Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

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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St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois

St. Louis is one of the great historic metropolises of USA which were developed in the 19th century while gradually settling the Western plains of American continent.

Mississippi river which straddles the city served as a premodern freight highway. Industry developed along it attracting European migrants, including Lithuanians.

Church of Immaculate Conception at East St. Louis (1509 Baugh Ave) is one of the best examples of Lithuanian-American national romantic architecture. It has been designed by Jonas Mulokas, its interior was created by V. K. Jonynas. Together these two authors created the post-WW2 style of Lithuanian churches where they sought to represent their lost homeland as best as they could (after all the post-WW2 migrants have been forced from their country by Soviets rather than emigrating on their own will).

Immaculate Conception Lithuanian church of East St. Louis is among the best examples of Lithuanian-American search for a modern ethnic style. Google Street View.

The forms of the church aren't resembling any single historical style but they are not modern either. Even the Christian church elements have been "ethnicized" here: the cross is mixed in form with sun and moon (inspired by peasant or even pagan Lithuanian symbolism), windows are formed as crosses of Vytis while the tower is inspired by Baroque although not copying it directly (this is symbollic as at the time Baroque was regarded to be the most Lithuanian of Western styles due to its prevalence in Vilnius church architecture). East St. Louis Immaculate Conception church looks is similar to the All Saints Lithuanian church in Chicago and also has similar elements to the Nativity BVM church of Chicago (all three have been created by the same tandem of architects/designers/sculptors and had even a master thesis dedicated to them in Kaunas university). Lithuanian mass is still held here every Sunday.

Further east the suburb of Collinsville has a small white church built by Lithuanian Lutherans in 1903, known as the Jerusalem Lutheran church (305 Collinsville Ave). It is still open although no longer Lithuanian. It has been also organized by the victims of Russian occupation but the earlier Imperial (1795-1915) rather than the Soviet one (1940-1990). The pastor who established this church previously worked as book smuggler in Lithuania, importing Lithuanian books into Russian-occupied Lithuania at the time the Russian regime banned Lithuanian language.

Collinsville Jerusalem Lutheran church

Collinsville Jerusalem Lutheran church. Google Street View.

St. Louis metropolis straddles accross two states as the Missouri/Illinois borderline here follows the Mississippi river. Both the aforementioned Lithuanian communities are located on the Illinois side but the Missouri side (which also has the St. Louis downtown) also had its own Lithuanian church dedicated to St. Joseph, built in 1915 in the historic Lafayette Square district famous for its turn-of-the-century architecture (address: corner of Park Avenue and MacKay Place). Small, looking as if built of stones, the church has been closed in 1970 when Lithuanians left the then-poor neighborhood.

St. Joseph Lithuanian church in Lafayette Square.

St. Joseph Lithuanian church in Lafayette Square. Google Street View.

Source on Lutheran church.

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Springfield, Illinois

Chicago is both the largest city of Illinois and the largest city of Lithuanian Americans. However, Springfield (the capital of Illinois) also has some Lithuanian history.

Springfield once boasted a St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian church (built in 1909 on the corner of 8th and Enos streets). It was simple and towerless, surrounded by various Lithuanian clubs and collectives. Despite the opposition of the parishioners in has been closed in 1972 and torn down in 1976 (replaced by a parking lot). It was the final ethnic parish of Springfield.

Not far away from the location of the church, on the corner of 7th and Enterprise steets (near Enos park) a memorial plaque has been built in 2012 with the following text on it, telling the story of Springfield Lithuanians: "LITHUANIANS ARRIVED EN MASSE DURING SANGAMON COUNTY’S COAL BOOM. NUMBERING SEVERAL THOUSAND WITH THEIR FAMILIIES BY 1920, THEY FLED POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS REPRESSION, CONSCRIPTION, POVERTY, AND A TOTAL BAN ON THEIR LANGUAGE IN THE CZARIST RUSSIAN EMPIRE. IN 1908, AT 8TH AND ENOS ST., THEY BUILT THEIR “NATIONAL” CATHOLIC CHURCH, ST. VINCENT DE PAUL’S, WHICH FOR 63 YEARS WAS A FOCUS OF LITHUANIAN LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY. IN 1917, THE CHURCH WAS CALLED THE MOST IMPORTANT “MELTING POT” IN THE CITY WITH 1,200 SUNDAY WORSHIPERS. IMMIGRATION RESTRICTIONS, COAL MINE CLOSURES, AND ASSIMILATION TOOK THEIR TOLL ON LOCAL EUROPEAN ETHNIC GROUPS AFTER 1920. HOWEVER, THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL’S ONLY GREW WHEN LITHUANIA WAS ANNEXED BY THE SOVIET UNION IN 1940 FOLLOWING 22 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE. WITH FREEDOM IN THE HOMELAND AGAIN EXTINGUISHED, LITHUANIAN IDENTITY ABROAD ASSUMED A MORAL IMPERATIVE. NATIONAL FEELING ALSO WAS REINFORCED BY A LOCAL INFLUX OF WORLD WAR II REFUGEES UNDER THE U.S. DISPLACED PERSONS ACT OF 1948. AND, IT PERSISTED DECADES AFTER ST. VINCENT’S BECAME SPRINGFIELD’S LAST “NATIONAL” CHURCH TO CLOSE IN 1971. IN 1988, A DARING “SINGING REVOLUTION” IN LITHUANIA (1987-91) INSPIRED 439 LOCAL LITHUANIAN-AMERICANS TO FORM A NEW CLUB TO CELEBRATE THEIR HERITAGE. LITHUANIA WAS RESTORED TO INDEPENDENCE WITH THE BREAK-UP OF THE SOVIET UNION IN 1991.

SPONSORED BY THE BAKŠYS, CHERNIS, COLANTINO & URBANCKAS FAMILIES; LITHUANIAN-AMERICAN CLUB; IN MEMORY OF MARIJA JOMANTIENE, MECYS & ANTANAS VALIUKENAS, VITA & DARIUS ZEMAITIS."

A long-time US congressman senator Richard Durbin (born to a Lithuanian mother) has lived in Springfield. He supported the memoral plaque and visited Lithuania on numerous occasions, supporting its independence before 1990.

It was that rebirth of Lithuania which united Springfield Lithuanians once again and made them to establish a Lithuanian Club. Currently this community has one of the more informative websites and due to its activity the memorial plaque has been erected.

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Waukegan, Illinois

Waukegan city north of Chicago has a Lithuanian Hall (constructed 1929, 901 S Lincoln Ave) that had been once used for Lithuanian events and meetings of Lithuanian organizations. Since ~1985 it serves Hispanic immigrants and is known as "La Hacienda Del Norte".

Former Lithuanian Hall in Waukegan. Google Street View

St. Bartholomew Lithuanian church stands to the north of Lithuanian hall. In 1896 this parish was established as joint Polish-Lithuanian, however Poles were detached as the numbers of Lithuanians increased by 1903. The current building dates to 1938 (the previous one burned down in 1933). After cosolidation of parishes in 1991 and 2009 the only external inscriptions outside the building are now English and Spanish, naming the location "Holy Family Parish".

St. Bartholomew Lithuanian church in Waukegan. Google Street View

Lithuanians were among the largest communities of the pre-WW1 and interwar industrial Waukegan (together with Finns and Slovenes). Unlike other communities, they were not divided among religious and non-religious. However as the industries in Waukegan closed the town effectively became a suburb of Chicago and is currently inhabitted mostly by Latin Americans.

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Rockford, Illinois

Rockford, Illinois's third largest city, has the Rockford Lithuanian club (716 Indiana Ave). It is located in the southern part of the city that was once populated by Lithuanians.

Lithuanian club in Rockford. Google Street View

The importance of Lithuanians in Rockford is also marked by the fact that Rockford ethnic heritage museum (1129 S. Main Street) has dedicated one of its six galleries to Lithuanians (the other five are dedicated to far larger US minorities: Blacks, Irish, Italians, Hispanics and Poles).

Rockfor Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church (617 Lincoln Avenue), constructed in 1911, has been transferred to Blacks in 1985 and to Hispanics in 1992. Currently most of masses there are celebrated in Spanish.

Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church in Rockford. Google Street View

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Westville, Illinois

In the early 20th century Westville was a coal mining town. The majority of its population of 2500 were ethnic Lithuanians. After the mines were closed, many of them left to Chicago. However, Lithuanians make up 4,7% of the local population of 4500 even today. The town has a Lithuanian cemetery (Cemetery Rd., Unionville; est. 1909 m., entrance is marked by words "IN MEMORY OF MIKE "RED" LAITAS"). Old tomstones have many archaic Lithuanian inscriptions (such as "Iliarus Urniezius mire 29 Rugsejo turedamas 66 metus amziaus paejo is Laumenu kaimo Kaltinenu parapijos, Taurages apskricio. Lai buna lengva sios salies zemele ilsetis. Mire 20 rugs. 1920 m.", translation: "Iliarus Urniezius died on the 29th of September at 66 years of age; he came from Laumėnai village of Kaltinėnai parish, Tauragė district. Let the ground of this country be easy for him to rest! Died 20 Sep. 1920").

Despite its very small size Westville had two Lithuanian churches. Unfortunately, both have been destroyed. Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic church was built 1897, closed 1989. Holy Cross old-style Catholic church (they did not recognize the decisions of Vatican I) was established in 1914 (in a former presbyterian church, 221 W. Main St., closed ~1960, demolished ~2000, the bell moved to Lithuanian cemetery while the former parish house now used as a residence). A short book has been published on the Lithuanian interreligious conflicts of the era: "A Short History of a Big Lithuanian Row in Westville, Illinois". It also describes a suicide / murder of priest Mikalauskas.

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Spring Valley, Illinois

Spring Valley Lithuanian Liberty cemetery (est. 1914) are infamous in Illinois as a haunted place. Supposedly strange events usually happen at the musoleum of three butcher brothers Massock (built 1920). Supposedly, even murders took place there while visitors often see a man with an axe.

Spring Valley also had a St. Anne Lithuanian church (closed ~1960).

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in western Midwest

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Western Midwest (Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana).

More info in Lithuanian heritage in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin.

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