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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.

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Shenandoah and southern Coal Region, Pennsylvania

The Southern Coal region of Pennsylvania is known as "Little Lithuania". It's not only that many Lithuanian Americans inhabit its towns. This region had also been especially important for the Lithuanian cultural history, being the place where the first Lithuanian novel was published. Almost every town here has (or had) a Lithuanian church, cemetery, and club(s).

Memorial plaque for Little Lithuania in Shenandoah

Memorial plaque for Little Lithuania in Shenandoah

The Lithuanian churches impress with their lavishness (especially when you know that everything was created by the donations of poor coal miners). In the Lithuanian cemeteries, there are many old gravestones and monuments with Old Lithuanian inscriptions on them telling the stories of these immigrants. The region even has locations that are important to the history of Lithuania, not just Lithuanian-Americans, as well as numerous buildings with Lithuanian symbols in the facades.

Mount Carmel Lithuanian school facade with Vytis

Mount Carmel Lithuanian school facade with Vytis

The surrounding countryside has numerous closed derelict closed coal (anthracite) mines which lured all those Lithuanians in during the 1860s-1910s era. The towns are notable for their straight streets and high density of buildings. They were built that way to use up less of the valuable mining land. Nowadays, however, the population density is much lower and many buildings are derelict. The towns are surounded by abandoned mines and the artificial hills of mining remains.

Hazleton Lithuanian church

Hazleton Lithuanian church

Currently, the local Schuylkill county is the most Lithuanian one in the entire USA, with Lithuanians making 5% of local population. The locations with most Lithuanian heritage are Shenandoah itself, Shenandoah Heights, Frackville, Mahanoy City, Mount Carmel, and Tamaqua.

Coal breaker under demolition near Shenandoah

Coal breaker under demolition near Shenandoah. It was among the last surviving such massive buildings that once employed many Lithuaians

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, that had the longest Lithuanian history 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 and the fact that it was the only church in the town built on solid ground, the diocese decided to tear it down. Lithuanians who collected money to list the church as heritage decided to spend it on a commemorative plaque for the Shenandoah's "Little Lithuania" (Main and Centre streets corner).

Shenandoah St. George Lithuanian church site and its image

Shenandoah St. George Lithuanian church site and the church's image

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 (its publishing house „Dirva“ stood at 15 W Oak St, whether the same building still stands is unclear). 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.

Location where the first Lithuanian novel was published

The location where the first Lithuanian novel was published

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.

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 have been comparatively few new migrants until 2000s (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! Likely, Shenandoah had more Lithuanian businesses than any city within Lithuania itself, where businesses were generally dominated by the ethnic minorities (Jews, Germans, Russians, and Poles) at the time.

Shenandoah Heights Lithuanian cemeteries

The glory of the era may be glimpsed in six Lithuanian cemeteries of the town, located in the nearby Shenandoah Heights. This is the largest number of Lithuanian cemeteries at a single location anywhere in America. St. George Lithuanian cemetery is the oldest one with burials 1892-1934. The entrance has a Lithuanian inscription, while one of the graves not far from the entrance belongs to the first Lithuanian priest in America Rev. Andrius Strupinskas (marked by a small new plaque to be easily discovered).

In this cemetery, like in most of the Coal Region Lithuanian cemeteries, it is often better not to search for particular graves but rather wander looking at the old gravestones, reading their inscriptions, many of them in pre-modern Lithuanian and see the multitude of surnames: authentic Lithuanian, anglicized Lithuanian, polonized Lithuanian... After all, many of the immigrants were illiterate and their surnames would be written down by the migration officers as they heard them. Thus "Antanas Jonauskas" became "Anthony Yanousky", "Adomas Sinkevičius" - "Adam Sincavage", etc.

 St. George Lithuanian cemetery entrance in Shenandoah

St. George Lithuanian cemetery entrance in Shenandoah

Our Lady of Calvary Lithuanian cemetery born in 1911 out of the conflict between the priest and parishioners in the interwar St. George parish. The parishioners established their own cemetery and, having taken control of the church, even rang the bells for the funeral processions going there (the priest refused to participate in such funerals).

An old grave in Our Lady of Calvary Lithuanian cemetery

An old grave in Our Lady of Calvary Lithuanian cemetery

Conflicts like that were especially common in the early Lithuanian-American churches (~1880s-1930s), as Lithuanians who donated money for their construction did not trust that priests (some of whom weren‘t very priestlike) would take a good care of it (they feared, for example, that the Lithuanian mass would be cancelled in favor of Polish or English), so they requested that the property would remain theirs. The Roman Catholic Church, however, required the buildings be transferred to the church.

Among the key reasons for such battles was the fact that in the 19th century, Lithuanians (and thus Lithuanian-Americans) were divided between the very religious ones and those who regarded the Lithuanian identity to be more important than Catholic identity. In the Coal Region, however, both groups went to churches, as the Lithuanian churches were both religious and secular institutions where Lithuanians would meet (also engaging in folk dances after the mass, etc.). For that second group, the secular activities mattered far more than the religious ones; these „secular Catholics“ of Shenandoah even criticised priests for too long religious ceremonies. The priests regarded these people as lost souls, and this second group was prominent among the activists for the secular-rule of the churches.

Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church got hold of the St George‘s church after numerous court battles, and the Our Lady of Calvary also became officially Catholic. Today, however, it seems that the secular activists of ~1900 have been right, as the church has been demolished and its stones may still be found at the western end of the Our Lady of Calvary Cemetery. Initially, the church promised that it would build a symbolic belfry for Lithuanians out of these stones, but has reneged on its promises since.

Church materials at a Shenandoah Lithuanian cemetery

Church materials at a Shenandoah Lithuanian cemetery

There are three more Lithuanian Catholic cemeteries in Shenandoah. In Our Lady of Lourdes Lithuanian cemetery, the most impressive memorial is that for Aleksandras and Viktorija Semenis, in the form of Lourdes, with Lithuanian inscriptions. The interwar Our Lady of Fatima Lithuanian cemetery boasts a Lourdes-inspired grave of priest Rev. Mssgr. Joseph Anthony Karalius, who served as Shenandoah‘s Lithuanian pastor for 41 years and is credited for achieving the final victory against the secular activists in a battle for the church property.

Semenis family Lourdes in Shenandoah

Semenis family Lourdes in Shenandoah

 Priest Karalius Lourdes in Shenandoah

Priest Karalius Lourdes in Shenandoah

Shenandoah Our Lady of Dawn Lithuanian cemetery is usually misnamed in English: the correct translation would be „Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn“, referring to the miraculous painting of Virgin Mary in the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, Lithuania. There, the entrance gate with Lithuanian inscriptions and bas-reliefs is the most impressive.

Entrance to the Our Lady of Dawn cemetery

Entrance to the Our Lady of Dawn cemetery

Our Lady of Dawn Lithuanian cemetery in Shenandoah

Our Lady of Dawn Lithuanian cemetery in Shenandoah

Lithuanian bas-relief in the Shenandoah Our Lady of Dawn cemetery

Lithuanian bas-relief in the Shenandoah Our Lady of Dawn cemetery

Moreover, Shenandoah Heights has a small and old Liberty Cemetery of the Supreme Lodge of Lithuanians in America (est. 1900) served the similarly named local organization; it has ~50 of its members buried. The organization was related to Jonas Šliūpas, who was a leftist so critical of the church that his followers typically established alternative institutions to the Catholic institutions altogether. As such organizations died off (with post-WW2 Lithuanians turning against leftism due to the Soviet Genocide in Lithuania), the cemetery became abandoned.

The southern side of Shenandoah Heights offers a great view of the Shenandoah town. Once, this view was dominated by the twin towers of the massive St. George Lithuanian church. The church is well-remembered as a key landmark of Shenandoah and even some advertising billboards ask the passers-by to remember it.

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).

A street in Mahanoy city, a typical town of Shenandoah coal region

A street in Mahanoy city, a typical town of Shenandoah coal region

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.

In many of the area's towns you may see the images and names of the local war veterans posted on poles. By looking at these names you may easily see the percentage of Lithuaians in the area, as nearly everybody whose surname ends in "-as" or "-is" is a Lithuanian. Those who have surnames ending in "-auski" are also Lithuanians, while those with "-owski", "-awicz", "-avich", "-avage" and similar-sounding surnames may be both Poles and Lithuanians.

Frackville Lithuanian district, museum and cemetery

One of the cities that cherishes the Lithuanian heritage the most is Frackville (pop. 4000 today, 8000 in 1930). It has an entire district of Lithuanian institutions around the Annunciation BVM Lithuanian church in Frackville. A Lithuanian inscription „Apreiškimo parapija“ still greets at the door and „Apreiškimo Panales Švenč Banyčia 1934“ adorns the cornerstone, although the church is now irregularly used. The interior includes stained-glass Windows with Lithuanian inscriptions, Our Lady of Vilnius painting, while the tower is crowned by a Lithuanian sun-cross. As the church is no longer officially a Lithuanian parish, some more Lithuanian details were removed (a recurring story in the Southern Coal region).

Frackville Lithuanian church

Frackville Lithuanian church

The nearby Lithuanian Museum and Cultural Center welcomes visitors (with prior arrangement). Established in 1982, it offers artifacts of the 19th-century Lithuanian immigrants, the once-cherished Lithuanian memorabilia which the Lithuanian-Americans were able to somehow acquire from the far-away and later Soviet-occupied Lithuania. This includes various manifestations of Lithuanian folk arts and crafts: kanklės traditional musical instrument, traditionally painted easter-eggs (margučiai), straw ornaments, traditional crosses. Some of them have actually been created by local Coal Region Lithuanians, many of whom have actually never even visited Lithuania but still cherish the traditions passed on by their forefathers who may have immigranted ~1900. The museum also hosts exhibits explaining the Lithuanian-American life of the Coal Region (e.g. the symbols of once-numerous fraternity organizations). If you visit with somebody who knows the exhibits well, they could tell you many more stories, e.g. the exhibited funeral photos used to be sent through the Iron Curtain in order to inform on who is dead and who is alive at the time in the family without triggering censorship.

Frackville Lithuanian museum sign

Frackville Lithuanian museum sign

Inside the Frackville Lithuanian museum

Inside the Frackville Lithuanian museum

 Fraternity symbol in Frackville museum

Fraternity symbol in Frackville museum

A Lithuanian rally in the 1920s

A Lithuanian rally in the 1920s as it appears in a Frackville Lithuanian museum image

Frackville Lithuanian district‘s Annunciation BVM parish hall (1957) hosts the Lithuanian Days since 1914 - this is the oldest ethnic festival in the USA. It is also mentioned in the new commemorative plaque. Before the Lakewood Park closed, the festival used to take place there (1922-1984). It used to be extremely popular, with 13 trains bringing people there (Lithuanian-Days-related memorabilia is also part of the museum exhibits).

Away from its Lithuanian district, west of the town, Frackville hosts a large Frackville Lithuanian cemetery where not only Frackville Lithuanians but also Lithuanians from some other Lituanian parishes used to be buried. Nominally, it consists of several cemeteries.

Entrance to the Frackville Lithuanian cemetery

Entrance to the Frackville Lithuanian cemetery

Mahanoy City: Lithuanian church, bank, and publishing house

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 St. Joseph Lithuanian church, the area‘s oldest Lithuanian church (erected 1888-1893). Unlike in the other towns, all the Mahanoy City parishes have been consolidated into the Lithuanian church in 2008 so it is the Lithuanian church that continues to be open, albeit renamed after Mother Theresa of Calcutta who visited it in 1995. Such parish consolidations, however, often mean that the one remaining church is renovated, thus losing some of its original ethnic details. For example, all the saints of the closed Mahanoy City churches have been painted over the altar, and new frescos have been created all over the church. One Lithuanian thing remaining in the church is its stained-glass Windows. However, these are not the authentic 19th-century stained-glass Windows. Most of these were replaced by new ones in the mid-20th century – while the surnames of the donors are still Lithuanian, the inscriptions themselves are not as, by this time, the Coal Region Lithuanian community increasingly spoke English as its first language. Only near the chorus, the original windows with Lithuanian inscriptions survive.

Mahanoy City Lithuanian church

Mahanoy City Lithuanian church

The interior of the Mahanoy City Lithuanian church

The interior of the Mahanoy City Lithuanian church

Mahanoy City has been famous once as the location where the world‘s-highest-circulation Lithuanian newspaper „Saulė“ was published. Its massive three-floored wooden publishing house (1916) still stands, albeit is derelict (the newspaper had its final issue in 1959 as the Lithuanian language use declined in the area; it had been established in 1888). Nevertheless, the building is impressive even from the outside.

"Saulės" lietuvių laikraščio leidykla

Saulė ithuanian newspaper publishing house

The facade of Saulė publishing house

The facade of Saulė publishing house

Lithuanians also had a Lithuanian bank in Mahanoy City, which stays rather untouched as well (even the safe is still there). Interestingly, the bank has been established by a priest as, at the time, minority banking was considered to be a social service more than a business, as the American banks often refused to lend to the immigrants. While there are no Lithuanian details on the bank building, the exhibits inside include the Lithuanian ones. The inscription on the building top says „1903-1923“.

 Mahanoy Lithuanian bank (the one with arched window)

Mahanoy Lithuanian bank (the one with arched window)

 The interior of Mahanoy Lithuanian bank

The interior of Mahanoy Lithuanian bank

Mahanoy City had even more Lithuanian buildings: the Lithuanian school has been demolished in 2010 (closed down in 1972), however, while the Lithuanian convent still stands, however, there are no Lithuanian details there.

Outside of the town limits to the south, amidst the other cemeteries, stands the St. Joseph Lithuanian cemetery, the most important grave there is that of the Bočkauskas family, the publishers of „Saulė“. Interestingly, on some of the family epitaphs the surnames are written in Polonized (Bockowski) and some in prie-modern Lithuanian orthography (Boczkauskas), likely showing the rift that existed between those Lithuanian-Americans who emphasized their Lithuanian identity and those who preferred Polish as the „elite language“.

The grave of Publisher Bočkauskas family in Mahanoy City

The grave of Publisher Bočkauskas family in Mahanoy City

Saulė publisher grave in Mahanoy City

Saulė publisher grave in Mahanoy City

Maizeville and Girardville: Lithuanian churches and a street

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 - however, the parish, even though already dominated by American-born Lithuanians, decided to adopt a more Lithuanian name for the new building. On the inside, they have commissioned many Lithuanian details which are condemned as the church has been closed and is for sale now.

Maizeville Our Lady of Šiluva Lithuanian church

Maizeville Our Lady of Šiluva Lithuanian church

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 that once served as a highway on-ramp; after the highway closed, the name of the nearby church was given to it). Unfortunately, the street sign no longer remains.

Maizeville Our Lady of Šiluva boulevard

Maizeville Our Lady of Šiluva boulevard

Girardville's (pop. 1500 today, 5000 in 1930) St. Vincent de Paul church is one of the final 3 remaining regularly open (ex-)Lithuanian churches in the southern Coal Region of Pennsylvania. The city‘s first Lithuanian 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). The current brick English gothic revival church has been built in 1926, its lavish interior simplified in 1978 with Lithuanian stained-glass windows. Although no Lithuanian mass has been held for long the parish celebrated its Lithuanian minority heritage until its closure. The beautiful stained-glass windows remain, including one with a Lithuanian flag and the Cross of Vytis symbol. There are many Lithuanain surnames written under various works of art as those of their donors. 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. While the parishes were consolidated, the church is allowed to work.

 Girardville Lithuanian church

Girardville Lithuanian church

 A stained-glass window at the Girardville Lithuanian church

A stained-glass window at the Girardville Lithuanian church

Further south: Lithuanian heritage at 209 road

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

Tamaqua town has the third still-open Lithuanian church (St. Peter and Paul, 307 Pine St.), which also an impressive example of Lithuanian modern art as it has been crafted in its entirety by a famous Lithuanian-American sculptor-architect V.K. Jonynas (1976) in his unique style. The tower is crowned by a Lithuanian sun-cross. The Lithuanian flag, however, has been moved from the altar to the organ while the wooden external cross was removed and replaced by a simple non-Lithuanian-styled one: Allentown diocese has been especially tough on the ethnicity of the churches so, while such things as Lithuanian crosses remained in the ex-Lithuanian churches elsewhere, they were almost invariably removed in the Southern Coal Region (except for the details too expensive to replace, such as the stained glass Windows).

 Tamaqua Lithuanian church

Tamaqua Lithuanian church

The interior of Tamaqua Lithuanian church

The interior of Tamaqua Lithuanian church

Tamaqua is one of the larger towns in the area with 7000 inhabitants (13 000 back in the "golden days"). It had 106 Lithuanian families in 1906 and 235 Lithuanian families in 1917; given the size of the families back then this may have made up 5-10% of population. Those families now lay at Owl Creek Road, where there is St. Peter and Paul Lithuanian cemetery (1929). The most impressive there is a derelict freestanding gate without any fence remaining. Two Lithuanian tricolor motifs are still visible on the gate, as are the words „Lithuanian cemetery“.

 Tamaqua Lithuanian cemetery gate

Tamaqua Lithuanian cemetery gate

The same cemetery was also jointly used by a parish ~5 miles east in Coaldale based in a white St. John the Baptist church. This church has been closed while the town itself lost nearly three-quarters of its population decreasing from 7000 to 2000 people. A Lithuanian inscription „Šv. Jono Lietuvių R. K. bažnyčia“ still remains there. It bears the date of 1914 05 10.

 Coaldale St. John Lithuanian church

Coaldale St. John Lithuanian church

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). Now it serves as a church-owned cafe open weekly; the cafe still offers a Lithuanian „kugelis“, although all the Lithuanian symbols (such as Rūpintojėlis) have been removed by the diocese.

The former New Philadelphia Lithuanian chruch

The former New Philadelphia Lithuanian chruch

 Rūpintojėlis that was thrown away by the Allentown diocese

Rūpintojėlis that was thrown away by the Allentown diocese

To better understand just how massive Lithuanian community of New Philadelphia was, you may see its Lithuanian school (abandoned, no Lithuanian details, built in 1926) and equally massive (for such a village) Sacred Heart Lithuanian cemetery.

 New Philadelphia Lithuanian school

New Philadelphia Lithuanian school

 New Philadelphia Lithuanian cemetery

New Philadelphia Lithuanian cemetery

The village of Middleport still had so many patriotically-minded Lithuanians in 1948 (some 50 years after the Lithuanian mass-migration into the region) that they built an entirely new church there (not simply replacing an older one). However, a new Lithuanian parish was not erected there, so priests from New Philadelphia used to come to lead the mass. The church is now closed and it has no Lithuanian details.

 Middleport Lithuanian church

Middleport Lithuanian church

Minersville (pop. 4000 today, 9000 in 1930) Lithuanian parish of St. Francis of Assisi (1950) 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).

Minersville Lithuanian church

Minersville Lithuanian church

On the hill above the church, there is the former Lithuanian school (open as non-Lithuanian; no surviving Lithuanian details).

 Minersville Lithuanian school

Minersville Lithuanian school

Minersville also has a Lithuanian cemetery with a World War 2 memorial

 Minersville Lithuanian cemetery and World War 2 memorial

Minersville Lithuanian cemetery and World War 2 memorial

St. Clair town (pop. 3000 today, 7000 in 1930) also saw its St. Casimir Lithuanian church (441 South Nicholas St., constructed in 1917) closed down several years ago. The building is abandoned, with even the mass plaque with its final priest‘s name (Jankaitis) still adorning the wall.

Saint Clair Lithuanian church

Saint Clair Lithuanian church

St. Clair church information with a priest's surname

St. Clair church information with a priest's surname

St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1929) remains near St. Clair, and the St. Casimir statue is its prime sight.

St. Casimir in the St. Clair Lithuanian cemetery

St. Casimir in the St. Clair Lithuanian cemetery

Lithuanian heritage west of Shenandoah

Mt. Carmel township (pop. 6 000 today, 18 000 back in 1930) was the hub of Lithuanian activities in the western Southern Coal Region. It still has a Lithuanian Social Club (309 S. Oak St.) with a door painted in Lithuanian tricolor.

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club

There is also a massive Holy Cross Lithuanian cemetery (south of town, Cemetery road). It was named after a Lithuanian church, closed in 1992 and used as a warehouse, partly derelict, with many of its windows broken. The church is among the oldest in the eare, its construction having begun in 1892 according to the Lithuanian cornerstone („St. Krizaus liet. bazniczia 1892“).

Mount Carmel Lithuanian church

Mount Carmel Lithuanian church

 Mount Carmel Lithuanian cemetery

Mount Carmel Lithuanian cemetery

The most important building in the town is, arguably, the Lithuanian school, sometimes claimed to be the America‘s oldest. Now abandoned, it still has its facade adorned by Vytis and a Lithuanian name. The cornerstone says „Įsteigta 1923 metais“ („Esablished in year 1923“).

Marija Kaupas, a Lithuanian nun worked in Mt. Carmel (she is on the route of canonization and a street has been named in her honor in Chicago). A center of voluntarism used by the Bucknell college has been named Mother Maria Kaupas Center for Volunteerism (est. 2015). Students live there temporarily, performing good deeds.

Maria Kaupas centre for volunteerism site

Maria Kaupas centre for volunteerism site

Shamokin town has been famous for 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. Shamokin‘s Lithuanian club in nearby Coal Township still functions as a members-only pub as does the Lithuanian cemetery.

An interesting location on the way from Shenandoah to Mount Carmel and Shamokin is Centralia, a town that was demolished due to mine fires under it that sometimes led to smoke above ground, as well as the Ashland mine, open to tourists. Both are not directly related to Lithuanians but speak volumes about the conditions they came to work in (the mine), still better than those back home in Lithuania, as well as the environmental damage from the mining.

Abandoned village of Centralia

Abandoned village of Centralia

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 (constuction began on 1911) used to be an extensive multiple-building complex. Unfortunately, it all has been sold in 2010 by the diocese and now serves as a Spanish Pentecostal church. Lithuanian-language cornerstone remains, however. Hazleton Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1886) is at the Cemetery road / E Broad corner, offering numerous old inscriptions.

Cornerstone of the Hazleton Lithuanian church

Cornerstone of the Hazleton Lithuanian church

 Hazleton Lithuanian cemetery

Hazleton Lithuanian cemetery

McAdoo (pop. 2000 today, 5000 back in 1930) had a wooden St. Casimir Lithuanian church near the Cleveland and Adams street corner (it has been transformed into a residential house). 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.

McAdoo Lithuanian church, now a detached home

McAdoo Lithuanian church, now a detached 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 (Tomashontas) 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.

 Memorial at the location of Lattimer Massacre

Memorial at the location of Lattimer Massacre

Lattimer Massacre site memorial list of victims

Lattimer Massacre site memorial list of victims

A nice place to see a town much like the early Lithuanian migrants found them in the 19th century is the Eckley‘s Miners Village which has remained much like over a century ago, with rows of wooden homes. It may be visited as a museum and the introductory film describes Lithuanians among its historic ethnicities. The entire town is being slowly converted into a museum as the vacated homes are not filled with new tenants.

 Eckley‘s Miners Village street

Eckley‘s Miners Village street

 


The map

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

Interactive map of Pennsylvania Southern Coal Region Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America expedition diary

2017 09 27 „Destination America“ entered its saddest day so far, witnessing the massive destruction of Lithuanian heritage in Wilkes-Barre and Shenandoah areas that happened not in some distant past.
Massive Lithuanian churches – some of the grandest Lithuanian churches ever built, some of the grandest buildings in their towns and cities – have been demolished in the past few years. They could be even seen on Google Street View, which we have used as a source to compare the lost Lithuanian heritage to the empty lots that have „replaced“ it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as we have discovered another Lithuanian church turned into a brewery, many more abandoned.

All this despite Shenandoah area still having a vibrant Lithuanian community, the oldest in the Americas and dating to 1865. As the locals said, however, the mass closure of the churches have ravaged the community, as it no longer has opportunities to meet up together that the Lithuanian parishes offered (the Lithuanian parishes were almost at least as many ethnic clubs as they were churches).

In any case, lots of traces of Lithuania survive in the region, especially in the Lithuanian cemeteries of which there are at least 5 in Shenandoah town alone.

2017 09 28 Pennsyvania's Southern Coal region is the most Lithuanian place in America. It had a Lithuanian church or club built every six-or-so kilometers, and it holds the Lithuanian Days - the oldest annual ethnic festival in America, and it printed the first Lithuanian language novel.

In Shenandoah area, we have met descendants of those who immigrated in the 19th century still considering themselves Lithuanians, preparing Lithuanian foods, dying Easter eggs the Lithuanian way and some of them actually being 100% Lithuanians and proud of it.

This is easier there because some areas have 10% or 20% of Lithuanian people and even if all families would be randomly made, there would be decent chances of Lithuanian-only families.

Still, the recent years brought in many troubles to what was once called the "Vilnius of America", as the locals told us. The Diocese of Allentown has been especially damaging to Lithuanians. We had already mentioned that it demolished the largest and prettiest of the region's Lithuanian churches: the St. George's of Shenandoah, seemingly without any reason. It has closed nearly all others. Even in those left open, Lithuanian crosses, Rūpintojėliai and the other symbols that stood there had often ended up in dumpsters, apparently on bishop's orders.

All that is especially sad as it is reasonless here, with the Lithuanian parishes growing in size and even building new churches as late as the 1980s, and all being financially sound. As the churches were where most of the money and forces of the early Lithuanian miners went to, losing them meant losing much of the area's Lithuanian sites, as well as the locations of communication with other Lithuanians.

Still, with the help of local Lithuanians, we have discovered many new previously unknown to us locations, such as a former Lithuanian bank or a massive now-abandoned wooden building where a Lithuanian newspaper used to be published for many decades.

We have also visited many local cemeteries with impressive century-old gravestones that use old Lithuanian language with, occasionally, some English words.

And we also attracted local media attention, as several journalists came to interview us. Some interviews ended up well, some journalists mixed up the Soviet and Czarist occupations. Still, however, it is always great to attract a wider American attention to the Lithuanian heritage.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 27-28.

More info on the Destination America expedition

Augustinas Žemaitis of Destination America together with Setcavage family

Augustinas Žemaitis of Destination America together with Setcavage family

Destination - America team with Elaine Luschas and Lithuainians who helped them on 2017 09 28

Destination - America team with Elaine Luschas and Lithuainians who helped them on 2017 09 28

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

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"

 


The map

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

Interactive map of Philadelphia Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America expedition diary

Philadelphia may be the Lithuanian America as it once was. All three of its Lithuanian churches are open, two of them decorated elaborately with many Lithuanian details by their long-term priest Petras Barkauskas.

There is a Philadelphia Lithuanian school with its own premises, there is yet another Lithuanian priest Joseph Anderlonis (who guided us around), and the Lithuanian St. George Lithuanian parish still has its own parish school open.

There is also the Philadelphia Lithuanian Music Hall, a great art nouveau-styled edifice with kanklės above its entrance. It is older than the Republic of Lithuania itself.

And there is even a synagogue named after Vilnius – in a house donated by a Jewish man who made a promise to God to do that if his business succeed. The rabbi we met considered the synagogue’s survival quite miraculous on itself since it is so small and easily convertible back into a house; however, a cooperation of different groups of Jews made it possible.

However, dangers are looming on top of the Philadelphia Lithuanian sites, as there are talks to sell the Lithuanian Music Hall, cutting its 110-year-old Lithuanian history for good. It would be a pity to lose yet another key Lithuanian-American site, especially since the Hall could be easily saved if there would be more cooperation among different groups of Lithuanian forces in America: if the “old Lithuanian-Americans” who are currently the ones caring for the Hall would be joined by the Lithuanian embassy and consulates, the “new Lithuanian-Americans”, the descendants of the “old Lithuanian-Americans”, the Lithuanian-Americans from outside Philadelphia, the non-Lithuanian Americans who are into heritage protection, and more.

It depends on all of us to prevent Philadelphia from becoming yet another once-very-Lithuanian American city where barely anything Lithuanian remains!

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 10 02.

Tikslas - Amerika vadovas Augustinas Žemaitis su Filadelfijos lietuviais Šv. Andriejaus parapijos salėje

Tikslas - Amerika vadovas Augustinas Žemaitis su Filadelfijos lietuviais Šv. Andriejaus parapijos salėje

Tikslas - Amerika projekto vadovas Augustinas Žemaitis su Filadelfijos lietuvių muzikos salės atstovais

Tikslas - Amerika projekto vadovas Augustinas Žemaitis su Filadelfijos lietuvių muzikos salės atstovais

More info on the Destination America expedition

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.

 


The map

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

Interactive map of Pittsburgh Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America expedition diary

The pinnacle of Pittsburgh area Lithuanian sites is its Lithuanian class in the city’s massive Cathedral of Learning. There, each piece of décor or furniture is aimed to summarize Lithuanian culture and history.

Before and after we were met by the University representatives there, however, we have visited many other sites. Among the most impressive are the Lithuanian cemeteries. Besides numerous Lithuanian monuments, they also have pre-WW1 gravestones in a surprisingly good state, with even the images of the deceased surviving. It also used to be somewhat common to write limited life stories on the gravestones, ranging from the location of Lithuania a person came from to how he died.

Sadly, beyond the cemeteries, we have discovered that Pittsburgh Lithuanian sites are rapidly turning into dust. When we arrived, the massive Lithuanian monastery was just destroyed. The interior of grand St. Casimir Lithuanian church, erected in 1902, was undergoing demolition. Other Pittsburgh area Lithuanian churches are no longer recognizably Lithuanian, with one minor exception in Vandergrift.

Even of the old Lithuanian Hall, only the Vytis remains – who knows for how long, as the building was recently sold.

There are still proud Lithuanians left in Pittsburgh, such as John Baltrus, who shown us everything Lithuanian in this city and beyond. However, with the disappearing of Lithuanian locations, the Lithuanian self-identification dissipates as well. Who could tell now that Pittsburgh had the most Lithuanians in percentage among the US cities of such size?

At least, Pittsburgh was the final one of the American cities we visited where most Lithuanian sites have already been lost or nearly lost. In the coastal cities, where we went next, the situation is better: though the action is still needed there for the Lithuanian heritage to survive the upcoming decades.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 29.

More info on the Destination America expedition

Augustinas Žemaitis with John Baltrus, who helped the 'Destination - America' project greatly in Pittburgh

Augustinas Žemaitis with John Baltrus, who helped the 'Destination - America' project greatly in Pittburgh

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Pennsylvania, USA 5 Comments

Northern Coal Region

Northern Coal region is among the most Lithuanian areas of the USA. Pittston and Wilkes-Barre are the largest cities of such size to have some 4% of the population with Lithuanian ancestry.

Among the local veterans revered in the Northern Coal Region there are numerous Lithuanians

The historic number of Lithuanians in the area is still visible on the veteran memorials, where many Lithuanain surnames are visible. Surnames ending with 'as', 'is' or 'us' are nearly always Lithuanian, while 'cz', 'ch' endings may be Lithuanian surnames as well, although Polonized

Sadly, the Northern Coal Region is also among the places where Lithuanian sites have been hit the hardest in the recent times, many of them destroyed, including the prettiest and largest Lithuanian churches that were also arguably the key Lithuanian sites in the area. Out of 13 Lithuanian Roman Catholic churches in the area, none remain open as standard Catholic churches and nearly all were closed ~2009, despite the fact that mere probability would have required some half of them to stay open (as half of the parishes were closed in the area). 14 Lithuanian churches that used to operate here, by the way, meant that the area had more Lithuanian operating churches than any city in Lithuania until ~1990.

Pittston St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Pittston St. Casimir Lithuanian church, now abandoned

Despite all the destruction, there is still what to see in the Northern Coal Region, ranging from a Lithuanian church independent from Rome, to many cemeteries with century-old graves and Old Lithuanian inscription, to four surviving Lithuanian clubs, to several Lithuanian monuments, to the possibility to descend into a real mine where Lithuanians once toiled, having universally come to this region for coal mining. There is even a Lithuanian-named lake.

Driving down the mine train into the Lackawanna mine

Driving down the mine train into the Lackawanna mine

Northern Coal Region is effectively a string of cities between which there is almost no empty space left. At the north, there is Scranton, at the center - Pittston, at the south - Wilkes-Barre. Around this conurbation, there are also numerous smaller towns which are also full of historically Lithuanian sites.

Pittston Lithuanian club hydrant

A fire-hydrant colored in Lithuanian colors near the Pittston Lithuanian club

To make the matters simpler, we describe the Lithuanian sites in the area going from north to south.

Forest City Lithuanian sites

Forest City St. Anthony Lithuanian church site

Forest City never had more than 6000 inhabitants (let alone Catholics), yet it had five Catholic churches! That’s because every immigrant nation used to build its own: Lithuanians, Poles, Slovaks, Slovenes, Irish… All of them collected donations from their meager wages. However, 100 years on, this lot is all that remains of the white gothic revival Lithuanian church (after the diocese has decided to raze it).

The site of the Forest City Lithuanian church

The site of the Forest City Lithuanian church

St. Anthony Lithuanian cemetery in Forest City

In the small towns like Forest City, Lithuanians were important. That's because they moved in at about the same time as everybody else and couldn't have been looked down by the earlier arrivals: the town was founded in 1888. Lithuanians also founded their own cemetery, even though the town has merely a few thousand inhabitants and it would seem one cemetery is enough. Such were the times: even having emigrated, the people of each nation sought to be laid to rest among their co-nationals.

Forest City Lithuanian cemetery

Forest City Lithuanian cemetery

Eynon Lithuanian sites

Eynon Our Lady of Vilna church

Today this is a mere abandoned building. The only remaining sign of its Lithuanian past is an empty niche for a sculpture of the saint. It bears an English inscription that it was built in memory of the pastor Savulis (a Lithuanian surname).

Eynon Our Lady of Vilnius Lithuanian church

Eynon Our Lady of Vilnius Lithuanian church

Eynon Our Lady of Vilna cemetery

This cemetery shares a commonly fenced ground with the Our Lady of Częstochowa Polish cemetery and there are more Polish than Lithuanian graves. Lithuanians were mostly buried closer to their Our Lady of Vilna church. In the early 20th century, a Polish-Lithuanian conflict raged over the cemetery where blood was spilled.

A Lithuanian grave in Eynon

A Lithuanian grave in Eynon

Downtown Scranton Lithuanian sites

All of the following are so close to each other that it is possible to walk from one of them to another.

Scranton Providence of God Lithuanian National Catholic church

It may seem unbelievable, but some Scranton Lithuanians did in 1914 something no one did even in Lithuania itself: created a national Lithuanian Catholic church that was independent of the Pope. This unique Lithuanian church still survives. It has been built in 1915-1930 and opens on Sundays alone (at the mass time).

Lithuanian National Catholic church in Scranton

Lithuanian National Catholic church in Scranton

Cornerstone of the Scranton National Catholic church

Cornerstone of the Scranton National Catholic church

Tauras Lithuanian club in Scranton

One of four Lithuanian clubs in the Scranton region! At the entrance, a Lithuanian flag is waving. Inside, the most Lithuanian-decorated part is the hall, which has descriptions of Lithuania and images of the Lithuanians who created the club. Currently, not only Lithuanians can be members, although the potato pancakes are still on the menu. Not cepelinai though: this most famous Lithuanian national dish became so popular *later* than Lithuanians migrated to Scranton.

Tauras Lithuanian club in Scranton

Tauras Lithuanian club in Scranton

Carpet at the Tauras club entrance

Carpet at the Tauras club entrance showing Tauras. Tauras in Lithuanian means Aurochs, a now-extinct animal from the region.

A clipping at Tauras club entrance describing Lithuania

A clipping at Tauras club entrance describing Lithuania

Kosciuska Healing Garden

“Lithuanian sites are so rapidly disappearing, therefore, I wanted to create a new one” – said the creator of the Kosciuska garden Carol Gargan (of Lithuanian origins). She is planting the garden with her own hands and named it after Tadas Kosciuška – this is the Lithuanian variant of the name of Polish-Lithuanian leader more commonly known in Polish as Kosciuszko, also a US hero.

Kosciuska healing garden sign

Kosciuska healing garden sign

Scranton St. Joseph Lithuanian church

The 1895-build church is still open, however, it now belongs to ex-Anglican priests. Nevertheless, the Lithuanian stained glass windows, the chapel-post for the Soviet-persecuted Lithuanians all survive. So does the cornerstone inscription “Lithuanica Ecclesia”.

Scranton St. Joseph Lithuanian church

Scranton St. Joseph Lithuanian church

Scranton St. Joseph Lithuanian church

Scranton St. Joseph Lithuanian church stained-glass window with a donor's Lithuanian surname

St. Joseph Lithuanian school in Scranton

So many Lithuanian children must have gone to school in Scranton at 1915 when the construction here began! The school has been closed for a long time but the cornerstone still boasts a Lithuanian-language inscription that means “St. Joseph school 1915”.

St. Joseph Lithuanian school

St. Joseph Lithuanian school

Lithuanian chapel-post for Soviet-oppressed Lithuanians

This chapel-post, according to the inscription, is dedicated to the men of women who fell for “our country” (Lithuania), and also Lithuanians who suffer beyond the Iron Curtain, and the dead parish members. Such were the main concerns of the Lithuanian-Americans in 1975 when the chapel-post was erected, even though ~70 years had passed already since most of them moved to Scranton! On top of the chapel post there is an image of Rūpintojėlis, a Lithuanian-folk-traditional image of a sad Jesus.

Scranton chapel-post with Rūpintojėlis visible (left)

Scranton chapel-post with Rūpintojėlis visible (left)

Scranton Lithuanian chapel-post explanation

Scranton Lithuanian chapel-post explanation

Scranton area Lithuanian sites further away from the downtown

The following sites will most likely require a drive from the downtown Scranton.

Lithuanian National Cemetery in Scranton

This is a Catholic cemetery but not Roman Catholic. National Catholics who are not following the Pope are buried here (see the "National Catholic church" section above). The creator of this unique church bishop Jonas Gritėnas also lies in this cemetery. He sought to export his ideas back into Lithuania, however, fell ill and died, leaving the National church a Lithuanian-American phenomenon.

Lithuanian National cemetery near Scranton

Lithuanian National cemetery near Scranton

St. Joseph Lithuanian cemetery in Scranton

A massive Lithuanian cemetery! It has a pretty cemetery cross. There are very old graves.

St. Joseph Lithuanian cemetery in Scranton

St. Joseph Lithuanian cemetery in Scranton

St. Joseph Lithuanian cemetery in Scranton

St. Joseph Lithuanian cemetery in Scranton

A grave in Scranton with an old Lithuanian epitaph

A grave in Scranton with an old Lithuanian epitaph

Lackawanna Coal mine and museum in Scranton

Here you may descend into a real coal mine, once staffed by Lithuanians! Of course, everything is easier for the tourists: the floor is not covered by underground water, there is no more risk to enter flammable or poisonous gases… The death rates used to be huge here, and the dead miners used to be placed on their wives’ front porches! This and even scarier stories of 19th-century immigrant laborer lives may be listened here.

Lackawanna mine in Scranton

Lackawanna mine in Scranton

Iron furnaces (a museum in Scranton)

The Iron furnaces of 1848-1857 were among those industrial sites that drew Lithuanians to this area in the late 19th century.

Scranton St. Michael Lithuanian church

Currently, this church belongs to the traditionalist Catholics who hold there the Latin Tridentine mass. On the exterior, nothing Lithuanian remains.

St. Michael Lithuanian church in Scranton

St. Michael Lithuanian church in Scranton

Elmhurst St. Mary Villa Lithuanian sites

St. Mary villa is a complex of a Lithuanian monastery (now an assisted living institution) and a Lithuanian cemetery east of Scranton.

St. Mary villa in Elmhurst

Mining jobs most Lithuanian men had were especially dangerous. Some would be killed by explosions, others by poisonous gas… To accommodate the surviving widows and orphans, priest Urbanavičius created this home where Lithuanian nuns would care for these unlucky people. Currently, the Lithuanity remains only in the images that cover the walls, the names in donations list, the traditional sun-cross on the roof, the inscription on Mary statue. Now the home cares for senior citizens.

Traditional Lithuanian Sun-Cross on top of the St. Mary Villa

Traditional Lithuanian Sun-Cross on top of the St. Mary Villa. This version of cross, especially popular among the Lithuanian-Americans, combines the Christian (cross) and pre-Christian nature-worshipping (sun) symbolism

Image of the early nuns at what is now St. Mary villa

Image of the early nuns at what is now St. Mary villa, located in the St. Mary villa

Mary sculpture with Lithuanian inscription

Among the last things on the exterior of St. Mary villa that reminds Lithuania is this statue. To see its Lithuanian inscription, come closer (in summers, it is often covered by flowers and therefore only the English inscription is visible from further up).

Virgin Mary sculpture in front of the St. Mary villa

Virgin Mary sculpture in front of the St. Mary villa

Elmhurst Lithuanian cemetery

As this cemetery has been established for the nuns near a monastery (now the St. Mary Villa), most of the graves here are modest, consisting of small plaques now overgrown in grass. Exceptional are the priest graves and a line of the graves of patriotically-minded Lithuanians, adorned by the Columns of Gediminas and other Lithuanian symbols.

St. Mary Villa cemetery

St. Mary Villa cemetery

Pittston area Lithuanian sites

These Lithuanian sites are located in Pittston, which is the most-Lithuanian (by percentage) city of such size in the USA, and the surrounding towns. Pittston is effectively in the center of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre conurbation.

Pittston St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Just one look at this church is needed to be overwhelmed by its size and grandeur! For 99 years (1909-2008) this was the hub of Pittston Lithuanians, yet nothing reminds that: even the cornerstone was removed. The new owner planned to showcase art here but, after the former church being vandalised, she sold it again, continuing its abandonment.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Pittston

St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Pittston

The removed cornerstone of Pittston St. Casimir Lithuanian church

The removed cornerstone of Pittston St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Lithuanian Social and Benefit Club in Pittston

Approaching this club, your eye will be drawn to a hydrant painted in the colors of Lithuanian flag and coat of arms! This club is probably the most Lithuanian among those left in the region. It celebrates February 16th, even though it also celebrates St. Patrick's day. It has a bar (members-and-friends only).

Pittston Lithuanian club

Pittston Lithuanian club

Pittston Lithuanian club interior

Pittston Lithuanian club interior

St. Casimir statue in Pittston

This statue is all that remains in religious use out of the massive St. Casimir Lithuanian church after its closure. When closing churches, the bishops often try to pacify the disgruntled parishioners by offering them to keep some dearest parts of the former church (and move those parts into a new church). As this Irish church had many other parishes consolidated it, its entry hall now reminds a sculpture gallery with St. Casimir not easily distinguishable.

St. Casimir statue in Pittston

St. Casimir statue in Pittston, relocated from the Pittston Lithuanian church

St. Casimir Lithuanian Cemetery in Pittston

One of the largest of the northern Coal region Lithuanian cemeteries belonged to the massive St. Casimir church of Pittston. A pretty gate with St. Casimir’s name survives.

Pittston St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery entrance

Pittston St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery entrance

St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery in Pittston gravestone

St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery in Pittston gravestone

Duryea St. Joseph Lithuanian church site

Yet another Lithuanian church in the Pennsylvania Coal Region that was recently torn down by the diocese’s bulldozers, disregarding the opinion of the parish members. This one was demolished in 2013.

Now-demolished Lithuanian church of Duryea

Now-demolished Lithuanian church of Duryea. Google Street View image

Exeter Lithuanian club

One of four Lithuanian clubs in the Northern Coal region! The exterior is painted in Lithuanian tricolor. Only the members and those with members may enter inside.

Exeter Lithuanian club

Exeter Lithuanian club

Inkerman Lithuanian citizens club

This Lithuanian club used to be nicknamed the “Bucket of blood” – so common were the fights here. It was built by interwar Lithuanian miners by their own hands, although today not only Lithuanians frequent it. Lithuania-related inscriptions still remain.

Inkerman Lithuanian club

Inkerman Lithuanian club

Inside the Inkerman Lithuanian club

Inside the Inkerman Lithuanian club

Kingston area Lithuanian sites

These Lithuanian sites are located on the opposite bank of the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre.

Kingston St. Mary Annunciation Lithuanian church site

After closing this grand Lithuanian church, the diocese was unable to sell it. Therefore, they have demolished it in 2016. When looking at the empty lot where a magnificent church once stood, take a time to think how quickly the Lithuanian-American heritage disappears.

Now-demolished Kingston Lithuanian church of St. Mary Annunciation

Now-demolished Kingston Lithuanian church of St. Mary Annunciation. Google Street View image

The site of the destroyed Lithuanian church

The site of the destroyed Lithuanian church

St. Mary Annunciation Lithuanian cemetery in Kingston

The dead of the Annunciation parish used to be laid here. The name “Lithuanian” still remains at the entrance and there are many Lithuanian graves. The parish church was destroyed in 2016, so this is all that remains of that parish.

St. Mary Lithuanian Cemetery

St. Mary Lithuanian Cemetery

Luzerne St. Ann Lithuanian church

The church construction began in 1924 but it was then halted by the Great Depression. For long, Lithuanians prated in the basement and only in 1959 did they complete the church. Maybe this newness made the diocese to chose this building as the one that should remain after the consolidation of the area's parishes. Nothing Lithuanian remains in the exterior, however.

St. Anne Lithuanian church in Luzerne

St. Anne Lithuanian church in Luzerne

Lithuanian independent cemetery

Cemeteries, cemeteries, cemeteries! So many of them have Lithuanians established in the region. Most were parish-affiliated whereas the “Independent” ones were typically created by the less religious: leftists and nationalists.

Independent Lithuanian cemetery of the West Wyoming

Independent Lithuanian cemetery of the West Wyoming

Old St. Mary cemetery in Larksville

The site of the most infamous Lithuanian-Polish conflict in America! The parish used to be binational, yet the Poles sought it to be Polish-only. So, they used to stop Lithuanian funerals coming to the cemetery and, in the most notorious episode, dug out the graves of Lithuanian children and mutilated the corpses with axes. Lithuanians then established the Old St. Casimir cemetery nearby.

St Mary Polish cemetery in Larksville

St Mary Polish cemetery in Larksville

Old St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery in Larksville

This is the cemetery Lithuanians established after the conflict in St. Mary's (see above). As was common then, mining companies sold a bad land to this cemetery, so the dumps are nearby. Later the parish acquired a new cemetery in Hunlock.

Larksville St. Casimir cemetery

Larksville St. Casimir cemetery

Wilkes-Barre area Lithuanian sites

These sites are located in Wilkes-Barre, the area's second-mos-Lithuanian significant town, and its suburbs.

Wilkes-Barre Holy Trinity Lithuanian church site

The great gothic revival Holy Trinity church, built by Lithuanian hard-earned money, was destroyed not in some kind of historic calamity but rather by the diocese decision (disregarding the Lithuanian protests) very recently: on 2015. Unfortunately, such was the fate of many Lithuanian-American churches. In an empty lot now a small lonely cross stands, likely erected by Lithuanians.

Now-demolished Holy Trinity Lithuanian church of Wilkes-Barre

Now-demolished Holy Trinity Lithuanian church of Wilkes-Barre. Google Street View image.

The now-empty site of the Holy Trinity Lithuanian church of Wilkes-Barre

The now-empty site of the Holy Trinity Lithuanian church of Wilkes-Barre

A cross that stands on the location of the Holy Trinity Lithuanian church

A cross that stands on the location of the Holy Trinity Lithuanian church

Holy Trinity Lithuanian cemetery in Wilkes-Barre

This is a grand and pretty cemetery with memorials that have Lithuanian inscriptions: a memorial for the Lithuanians who died in the World Wars, a cemetery cross with a prayer. Starting in 1935 the cemetery accepted the parishioners of the Holy Trinity church, that massive one which was destroyed in 2015.

Wilkes-Barre Holy Trinity Lithuanian Cemetery entrance

Wilkes-Barre Holy Trinity Lithuanian Cemetery entrance

Holy Trinity cemetery cross in Wilkes Barre

The cross on the mound has a Lithuanian inscription: “Jei draug su Kristumi mirėme, draug su Kristumi ir gyvensime” (“If we’ve died with Christ, we’ll live with Christ”).

Wilkes-Barre Lithuanian cemetery cross

Wilkes-Barre Lithuanian cemetery cross

Memorial for the Lithuanians who died in the World Wars

You’d rarely see non-English inscriptions on the WW2 memorials for those who died serving the US army. The one in the Holy Trinity cemetery is an exception. In Lithuanian, it asks for an eternal peace to those Lithuanians soldiers. Interestingly, some of these soldiers have emigrated from a Russian-occupied Lithuania to avoid service in the foreign Russian army only to eventually died in a war for the USA.

Wilkes-Barre Lithuanian cemetery World War 2 memorial

Wilkes-Barre Lithuanian cemetery World War 2 memorial

Wilkes-Barre St. Francis Lithuanian church

Nothing here reminds the Lithuanians who built the church ~1918 and operated it for 90 years. Even the cornerstone with the construction year and original purpose inscribed has been removed! Currently, it is a Hispanic Seventh-Day Adventist parish.

Miners Mills Lithuanian chruch

Miners Mills Lithuanian chruch

St. Francis Lithuanian cemetery in Wilkes-Barre

A small cemetery on the hillside that belonged to the St. Casimir Lithuanian parish.

St. Francis cemetery in Wilkes-Barre

St. Francis cemetery in Wilkes-Barre

Wilkes-Barre Township St. Joseph Lithuanian church

In 2011, this Lithuanian church became… a brewery and bar! This is quite rare, as the Roman Catholic church usually does not sell its buildings for “immoral purposes” and thus the churches become other churches, warehouses or apartments. Interestingly, the brewery does mention on its website that it is located in a former school rather than a former church.

Wilkes-Barre Township Lithuanian church from the outside

Wilkes-Barre Township Lithuanian church from the outside

Wilkes-Barre Township Lithuanian church (now a brewery)

Wilkes-Barre Township Lithuanian church (now a brewery)

Wilkes-Barre St. Casimir Lithuanian church

The Old St. Casimir church effectively caved into the mines. Such “exotic” fate was common in the Coal Region, where mining activities went on under nearly every home. Back then, in the 1950s, the culture of legal compensations was not as prominent and Lithuanians had to build this new church on their own in 1957. It still stands, yet it has nothing Lithuanian now.

Wilkes-Barre St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Wilkes-Barre St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Lithuanian sites in the Northern Coal Region's west

These Lithuanian sites are located out of the main conurbation, in the small mining towns west of Wilkes-Barre.

Sugar Notch St. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church

In 1913, the building was acquired from Presbyterians. Those were the times before the advent of automobiles, so, once they would amass some money, Lithuanians sought to build their own church so they wouldn’t to have to spend much of the Sundays (the sole non-working day) commuting to the Plymouth Lithuanian church (St. Francis), or go to the Polish church which reminded them of a high treason. This parish never had more than ~300 Lithuanians.

Sugar Notch Lithuanian church

Sugar Notch Lithuanian church

Ss. Peter and Paul Lithuanian Cemetery in Sugar Notch

A small Lithuanian cemetery of a small coal town. On the gravestones, you may see anglicized pre-war Lithuanian words such as “Nuzudytas mainose” (“Killed in the mines”; non-Anglicized Lithuanian would be “Žuvo kasyklose”).

Sugar Notch Lithuanian cemetery

Sugar Notch Lithuanian cemetery

Wanamie St. Mary Lithuanian church

Just as in many small towns of Coal region, the closed Lithuanian church is no longer in use and stands abandoned. Finding it was difficult, as internet lacked information; from now on, it will be marked on our map of Lithuanian-American heritage. Construction started on 1925.

Wanamie Lithuanian church

Wanamie Lithuanian church

St. Mary Lithuanian cemetery in Wanamie

A small cemetery of a small parish. Judging by the surnames on gravestones, non-Lithuanians also used to be buried here.

Wanamie Lithuanian cemetery

Wanamie Lithuanian cemetery

New St. Casimir Lithuanian Cemetery in Hunlock

The new cemetery of the St. Francis Lithuanian parish has been established quite far from the church, as the automobile era was approaching. The old cemetery is in Larksville (see above).

Lithuanian sites further away

Lake Kasulaitis

This small lake is likely the only one Lithuanian-named lake in the USA, and possibly the Lithuanian-named lake that is the furthest from Lithuania! Joseph (Juozapas) Kasulaitis, by the way, was not some kind of a celebrity – rather, he was a farmer who spent decades farming in the region.

Lake Kasulaitis in the Northern Coal Region

Lake Kasulaitis in the Northern Coal Region

 


The map

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

Interactive map of Pennsylvania northern Coal Region Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America expedition diary

2017 09 26 After a short stop at Bingh , we entered the Pennsylvania's coal region, the historic heart of Lithuanian America. In its urbanized north, in the cities such as Pittston and Wilkes-Barre, some 4% of people declare themselves tohave a Lithuanian ancestry.

It may seem a great place to test the idea of "Global Lithuania" which is promoted by the Lithuanian government. Tens or hundreds of thousands Lithuanians have immigrated there, as evident in numerous massive cemeteries still boasting old forms of Lithuanian names and old-Lithuanian-language epitaphies. Had they created a community - and heritage - that would last, a Lithuania-oiutside-Lithuania?

Indeed, they have created many impressive Lithuanian sites which, all together, once formed a real underground Lithuanian +diaspora country!..

Unfortunately, that supposed "Global Lithuania" is rapidly turning into dust.
Three large churches alone have been destroyed in the past few years, taking decades of Lithuanian history with them. It took longer than in most other places to find Lithuanians knowledgeable about the Lithuanian sites and even they agreed that there are few true Lithuanians left around and that Lithuanity has been rapidly disappearing or being destroyed, forgotten by all the young and middle-aged generations, despite being successfully safeguarded for a century beforehand.

"There were more people who would have liked to meet you" - we heard. But those were extremely old and had bad health. And tens of thousand more who would have liked to show the sites they helped to build and cherish are lying in the graveyards, with only very few of their descendants keeping interest in their Lithuanian heritage.

On a more positive side, we have found 4 Lithuanian clubs in the area, albeit not as Lithuanian now as they used to be. Currently, they serve as curious members-only bars where one needs a keycard to enter (most members are non-Lithuanians). When contacted through Facebook about the possibility of a visit, neither of them replied to us, but we have found "backdoors" by approaching members.

We have also visited Lackawana mine. It as the mining industry that attracted Lithuanians to the area, but visiting that dirty and dangerous underground location where many died (even children) begs a question - "Was it really so bad in Lithuania t go here instead?". Given that these were the times when even the Lithuanian language was banned and industry was chased out of agricultural Lithuania by the occupying Russian Empire, it likely was.

One of our local guides was Carol Gargan, who seeks to create a new Lithuanian place - a small Lithuanian garden. Even he was not positive about the future of Lithuanian culture in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.

There may still be possibilities to revive interest in the Lithuanian heritage in Scranton area. But that would require a concentrated action, and postponing that into the future may be too late. Otherwise, should a project like "Destination America" be repeated in 10 years, it may discover paring lots even in the places that are still pretty today.

2017 09 27 „Destination America“ entered its saddest day so far, witnessing the massive destruction of Lithuanian heritage in Wilkes-Barre and Shenandoah areas that happened not in some distant past.

Massive Lithuanian churches – some of the grandest Lithuanian churches ever built, some of the grandest buildings in their towns and cities – have been demolished in the past few years. They could be even seen on Google Street View, which we have used as a source to compare the lost Lithuanian heritage to the empty lots that have „replaced“ it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as we have discovered another Lithuanian church turned into a brewery, many more abandoned.

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 26-27.

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Carol Gargan, Dennis Palladino and others, who introduced the Lithuanian heritage of the Northern Coal region to the 'Destination - America' team

Carol Gargan, Dennis Palladino and others, who introduced the Lithuanian heritage of the Northern Coal region to the 'Destination - America' team

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Du Bois, Pennsylvania

Although DuBois is a rather small city (pop. 20000), it has an especially old St. Joseph Lithuanian Church that was founded in the 19th century. The current Romance Revival building was erected in 1924 (State St and South Ave corner). Inside there are pretty stained glass windows with the names of Lithuanian donors and a tricolor waving near the altar. In the basement, there is a massive parish hall where the secular Lithuanian activities take place.

DuBois Lithuanian church.

The interior of DuBois Lithuanian church.

In 2012, after some older Lithuanian parishes were closed, the DuBois church became the oldest surviving Lithuanian parish in the Americas. However, the Holy Mass is no longer held there since early 2017, with the church open only for rites (such as weddings & funerals). It is also open everyday for private prayer, making it rather easy to visit. At night, the facade is nicely lit.

The bottom of the stained glass window with the name of the organization that sponsored it written.

DuBois Lithuanians are traditionally buried in a separate St. Joseph Lithuanian cemetery. The cemetery has wooden freestanding stations of the cross (a unique arrangement) that mark the cemetery quarters. Each station has a name of a Lithuanian donor on them (some stations have been lost, however).

DuBois Lithuanian cemetery with the wayside shrine in the distance.

Moreover, the cemetery has a large Wayside shrine that was built with the support of the Knights of Lithuania organization in memory of the parish priests Urbonas, Barr, and Rakauskas in 1979. The three crosses once had wooden sculptures on them but they have since deteriorated and were removed.

Wayside shrine of the DuBois Lithuanian cemetery.

Lithuanians make up 3% of the Du Bois inhabitants.

Previously, Du Bois also had a Lithuanian Independent Club which has been closed since ~2002 after alleged financial improprieties by some officers. It had been opened in 1900 and had its current building completed in 1960 (according to the cornerstone). The "Litts Club" name still remains on one sign, but the main name is now "Luigi's Villa" and the building is used for wedding receptions and other functions. As a Lithuanian Club, it failed to outcompete the nearby Polish club, which, jokingly, was mentioned as one of the goals when erecting the new clubhouse.

Surviving sign of the DuBois Lithuanian club.

 


The map

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

Interactive map of Pennsylvania Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America expedition diary

It was getting dark when we arrived in Dubois. Dark, but not too dark. We were late by 10 minutes, as we wanted to maximize our time in the Southern Coal Region. But we weren't too late in order to see the interior of Lithuanian church. While our helper in the city Jonas Baltrus managed to keep it open longer than usual, daylight was needed to picture the interior.

It was surprising to find such an impressive church so far away from other "Lithuanian" towns of America. From DuBois, we had to drive 2 more hours together with Jonas Baltrus to Pittsburgh where he lives now, and the same 2 hours were required to come from the Southern Coal region.

And, despite this distance, DuBois Lithuanian community was significant. It had its own cemetery and its own club. Everything looked eerily empty nowadays: the church, the club, the cemetery. But the church is open everyday, even if no mass is held there. That's a difference. DuBois must be a safer city than many others where Lithuanian historic buildings exist...

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 28

More info on the Destination America expedition

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Ontario.

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