upon closure. 14 pretty stained glass windows survived.

Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms) detail on the fronton of the Niagara Falls St. George church. Google Street View.

Other Western Upstate New York Lithuanian churches have been less lucky.

Rochester attracted most of its ~400 Lithuanians ~1900 as they have been fleeing hard labor in Pennsylvania mines. In 1935 they constructed St. George church (545 Hudson Avenue) which has been closed in 2010 (up to the final days the Lithuanian mass has been celebrated). The parish was not destroyed however and it meets in another church at Brighton suburb (Our Lady of Lourdes, 165 Rhinecliff Drive); unfortunately, that building lacks Lithuanian details and history. In order to perpetuate Lituanity, ~100 Rochester Lithuanians have established a Lithuanian Heritage Society. In 2010 the city established sister ties with Alytus, Lithuania.

St. George church of Rochester may look modest but the parish owned multiple buildings (all the ones visible here) and the Lithuanian mass survived long. Google Street View.

Another Lithuanian church stood at Utica (St. George); closed as recently as 2007.

Source, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4

Binghamton Lithuanian heritage

Lithuanians (~500) also live in Binghamton. This community's history is similar to its many "siblings" in Upstate New York. It began before World War 1 and the highest point of Lituanity was in the 1930s. This golden era is still reminded by a dusty inscription "Lithuanian Natl. Assc. Inc." on a non-descript ~1917 building at 315 Clinton Street. City landmarks list also lists "Sokolvonia" building (~1939) as Lithuanian although a likely Slavic name may indicate a mistake. Subsequently, the membership of many Lithuanian organizations grew older, the usage of Lithuanian language grew limited to ethnic events. However, many still guarded cherished folk customs and amber jewelry as something that reminded them of their homeland. The arrival of refugees after the occupation of Lithuania (~1950) triggered a limited rebirth of Binghamton Lituanity. However, the DPs left the Upstate New York for work-laden major cities once they could.

Remaining Lithuanian inscription on the Lithuanian club.

Like elsewhere, the church life survived the longest in Binghamton. The modern facade of St. Joseph Lithuanian church (1 Judson Ave) still has a Lithuanian inscription over its doors. However, the building has been sold to Grace Tabernacle church in 2008. Multiple ethnic parishes have been consolidated into a single Holy trinity parish in the former St. Ann church. Some things of St. Joseph have been moved in there: electric organ, carillon, the Last Supper.

Binghamton Lithuanian church.

Binghamton Lithuanian church entrance with the Lithuanian text ‚Guard me, oh God, from bragging in anything but in cross of our Lord Jesus Christ‘.

In addition to the "New Church", there is also the Old Lithuanian church on the other side of the street, which later served as a parish hall. Its cornerstone still boasts a Lithuanian inscription reminding of its church origins.

The old Lithuanian ‚basement church‘ in Bingamton.

Literature: Bygone Binghamton – Remembering People and Places of the Past (Jack Edward Shay).

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New Jersey

Jersey City (the largest city in New Jersey) is part of the New York City conurbation. It is separated from New York proper by merely a river that is crossed by bridges and tunnels. As such, the New Jersey and NYC Lithuanian communities are closely related. New Jersey Lithuanian sites may easily be visited when visiting the New York City.

Elizabeth Lithuanian sites

The heart of the New Jersey Lithuanian community is Elizabeth suburb of Jersey City with its old and massive Lithuanian St. Peter and Paul church (211 Ripley Pl.) - the mass is celebrated in Lithuanian and English.

Elizabeth Lithuanian church and rectory

Elizabeth Lithuanian church and rectory

The church houses an Our Lady of Šiluva altar (near its side wall) dedicated to the earliest church-recognized Maryan vision in Europe (took place in Šiluva, Lithuania). It is full of ethnic woodcarving motifs. Moreover, Our Lady of Vilnius is included in the main altar (at the top of the altar, it is a copy of the Virgin Mary painting in Vilnius). The church decorations are also especially Lithuanian with Lithuanian inscriptions available on the stained glass windows (with sponsor names) and on the stations of the cross (with explanations of the New Testament events depicted there). Much of the artwork inside has been created by Lithuanians, Near the entrance, there is a gallery of church-history-related artifacts and Lithuania-related images (e.g. painting of a traditional wooden cross or a picture of the cross erected by church members at the Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai).

Elizabeth Lithuanian church interior, looking from the choir

Elizabeth Lithuanian church interior, looking from the choir

Our Lady of Šiluva altar at the Elizabeth Lithuanian church

Our Lady of Šiluva altar at the Elizabeth Lithuanian church, full of Lithuanian traditional woodcarving motifs

Lithuanian stations of the cross in the Elizabeth church

Lithuanian stations of the cross in the Elizabeth church

The bottom of the stained glass windows of the Elizabeth church

The bottom of the stained glass windows of the Elizabeth church

Outside of the church stands a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross, while the plaque with the church name also features Lithuanian designs.

Elizabeth Lithuanian cross

Elizabeth Lithuanian cross

The church's peculiar towers look "too short" because their steeples were removed due to them having been damaged by the places taking off from the nearby Newark airport. The plane staking off are also hearable inside the church.

Since 2006, the Elizabeth Lithuanian church shares its priest with the Polish St. Adalbert parish (but both churches are open). One of the church's famous priests (in fact, its founder) Mssgr. Kemėžis has a street named after him nearby. On the street sign, however, his name is written with a typo as "Kemensis".

Kemėžis Pl. plaque with a typo

Kemėžis Pl. plaque with a typo

For 65 years a Lithuanian bakery (131 Inslee Place) operates in the district offering Lithuanian bread among other Eastern European meals. The bakery is Ukrainian-owned today, however, but retains its historic name. As numerous vans parked outside suggest, the bread of the bakery is rather popular. Bakery's front facade is covered by wood to remind of the Lithuanian traditional architecture.

Lithuanian Bakery with its Lithuanian-inspired exterior

Lithuanian Bakery with its Lithuanian-inspired exterior

Newark Lithuanian sites

While Elizabeth Lithuanian church is today the grandest in all of the New Jersey, this wasn't always the case. Newark's Romance Revival Holy Trinity Lithuanian church may have surpassed it in grandeur. Unfortunately, it has caught fire in 1981 and, while the damaged did not destroy it, the diocese refused to permit repairs. The parish was thus relocated to a rather simple two-floored edifice it has previously built as a parish hall in 1963.

Newark Holy Trinity Lithuanian church entance and traditional cross

Newark Holy Trinity Lithuanian church entance and traditional cross

The church is still open, however, the mass is now Portuguese-only as the Portuguese-speaking community has gradually displaced the Lithuanian one. Still, there are many Lithuanian details left, including Vytis on the door glass, Lithuanian folk-art wooden frame than encloses the church's mass schedule and a Lithuanian sun-cross that stands near the entrance since 1962 (relocated from the old church). At its center is Rūpintojėlis, the traditional Lithuanian image of a sad Jesus. The church is close doutside the mass, however, the mass is held everyday.

Vytis on the Holy Trinity Newark Lithuanian church entrance

Vytis on the Holy Trinity Newark Lithuanian church entrance

Bayonne, Kearny and Paterson Lithuanian sites

Elsewhere in New Jersey too, Lithuanian parishes indicate Lithuanian presence. The trend was the same: the Lithuanian parishes established in Jersey suburbs ~1910 with the first Lithuanian migrant wave, however, the current churches constructed in 1950s-1970s modern or semi-modern style as the small communities became rich enough and post-WW2 refugees needed to be accommodated. In ~2000s Lithuanian language, services were abandoned as new generations replaced their parents and grandparents who spoke Lithuanian well.

A small towerless St. Michael Lithuanian church stands in the southern suburb of Bayonne since 1977. Its address is 15 E Twenty-Third St but the nearby Church St. is also known as Matulis Way after the church's priest who passed out in 2000. Bayonne has ~400 Lithuanians (~0,6%). St. Michael church was, however, formally partially transferred to Syriac Catholics in the 2010s. Despite such transfer, the interior is still all-Lithuanian and nearly always open (unlike all the other Lithuanian churches of New Jersey, which are unlocked only for the mass). Even the Lithuanian flag remains beside the altar. Also, the old stations of the cross, most likely relocated from the previous church, are adorned in the old-Lithuanian-language inscriptions. The stained glass windows, usually among the most impressive parts of the Lithuanian-American churches, here are rather modest, however. A complex "time-sharing" system between Roman and Syriac Catholics is apparently in place, as posted near the entrance. Over the entrance, the words "Lithuanian church" are chiseled.

Bayonne Lithuanian church

Bayonne Lithuanian church

Entrance to the Bayonne Lithuanian church with its Lithuanian dedication

Entrance to the Bayonne Lithuanian church with its Lithuanian dedication

The interior of Bayonne Lithuanian church

The interior of Bayonne Lithuanian church (Lithuanian flag on the right)

Old Lithuanian station of the cross at the Bayonne Lithuanian church

Old Lithuanian station of the cross at the Bayonne Lithuanian church

Another area that has been popular among Lithuanian immigrants was the Kearny suburb. In 1915 when a Lithuanian parish has been established in nearby Harrison, there lived 400 Lithuanians in Kearny and 700 in Harrison (~450 and ~150 today). ~1954 a new larger towered church of Our Lady of Sorrows has been constructed in Kearny (136 Davis Ave). On the parish's 850th anniversary Reverend Pocus wrote, "Second- and third- generation families may never fully appreciate the fervent longings of their forebears for the sights and sounds of their homeland. But certainly, our older parishioners can recall the poverty of our people, their loneliness in a strange land, their youth and energy, and feeling of unity which they felt with their fellow Lithuanians".

Kearny Lithuanian church

Kearny Lithuanian church

The Kearny Lithuanian church is still officially Lithuanian and has a plaque commemorating that. It also has another Lithuanian traditional sun-cross near its entrance, donated by the Knights of Lithuania organization.

Kearny Lithuanian church entrance and the traditional Lithuanian cross

Kearny Lithuanian church entrance and the traditional Lithuanian cross

After World War 2 (1962) the Paterson Lithuanian parish also constructed its modest St. Casimir church (147 Montgomery St; closed 2014, sold to non-denominational Christians).
Recommended literature: Barbara Krasner "Kearny's Immigrant Heritage" pg. 67-76.

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Connecticut

Connecticut is a small state and although the number of Lithuanians is only ~33 000, this means almost 1% of the entire population (the largest share among US states). Most of them are descendants of Lithuanians who immigrated before World War 1 to work at the then-burgeoning Connecticut factories.

Lithuanian churches built in the 1900s-1920s still tower among historic townhouses. These churches are massive; built in various revival styles in 1900-1930 period, they look as if teleported from a Lithuanian countryside. The size makes you think they have been constructed for an entire town of tens of thousands rather than a single minority. They are surrounded by equally old parish houses and Lithuanian schools. Interestingly, these were established at roughly the same time as the first official Lithuanian schools in Lithuania itself where Lithuanian language has been banned by the ruling Russian Empire until 1904 (something that surely played a role in increasing emigration to the USA and Connecticut in particular).

Waterbury Lithuanian school entrance adorned by Vytis

Waterbury Lithuanian school entrance adorned by Vytis

In addition to the churches, there are numerous Lithuanian monuments in Connecticut, especially the massive traditional Lithuanian sun-crosses that combine Christian and pre-Christian messages. There are also old clubhouses and a single Lithuanian cemetery. The cemetery is located in Waterbury, where there is an entire district of Lithuanian buildings. More early-20th-century Lithuanian heritage exists in Hartford, New Britain, Ansonia, Bridgeport, and New Haven.

After World War 2, Connecticut received a massive center of worldwide Lithuanity in its Putnam village. There, a Lithuanian female monastery, a large Lithuanian-American art museum, Lithuanian-American library and Lithuanian-American sculptures attract many Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians alike.

Lithuania-themed stained glass windows at the Putnam convent

Lithuania-themed stained glass windows at the Putnam convent

However, in general, after the massive "First wave of immigration", Lithuanians ceased to migrate into Connecticut. Small cities famous for their Autumn leafs were not as attractive as Chicago or New York. Perhaps this has saved the old churches: they haven't been rebuilt into modern-yet-less-appealing ones, still engulfing the visitor with a nearly century-old splendor of stained glass windows. Out of the six Lithuanian churches ever built in Connecticut, four are still open, four have just recently been officially Lithuanian and three even had Lithuanian mass until some 2015 despite the community being third or fourth generation already. It's very different from Chicagoland where a far smaller percentage of Lithuanian churches survive, even though the number of Lithuanians is twice that big. Perhaps a more compact and more provincial life helped Lituanity to survive longer.

A massive Lithuanian chapel-post in New Britain

A massive Lithuanian chapel-post in New Britain, the city where the famous anti-Soviet partisan A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas hailed from

Putnam area - Lithuania outside Lithuania

Putnam town may have merely 9000 inhabitants and relatively few Lithuanians, yet it has become one of the most important Lithuanian-American centers.

The Lithuanian sites in Putnam grew around the Lithuanian female convent of Immaculate conception. Originally established in 1936, it gained importance after the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1940 and banned the monastic life there. At that time, the convent effectively became independent and sought to promote Lithuanian cause in addition to the religious cause. Lithuanian-Americans thus rallied around the convent, helping it to expand into a massive Lithuanian area both by their donations and their work. As those working there included the most famous Lithuanian-American artists, the Putnam area is full of top Lithuanian-American art as well.

The convent is centered around a chapel (1954) created by a famous Lithuanian painter Kazys Varnelis. Its stained-glass windows are especially Lithuanian, showing Lithuanian ethnic symbols and Lithuanian locations strong in Maryan veneration (the churches there and the coats of arms of these locations are depicted, among other symbols). The altar of the chapel is of the unique Varnelis's style. Near the entrance stands the statue of Our Lady of Šiluva (the earliest Maryan vision in Lithuania) created by a famous Lithuanian-American sculptor Vytautas Kašuba (the mosaic behind the sculpture was created by his wife).

Putnam convent chapel interior

Putnam convent chapel interior

The massive convent building adjoining the chapel once was full of Lithuanian nuns. However, after the independence of Lithuania, the convent did not attract new nuns and thus more and more of the rooms were used for other purposes, such as recollections of lay people. In any case, the key Lithuanian parts of the convent remained, including the Lithuanian museum and Lithuanian library, as well as Lithuanian artworks exhibited in the corridors.

Putnam convent Lithuanian library

Putnam convent Lithuanian library

Among the exhibits in the museum is the famous "Siberian book of prayers", published by the convent's nuns in 1959. This book by Adelė Dirsytė was written after her exile to cold and dreary Siberia by the Soviet occupational regime for her disapproval of communism. She wrote her hopes and prayers onto a manuscript in 1953 but only by 1959 could it go beyond the Iron Curtain (the author deceased in 1955 unable to withstand the harsh conditions after being moved to a lager). The prayer book has been a major success, it had been translated into many languages (even Chinese), had a massive circulation (450 000 Dutch books alone) and many issues (5 times issued in Germany), helping the world to learn about both the tragedy and determination of the Lithuanian nation. This is likely the most widely published Lithuanian book.

The Siberian book of prayers and other things of the Soviet-expelled Lithuanians in the convent museum

The Siberian book of prayers and other things of the Soviet-expelled Lithuanians in the convent museum. All the translations of the book are also available.

In addition to the Lithuanian-American artworks, the monastery (and its museum) has even more traditional ethnic artworks form Lithuania. During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, many Lithuanian-Americans felt it as a part of their mission to save such works by bringing them into the USA. For example, in the entry hall of the monastery stands a traditional Lithuanian wooden wayside cross smuggled from the Soviet-occupied Lithuania where such crosses were often destroyed by the atheist regime.

In addition to the buildings, the convent has rather massive grounds. In the forest near the grounds stands what is one of the most interesting and unique Lithuanian sites in the USA: Mindaugas castle built in a forest by a Lithuanian priest Stasys Yla who escaped into the USA after being a prisoner of the Nazi Stutthof concentration camp.

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

Mindaugas Castle in Putnam

Stasys Yla chosen the site after discovering a peculiar stone in the forest and built his castle around that stone. In its form, the castle is meant to remind the crown of King Mindaugas (the only Lithuanian king who lived in the 13th century). The castle interior was decorated by Lithuanian-American artists such as Kašubienė in mosaics and stained glass windows also reminding of the King Mindaugas, his wife, and his sons.

The interior of the Mindaugas castle in Putnam

The interior of the Mindaugas castle in Putnam with a mosaic of Mindaugas (left) and the stone aroudn which the building was constructed (center)

While the castle was built by priest Yla as a hobby and is not a chapel, currently it is sometimes used for prayer and is especially loved by the youth, for whom the rather mystical nature of the castle-within-a-forest may appeal more than regular chapels or churches.

One of the mystical stained glass windows within the Mindaugas castle of Putnam

One of the mystical stained glass windows within the Mindaugas castle of Putnam

The keys to the castle interior are held by the nuns of the convent. The convent itself is generally always open and may be visited. The convent grounds are not fenced and can be visited even without meeting the nuns.

Between the convent and Mindaugas Castle lies the small Gate of Heaven cemetery. Only the nuns, their relatives and the sponsors of the monastery are buried there. However, such sponsors includes many famous interwar Lithuanian figures, such as Magdalena Avietėnaitė, who had an almost unprecedented diplomatic career for a woman anywhere in the world at that time (famously, she was not given a higher diplomatic rank solely because the prime minister believed that "the Western world would not understand Lithuania if it would appoint a woman to such a rank"). Juozas Brazaitis (Ambrazevičius), the prime minister of the anti-Soviet 1941 June revolt, also used to be buried there (however, he has since been reburied in Lithuania). Of course, Stasys Yla's grave is also there.

Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Putnam

Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Putnam

The center of the Gate of Heaven Cemetery is marked by a stone monument with such Lithuanian phrases as "Don't forget us, oh the Highest one, and don't forget our dear Fatherland" ("Neapleisk, aukščiausias, mūsų ir brangios Tėvynės") by the famous poet Maironis. The fatherland mentioned here is Lithuania rather than the USA.

Also at the cemetery stands a large Lithuanian sun-cross that was originally located in New Haven near its now-closed Lithuanian church (see below). As one of the most well-surviving Lithuanian religious institutions, Putnam monastery collects Lithuanian monuments from the Lithuanian institutions that are closed down (especially the churches).

The Lithuanian sun-cross relocated to Putnam from New Haven

On the other side of the Mary Crest Dr from the convent stands yet another one of the America's top Lithuanian sites - the Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive (Museum). The archive is open to the public as a museum which has a great and diverse collection of Lithuanian-American art, including paintings, sculptures, and crafts. Famous Lithuanian-American artists such as Vytautas Kašuba, Kazys Varnelis, Kazimieras Žormosnkis, and Vytautas Kasiulis are represented (the latter two are famous enough to each have a museum dedicated to him in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania). Most of the art dates to the 1940-1990 era. Some of the art is dedicated to the Soviet occupation and its horrors. other art tries to convey the beauty of Lithuania that was inaccessible to the artists or depicts the scenes of Lithuanian Medieval history that served as an inspiration. Yet other art is not related directly to Lithuania but was still created by the top Lithuanian-American artists.

Crucified Lithuania, one of the Lithuanian artworks

Crucified Lithuania, one of the Lithuanian artworks at the Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive

The Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive is open by appointment. The building also includes a massive Lithuanian library. Even if you don't want to read these books, ask to access it as some of the better artworks are on the walls of the library rather than in the museum.

Lithuanian routing out the Bermontians in the wars of independence (ALKA collection)

Lithuanian routing out the Bermontians in the wars of independence (ALKA collection)

Sculpture of S. Kudirka

Sculpture of S. Kudirka. A topic in numerous ALKA paintings, he was the Lithuanian sailor of the Soviet navy who defected to the USA yet was given back to the Soviets, drawing many Lithuanian-American protests.

A historical painting by Kazimieras Žoromskis

A historical painting by Kazimieras Žoromskis

The Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive collection was largely amassed through donations and, currently, through legacies, as the descendants of Lithuanian-Americans who no longer speak Lithuanian and have little knowledge in Lithuanian art tend to donate all their dead parent's or grandparent's Lithuanian properties to a key Lithuanian institution, such as the Lithuanian-American Cultural Archive. The Archive reviews these donations and, if it already has similar books, re-donates them to those who ask (e.g. libraries in Lithuania). Artworks, on the other hand, are not re-donated, forever staying in what has become one of the key Lithuanian museums in the Americas.

Miniatures of traditional Lithuanian woodcarved crosses and chapel-posts in ALKA

Miniatures of traditional Lithuanian woodcarved crosses and chapel-posts in ALKA. Many Lithuanian-Americans have such crosses at home as symbols of Lituanity.

The archive was created by Monsignor Francis Juras, who used to be pastor of the Lithuanian parish in Lawrence, MA. He transferred ownership of ALKA to the Lithuanian Catholic Academy of Science. The institution is housed in a rather simple house that has been decorated with Lithuanian symbols. The wooden carvings have been brought in from a closed Lithuanian club in Boston; there are also the Columns of Gediminas and a chapel-post.

The exterior of ALKA

The exterior of ALKA

The nuns still care for the Jurgis Matulaitis Home for senior citizens somewhat away from the monastery. Initially started as an assisted living facility for Lithuanian-American seniors, the Home now has clients of all ethnicities. However, the interior is still pretty much Lithuanian with Lithuanian artworks on the walls. The Matulaitis Home's chapel was created by V. K. Jonynas, a famous Lithuanian-American church interior designer. However, it lacks visibly Lithuanian details. Jurgis Matulaitis himself is a Lithuanian arch-bishop who attained the blessed status (one of two Lithuanians to do so). His name and image are popular in Lithuanian-American religious institutions.

Matulaitis Home entrance

Matulaitis Home entrance with Lithuanian sun-cross on the top of the name

Jurgis Matulaitis is also famous as the effective re-founder of the order of the Maryan priests (at one time, he was the only surviving member of this Ancient order, yet the order flourished again due to his work and now has many members even in America). Maryan priests had their own convent near Putnam in Thomson, which has also served as the Marianapolis gymnasium for Lithuanian-Americans. Lithuanians from all over America would study in this boarding school, which had massive grounds and many buildings, retaining their Lithuanian language and culture that way. The school is still open, albeit transferred to lay people in the 2000s and now accepting all students (as the school is prestigious, there are many students sent in by rich Asian families).

The school's history is still visible, however. In the Marianapolis school grounds near the school stands the Grave of priest Jonas Navickas, instrumental for the school's history; it is one of the largest grave memorials for a Lithuanian in America.

Priest Jonas Navickas grave

Priest Jonas Navickas grave

In the massive Marianapolis school chapel there are Lithuanian exhibits, Our Lady of Vilnius painting and, the most strikingly, a large painting of Jurgis Matulaitis over the altar. This is actually the same painting that hanged in Rome during his beatification ceremony.

Marianapolis school chapel with a massive painting of Jurgis Matulaitis

Marianapolis school chapel with a massive painting of Jurgis Matulaitis

Maryan priests were actually those who helped the Lithuanian nuns to settle in Putnam, and some of the older buildings of the school grounds were used as the nuns' first convent before the current land was acquired.

Waterbury Lithuanian district

The city with most Lithuanians in Connecticut is Waterbury (2 500 out of 100 000). It has an entire Lithuanian district with a large red St. Joseph church, where a traditional wooden "chapel-post" stands in front (a form of ethnic art). The interior has stained-glass windows (with Lithuanian-inscriptions) that are among the most impressive in the East Coast Lithuanian churches. Originally, the interior of the church was even more impressive but it was simplified by overpainting much in white after the Vatican II church reforms. Moreover, originally, two impressive Baroque Revival Towers were planned for the Waterbury Lithuanian church which would have made it definitely the most impressive Lithuanian church in Connecticut. However, the community chose to build a massive Lithuanian school instead of the towers. The cornerstone of the church has a Lithuanian inscription "Szvento Juozupo lietuviszka bažnyczia" - this inscription still used the old semi-Polonized Orthography for the Lithuanian language with "sz" for a modern Lithuanian "š" and "cz" for "č".

Waterbury Lithuanian church

Waterbury Lithuanian church

An example of the stained glass windows

An example of the stained glass windows with Lithuanian inscriptions

A close-up of Waterbury Lithuanian church stained glass window with Lithuanian inscriptions

A close-up of Waterbury Lithuanian church stained glass window with Lithuanian inscriptions. Every Connecticut church has such elaborate Lithuanian stained glass windows.

Two rooms at the sides of the church work as improvized Lithuanian museum, showing Lithuanian memorabilia and the parish history. The original Lithuanian museum used to be at the Parish house, however, it was closed down by the parish's non-Lithuanian priest in 2017. The parish house, which once housed the masses in winter, is now largely devoid of Lithuanian atmosphere. As not all of the museum's exhibits fit into the two small rooms, many are crumbling in the church basement.

The Lithuanian parish house of Waterbury

The Lithuanian parish house of Waterbury

The first Lithuanian mass has been celebrated in Waterbury in 1894 (also the first in Connecticut) in a house not far from the church. The church built in 1904-1905, the oldest in Connecticut. Between it and the parish house stands an elaborate Lithuanian school building (1925), now closed and crumbling but still having Vytis in front, as well as Lithuanian inscriptions "For God and country" (architects Adam O'Connel, W. Show).

Waterbury Lithuanian school

Waterbury Lithuanian school

The nearby Green Street once had 3 Lithuanian clubs popularly named after the street number of their houses: one leftist (103), one nationalist (48), and one Catholic (Vyčiai). Only the Catholic Lithuanian Knights club is still open in a small wooden building which has many Lithuanian memorabilia inside (which is rarely open). On the outside, there is a Lithuanian flag plaque.

The interior of Lithuanian Catholic Knights club in Waterbury

The interior of Lithuanian Catholic Knights club in Waterbury

The leftist club closed the first (as the Soviet persecutions in Lithuania made the socialism less popular), only the Lithuanian word "VENTA" above the building entrance still reminding of its previous location (ironically, now the building houses a Pentecostal church).

The former leftist Lithuanian club "Venta" of Waterbury

The former leftist Lithuanian club "Venta" of Waterbury

The nationalist club burned down in the 2000s, however, advertisements on its former lot still offer to buy the garages to help it rebuild.

The site of the burned-down Lithuanian club in Waterbury

The site of the burned-down Lithuanian club in Waterbury

Waterbury also has a Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1902), the only one in Connecticut. Established by the atheists (there is even a gravestone with hammer and sickle), it was later blessed and used by the Catholics as well. The later graves often have Lithuanian ethnic symbols, such as Vytis. The inscription at the entrance declares it to be (in archaic Lithuanian) "A free graveyard of the unified Lithuanian societies" ("Lietuviu suvienitu draugiyu laisvas kapinynas").

The Lithuanian entrance to the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery

The Lithuanian entrance to the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery

A grave with hammer and sickle in the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery

A grave with hammer and sickle in the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery (on a pre-WW2 1935 grave)

A Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery grave with ethnic symbols

A Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery grave with ethnic symbols

Clubhouse of the burned-down Lithuanian national club stands at the cemetery entrance. The cemetery entrance gate is painted in the Lithuanian flag colors and a Lithuanian flag (together with the US one) is perennially waving above the cemetery.

Interior of the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery club

Interior of the Waterbury Lithuanian cemetery club at the cemetery

Away from the center, Waterbury has Brooklyn Bakery in one of its shopping parks. While the bakery is no longer Lithuanian-owned, it was once located in the Lithuanian district and it still has the historic photos of Lithuanians working at its former place inside, as well as an original table.

An image of Lithuanian workers of the Brooklyn Bakery before WW2

An image of Lithuanian workers of the Brooklyn Bakery before WW2

At its peak, Waterbury area had some 10 000 Lithuanians, 6 000 of them members of the Lithuanian parish.

Hartford Lithuanian church and monuments

Lituanity still exists in the state capital Hartford (pop. 124 000). Red gothic revival Holy Trinity Lithuanian church slightly reminds in its form the old French cathedrals. A nearby old house is a parish home; both US and Lithuanian flags are waving in front of it. The land has been purchased in 1900, the church constructed 1915-1928; parish school was open until 1964.

Hartford Lithuanian church and parish house

Hartford Lithuanian church and parish house with a Lithuanian flag

The church is two-floored, with the lower floor used as a parish hall for more secular matters. Outside of the church, a wooden traditional Lithuanian cross stands. It incorporates the image of Our Lady of Šiluva (a Maryan vision in Lithuania) in its design, with word "Šiluva" inscribed.

Hartford church's first floor Lithuanian hall

Hartford Lithuanian hall on the ground floor / basement of the church, an example of the Lithuanian ethnic halls which every Lithuanian-American church has. It is as large in area as the church ("religious hall") itself that is above it.

An even bigger Lithuanian traditional artwork of the UNESCO-inscribed Lithuanian cross-crafting art is located at the Hartford cathedral itself - a Lithuanian chapel-post. It has been constructed as part of a campaign by the Lithuanian priest John Rikteraitis to build numerous such Lithuanian shrines in Connecticut, mostly in front of the Lithuanian churches.

New Britain Lithuanian sites

Romance revival New Britain St. Andrew Lithuanian church (396 Church Street) dates to 1911, a recreation center is nearby. The interior of the church is especially pretty, as it was constructed to be a visual church that could show often illiterate Lithuanians of the early 20th century the stories of the Bible. The church is, however, locked outside of the mass and it is likely condemned to close in the upcoming years, the parish relocating to a much smaller and simpler church that looks like a house.

New Britain Lithuanian church

New Britain Lithuanian church

On a large parking on the opposite side of the street from the St. Andrew church stands a Lithuanian traditional wooden chapel-post (1995) surrounded by Lithuanian and US flags. It is arguably the prettiest of the Rikteraitis's commissioned Lithuanian shrines. It incorporates not only religious but also Lithuanian ethnic motifs, including the coat of arms, the Cross of Vytis and the ethnic patterns which are created of wood. Inside the "chapel" at the top is Rūpintojėlis, a traditional Lithuanian design of a sad Jesus. The chapel-post was erected for the 100 anniversary of the church and was designed by Gertrūda and Joseph Ambrozaitis.

Lithuanian chapel-post at New Britain

Lithuanian chapel-post at New Britain

The New Britain church is especially famous for having been a location where a leader of Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans Adolfas Ramanauskas "Vanagas" was Christened. His parents, like many Lithuanian-Americans who escaped the Russian Imperial regime that occupied Lithuania in 1795-1915, chose to return after Lithuania became independent in 1918, with Vanagas still a toddler. As fate decided, however, Vanagas was to suffer an even more terrible Soviet Russian occupation and was killed by the Soviets (who have also punctured his eye and cut his testicles in a torture long before the actual execution).

With Vanagas one of those Lithuanian-Americans who sacrificed the most for Lithuania, there was an idea to create a memorial plaque for him at the church. However, as many Lithuanian churches get closed down, there were doubts about the possible survival of such a plaque, thus the idea was replaced by that of a memorial to Vanagas in New Britain.

Next to the current Lithuanian church of New Britain stands the smaller previous church, more akin to a turn-of-the-20th-century single-floor home. It now serves as a John Rikteraitis friendship center for more secular Lithuanian events.

The former Lithuanian church of New Britain (now the Rikteraitis hall)

The former Lithuanian church of New Britain (now the Rikteraitis hall)

New Britain also had a Lithuanian club, of which only its name remains above a building entrance.

Ansonia Lithuanian church and monument

White towers of the St. Anthony church of Ansonia (199 North Main Street) were started in 1912 without a bishop permit (the bishop sought to unify Lithuanians into a non-Lithuanian parish). In 1915 permit has been granted by Vatican itself where the Lithuanians appealed; the church opened the same year. This shows just how much Lithuanians of the era wanted their own parishes which were important for their self-expression and preservation of culture. Unfortunately, the church was closed in 2015, becoming an Abundant Life church.

Ansonia St. Anthony Lithuanian church

Ansonia St. Anthony Lithuanian church

A Lithuanian monument adorned by the columns of Gediminas still stands in the yard of the former Ansonia Lithuanian church. Originally, this was one of the Connecticut's massive chapel posts, designed by Kęstutis Švelnys. However, its top part has been destroyed by bugs. The remainder, surrounded by a fence with Lithuanian ethnic motifs, is still impressive enough and bears a dedication to the founders of the St. Anthony Parish, workers and benefactors and the persecuted church (in the Soviet-occupied Lithuania), the nation of Lithuania, the USA and more. That is, it lists everything that was important to the Lithuanian-Americans of the 1970s who were a strong and still much-Lithuanian-speaking community.

Ansonia Lithuanian monument

Ansonia Lithuanian monument

New Haven Lithuanian church

New Haven St. Casimir church has been closed in 2005 and transformed into apartments. Quality reconstruction preserved the front facade (even the crosses) but the massive gable has been transformed by adding rooms on the sides. Nothing visibly Lithuanian remains there.

New Haven Lithuanian church

New Haven Lithuanian church

Bridgeport Lithuanian church

Bridgeport St. George church is still operating and, in fact, open most of the time, making it one of the easiest Lithuanian churches to visit without a prior arrangement (also, it is the Connecticut Lithuanian church closest to New York). Inside, one could see more Lithuanian details than in many churches of Lithuania, including Lithuanian inscriptions about benefactors incorporated into the stained glass windows, a Lithuanian chapel-post, Lithuanian words on the century-old altar cross ("Misijos atmintis 1913" - "Memory of a mission 1913"), Our Lady of Vilnius painting. All this despite the fact that the church is now mostly Hispanic. The Hispanic immigrants that came to the area and the remnants of Lithuanian community are on good terms, however, and the Lithuanian mass is celebrated once monthly.

Bridgeport St. George Lithuanian church

Bridgeport St. George Lithuanian church

The St. George church of Bridgeport had its basement constructed in 1912. As was common with the Lithuanian-American churches, the construction continued above the basement and once the top of the church was built (cornerstone with both Lithuanian and English inscriptions dedicated in 1923) the basement was turned into a large hall for more secular affairs of the community.

Bridgeport Lithuanian church interior

Bridgeport Lithuanian church interior. Lithuanian flag on the right.

Before that, there was a wooden Lithuanian chapel in Bridgeport since 1907. In a typical history of the era, the boundaries between Lithuanian and Polish communities were not clearly defined, and there used to be a Polish mass held for Polish-speaking Lithuanians, which the Polish priest from the Bridgeport's Polish parish asked to stop, claiming that all Polish-speakers are Poles and should come to his parish instead. The bishop supported the Polish priest establishing a linguistic boundary between, that is, Lithuanian-speaking and Polish-speaking parishes with not Polish mass allowed in Lithuanian parish and no Lithuanian mass in the Polish parish.

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Massachusetts

Massachusetts Lithuanian community is among the oldest and the fourth largest in the USA (~51 000 people, 0,8% of total).

The heart of the community is in South Boston where Lithuanian St. Peter church, clubs, and other institutions are located. Boston is also famous for having been the location where largest ever Lithuanian encyclopedia has been published.

In turn of the 20th century, Massachusetts Lithuanian communities also began in what were then industrial towns: Brockton and Worcester. Lithuanian Village was one of the hearts of Brockton and famous for its celebrations eagerly followed by non-Lithuanians as well. Worcester was the smallest US city outside Pennsylvania to have more than a single Lithuanian church.

Merrimack river valley and its long-gone textile industry made another Lithuanian heartland in towns of Lowell and Lawrence.

Beautiful Lithuanian church exists in Athol (Romance revival, 1912, still in use, 105 Main Street)

St. Francis church in Athol. Google Street View.

There are less Lithuanian institutions left in these towns today however as the communnity has not been replenished by new immigrants in 1950s and 1990s as was the case with Boston. Most Lithuanian churches have been closed in late the 2000s and sold to other denominations. They still stand however as do various monuments related to Lithuania. Some locations have names relating to Lithuania. Closed Lithuanian churches in small town Massachusetts include St. George at Norwood (built 1915, Polish seceded 1919, a convent was built 1955, closed 2004, converted into apartments).

The town of Stockbridge in the West of Massachusetts has few Lithuanians but it is the place of the National Shrine of Divine Mercy constructed in 1960 in support of the Divine Mercy worship which began in Vilnius.

Springfield, Massachusetts is the birthplace of Lithuania's national sport (basketball); the Basketball Hall of Fame there lists Arvydas Sabonis and Šarūnas Marčiulionis among the top players. Westfield, a suburb of Springfield, also has a former Lithuanian church.

St. Casimir church of Westfield, now a school. Google Street View.

Literature: Images of America: South Norwood, 2004, Norwood Historical Society, pg. 20-25

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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 (the publishing house still stand). After the 1990 independence, new immigrants from the 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 site

The massive red Gothic Revival building on the other side of the street of the Boston Lithuanian club once housed the Publishing house of the Lithuanian Encyclopedia, still commonly referred to in Lithuanian as the „Boston encyclopedia“. While nothing Lithuanian remains there, the building is surely worth a memorial plaque given its importance as the site where the world‘s first Lithuanian encyclopedia was published. Previously, the building was owned by a Lithuanian family and also had Lithuanian dances.

The building where the first Lithuanian encyclopedia was published

The building where the first Lithuanian encyclopedia was published

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

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Brockton, Massachusetts

Brockton currently houses a population of 90 000 but it was the world's main shoe manufacturing center in 1920-1935.

Like other industrial towns of the era, it attracted Lithuanians who even established their own district Lithuanian Village.

Moreover, Brockton has more memorials for Lithuanians who died for the Lithuanian freedom than any other comparable city of the USA (three in total, with the fourth one dedicated to Lithuanian World War 2 veterans).

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom in the Brockton Convent cemetery

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom in the Brockton Convent cemetery

Brockton also has a Lithuanian monastery and a cemetery.

Lithuanian village of Brockton

Lithuanian village was full of Lithuanian businesses: bakeries, shops, pharmacies, so much so that it was possible to live there without speaking English. To this day in internet forums, the inhabitants of Brockton remember it as one of the hearts of Brockton, while even the local media names it „Lithuanian village“, something rare in the USA where few districts are known officially or semi-officially as Lithuanian.

The center point of life there used to be the St. Casimir Lithuanian church (214 Ames St.). Originally established in the 19th century, it had its current main building built in 1957 over a 1914-constructed basement. This used to be a common way to build Lithuanian-American churches: expand them as more donations are received. The basement church even had a different name (St. Rocco). The priest used up the opportunity to change it by claiming that the church on top of the basement is, in fact, another church. In 1910 that basement church was the place where the Knights of Lithuania community was established. Under the slogan "For God and Motherland" it unites Lithuanian Americans from many states.

Brockton Lithuanian church

Brockton Lithuanian church

The church has been closed in 2008, however, and, in fact, the entire Lithuanian village gradually became non-Lithuanian even before that. The church building is now owned by a Black-majority church who acquired it for ~1 million USD (even though the property was valued at 3 million).

Next to the church, there still stands the largest and oldest of the Brockton‘s Monuments to those who died for the Lithuanian freedom. Erected soon after the Lithuania independence restoration in 1990 06 10, it consists of a red-white obelysk full of Lithuanian symbols (coat of arms, Columns of Gediminas and Cross of Vytis) as well as Lithuanian and English dedications. Some elements of the memorial have been, however, removed after the church was closed (including a metal sword). That‘s because the ground on which the monument stands has also been sold and the new owners may have destroyed the monument. Therefore, Lithuanian decided to move it elsewhere, but the monument proved to be too sturdy for that so they removed just some parts of the monument to a new monument in Avon suburb (see below). The fears that the monument would be destroyed were too far-fetched, however, as it still stands almost a decade later (although the flagpole is now devoid of Lithuanian flag).

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom near the Lithuanian church

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom near the Lithuanian church

The former Lithuanian village also has two more Lithuanian monuments, both reachable by a short walk from the church. One of them (also saved by the new owners of the nearby building where church‘s pastors used to live) is dedicated to Mssgr. Francis W. Strakauskas, a Lithuanian priest of the church, whose image appears on the memorial. It declares the area a Lithuanian Plaza. The second monument is dedicated to the Brockton Lithuanians who fought for the USA in World War 2. At the top of its surname list is Watslo W. Tukis (Vaclovas Tukis). A nearby playground is named Tukis playground after him.

Lithuanian Plaza memorial in the Brockton Lithuanian Village

Lithuanian Plaza memorial in the Brockton Lithuanian Village

Tukis playground with memorial for WW2 Lithuanian veterans in the foreground

Tukis playground with memorial for WW2 Lithuanian veterans in the foreground

Memorial to Lithuanians who died in World War 2

Memorial to Lithuanians who died in World War 2

Two more buildings in the Village still bears Lithuanian marks or names. One of them is The Lit pub, established in 1897 and closed in the 2010s after more than a century of service (the name remains). Another one is the St. Casimir Convent, which has a Lithuanian-styled sun-cross on top although is no longer serving its original purpose as a Lithuanian monastery.

The Lit bar in Brockton Lithuanian Village

The Lit bar in Brockton Lithuanian Village

The former St. Casimir Convent in Brockton Lithuanian village

The former St. Casimir Convent in Brockton Lithuanian village

In the past, the Lithuanian life of the Village was tremendous. Every Labour Day (First Monday of September) some 10 000 Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians used to come to Thatcher Street to a mass Lithuanian picnic. Such mass of people was used even by local politicians who would have come to tell their agendas. This tradition died out in some 1985 after the sale of alcohol and gambling was banned (there were attempts to reestablish it).

Many Lithuanians graduated from the local Parish school and nearby Franklin school. Community events (sport matches, gigs, picnics of surrounding Lithuanian parishes) used to be celebrated in Romuva park ("Romuva" means a Baltic pagan temple and is now used as a name for Baltic neo-pagan movement; in the time the park was established however it was likely not seen as a religious but rather as a historical/cultural name as evident by Christians using it). The park is now overgrown, however, and nothing reminds its Lithuanian history.

The once safe neighborhood is now inhabited by other ethnic groups and plagued by drugs and crime; more often than not it is referred to as "The Village" alone. Several generations old Lithuanian community however still remains in Brockton; some 2000 (1,4%) of town's inhabitants declared Lithuanian ancestry in 2000 census.

Brockton Lithuanian convent, cemetery and its monuments

Another historic heart of Boston Lithuanian community is its massive Lithuanian convent, the motherhouse of one of several orders of Lithuanian nuns that were established in the USA by Lithuanian women. Once especially prominent and housing ~100 nuns, it has merely ~4 now as the popularity of Lithuanian monastic life has dwindled in the recent decades.

Dwindling in numbers, the nuns also scaled back their work. The Joseph Bakshis Lithuanian museum of the convent has been closed, although convent still includes Lithuanian memorabilia. The buildings are not having Lithuanian details from the outside, however.

Lithuanian details (coat of arms) inside the convent

Lithuanian details (coat of arms) inside the convent

The nearby St. Joseph manor was a home for elderly Lithuanians cared for by the nuns. It is still open, although has been transferred outside of the Lithuanian community. It still has a Lithuanian cross at the entrance.

St. Joseph manor entrance with a Lithuanian sun-cross in Brockton

St. Joseph manor entrance with a Lithuanian sun-cross in Brockton

The most interesting location in the convent area is the small Convent cemetery, which has an elaborate grave sculpture of priest Urbanavčiius, who was the founder of this order of the nuns. It also has many nun graves and another of the Brockton‘s memorials for those who died for Lithuanian freedom. This one is the smallest and simplest (a stone with Lithuanian coat of arms engraved on it), but it has a Lithuanian flag perpetually waving over it. The monument was built here after the St. Casimir church was closed, in fear that the memorial there would be removed or destroyed. A cemetery was chosen for the memorial‘s location because nothing that has been constructed at the cemetery could be demolished according to the Massachusetts state law.

Nun graves at the Convent Lithuanian cemetery

Nun graves at the Convent Lithuanian cemetery

Priest Urbanavičius grave in the Convent cemetery

Priest Urbanavičius grave in the Convent cemetery

Lithuanian memorial at Avon

The third memorial to those who died for Lithuanian freedom has been constructed at the suburb of Avon (2011 North Street) near the St. Michael church where the believers from the St. Casimir Lithuanian church were expected to join after their church was closed.

The memorial is rather artful, incorporating the sword removed from the Lithuanian Village memorial.

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom in the Avon suburb

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom in the Avon suburb

The Avon St. Michael church also received various objects dear to Lithuanians from the old church (a stained glass window, sculptures), while some other things (e.g. pews) were donated to a new church in Tanzania.

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Worcester, Massachusetts

Worcester, 64 km westwards from Boston has a population of 180 000, ~2% Lithuanian (~4000). This is the 5th largest number of Lithuanians among all US cities (after Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia).

St. Casimir Lithuanian area

Massive Gothic revival St. Casimir Lithuanian church (41 Providence Street) offered regular services here from 1916 to 2009. Final mass was held in 2010 for Lithuanian independence day and the building was sold in 2011 to charismatic Christians for 650 000 USD. Altair and other sacred items were removed beforehand, but the St. Casimir‘s bust on the facade remains with the Lithuanian words „St. Casimir, pray for us“.

St. Casimir church. Its massive size and a hilltop location shows the size of Lithuanian community Worcester once had.

The St. Casimir bust on the St. Casimir church.

Former members of the parish (established in 1894) maintained a large informative website dedicated to the church which was created for an unsuccessful struggle against merging their parish with English-speaking St. John parish (now offline).
Interestingly, one of the priests of St. Casimir drowned with Titanic while arriving in the USA. He is said to have acted especially heroically there, giving up his lifeboat seat and helping the dying passengers.

Not far away from the St. Casimir church stands the former St. Casimir Lithuanian school which has a bas-relief of Lithuanian coat of arms and a Lithuanian inscription with its name on its facade. Today, however, it is a school for difficult children.

Worcester Lithuanian school.

An old Massachusetts tradition is to call intersections as „squares“ named after World War 2 veterans who lived in the area. As every Lithuanian church centered a small Lithuanian district, so there are at least three Lithuanian-named squares in the vicinity of St. Casimir: Miglauckas, Kirminas, and Maleskas.

Maleskas Sq. sign.

Kirminas Sq. sign.

Our Lady of Vilna Lithuanian area

Worcester was large enough to have a second Lithuanian church, gothic revival Our Lady of Vilna (153 Sterling Street, built ~1925). Today it serves the Vietnamese community indicating that the modern migration to America is mostly non-White, unlike that of the 1900s. Vietnamese-Americans have one thing in common with Lithuanian-Americans however: many of them immigrated after their country has been overrun by a communist invasion.

Our Lady of Vilna church in Worcester. It is the last so-named church in the USA.

Despite the ethnic change, the impressive interior of the church remains staunchly Lithuanian. There are more Lithuanian inscriptions here than in nearly every other Lithuanian church (even the saints behind the altar have their Lithuanian names written near their images). Some Lithuanians still pray at the church, although its institutions (school, parish hall) are now mostly used by Vietnamese. Lithuanian visitors are welcome.

Our Lady of Vilna church interior.

Gediminas street still exists in church vicinity (named after Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania, 1275-1341, traditionally held to be the founder of Vilnius). In fact, the entire hill the church proudly stands on used to be referred to as Gediminas hill (which is a locality in Vilnius). After all, the church was built in the times of Lithuanian-Polish conflict over Vilnius, this likely influencing the prevalence of the Lithuanian language and Vilnius-related symbolism.

Gediminas street sign.

Another testament to that is the memorial for 7 local Lithuanians who died in WW2 in front of the church. Those people died for the USA rather than Lithuania, yet the memorial also has Lithuanian inscriptions and the names of the veterans are written in Lithuanian, with Lithuanian characters and without the changes imposed by the US immigration authorities.

Memorial for Lithuanians die din WW2.

Not far away from the Our Lady of Vilnius church is the building of Lithuanian club, which is adorned by bas-reliefs of both American and Lithuanian coats of arms. Worcester Lithuanians built everything in a way that even after losing their buildings the decor still reminds of the history.

The former Lithuananian club in Worcester.

Maironis Park in Shrewsbury

The suburb of Shrewsbury includes Maironis park (52 South Quinsigamond Avenue), named after the famous Lithuanian patriotic poet of 19th-century national revival. This is a building rented out for celebrations (including Lithuanian holidays).

The building has a rather plain exterior as the historic club which stood here burned down several decades ago. The interior of its replacement, is, however, rather grand, as it includes Lithuanian paintings on its wooden walls. These were painted by a Lithuanian-American Rūkštelė who lived within the premises while he worked.

Some of the Lithuanian scenes at the Maironis Park hall.

Next to Maironis park stands a Memorial for those who died for Lithuania adorned in patriotic symbols (Columns of Gediminas, Vytis (the coat of arms), two Crosses of Vytis). Built in 1978, this memorial initially stood at the St. Casimir church. However, it was relocated after the church was sold in fear that the new owners would have destroyed it otherwise.

Memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom at Maironis park.

In 2010 the Worcester municipality recognized its partly Lithuanian roots by twinning with a town of Ukmergė in Lithuania.

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Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts

Lawrence, Lowell and Haverhill are the towns of the Merrimack Valley, especially famous for its textile mills ~1900. The textile mills attracted many Lithuanians, making the area especially rich in historic Lithuanian sites.

Among the most unique Lithuanian sites in the area are the Lithuanian national cemetery (non-Roman-Catholic) and a district of Lithuanian-named streets. There are numerous Lithuanian monuments, Lithuanian churches (all closed) and Lithuanian cemeteries.

The flags over the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery

The flags over the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery, surrounding the memorial to Lithuanian immigrants.

The massive red-brick factories themselves are an impressive sight in many Merrimack valley towns. A sight that was unavailable in Lithuania itself of the era: it was precisely the Russian czar‘s decision to leave Lithuania an agricultural hinterland that made the Lithuanians who sought for industrial jobs to migrate away to places such as the Merrimack valley.

A former textile factory in Lawrence

A former textile factory in Lawrence

Lawrence, the Lithuanian heart of Merrimack Valley

At the center of the Merrimack Valley stands its most Lithuanian city Lawrence (pop. 70 000). It is known as the "immigrant city" for the numerous early 20th-century European migrant communities.

Nearly every ethnicity built its own church in Lawrence (giving it an alias of „city of churches“). Lithuanians constructed two churches (both now closed).

The first one was the usual Roman Catholic St. Francis (94 Bradford Street), currently used as a Christian Belessini Academy (Lithuanian mass was transferred to Corpus Christi parish in 35 Essex street). Nothing outside reminds of its Lithuanian past, although a Lithuanian stained-glass window and a plaque with church historu remains inside (which is closed to visitors).

St. Francis Lithuanian church of Lawrence

St. Francis Lithuanian church of Lawrence

The second Lithuanian church of Lawrence, constructed in 1855 (Garden Street 150), used to be owned by an independent Lithuanian National Catholic Church of Sacred Heart which has acquired it in 1917. This has been a unique denomination established in early 20th century by Lithuanians which considered itself Catholic but denounced the authority of Roman Pope (thus they are not Roman Catholics). Lithuanian National Catholics had their cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania (still operational) and Lawrence was its only other longer-lasting parish. The former National Catholic church has been sold again in 2001 (to the Haiti Baptists), however, the plaque „Lithuanian National Catholic Church“ still remains near the top of the building‘s front facade (it is bleached in the sun and barely legible).

Lawrence National Catholic church

Lawrence National Catholic church

Lawrence's Methuen suburb still has a Lithuanian National Catholic Cemetery (est. 1917), the final resting place of the parish. They could have been buried neither in the unsanctified Protestant cemetery ground nor together with the papal followers, that's why they established their own cemetery. Some graves are especially old with prie-modern Lithuanian words, as well as Anglicized or Polonized Lithuanian surnames (as was common in the early 20th century when US migration specialists would set the orthography of an immigrant‘s surname). The National Catholic cemetery has received a nice arch in ~1997 and a memorial to Lithuanians who fought for the USA in 2016 (with both Lithuanian and English inscriptions). ~100 Lithuanian US forces veterans are buried in the cemetery, their graves marked by the small US flags. A free-standing plaque explains the cemetery history, adorned in the Lithuanian flag motif.

Entrance arch of the Lithuanian national cemetery

Entrance arch of the Lithuanian national cemetery

World War 2 memorial for Lithuanian National Catholics war veterans of Lawrence area

World War 2 memorial for Lithuanian National Catholics war veterans of Lawrence area

The cemetery is supported and beautified by the money received from selling the church. At the center of the cemetery stands a Lithuanian National Catholic altar at which the National Catholic holy masses used to be held, followed by picnics. The altar consists of Jesus Christ statue; it has no Lithuanian inscriptions. Today the cemetery also accepts Ukrainian interments and Lithuanians given them some ground.

Lithuanian National Catholic altar at the Methuen Lithuanian National Catholic cemetery

Lithuanian National Catholic altar at the Methuen Lithuanian National Catholic cemetery

Methuen suburb also has a unique-in-America area where, near Forrest lake, entire district has its streets named in Lithuanian. There are Palanga, Varniai, Kaunas, Luoke streets (all named after Lithuanian cities), as well as Birute street (named after a Duchess of Lithuania) and Vytis street (Vytis being the Lithuanian Coat of Arms). This was the former resort area owned by the St. Francis church, which the Roman Catholic church had swiftly sold for residential construction after disestablishing the parish. Varniai, Palanga, and Birute streets are the largest ones, their names appearing on numerous plaques, postboxes, etc.

Postboxes with Birute and Palanga street names

Postboxes with Birute and Palanga street names

Lawrence is also famous as the first US city to recognize Lithuanian independence in 1990 04 03. A plaque commemorating this has been installed in 2000 inside the pretty Lawrence City Hall in the downtown (first floor; accessible to all visitors during the working days).

Plaque commemorating the independence recognition in Lawrence city hall

Plaque commemorating the independence recognition in Lawrence city hall

In a park on the other side of the street from the Lawrence City Hall stands the Bread and Roses Strike memorial which commemorates the 1912 strike of Lawrence textile workers that famous for successfully achieving some of its goals. Among the strikers were Lithuanians; one of their names, Jonas Smolskas, is inscribed on the monument because he was one of three victims of the strike, beaten to death by the strike opponents for wearing a symbol associated with the strikers.

Bread and Roses strike memorial in Lawrence

Bread and Roses strike memorial in Lawrence

Both the Lawrence recognition of Lithuanian independence (including the plaque commemorating it) and the memorial for the strikers were inspired or funded by the local Lithuanian historian Jonas Stundžia, famous within the Lithuanian-American community, who has worked much to further the Lithuanian goals in the USA (his name is also engraved on the strikers memorial).

Plaque on the strike memorial with Jonas Smolskas and Jonas Stundžia mentioned

Plaque on the strike memorial with Jonas Smolskas and Jonas Stundžia mentioned

Lowell Lithuanian memorial, church and club

10 km further west from Lawrence along the Merrimack river lies the town of Lowell (pop. 100 000), a kind of Lawrence's twin in terms of its size, number of factories and number of Lithuanians.

In 2012 a commemorative stone to local Lithuanians has been unveiled near Lowell municipal building. It includes a Lithuanian coat of arms, the Lithuanian word for Lithuania (Lietuva) and the engraving of an ethnic strip. It has joined numerous other such stones erected by other Lowell immigrant communities. A square there is surrounded by the flags of every nation from where a significant part of the Lowell populaiton came, including Lithuania.

Memorial stone for Lithuanians near Lowell City Hall

Memorial stone for Lithuanians near Lowell City Hall

Lowell Lithuanians also had their church (dedicated to St. Joseph 151 Rogers Street). Built on 1911 it has been closed on 2003 and transformed into apartments. The cornerstone retains an inscription „St. Joseph‘s Lithuanian R. Cath. Church 1911“, however.

Lowell Lithuanian church

Lowell Lithuanian church

Cornerstone of the Lowell church

Cornerstone of the Lowell church. Cornerstones like that are often the final reminder of building's original purpose

Until 2017 Lowell had a Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas club named after the famous Lithuanian leader under whose rule Lithuania was the largest medieval European state. Opened in 1920 the club moved to its current location at 447 Central Street in 1966 and its entrance is still adorned by a Lithuanian flag and a pre-modern Lithuanian abbreviation of its name DLKV (it is unclear for how long as the building will become a laundry). The club was established by the leftists as an alternative to the Lithuanian parishes (after all, the parishes themselves were like ethnic clubs to Lithuanians, as they had many secular activities). However, over the time such clubs would start cooperating with parishes, as the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and the Soviet genocide there discredited the Marxist ideas among the Lithuanian-Americans. It was sold due to high costs (~14000 USD / year) becoming unbearable for a sensescent community.

Grand Duke Vytautas Club in Lowell

Grand Duke Vytautas Club in Lowell

Haverhill Lithuanian sites

Haverhill east of Lawrence is the smallest of the „Lithuanian“ Merrimack Valley towns.

Its best-surviving Lithuanian site is the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1921).

Old entrance stone to the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery

Old entrance stone to the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery

A Lithuanian flag perpetually waves above the cemetery together with the US flag. A Memorial for Lithuanian imigrants stands at their feet, erected in 2000 by the Gedymino club („Gedyminas“ being an old spelling of the Lithuanian Grand Duke‘s name today spelled as Gediminas). The cemetery itself is owned by the club and is notable by large land lots next to the graves, due to which there is little land for new burials.

Gedymino club memorial to the Lithuanian immigrants in Haverhill cemetery

Gedymino club memorial to the Lithuanian immigrants in Haverhill cemetery

Haverhill Lithuanians also had their own Lithuanian church. However, the district where the church stood became a ghetto and the church is now abandoned and derelict. It is possible to look inside through the broken windows and still see some surviving stained glass windows, but nothing else reminds the church‘s Lithuanian history.

Haverhill Lithuanian church

Haverhill Lithuanian church

The ravaged interior of the Haverhill Lithuanian church

The ravaged interior of the Haverhill Lithuanian church

The church building was constructed in 1892, however, it was acquired by Lithuanians ~1910.

Other Merrimack valley

A little north Nashua, New Hampshire is also considered a part of the Merrimack valley. That textile town has its own Lithuanian heritage (described at the New Hampshire article).

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Baltimore, Maryland

The largest city of Maryland Baltimore is a traditional industrial city and has an old prewar Lithuanian community.

Facade of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Facade of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Lithuanian churches of Baltimore

Centrally located gothic revival St. Alphonsus Shrine (114 West Saratoga Street) with its three-stage 73 m bell tower is one of the most impressive Lithuanian churches in America (and higher than any church in Vilnius). Built in 1844, it is also the oldest one - predating even most of the US famous stately buildings.

St. Alphonsus Lithuanian church in Baltimore

St. Alphonsus Lithuanian church in Baltimore

In the mid-19th century, there were few Lithuanian Americans as serfdom was not yet abolished in the Russian-occupied Lithuania, limiting freedom of migration. So the Shrine has been built by the German community and used to be called "German cathedral" before being sold to burgeoning Lithuanian parish in 1917 when Germans were moving out of the district. The new church expedited Lithuanian settlement and the neighborhood received its "Little Lithuania" nickname.

St. Alphonsus Lithuanian shrine in Baltimore interior

The interior of St. Alphonsus shrine in Baltimore

In 1973, the St. Alphonsus Church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995, it was styled a "Shrine". It is famous far beyond the Lithuanian community as one of the church‘s German-era pastors was St. John Neumann, the first American male saint (his room is recreated at the church). Even during the Lithuanian era, St. Alphonsus shrine has been successful at attracting non-Lithuanians as well, using slogans such as „Baltimore powerhouse of prayer“. English and Latin (Tridentine) mass are celebrated here these days (with Lithuanian mass canceled in 2017). Therefore, it is easy to get in the church nearly every day.

The altar of Baltimore Lithuanian church with the Lithuanian flag on the left

The altar of Baltimore Lithuanian church with the Lithuanian flag on the left

The non-Lithuanian origins of the church, however, means that there are quite a few Lithuanian details in its impressive interior. The church‘s right side-chapel has a „Siberian rosary“ created by Lithuanians who were expelled to Siberia by the Russians in the 1940s out of meager possessions they had left: breadcrumbs and their own hair. There is also one Lithuanian stained-glass window in the sacristy. The World War 2 memorial plaque near the church's entrance has a very long list of Baltimore Lithuanians who served the USA in WW2. At the left of the altar, there is a Lithuanian tricolor and St. Casimir among the statues of the saints.

Siberian Rosary at the St. Alphonsus Shrine

Siberian Rosary at the St. Alphonsus Shrine

Like the other US downtowns, Baltimore has been affected by white flight; most Lithuanians left for suburbs as well. In 1950, Baltimore had a population of 950 000; in 2010, it was 621 000 (63% Blacks, ~2000 Lithuanians), the crime rates are high, so the St. Alphonsus shrine has fewer parishioners although Lithuanians drive from the suburbs. The massive St. Alphonsus school has been closed (the building still stands in front of the church, though nothing Lithuanian remains there). In total, Maryland has 18 000 Lithuanians.

Before they bought the St. Alphonsus shrine Lithuanians had their parish of St. John the Baptist at 308 N. Paca St. (1905-1916). That parish was later Italian and now replaced by St. Judas shrine.

Even earlier, Lithuanians prayed at what is now the Lloyd Street synagogue (1888-1905). They have acquired it from Jews and then sold it back. Currently, a Jewish museum operates there, but its exposition also includes some information about the building‘s Lithuanian history as well as an illegible Lithuanian-era graffiti on a basement column.

Lloyd Street synagogue (former Lithuanian church) in Baltimore

Lloyd Street synagogue (former Lithuanian church) in Baltimore

Lithuanian Hall-Museum of Baltimore

After the acquisition of St. Alphonsus shrine, a Lithuanian Hall was opened in the locality for secular events in the year 1921 (until 1968, the building was known solely by its Lithuanian name Lietuvių namai; 851-853 Hollins St.). The Doric design is by Stanislaus Russel and the Lithuanian coat of arms Vytis is proudly hanging above the main entrance and on the top.

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Vytis at the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall (another one is above)

Vytis at the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall (another one is above)

Since 1978, the Hall houses a Lithuanian museum (3rd floor), which is now the most interesting place of the building for visitors. There, one may see a replica of a Lithuanian folk home, learn about the folk traditions and Lithuanian history, as well as about the history and life of Lithuanian-Americans: see the items they used in the protests against Soviet occupation, the straw figures early Lithuanian-Americans created from drinking straws (as the grass straws they used for their folk art back home were not readily available in the US cities) and so on. The museum is open by appointment and it is recommended to go there guided by someone who knows what is exhibited as the written explanations are somewhat limited.

Entrance to the Baltimore Lithuanian museum

Entrance to the Baltimore Lithuanian museum. The symbol is of Iron Wolf, instrumental in the myth of the foundation of the Lithuania's capital Vilnius

Lithuanian hut at the Baltimore Lithuanian museum

Lithuanian hut at the Baltimore Lithuanian museum

The crosses that used to symbolize the victims of January 13th (1991) massacre when brought at the protests at Washington Capitol

The crosses that used to symbolize the victims of January 13th (1991) massacre when brought at the protests at Washington Capitol

Lithuanian traditional Christmas decorations made of drinking straws in the Lithuanian museum of Baltimore

Lithuanian traditional Christmas decorations made of drinking straws in the Lithuanian museum of Baltimore

Additionally, the three-floored building has an art-nouveau-style 1500-seat events hall (2nd floor) decorated in a very Lithuanian way (with the coat of arms of Lithuanian cities, etc.). The basement has an equally Lithuanian-decorated bar and pool room, open on Fridays only.

The main hall of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

The main hall of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Side wall of the main hall of the Lithuanian Hall

Side wall of the main hall of the Lithuanian Hall, adorned by Lithuanian ornaments and coats of arms of the Lithuanian cities

Workshops of traditional ethnic arts and crafts (e.g. Easter egg painting) are possible. Lithuanian Hall also houses the Lithuanian National Library. It has been established 1908, merely 4 years after the Lithuanian language was legalized in its Russian-ruled homeland after a 50-year-old ban. This is the oldest ethnic minority library in America. Active entertainment of Baltimore Lithuanians includes an ethnic dance troupe, seniors club, internet radio. Unlike Lithuanian Halls in some other cities which closed down with a decline in attendances, the Baltimore one is successfully attracting non-Lithuanians as well to its hip dancing nights.

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall basement bar

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall basement bar

On the opposite side of the Lithuanian Hall, there is a Little Lithuania Park named so after the alternative name for the entire district. In its center stands an impressive Lithuanian monumental composition of three crosses: two leaning ones on the side and a straight chapel-post in the center. At their feet is a land art stylized Lithuanian coat of arms.

The Lithuanian sculptural composition at the Little Lithuania park

The Lithuanian sculptural composition at the Little Lithuania park

Historically, Lithuanian Halls were typically run by secular Lithuanians who were less active (or not active) in the churches, but for decades there are no such distinctions.

Frank Zappa statue

Baltimore is the birthplace of the famous 20th-century singer Frank Zappa (1940-1993). Interestingly, 2 years after musician's death (1995) his statue was unveiled in downtown Vilnius (capital of Lithuania) by a group of fans. At the time, Lithuania had just restored independence (in 1990) and was eagerly embracing libertarianism, thus such initiative was not opposed by urban planners. The news about the statue became a US media sensation back then and F. Zappa statue became popular among foreign tourists in Vilnius. In 2008, Vilnius municipality decided to gift a copy of the famous statue to Baltimore where it has been erected on the corner of Conkling Street and Eastern Avenue. Among its sponsors were famous Lithuanians such as the singer Vytautas Kernagis, businessman Hubertas Grušnys and more. The sponsors, including the Vilnius city, are listed on the bottom of the monument.

Frank Zappa statue in Baltimore

Frank Zappa statue in Baltimore

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Cleveland, Ohio

The 14 000 – strong Cleveland‘s Lithuanian community dates to the 19th century.

Within the city limits, you may find old St. George church (1921, 6527 Superior Avenue). Towerless massive building is similar to the St. Anthony in Detroit. It has two stories with a church hall on the upper floor and a former school downstairs. Unfortunately, there are no more pupils in its classes and the last Mass in the church itself was celebrated in 2009. Saving money Cleveland Diocese the closed the church. At that time it was the oldest Lithuanian parish in the USA (established 1895).

Diocese planned to sell the building and the surrounding lot which also includes a historical 19th cnetury house for at least 220 000 USD, but it had to reduce price to merely 11 000 USD. This is the reality of cities like Cleveland where decayed urban centre is unsafe since the 1966 race riots and subsequent white flight. The buildings were acquired by Community Greenhouse Partners which will use the area for urban agriculture. Yes, in the rapidly depopulating cities like Detroit and Cleveland cheap land is regularly acquired for gardens. The new owners plan to renovate the church building and grow food on its roof.

St. George Lithuanian church. On the right, the glasshouses are already visible as this dilapidated city district is meant to become countryside again. Google Street View.

The closure of Lithuanian church in Cleveland failed to spark protests akin to those in other communities influenced by the church-closure spree. This is because there was another Lithuanian church in Cleveland – Our Lady of Perpetual Help (18022 Neff Rd) which remained open as a newly-united (2009) St. Casimir Lithuanian parish. The Mass is celebrated there in both Lithuanian and English. The sharp-cornered church building was constructed in 1960s after the influx of some 4 000 displaced (exiled) persons from the Soviet-occupied Lithuania. The parish itself is older, but formerly it had been using a simple house as a church building.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help (St. Casimir) Lithuanian church, the last such in Cleveland. Like many of the post-WW2 Lithuanian churches, it combines extensive buildings with a relatively simple modernist design. Google Street View.

Away from the churches, a Lithuanian Community Center (877 E 185) houses a Lithuanian Gintaras restaurant, bar, lounge and party center. Various Lithuanian memorabilia and crafts are kept inside. Like the new church, the Community Center has been built in 1973 after the refugees moved in and many Lithuanians resettled east of downtown.

Lithuanian Village Community Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Google Street View.

In the All Souls Cemetary (Chadron suburb of Cleveland) the President of Lithuania Antanas Smetona (his main term was in 1926-1940) is buried. He is very important in Lithuanian (and Baltic States) history and entire era of his rule is typically called the Smetonic era. It was an era of prosperity followed by the tragedy of World War 2 and Soviet occupation when hundreds of thousands Lithuanians were murdered, exciled or had to flee Lithuania. Antanas Smetona also fled Lithuania to the USA, where he died in house fire in Cleveland in 1944. Lithuanian Americans had various opinions about Smetona at the time as some disliked him for his authoritarian rule. Among his policies were the clampdown on communist and nazi terrorist movements (the first anti-nazi trials in the whole Europe).

Cleveland Rockefeller park has a collection of ethnic gardens for each of the city’s ethnic communities. A Lithuanian garden blooming there is one of the oldest, established in 1930 (together with the Italian, German, Slovak and Ukrainian gardens). The garden has three levels; the upper level has Lithuanian flag and the fountain of duchess Birutė (legendarily a pagan priestess) surrounded by busts of 19th century Lithuanian National Revival poets who called for Lithuania to be independent once again and romantically sought inspiration in the last era Lithuanian was truly free (the Grand Duchy era). The poets are priest Maironis (built 1961) and Vincas Kudirka (built 1938), the author of Lithuanian National Anthem. The middle level has the Pillars of Gediminas, a patriotic symbol related to Grand Duke Gediminas. The lowest level has a bust of Jonas Basanavičius, known as the "Patriarch of the Nation" this scholar is frequently credited the most for the restoration of Lithuanian statehood in 1918 (bust erected 1936).

Upper terrace of the Lithuanian Cultural Garden in Cleveland which feels like an interwar Lithuania: because of the symbols, people whose busts are erected and landscaping aesthetics. Google Street View.

Cleveland also has Telshe yeshiva (Jewish religious school, 28400 Euclid Avenue), named after the Lithuanian town of Telšiai. This is a continuation of the original Telšiai yeshiva, opened in 1875 and closed after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 (due to the Soviet atheist policies). As it happened, two of the Telšiai yeshiva's teachers were collecting donations for their yeshiva among the US Jewry at the time. Given the circumstances, they decided not to return to Lithuania but establish Telshe yeshiva in Cleveland instead. It became an important US haredi institution; in 1960 another Telshe yeshiva was opened in Chicago.

Entrance to Telshe yeshiva. Google Street View.

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Washington, DC

Washington, DC is the political heart of the United States. Moreover, for 50 years (1940-1990), it was also the political heart of Lithuania. In that era, Lithuania was occupied by foreign powers: Soviet occupation lasted 46 years. The USA never recognized this act of aggression so the Lithuanian embassy in Washington (622 16th St., N.W.) continued to represent the independent Lithuania - in fact, Lithuanian embassy in Washington was, to some extent, its de facto government. Among its jobs in that era of hardship was to lobby the USA to support the Lithuanian freedom.

Embassy's causes were eagerly supported by the Lithuanian-Americans. They built a lavish Our Lady of Šiluva chapel that was meant to introduce Lithuania to the casual Americans.

These sites are also joined by the famous Lithuanian graves, of which there are numerous in the Washington cemeteries.

Lithuanian embassy in Washington

In addition to its aforementioned Cold War role, the Lithuanian embassy in Washington is also the oldest Lithuanian representation abroad. Lithuanians acquired this 5-floored towered Spanish Baroque villa in 1924 (6 years after establishing independence in 1918). Relations with the USA have always been of utmost importance to Lithuania because of the extensive Lithuanian-American community (193 600 people in 1930 or 6% of contemporary Lithuania's population). This community always provided a great help in advancing Lithuanian political and economic aspirations.

Lithuanian Embassy in Washington

Lithuanian Embassy in Washington with a large poster of the coat of arms. Cuban embassy is on the right, the building that replaced part of the Lithuanian-embassy-building is on the left.

In 2008, the Lithuanian embassy received a new wing, doubling its size (1116 sq. m to 2488 sq. m). The old wing is now used primarily for ceremonial purposes. It is housed in the authentic building by architect George Oakley Totten, Jr completed in 1909 for senator John B. Henderson (although half of the building was demolished in 1965), inspired by the Palace of Monterrey in Spain. The building initially served as Danish and Swedish legations. However, only half of that original building remains, with the other half torn down.

At the time of the embassy acquisition in 1924, this area was a prestigious „embassy row“. During the 1970s, however, the location turned into an unsafe ghetto. Most other embassies relocated, but, understandably, the then-occupied Lithuania had no funds to do so (even the renovations of the embassy, like the one at 1982, required fundraising among Lithuanian-Americans, as the occupied Lithuania could not have supported its embassies). However, staying put proved to be a wise decision in the long run, as the area gentrified in the 2000s.

Throughout its history, Lithuanian embassy has been located next to the Cuban embassy, the narrow alley between them being a kind of Cold War front at the time when Cuba became communist while the Soviet occupation and Soviet Genocide made Lithuania extremely anti-communist. Ironically, the Lithuanian embassy was incidentally damaged by anti-communist Omega 7 activists who targetted the Cuban legation in 1979.

Inside the Lithuanian embassy in Washington, the most lavish room is ceremonial hall on the second floor. This hall is used for the official events in the embassy.

The historic events room of the Lithuanian embassy in Washington

The historic events room of the Lithuanian embassy in Washington

The second most interesting room is in the embassy‘s „tower“. That room is said to have been loved by Stasys Lozoraitis, the long-term Lithuanian representative in the USA in the Cold War era. The room is unheated and unconditioned, so it sees little use today, however.

The tower room of the Lithuanian embassy

Th tower room of the Lithuanian embassy

The embassy may be visited during the Open House events yearly, and, according to embassy employees, anytime by a prior request. An information plaque in front of the building describes both its history and the story of Lithuanian independence restoration.

Lithuanian chapel in America‘s largest church

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and the tallest building in Washington, DC (100 m). Built in a period of 41 years (1920-1961), the National Shrine is also famous for its many chapels dedicated to the ethnic communities of the USA and their original homelands. Lithuanian chapel is named after Our Lady of Šiluva, the earliest church-recognized apparition of Virgin Mary in Europe (Šiluva village, Lithuania, year 1608).

The Lithuanian chapel from outside

The Lithuanian chapel from the main nave of the basilica

However, her large statue (which stands on top of a stylized Šiauliai‘s Hill of Crosses) forms just a small part of the enormous chapel, where artworks are not meant to convey religion alone, but also to represent Lithuania to Americans at the time of great trials and tribulations.

Stylized Hill of Crosses under the statue of Our Lady of Šiluva

Stylized Hill of Crosses under the statue of Our Lady of Šiluva

While the chapel is introduced by the guides of the free Shrine-tours, only some of the many motifs are explained. Here we explain more.

The mosaic on the left side of the chapel depicts, among other things, traditional wooden churches and belfries of Lithuanian villages, a Lithuanian chapel-post, a Rūpintojėlis (traditional Lithuanian image of a sad Jesus), the „school of sorrows“ (secret Lithuanian home-school at the time Lithuanian language had been banned in the 19th century Russian-ruled Lithuania) and a secret Holy Mass during a time of the Russian-led anti-Catholic religious persecutions in Lithuania. The slogan above the mosaic says, in Lithuanian „Please save, oh the Highest, that beloved country“.

The mosaic on the right side of the chapel depicts, among other things the Vytis (coat of arms) with a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross marching against the Medieval crusader force, the coronation of King Mindaugas (the Lithuania‘s sole church-recognized recognized king), Saint Casimir (the only Lithuanian saint), various famous buildings of Lithuania, ranging from churches to the castle of Gediminas and Vilnius city gates, and the coats of arms of Lithuania and Vilnius. The slogan above the mosaic says, in Lithuanian „Let your sons draw strength from the past“ (this is part of the National Anthem lyrics).

A fragment of the right-side mosaic at the Washington Lithuanian chapel

A fragment of the right-side mosaic at the Washington Lithuanian chapel

The vault of the chapel depicts four greatest Maryan sites in Lithuania and their Mary paintings.

The vault of Our Lady of the Šiluva chapel in Washington

The vault of Our Lady of the Šiluva chapel in Washington

The fresco above the main entrance depicts emigration (a Vytis of Lithuanian coat of arms going across the ocean from the grave of the unknown soldier in Kaunas, Lithuania to the Freedom statue of New York).

The emmigration artwork

The emmigration artwork. The slogan declaring "for God and Fatherland" is very appropriate for the chapel's decor

Lithuanians constructed this chapel in 1966. It may well be said that the permit to build it was miraculous in itself, as Lithuanians were sidelined originally but received the right after one other community backed off (having been unable to raise the money). Currently, many American communities have their chapels in the National Shrine, yet most of them have chapels in the basement where they can be only small. Merely a few communities have large main-church chapels like the Lithuanians do.

Graves of the famous Lithuanians in Washington

Washington, DC has never been an industrial city so it failed to attract a larger Lithuanian community. Therefore, save for the largely ceremonial chapel in its National Shrine, it lacks a Lithuanian church. Lithuanian mission with monthly mass operates at Epiphany parish (2712 Dumbarton St., NW) since 1985, however.

Despite this, Washington (its suburbs, to be precise) has no shortage of famous Lithuanian graves.

The Lithuania-related famous soldiers are buried in the Arlington National Cemetery while the civilian cemeteries have many graves of those Lithuanians who fled the Soviet Genocide in the 1940s, were accepted by the USA as refugees and chose Washington as their residence.

In Arlington, the most famous graves are that of Walter Sabalauski (original Lithuanian: Vladislovas Sabaliauskas), who is far more famous in the USA than Lithuania as he spent most of his life there and fought in numerous USA‘s wars. An air assault school was named after him and his regular gravestone is in the book of top Arlington graves.

Walter Sabalauski grave in Washington

Walter Sabalauski grave in Washington

The Arlington grave of Samuel J. Harris, on the other hand, is more famous among Lithuanians. He is the sole non-Lithuanian-American who has died for Lithuania. This happened in 1920 when he was part of the US soldiers dispatch to Lithuania to train its newly-established army, as it fought an uphill struggle at its War of Independence against Poles, Russian imperialists, and Russian communists. Communists were those who shot Samuel Harris in Kaunas. Afterwards, Lithuania built him a pretty Arlington gravestone with both Lithuanian and USA coats of arms and paid his wife a pension. During the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Harris‘s grave served as a site of Lithuanian-American events, presumably aimed at inspiring the USA to help Lithuania once again.

The Lithuanian side of Samuel Harris's grave

The Lithuanian side of Samuel Harris's grave

The American side of Harris's grave

The American side of Harris's grave

Another area for famous Lithuanian graves is the Cedar Hill cemetery beyond the Washington DC limits in Baltimore. There, the famous Lithuanian-American poet Henrikas Radauskas lies, known for his decisively urban poetry. As per the cemetery rules, only his surname could have been inscribed on the gravestone but an overgrown grave plaque has a citation of his poem (translation: „and the blooming of a green leaf you have taken with you“).

Henrikas Radauskas's grave

Henrikas Radauskas's grave

Statesman Kazys Škirpa was another interee at the Cedar Hill (his pretty grave with the Columns of Gediminas is empty now, however, as his remains have been reinterred in Kaunas after independence). Kazys Škirpa was one of the masterminds of the 1941 anti-Soviet June revolt. While the revolt was successful and the Soviets fled, the Škirpa‘s dreams of being able to reestablish a free Lithuania were too far-fetched as Lithuania was swiftly occupied by the Nazi Germany, who effectively put the would-be-prime-minister-of-Lithuania Škirpa at a house arrest in Berlin and, as he continued to demand independence, he ended up a political prisoner in the Nazi Germany. Freed after World War 2 ended, he fled to the USA, where he led the pro-Lithuanian-freedom movement at one time.

Kazys Škirpa's grave

Kazys Škirpa's grave

Škirpa‘s grave is surrounded by other Lithuanian graves, all of them adorned by Lithuanian symbols (such as Vytis and the Iron Wolf). Further up the hill lies the Lithuanian linguist Leonardas Dambriūnas who helped publish the first Lithuanian-language encyclopedia in Boston.

Lithuanian traces in the National Mall

While there is no Lithuanian-American memorial or museum in the Washington‘s famous central National Mall, there are Lithuanian traces.

Among the aviation pioneers described in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum are the Lithuanians Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas, who became instant martyrs in Lithuania after their New York-Kaunas flight failed near its destination.

Darius and Girėnas image in the Smithsonian museum

Darius and Girėnas image in the Smithsonian museum

The sculpture garden near the Air and Space Museum has a statue „Figure“ by Lipchitz, a Jewish sculptor from Druskininkai, Lithuania. The Smithsonian Holocaust museum has images of Eišiškės town Jews.

Sculpture by Lipschitz in the National Mall

Sculpture by Lipchitz in the National Mall

You may also search for Lithuanian names on the famous Vietnam war memorial, where all the Americans who died at this war are listed (however, take note that far from every Lithuanian-American had a Lithuanian surname by that time).

A memorial that is more important to Lithuanians is the memorial of 100 million communist victims, which also, by its nature, commemorates over half a million ethnic Lithuanians who perished under the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and Lithuania Minor. Sadly, the memorial is very small and even such a monument took many years to build, this depicting the rather sad situation with the commemoration of communist-genocides victims in the USA, which is often opposed by the world powers such as Russia.

Lithuanian partisan re-enactors at the communism victims memorial

Lithuanian partisan re-enactors at the communism victims memorial

Lithuanian organizations in Washington

Washington, DC and its suburbs house various pro-Baltic umbrella organizations such as The Joint Baltic American National Committee (est. 1961) which unites Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian members. These three nations have been united by history as all three suffered Russian Imperial, German and Soviet occupations.

One organization that is not Lithuanian but is inherently related to Lithuania is the Voice of America, the studios of which may be visited on tours. Created as a radio station to present the information from the free world to the nations behind the Iron Curtain, the Voice of America have been popular in Lithuania as well. Currently, however, there is no longer a Lithuanian-language programming in Voice of America as Lithuania itself now has a free media.

Voice of America building

Voice of America building

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Indiana

Northern Indiana was absorbed by suburban Chicago - "Lithuanian-American capital". Some Chicagoans moved in there.

The heart of Lithuanians in Indiana is the resort town of Beverly Shores near the famous Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan. 12,5% of its ~700 inhabittants are Lithuanians. In 1968 a local park was renamed after Lituanica plane; a statue for Darius and Girėnas who piloted that aircraft in a doomed first air mail voyage accross Atlantic also stands here (1971, author Juozas Baltakis). Tennis and basketball courts, a pond are nearby. Beverly Shores also have a Lithuanian club.

Nearby city of Gary once had a Lithuanian St. Casimir church (closed ~2000). Old modest two-floored building survives (1368 West 15th Avenue) and is still crowned by corsses but today it operates as an independent Power and Light church.

Former St. Casimir church of Gary, Indiana of a design that incorporated religious and secular needs into one building and was typical to smaller Lithuanian communities. Google Street View.

East Chicago also had its Lithuanian church (demolished, formerly 3903 Main Street) and still has a street named after Lituanica.

In 1976 Lithuanian community has also been established in the state capital Indianapolis. Indianapolis is among the growing US cities, expanding its population fourfold since the first Lithuanian wave of immigration ~1910. That's why back then it had no Lithuanians but in 1990s it attracted new immigrants rejuvenating the community. There is a Lithuanian school and band.

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