Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

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 speaks English

English inscription over the Lithuanian Hall entrance in Pittsburgh. Even Lithuanian churches here lack Lithuanian inscriptions. Google Street View.

Most Lithuanians used to live in southern Pittsburgh and the red brick Lithuanian Hall still stands there with stylized Lithuanian coat of arms (Vytis) proudly hanging above its entrance. A commemorative plaque nearby declares that the building has been constructed in 1870, rebuilt in 1908. The club has been closed in the 2010s and the building sold, however.

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Hall from further away. Google Street View.

The Cathedral of Learning of Pittsburgh University has a Lithuanian Nationality Class. Its back wall 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 Lithuanian national revival heroes (Daukantas, Basanavičius, Kudirka, Donelaitis...). 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 29 nationality classes, each of them a small tasteful museum glorifying a particular nation. They have been crafted, furnished and still are supported by the respective ethnicity; a single class now costs 1 million USD to make. The Lithuanian class has been designed by Kaunas architect Antanas Gudaitis and it has been opened in a sad era: October 1940 when Lithuania had been recently occupied by the Soviets. The Lithuanians became one of the first Pittsburgh ethnicities to have their class 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 classes may be explored with tours when they are not used by the university.

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.

In 1930 Pittsburgh had ~4000 Lithuanians and it was the 8th US city by this number. Currently, there are ~6000 people of Lithuanian ancestry, which is ~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 churches of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh and its suburbs are full of Lithuanian churches, all established ~1900-910. The largest ones were built from scratch, some buildings were acquired from Protestants. Unfortunately, many Lithuanian churches have been closed until 1993. As the city population falls and the immigrants becoming English-speaking after multiple generations the former ethnic Catholic parishes have been amalgamated into a single church. Unfortunately, no Lithuanian church was saved: all of them have been closed and sold for non-Catholic use, thus condemning the Lithuanian interior. Most of the buildings remain but little reminds of their Lithuanian history today.

The largest and oldest Lithuanian church in Pittsburgh was St. Casimir in the south side. A Protestant building at this location has been acquired by Lithuanians in 1893 but soon it became too small and has been replaced by a current massive one uniting red bricks with the Baroque revival in 1902. In 1992 it has been closed. The interior has remained intact until 2017, however, when the conversion into apartments has begun.

St. Casimir church (right) and the St. Casimir apartments (left) built in the parish's former school. Google Street View.

St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian church in Esplen has been closed a little later (1993) but by then the parish was already a shadow of its former self. The main church building of 1903 has been closed in 1962 and sold in 1970 (now demolished). The mass has since been 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 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.

This building housed the St. Vincent de Paul church in the parish's final two decades. Google Street View.

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

Braddock suburb used to follow the rhythm of a local U.S. Steel plant. After this factory has been closed in 1982 many workers moved away. The local parishes were amalgamated in 1985 and the St. Isidore Lithuanian church (built 1918 on Talbot and 7th corner) has been closed. Now it serves as the First Church of God in Christ (non-Catholic).

Former St. Isidore Lithuanian church. No Lithuanian marks are left. Google Street View.

St. Peter and Paul Lithuanian church in the suburb of Homestead also became a victim of steel industry albeit in a different fashion. Constructed in 1901 it was demolished ~1941 when it blocked the way for the expansion of nearby steel mill that was needed to meet the needs of World War 2. Parish still has been lively and acquired a new (1929) building from Reformed Christians in 1941 (this church closed down in 1992, with its building sold fo 20000 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 show the deterioration of the district).

Bridgeville suburb St. Anthony Lithuanian church has been 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 a demolition due to highway construction. The parish was closed in 1994, however, the church stayed open for more than a decade after that.

St. Joseph Lithuanian church of Donora suburb 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.

For 93 years before 2015, Pittsburgh also had a St. Francis monastery of Lithuanian nuns. However, in 2015 the youngest among them were in their 60s; unable to care for the 13 ha land with the monastery and the chapel, they have sold it.

Bentleyville has a Lithuanian club. The proper address is 217 Main St. but it stands next to Lithuanian Street. There are also Wilna street (named after Vilnius) and Abromaitis Street (named after a Lithuanian priest who has helped establish the local 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 has been merged into Ave Maria parish in 1994 and again in St. Katherine Drexler parish in 2017 but in all cases, it remained an open church.

In a similar case, the East Vandergrift Lithuanian church of St. Casimir 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 in what is now a village of just 600 people. The church is thus small. There is also a Lithuanian club in front of it, now doubling as a members-only restaurant but decorated with Vytis and Lithuanian colors.

Lithuanian cemeteries in Pittsburgh area

Pittsburgh's largest Lithuanian cemetery was owned by St. Casimir parish. It is located at Whitehall suburb next to Hamilton Road. A smaller Lithuanian cemetery exists at West View suburb, accessed by a small Perrysville Road near Bellevue Road. 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. Both cemeteries are surrounded by trees and cover a slight slope. Pittsburgh Lithuanian community is especially old thus there are few Lithuanian details (save for surnames), US flags predominate, although the gravestone may be larger than most. Lithuanian inscriptions ("motina" ("mother"), "brolis" ("brother"), "amžiaus 28 m." ("aged 28"), etc.) are more common at the old graves (especially pre-WW2).

Homestead suburb has another Lithuanian cemetery.

The entrance of the St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery. Google Street View.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Pennsylvania, USA Leave a comment
Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Thank you for this history of Lithuanian Churches and Cemeteries of Pittsburgh. I was baptized in Ascension Church in Manchester section of Northside Pittsburgh. I have relatives buried in St. Casimir Cemetery and The Lithuanian Cemetery on Bellevue Road, West View. In the picture of St. Vincent DePaul Church, you can see my Aunt’s former house next to it. What a surprise and thank you again.

  2. Sveiki,
    Aš esu Dalius Bučinskas iš Lietuvos, mano senelis Juozas Šimkonis JAV gyveno 11 metų. Aš radau seną senelio nuotrauką ant kurios parašyta ,, Delegatai Lietuvos vyčių 7 – to kongreso Rugp/12-13-14-1914 Pittsburg PA.”. Nuotrauka daryta Patraitis studio 1313 CARSOM st. S.S. Pittsburg, PA., gal Jūs esate girdėjas apie mano minėtą kongresą, kuom jie užsimonėjo, kokia buvo veikla. Nuotraukoje yra nemažai kunigų. Fotografuota labai panašu, kad prie Lietuvių namų Pittsburge. Jei domins nuotrauka, kopiją galėsiu atsiųsti. Jeigu turite kokios informacijos ir gali pasidalinti būčiau labai dėkingas.
    Dalius Bučinskas

    • Sveiki. Organizacija “Lietuvos vyčiai” angliškai vadinasi “Knights of Lithuania”, ji tebeegzistuoja nors tikriausiai gerokai silpnesnė, nei kadaise. Jos tinkapis , ten galite paskaityti apie ją daugiau. Tai – klubas, įkurtas dar prieš Pirmąjį pasaulinį karą pirmosios bangos imigrantų katalikų, besivadovaujantis šūkiu “Dievui ir valstybei” (todėl, manau, tarp narių buvo daug kunigų, tikriausiai tai lietuviškų parapijų Amerikoje klebonai, tokių parapijų tuomet buvo apie 100). XX a. pirmoje pusėje panašūs klubai buvo labai populiarūs Amerikoje, “Lietuvos vyčiai” įkurti “Amerikos legiono” pavyzdžiu. Emigrantams tokie klubai būdavo vienintelė galimybė normaliai bendrauti su kitais lietuviais (juk nebuvo galimybių reguliariai grįžti, o susirašinėti tegalėjai lėtais laiškais), jų nariai vienas kitam padėdavo, siekdavo bendrų tikslų (pvz. remti Lietuvos nepriklausomybę).

  3. Hi I’m from the zolartisky Bernard sphoie,Bernard goldsmith many more. My parents are Bob goldsmith
    Anyone out there?

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.