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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Hall

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Hall

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

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

South Side Pittsburgh Lithuanian sites

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

 Vytis of the Lithuanian Hall in Pittsburgh

Vytis of the Lithuanian Hall in Pittsburgh

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

South Pittsburgh St. Casimir Lithuanian church

South Pittsburgh St. Casimir Lithuanian church

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

Casimir Lithuanian school

Casimir Lithuanian school

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

Plithania Bank in Pittsburgh

Polithania Bank in Pittsburgh

Lithuanian Classroom at the Cathedral of Learning

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

Lithuanian classroom back

Lithuanian classroom back

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

Lithuanian classroom front

Lithuanian classroom front

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

Radiator rues in the Lithuanian class

Radiator rues in the Lithuanian classroom

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

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

Cathedral of Learning

Cathedral of Learning

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

Pittsburgh outer districts Lithuanian churches and clubs

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

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

The remains of St. Vincent de Paul church

The remains of St. Vincent de Paul church

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

Vincent De Paul school that later was a church

Vincent De Paul school that later was a church

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

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

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

Braddock St. Isidore Lithuanian church

Braddock St. Isidore Lithuanian church

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

Homestead Lithuanian church

Homestead Lithuanian church

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

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

Lithuanian club of Duquesne

Lithuanian club of Duquesne

Lithuanian club of Duquesne (close-up)

Lithuanian club of Duquesne (close-up)

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

Pittsburgh Lithuanian club interior

Pittsburgh Lithuanian club interior

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Country Club barn

Pittsburgh Lithuanian Country Club barn

Pittsburgh Sisters of St. Francis Motherhouse and Academy

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

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

School of the former Lithuanian monastery

School of the former Lithuanian monastery

Chesna Drive

Chesna Drive

Lithuanian cemeteries in Pittsburgh area

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

Pittsburgh St. Casimir cemetery Nuns' memorial

Pittsburgh St. Casimir cemetery Nuns' memorial

Lithuanian belfry in St. Casimir cemetery

Lithuanian belfry in St. Casimir cemetery

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

Lithuanian national cemetery of Pittsburgh

Lithuanian national cemetery of Pittsburgh

Lithuanian workers memorial

Lithuanian workers memorial

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

An old Lithuanian grave

An old Lithuanian grave

Surviving images of long-dead people in the Lithuanian cemeteries

Surviving images of long-dead people in the Lithuanian cemeteries

Lithuanian churches and clubs in the towns around Pittsburgh

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

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

Bentleyville Lithuanian club

Bentleyville Lithuanian club

Abromaitis street in Bentleyville

Abromaitis street in Bentleyville

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

Bentleyville St. Luke church and cemetery

Bentleyville St. Luke church and cemetery

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

East Vandergrift Lithuanian church

East Vandergrift Lithuanian church

East Vandergrift Lithuanian stained glass inscription

East Vandergrift Lithuanian stained glass inscription

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

East Vandergrift Lithuanian club

East Vandergrift Lithuanian club

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

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  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.
    Pagarbiai,
    Dalius Bučinskas

    • Sveiki. Organizacija “Lietuvos vyčiai” angliškai vadinasi “Knights of Lithuania”, ji tebeegzistuoja nors tikriausiai gerokai silpnesnė, nei kadaise. Jos tinkapis http://knightsoflithuania.com/ , 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?

  4. Thank you. I loved reading this. I’m from Indiana County where many Lithuanian families worked in the R & P owned coal mines. Representatives from R & P recruited men from around Kaunas, Alytus, and Vilnius at the turn of the century (1900-1912). My grandfathers, Kazys Babarskas and Josef Masonis, were among the men to take the chance to come to America.


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