Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Shenandoah and southern Coal Region, Pennsylvania

The Southern Coal region of Pennsylvania is known as "Little Lithuania". The percentage of ethnic Lithuanians in its town is larger than in any other area of the USA. Mreover, this region has also been important for the cultural history of the entire Lithuanian nation. Almost every town here has (or had) a Lithuanian church, cemetery, or 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 telling the life stories of these immigrants. The region even has locations that are important to the history of Lithuania, not just Lithuanian-Americans, such as the site where the world's first Lithuanian-language novel was published. It also has numerous buildings with Lithuanian symbols in the facades. It holds Lithuanian Days, the America's oldest continous ethnic festival every year since 1914.

Mt. Carmel Lithuanian school

Mt. 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 surrounded by abandoned mines and artificial hills created by mining.

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 the 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 - Vilnius of America

The heart of the Lithuanian region is Shenandoah (pop. 5500) that used to be nicknamed "Vilnius of America". Even today it is ~14% 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). It was 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, despite the fact that it was the only church in the town built on solid ground, the diocese decided to tear St. George's 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" (it is located at the very center of the town, on the corner of Main and Centre streets).

Shenandoah St. George Lithuanian church site and its image

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

The nickname "Vilnius of America" 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.

The decline that happened in Shenandoah since then has been common in all the towns of the Southern Coal Region: they lost at least half of population since 1930 while some even lost three-quarters. Arguably, 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.

The no-new-immigrants situation began to change ~2000s, however, as New York City area logistics centers were developed nearby, attracting Hispanic immigrants but the Lithuanian component is still strong.

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 Lithuanian 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 language, 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 was 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). [note: another source suggested that the Our Lady of Calvary Cemetery was established as independent in 1937 and consecrated in 1980, and the 1911 conflict happened at one of the other Shenandoah Lithuanian cemeteries]

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, as well as supporting anti-Soviet religious activities in Lithuania.

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 mostly abandoned.

Shenandoah Lithuanian Liberty cemetery entrance

Shenandoah Lithuanian Liberty cemetery entrance

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.

Shenandoah is also to receive a Lithuanian Museum, to be relocated from Frackville.

Lithuanian towns that surround Shenandoah

Merely a few miles separate Shenandoah from some other "Lithuanian" neighboring villages and towns. However, Lithuanians started moving 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 are 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 (therefore, although all the parishes are ~100 years old, some church buildings are relatively 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 all 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 operating 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 defended 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 Lithuanians 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 other 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 has been closed down in 2022, to be relocated to Shenandoah (see above). 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 instruments, 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).

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, where Lithuanian churches closed and Lithuanians were told to go to some once-non-Lithuanian parish, in Mahanoy City, all the parishes have been consolidated into the Lithuanian church in 2008. Therefore, it is the Lithuanian church that continues to be open, albeit now 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. On the outside, additional wall has been built parallel to the church where stained glass windows from the closed churches of Mahanoy City have been put on.

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) stood derelict until 2021, when it was demolished (the newspaper had its final issue in 1959 as the Lithuanian language use declined in the area; it had been established in 1888).

"Saulės" lietuvių laikraščio leidykla

Saulė ithuanian newspaper publishing house in 2017 (now demolished

The facade of Saulė publishing house

The facade of Saulė publishing house in 2017 (now demolished)

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, ethnic 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, to be turned into a newly-amalgamated parish's parking lot, 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 this family's gravesypmes 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

North of Mahanoy City stands another, far sadder-looking Old Lithuanian Cemetery. It is entirely abandoned, overgrown with trees, many of its gravestones overturned. That cemetery was established by the Mahanoy City St. Joseph parish in 1922, as the Lithuanian inscription on the gate says ("1922 m."). However, then it turned out that the ground is unsuitable for burials due to ground water. A new cemetery was thus opened (see above) and the people were encouraged to rebury their relatives there. However, this cost money, and thus some Lithuanians remained buried in the old cemetery which is now not being taken care of.

Abandoned Old Lithuanian Cemetery of Mahanoy City

Abandoned Old Lithuanian Cemetery of Mahanoy City

Abandoned Old Lithuanian Cemetery of Mahanoy City

Abandoned Old Lithuanian Cemetery of 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 and impressive stained-glass windows which are condemned as the church has been closed.

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, there is no street sign and the name thus appears on the maps alone.

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. It includes Lithuanian stained-glass windows. Although no Lithuanian mass has been held for a long time, 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 Lithuanian surnames written under various works of art as those of their donors. The official website of the former parish 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 was allowed to stay open.

 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 of the region (St. Peter and Paul, 307 Pine St.), which is 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 out 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). ~2018, a massive renovation in the Tamaqua church has also removed large swatches of Jonynas's style that once formed the church as a single whole. Stations of the cross were replaced by the ones moved from a closed church, the altar side has been remodeled, the tower shortened (due to water leakage), and the front sculptures removed. The details that were removed still exist in the parish, albeit in other places (e.g. in the sacristy). Before the current Tamaqua church was built, Lithuanians used a building behind it as a church, as well as a school. That building still stands (constructed in 1927). While the remodelings removed some of the original charater, they ensured that this church continues as the main church of Tamaqua, thus, it has not been closed (albeit renamed from St. Peter and Paul to St. John XXIII).

 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. After closure, this church was bought by a local person who was attached to it as he amrried his Lithuanian wife there and baptised their children there. Living in the rectory, he left the church mostly as it was. The diocese itself, however, after selling the church, tried to remove stained-glass-windows and the cornerstone but the parishioners and the new owner fought against this. Still, the diocese has removed the Lithuanian names of the church donors from the stained-glass windows.

 Coaldale St. John Lithuanian church

Coaldale St. John Lithuanian church

Coaldale St. John the Baptist Lithuanian church

Coaldale St. John the Baptist Lithuanian church

Coaldale St. John the Baptist Lithuanian church interior

Coaldale St. John the Baptist Lithuanian church interior

Shenandoah is the most Lithuanian US town among those above 5000 inhabitants but if you count all the villages with population above 1000, New Philadelphia has that title. ~25% people there are Lithuanians (more than of any other single ancestry). In 1910, when the village was double in size, there was a confrontation between two ethnicities: Lithuanians and Irish. Both established their own church and both remained open nearly until these days. 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 created 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 two Lithuanian cemeteries. Larger one by far is the Catholic Lithuanian Cemetery with a World War 2 memorial. There is also an eerily abandoned Lithuanain Liberty Cemetery by the hillside.

 Minersville Lithuanian cemetery and World War 2 memorial

Minersville Lithuanian cemetery and World War 2 memorial

Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery of Minersville

Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery of Minersville

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. Another Lithuanian cemetery (non-religious) is known as Sons of Lithuania cemetery and is located west of town together with St. Mary's Byzantine cemetery.

St. Casimir in the St. Clair Lithuanian cemetery

St. Casimir in the St. Clair Lithuanian cemetery

Sons of Lithuania cemetery in St. Clair

Sons of Lithuania cemetery in St. Clair

The areas south of Shenandoah also host the Pennsylvania Lithuanian Days. They are the longest-continuously-running annual ethnic festival in the USA, taking place every year since 1914. In 1922-1984, and since 2021, they take place in Lakewood Park and now they usually take place in the closest weekend to the day of Virgin Mary Assumption in August. Previously, there used to be one Lithuanian day and it used to take place even if it did not fall out on Sunday. Lithuanians would take a holiday that day and descend on the Lakewood Park. It is said some 13 trains would go to Lakewood Park that day. It was also common to raise Lithaunain flag that day as it is a kind of Pennsylvania Lithaunian ethnic festival. The Lithuanian Days include Lithuanain music, fair, dances, and history-related activities.

In a Lithuanian partisan camp during the Lithuanain Days

In a Lithuanian partisan camp during the Lithuanain Days

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.), established in 1926, with a door painted in Lithuanian tricolor. The club is among the most inclined to keep the Lithuanian heritage among the Lithuanian clubs of Pennsylvania's coal region, thanks to the young enthusiasts of Lithuanian heritage. Today, only a minority of its ~400 members are Lithuanians but, nevertheless, the club keeps the Lithuanian traditions and has many Lithuanian memorabilia inside. The club, open every day, also helps lonely old people to socialise.

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club

Mt. Carmel also has 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 area, 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 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“).

Mount Carmel Lithuanian church

Mount Carmel Lithuanian church

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 (all of the town's cemeteries are located in a single area in the southeast next to coal mining remains, but the Lithuanian cemetery is separated from the others by the grove).

Shamokin old Lithuanian church, partly demolished (since 2015) on the left. Only the basment remains.

Shamokin old Lithuanian church, partly demolished (since 2015) on the left. Only the basment remains.


Shamokin Lithuanian club

Shamokin Lithuanian club


Shamokin St. Michael Lithuanian cemetery

Shamokin St. Michael 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

While the town of Ashland has no Lithuanian clubs or churches, it has many people of Lithuania heritage. It also houses an original coal mine where one may descend to as well as an Anthracite museum that prsents mining mostly from technological (rather than cultural) standpoint. There are no direct mentions of Lithuanians but the life these Lithuanians endured is represented.

Going inside the Ashland mine

Going inside the Ashland mine

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 Roman Catholicism. The completed church then served 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

The start place plaque of the Lattimer march, with Lithuanian explicitly mentioned

The start place plaque of the Lattimer march, with Lithuanian explicitly mentioned

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 (currently having ~500-1000 visitors), 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 Lithuanians who helped them on 2017 09 28

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

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Pennsylvania, USA Leave a comment
Comments (28) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I am fairly certain that St. Bartholomew’s Church in Brockton was a German ethnic parish. I was baptized there in 1949 by a Father Felix Fink, hardly a Lithuanian name.

  2. Nothing of importance. I am 82+ and couldn’t think of the name of the Lithuanian Church that was directly across from one of the homes lived in, Maizeville, PA. My Daughter Kathy said “Dad, do a search on the computer.” WOW! Modern technology at its best. Took about 5 minutes and “St. Louis” was there on the screen. Sad, how our heritage is disappearing. My Dad died from Black Lung, only 40 yrs. young. When my Great Grandfather came to America, Ellis Island, a Polish gentleman (ski) was in the line before him and when he spelled his last name (Navitskowstkas), the clerk dropped the “owstkas” and said, “Welcome to America Mr. Navitsky.” All the Navitsky men before me worked in the coal mines and died from Silicosis. In July, 1951, I joined the USAF and was fortunate enough to get in 20 years, retiring in Sept. , 1971. Still married to my Sweetheart, have a Son, 3 Daughters, a Grandson, 3 Granddaughters, and a Great Grandson. God’s been good to me. God Bless Our Troops and may God Bless America.
    P.S. Really enjoyed all the above history.

  3. I discovered this site through the Lithuanian Global Genealogy facebook page. It is a real treasure! I only started a scholarly search of my ancestry in the last two years. I was born in Coaldale Hospital while my parents lived in Tamaqua, and attneded St. Peter and Paul Church there. My paternal grandparents had a farm in Still Creek, between McAdoo and Tamaqua, off 309. I have many pleasant memories of the area and of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. My grandparents arrived between 1900 and 1910. Although I have information on my paternal grandmother’s family, I still do not know much about the family of my grandfather, Alexander Išganaitis. I always wondered if he left his family back in Lithuania and came to the coal mines on his own. His death certificate says that his father was Juozas Išganaitis and his mother was Marija Žemaitis, but I hav enot located them in the US so far. Thank you for writing this article as it gives me additional information to continue my search.

  4. Laba diena,
    Rašau Jums savo mamytės prašymu. Mano mamytė yra kilusi iš Krikštonių kaimo, kuris yra netoliese Seirijų miestelio ir šiandien priklauso Lazdijų savivaldybei (Lietuva). Tvarkydami jos pasimirusio 2013 m. dėdės Vlado Brazicko, gimusio 1921 m. (pavardė pakitusi, manome, kad anksčiau ji buvo Brazinskas) asmeninius daiktus, radome gan įdomias labai senas fotografijas. Kažkada dėdė Vladas yra minėjęs apie artimus giminaičius, kurie, manome, dar prieš Pirmąjį pasaulinį karą emigravo į Jungtines Amerikos Valstijas. Tikėtina, kad dirbo kasyklose. Jo tėvas tai yra mano mamos senelis taip pat buvo trumpam emigravęs į JAV ir užsidirbęs pakankamai pinigų grįžo atgal į Lietuvą. Tikslesnių duomenų apie tai neturime, manome, kad tai galėtų būti mano prosenelio Broniaus brolis ar pusbrolis. Ant šeimos nuotraukos, kuri buvo atsiųsta šių giminaičių, radome užrašą fotoatelje, kurioje ši nuotrauka ir buvo pagaminta: Drizas, Cor. White&CentreSTS, SHENANDOAH. PA. Radau internete, kad ši fotroatelje tikrai egzistavo Shenandoah Pensilvanijos valstijoje 1910 metais.
    Labai prašytume pagelbėti ieškant nuotraukoje esančių artimųjų pėdsakų. Galėčiau atsiųsti elektroniniu paštu nuotraukų skenuotas kopijas. Gal kas iš senosios kartos dar ką nors prisimins ar gal pas ką nors dar yra išlikusios šios šeimos nuotraukos. Labai norėtume surasti savo šeimos nutrūkusias gijas. Tiesiog įdomu sužinoti šių artimų žmonių likimus ir jų istorijas.

    Su pagarba, Diana Lukminė

  5. Gerb. Diana, yra tokia Lithuanian Global Geneological Society, tai ten žmonės ieško savo artimųjų Lietuvoje arba bent jau gauna informaciją. Pabandykite

  6. Thank you for this.

  7. Thanks for the education.
    My Lithuanian side seems to be lost in a sea of Italians here in NJ but I keep reminding my children of this great and proud heritage
    .

  8. I grew up in Saint Clair and attended St Casmir’s Church. In fact, our house was one block west of the Church. My Father Frank raised roses and decorated all three alters when they were in bloom. Good Ole Saint Clair. I was an Alter Boy also. Lots of memories.

  9. Hi
    I really appreciated reading your site. Last year I had a DNA test done and it confirmed my Lithuanian( 60%)heritage along with Irish, Iberian an d South Asian. I have heard bits and pieces of information over the years, I am 67 years old. I am curious to find out what towns of villages my Grand Mother and Grand Father came from. Recently I saw a travel show on Lithuania and was amazed by it beauty and it made me more interested in finding out where my GrandParents came from.
    My maternal Grand Mother’s maiden name was Mary Navitsky( born 1891) and she married Frank Zigmund ( born 1883) both born in Lithuania .

    Can you give me any direction? They lived in Schoentown, Pa.

    Thanks

    Jerry Kott

    • We do offer heritage search services (more info here: http://www.truelithuania.com/about-us-contacts ). We do the archive search, we also offer to visit the places where your forefathers came from if you’d ever visit Lithuania (we may arrange a tour).

      However, in order to find significant information, there needs to be some information to begin that search. As I understand, you know only their names (Americanized) and birthdates, but not even an approximate location in Lithuania? In such cases, it is also sometimes possible to find the probable place where they came from in Lithuania based on the surnames: typically, before the 20th century, Lithuanian families used to live in the same location for generations, and so each surname (except for the most popular ones) used to be prevalent only in some regions. If you are interested in such a search, contact us, but it is possible that it would produce a list of different probable locations.

  10. My name is: Edward J. Zemaitis, age 91, I was born and raised in Frackville and Baptized by Father Norbutas. My grandfather, Jonas Zemaitis was the organist and choir director in St. Georges Church in Shenandoah for thirty years.
    I am curious to know where our blood lines cross.??? I’ve had my DNA tested by,
    “Family Tree DNA” Unfortunately, I’ve been searching for a match, but so far no reply .
    My Email address is:>zeebow2@comcast.net<

    Sincerely, E.J.Zemaitis

    • I have not done a DNA test. As I live in Lithuania, these are much less popular there since once typically has only Lithuanian blood (sometimes Polish or other nearby ethnicities). In any case, it is possible that the bloodlines do not meet or meet long ago as Žemaitis is a fairly popular surname and it means Samogitian (a sub-ethnic group from Western Lithuania, see http://www.truelithuania.com/topics/lithuania-by-region/samogitia-what-to-do-in-lithuanias-west ). It is likely that the surname was applied to Samogitians who came to somewhere else (other parts of Lithuania). My Žemaitis-surname-line hails from Mielagėnai near Ignalina so, if yours is also from there, it is more likely that we are related.

  11. My parents,Edward J. Pelsinsky & Isabella Raibeck Pelsinsky, along with brother Dan & Sister Ruthie are buried in Our Lady of Dawn Cemetery.

  12. Surprised there was no one to tell or talk about the Lithuanian school in Minersville! I went there, it was open for such a long time period and I am sure there are those who could give some history. The Sisters of St. Casimir taught there for years. Sad, this large Lithuanian community was not investigated further. Of course, the village of about 326 souls, most of whom were Lithuanian, did not even get a mention. No school or church because we all went to Minersville, but there was a men’s Lithuanian beneficial club there, a saloon run by a Lithuanian.

  13. Viewing these beautiful pictures and reading the history of this area has been delightful. I had no idea that the Lithuanian influence was so strong here. My dad’s father grew up here and died in a Gilberton mine explosion here in 1935. I look forward to learning more about my Lithuanian heritage. Is there a place to look up grave names in these cemeteries?

    Does anyone know why a Lithuanian would say his surname is Whitechester? It doesn’t sound very Lithuanian to me. I love the beautiful Lithuanian names.

    • You may check the regular sites that have names of people buried in various cemeteries, e.g. findagrave.com . Some cemeteries may be available here and some not. I don’t know about the surname, however, I know there were situations where Lithuanians would change surnames completely in order to have English-sounding ones that the locals would have no problem to spell (or customs officials completely misheard the surname – I’d think, for example, it is possible that his surname was Vaičys, spelled like Why-cheese, and it was misheard as Whitechester).

  14. Looking for genealogy info on these surnames: Alutis, Kupsis, Monkoitis, Waitkus.

    • We offer searches in the Lithuanian archives. However, the Lithuanian archives have limited digital search possibilities (these are only possible for some data of the 1920-1940 period). For other searches (e.g. birth records, death records) one needs to search the actual books. The books are not cataloged by surname but rather by locality. It would be therefore very helpful if you’d know at least the approximate area of Lithuania these people came from.

      By the way, Waitkus was also the surname of the famous Lithuanian pilot who is buried in Wisconsin (see this article: Wisconsin).

  15. Wow, what a lot of information, on my heritage! My cousin sent this to me. He lives in Texas, but we lived in Cicero, il growing up went to St. Anthony, which is now, Mexican. Grandfather was a coal miner in Mahanoy City. Got black lung, moved to Il in 1890′ s died 1920’s ??


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