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Upstate New York

Many may associate "New York" with the city but unlike the small neighboring states the State of New York is truly expansive (larger than the entire New England save for Maine) and merely a half of its population live in the NYC. The state's remaining part is nicknamed Upstate New York. It consists of smaller cities where the population has halved since 1960s (total regional population remained the same).

Many of these cities have old Lithuanian communities with old churches. Unfortunately, the recent years have been sad to them: local dioceses have been hastily closing the Lithuanian parishes that survived a century or more. Not only the Lithuanian mass would be canceled but the buildings themselves were sold to other religions in many cases, destroying the Lithuanian-inspired interiors.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Amsterdam, Upstate New York, is now Buddhist-owned. Google Street View.

The number of parishes is lowered as the population falls. ~2010 a parish reform in Niagara Falls left 9 Catholic churches open out of the previous 21 (in 1960 the city had a population of 102 394, 2010 census counted merely 50 193). Niagara Falls St. George Lithuanian church (1910 Falls Street) has been among those closed. Built in 1928 its congregation peaked in 1971. The building has been sold to Anglo-Catholic who turned it into their pro-cathedral. Atypically, this small Christian community left the St. George dedication untouched and even invited the Lithuanians to continue using the premises. No interior details have been destroyed; on the contrary, Anglo-Catholics felt sad that Roman Catholics removed some pieces upon closure. 14 pretty stained glass windows survived.

Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms) detail on the fronton of the Niagara Falls St. George church. Google Street View.

Other Upstate New York Lithuanian churches have been less lucky. Amsterdam St. Casimir church has been sold to Buddhists after its closure; they established the Five Buddhas Temple there. The community leader Lucas Wang (a.k.a. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi) claimed that he received a revelation to purchase the church. United into the World Peace and Health Organization the local Buddhists plan a massive expansion that will even include theme park - but the fate of Lithuanian details of the St. Casimir church is likely sealed. Previously the church area hosted other Lithuanian institutions such as Pakėnas laundry, Piliponis grocery. Today their owners are probably resting in the St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery (Park drive).

St. Casimir sculpture with a Lithuanian inscription 'Bažn. Šv. Kazimiero' ('Ch. of St. Casimir') adorns the tower of the Amsterdam church. Google Street View.

Rochester attracted most of its ~400 Lithuanians ~1900 as they have been fleeing hard labor in Pennsylvania mines. In 1935 they constructed St. George church (545 Hudson Avenue) which has been closed in 2010 (up to the final days the Lithuanian mass has been celebrated). The parish was not destroyed however and it meets in another church at Brighton suburb (Our Lady of Lourdes, 165 Rhinecliff Drive); unfortunately, that building lacks Lithuanian details and history. In order to perpetuate Lituanity, ~100 Rochester Lithuanains have established a Lithuanian Heritage Society. In 2010 the city established sister ties with Alytus, Lithuania.

St. George church of Rochester may look modest but the parish owned multiple buildings (all the ones visible here) and the Lithuanian mass survived long. Google Street View.

Lithuanians (~500) also live in Binghamton. This community's history is similar to its many "siblings" in Upstate New York. It began before World War 1 and the highest point of Lituanity was in the 1930s. This golden era is still reminded by a dusty inscription "Lithuanian Natl. Assc. Inc." on a non-descript ~1917 building at 315 Clinton Street. City landmarks list also lists "Sokolvonia" building (~1939) as Lithuanian although a likely Slavic name may indicate a mistake. Subsequently, the membership of many Lithuanian organizations grew older, the usage of Lithuanian language grew limited to ethnic events. However, many still guarded cherished folk customs and amber jewelry as something that reminded them of their homeland. The arrival of refugees after the occupation of Lithuania (~1950) triggered a limited rebirth of Binghamton Lituanity. However, the DPs left the Upstate New York for work-laden major cities once they could.

Former Lithuanian National Association Inc. in Binghamton, now a Tri-Cities Opera. The fact that the old inscription was made of bricks saved it. Google Street View.

Like elsewhere the church life survived the longest in Binghamton. The modern facade of St. Joseph Lithuanian church (1 Judson Ave) still has a Lithuanian inscription over its doors. However, the building has been sold to Grace Tabernacle church in 2008. Multiple ethnic parishes have been consolidated into a single Holy trinity parish in the former St. Ann church. Some things of St. Joseph have been moved in there: electric organ, carillon, the Last Supper.

Former Lithuanian church of Binghamton looks the most modern of Upstate New York Lithuanian churches. Google Street View.

Another Lithuanian church stood at Utica (St. George; closed as recently as 2007 but there is nearly no information about it available online, likely it has been destroyed; if you know more please write a comment). The Lithuanian church building with a dome survives in Schenectady (Holy Cross church, 19 N. College Street) but the information on it is also scarce. Schenectady is a suburb of state capital Albany.

The domed Lithuanian church of Schenectady. Google Street View.

Albany itself had a Lithuanian church of St. George once (corner of Thornton and Livingston streets). Built in 1917, it has been closed in 1986. Today the building is used as a community center / soup kitchen dedicated to Sister Maureen Joyce. Blessed Mary statue from the original church as well as a plaque reminding of Lithuanian history remains.

Former St. George Lithuanian church in Albany, New York. Google Street View.

Source, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4

Literature: Bygone Binghamton – Remembering People and Places of the Past (Jack Edward Shay).

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  1. https://sites.google.com/site/lhsofr/

    Please add all active organizations, under specific cities.


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