Reprinted from Our County Our Story by Malcolm Rosholt, 1959, pages 122-145.
Poland, which had been a powerful nation in the Middle Ages as well as protector of the Holy Roman Empire, after 1795 lost her pre-eminent position in national and church affairs. This decline was not due so much to internal weakness as to Poland's democratic organization and the growing strength of absolutism around her. By the end of the 18th Century Poland had become a nation divided among Prussia, Austria and Russia. This situation continued down to the end of World War I when, by the treaty of Versailles, independence was restored and the three parts of Poland reunited.
Most of the Polish emigrants to Portage County came from German-Poland, i.e. Prussia, especially from the districts around Poznan and Danzig. Immigrants from this area were apt to speak some German and it also appears that on first arriving in the United States they considered themselves a trifle above their compatriots who may have come from Russian or Austrian-Poland. This was a natural assumption because Germany under Bismarck had risen to a first-class power in Europe within the space of a single decade.
It is generally agreed that Michael Koziczkowski (pronounced Ko-zhich-kofskee) was the first Polish immigrant to settle in Portage County. In his application for naturalization made at Circuit Court in Plover on Nov. 4, 1861, he states that he was born in Prussia (i.e. German-Poland) in 1811 and entered the United States at New York in the month of September 1857.1
Mrs. Martha Cecelia Liebe, the youngest daughter of Michael Koziczkowski, born east of Polonia in 1865, died in Rosholt village in January 1959. Her father, she once told the author, came to Portage County within a few weeks after landing in the port of N ew York. Circumstantial evidence tends to confirm this.
Family tradition also holds that Koziczkowski was a member of the nobility and known in German-Poland as Michael von Koziczkowski. This cannot be confirmed at this time, but when he applied for naturalization in 1861, he signed his name with a lower case 'v' between the two names, but no period after the 'v', probably an abbreviation for "von." But when he got his final citizenship papers on Sept. 14, 1868 he signed "Michael Von Koziczkowski," upper-case in all instances. This suggests that in his original application, owing to the ban on foreign orders and decorations implied in the naturalization proceedings, he was not sure of his status and inserted the small 'v' which could have passed for a middle initial, but when he later found out that there was no ban on this sort of title, which was actually a family affair made possible through hereditary circumstance and privilege, he was emboldened to use the "von." It may have been the last time as none of the Sharon tax rolls uses it and it is quite possible that he realized by this time that it was out of place.
Asked why her father came to the United States, Mrs. Liebe said: "Well, he heard in the papers that it was such g-o-o-d country an' it was free land an' everything. He was lookin' here and there for farm, and ol' man Oesterle, then he went there and he said why can't you buy your land here by me and we'll be neighbors. He bought it and he had it, and he died there and my brother Joe was there pretty near to his death too."
When Koziczkowski decided to emigrate to America, he was apparently the first from the district around Danzig to make this decision, and it caused such a stir that the local priest made a special announcement of it at church services. When time came for the family to leave, the entire community gathered at the railway station to bid Godspeed and farewell. According to a story told by L. E. Glinski of Stevens Point, Anton Hintz, who once worked in the tailor shop of Joseph Glinski at 306 Main Street, was among the children tugging at his mother's apron strings the day that Koziczkowski and family departed for America. Many years later Hintz himself emigrated to America, made his way to Portage County and to his amazement encountered Koziczkowski on the Public Square the first day he arrived. He never ceased wondering about the vagaries of life in recounting this incident.
Koziczkowski allegedly left his family in Stevens Point in the latter part of 1857 and went on to Marathon County, probably at the suggestion of German acquaintances in Milwaukee, to look over the prospects of buying land. It would be natural that he would associate with Germans when he came to Wisconsin as he spoke little English. Mrs. Liebe said that her father also spoke French, Swedish and Latin, which was not uncommon among the Polish aristocracy who were, before the partitions of Poland, probably the most cultured people in Europe, fluent in several languages, widely traveled, musical and advanced in the sciences. But Koziczkowski was not satisfied with Marathon County for some reason — probably the land was too dear — for he returned to Stevens Point where he found temporary employment.
According to legend handed down in the Steffanus family of Sharon, William Steffanus, who pioneered on land north of Ellis in the mid-1850s, attended church in these early years at St. Stephens in Stevens Point and one Sunday found himself seated next to a stranger reading a Polish prayer book. Although Steffanus was a Frenchman from Lorraine, he also spoke German and after the service addressed the stranger who was Koziczkowski. After hearing his story, Steffanus suggested that he should see his neighbor, Joseph Oesterle — although several miles removed to the east he was still considered a neighbor — who had land for sale. The upshot was that Koziczkowski was introduced to Oesterle who either sold or contracted to sell him a tract of land in Sec 11 about three miles east of where the community of Polonia was located some 20 years later.
When he first settled here, according to Mrs. Liebe, her father was such a curiosity that people drove into the yard merely to see what a Polish settler looked like.
On the strength of letters written to friends and relatives in Poland, Koziczkowski induced others to come to Portage County. Among them may have been Joseph Deuckee (who signed his name as Josef Doizik, today spelled Dudzik) who entered the United States at New York in June 1859 and became the first Polish settler in the county to apply for naturalization at Circuit Court on July 25, 1859; Joseph Platta, who entered at New York in September 1858 and applied on Aug. 22, 1859; John Scendas (who signed his own name as Jan Zynda) who entered at New York in September 1858 and applied Aug. 31, 1859; Volanda (i.e. Valentine) Wyoch (later spelled Woyak) who entered the United States at Milwaukee in August 1859 and applied at Plover on Sept. 21, 1859; Anton Lorbiecki who entered at New York in August 1859 and applied at Plover on Sept. 21, 1859; and Adam Kleinshmidt (later shortened to Klesmit) who entered at New York in August 1858 and applied at Plover on April 2, 1860.
From the above it will be noted that Platta, Zynda and Kleinshmidt all preceded Dudzik to the United States and local legend holds that they arrived in the county ahead of him, but from the evidence, did not make application for naturalization until after Dudzik.
Other early Polish settlers to Portage County and the date they applied for naturalization in Circuit Court are as follows: Francis Woyak, 1860; Andrew Sikorski, 1861; John Pollak2 (who gave his birthplace as Austria, probably Austrian-Poland, and signed his own name Polak), 1861; Thomas Kuklinski, 1861; Joseph Lukshitz (who signed his own name Lukowicz, later spelled it Lukasavitz), 1861; Joseph Shulfer, 1861; Onofry Kruzynsky, 1861; Joseph Klopatac, 1862; Joseph Kleman, 1862; Adam Kedrovski, 1862; Antony Woyak, 1862; Jacob Werachowski, 1862; John Shelbrzchowsky, 1862; Francis Birna (who signed as Frank Birna), 1863; Andreas Stroik, 1865; Mateusz (i.e. Matthew) Dulak, 1865; Casimier Lukaszewitz, 1866; Andrew Siuda (today Shuda), 1866; Albert Hommernik (who signed his own name as Omernyk, today Omernick), 1866; Frank A. Koziczkowski, 1866; Johanus Kluk, 1866; Joseph Mylanoski, 1866; John Boyer, 1866; Martin Szarafinski (today Sharafinski), 1866; Michael Worzalla, 1867; Thomas Jack (later Yach), 1867; Richard and Nicholas Gross, 1867; Andrew Isadore, 1867; John Brychel, 1867; Andrew Levandowski, 1867; Peter Orlikoski, 1868; Thomas Molski, 1868; Andreas Klushkikowski (later Kluczykowski), 1868; and August and Daniel Kirshling, both in 1868.
A Polish immigrant who preceded Michael Koziczkowski to the United States but apparently not to Portage County, was Augustin Domeke (who signed his own name as Dimka, today probably Dimke) who entered at New York in 1854 and applied for naturalization at Plover in 1859. This is also the first Polish name to appear in a Stevens Point tax roll in the original 2nd Ward for 1863. He is believed to have established a bakery on Elk Street which continued in business for many years.
Most of the Polish newcomers settled in the towns of Sharon and Stockton and formed a colony where they could be neighbors to one another and out of this nucleus grew the most important Polish-American agricultural settlement in Wisconsin. But the Civil War discouraged large-scale migration among Europeans to America and it was not until after the 1870s that the number of Polish immigrants increased to a point where it could be said that they were definitely making up a separate ethnic community in the county.
The migration of the Polish people to the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee and to the farm lands of Portage County is somewhat of a mystery when compared to other ethnic groups from Europe. There were no real estate offices or American railroad representatives in any city of Poland to encourage emigration and, as far as it is known, no advertisements of cheap land were carried in the Polish-language press of Europe. Although many of the Polish people lived under Prussian occupation, there was no political persecution or church-sponsored movement to either encourage or discourage emigration, although cultural duress was applied by discouraging the Polish language in the churches and forbidding anything but German being taught in the schools. Many Poles, however, had served in the Prussian army in the wars of the 1860s and early '70s and probably felt that as a token of their service to the state they should be given a greater share in the economic life of their country. Bismarck not only refused to accede to any policy of leniency but actually made it more difficult for Polish peasants to buy or even to own land, as he wished to conserve the land for future Germans. The emigration of the Poles, then, was one of choice, occasioned largely by self-interest, and not the result of either religious or political persecution, and the Bismarckian policy thus gave rise to the first great wave of Polish emigration in the 1870s.
There were two factors which probably determined why Portage County should become the center of Polish agriculture in Wisconsin. One was a coincidence; Koziczkowski spoke German and he naturally clung to people with whom he could converse and came to Stevens Point as a jumping-off place to Marathon County where the "Pittsburgers," a large colony of Pennsylvania Dutch, were settling. Dissatisfied, as mentioned earlier, he returned to Stevens Point where he was already acquainted and found temporary employment.
The main factor which probably determined that Portage County should be the permanent home of Koziczkowski was cheap land, although not necessarily the best land. Nearly all the good land in the southern half of the county had been either pre-empted or purchased from the government or the land grant companies. There was still unoccupied land in the county, that is to say, land which no one had attempted to break or prove up. One of these areas lay to the east and northeast of modern Polonia along the watersheds of the terminal moraine, among the rolling hills studded with stones, undisturbed since the last glacier dumped them there thousands of years ago. There were also a few trees of mixed oak and pine, not enough to log off commercially, but sufficient for firewood and with care, even for selected lumber. It was an unlikely place to farm, but Koziczkowski and the Polish families had what this land required, namely, big families which meant cheap labor. The hand-built stone fences that still survive along the roads and the cow alleys on the farms south, north and east of Polonia are mute evidence of the years of back-breaking labor required to clear the land sufficiently for a plow to get through on a fairly straight line between two points. Even at that, most of the larger stones lay buried, half in and half out of the ground, until the period after World War II when the bulldozer moved in and began snubbing them out. Before that time, these stones were an everlasting source of frustration which dulled the plow point and wrecked the cultivator shovels. At these times the Polish farmer was apt to utter a mighty oath, "piorun!" and reach for his snuff box.
On the evidence of the 1876 plat, the Polish immigrants had taken over quite a few forties between modern Highways 66 & 10 in the towns of Sharon and Stockton and also in areas to the north of H-66 in Sharon. In addition, a few scattered families had settled in Hull and a small community in the old Fourth Ward north of the slough in Stevens Point.
Some of the land which the Polish immigrants purchased were from landlords like Oesterle or from realty companies and brokers. But much of it was purchased from the Irish pioneers who preceded them. The Irish, less accustomed to farming, more inclined to urban life and politics, were moving back to the cities.
Since 1922, after quotas were imposed on immigration, the number of people entering the country directly from Poland has practically ceased, but over the years there has been a steady trickle of city workers who have been buying farms in the poorer quarter sections of the county, most of them from Chicago and Milwaukee or from the coal mines in southern Illinois. The fact that they insist on becoming farmers, even after years of urban settlement, suggests that most of them were farmers in Europe who longed to return to a life on the land.
By 1910 the Polish settlers in the county were largely grouped in four areas, the largest in the north-northeast covering much of Dewey, Hull, Sharon, the north half of Stockton and west half of Alban. The second area lay west of the Wisconsin River in Linwood and Carson, although well interspersed by other nationalities, and a third, rather isolated settlement, developed to the southwest of Plover in the mid-1880s. A fourth, even more isolated, developed after the turn of the century in the southern part of Belmont township. The majority of the latter appear to have been Austrian-Poles, as the names on the headstones of St. John's the Baptist Church cemetery differ from names around Polonia; for example Wiora, Robster, Yeska, Hajuk, Nowak, Walotka, Jendrzejczyk, Muszynski, and Swendrzynski.
A small community of Slovaks, ethnically related to the Poles, settled in the southeast corner of lower Grant (T. 21) around the turn of the century which included among others, the Hurant, Kallata, Winecknack, Rodak, Malick, Pavel, Palik, Poenka, Pionka, Mojercak, and Petrusky families. These people were multi-lingual, speaking their own dialect of Slovakian as well as conversational Polish and German.
It is often assumed, on the basis of the above, that these districts in the county were taken over entirely by the Polish immigrant, or by immigrants who had stopped off in the big cities to save money to buy a farm. The plat books belay this assumption. The only nearly perfect Polish township in 1903 was Sharon and even here there were still Norwegian and German names to be found. With the exception of Sharon, all the other townships in the so-called Polish areas are studded with family names of Irish, German and Yankee descent. Since World War II, with new and better roads, and with an expanding population, the trend is definitely away from identifying any specific area with one national group or another. New Hope, which was once almost entirely Norwegian, has become a mixture of Norwegian, Swedish and Polish. The most cosmopolitan township in the county, since the beginning, is probably Eau Pleine where names of most north European languages may be discovered, although Town Clerk Otto Paetch estimated in 1957 that about half of the township was Polish. The trend toward blending of race and culture is probably the most pronounced in the town of Hull which includes the new residential areas building east and north of Stevens Point. Joseph Barnowsky, town clerk, explained it this way: "First were the English and Irish, then came the Germans, then the Polish. Now the Americans have arrived." He was referring to the new names appearing in the poll lists since 1950, and smiled when he realized what he had said. Nevertheless, his statement is significant, not only for its factual value, but also because it reflects a new social attitude which Barnowsky himself has adopted towards his environment.
By 1958 descendants of the Polish pioneers had penetrated every township of the county. These are families mostly of the third generation, still fairly pure ethnically. This process will be more difficult to determine in succeeding generations because inter-marriage with other ethnic groups is creating the new cosmopolitan race of American man. By the time the new Portage County Court House is replaced or removed, the habit of identifying each other's racial background will have probably changed and men will be identified not by their Polish or Irish ancestry, but as coming from such-and-such a locality within the United States, a factor which will no doubt be influenced by heightened sectional interests.
Like the first Norwegians who brought along their trolls to plague them in the new land, the early Polish immigrants brought along their respect for the boginki, or water spirits with invisible human bodies who could be heard washing their clothes at night or at midday and who could bear children and even exchange their own for human ones, particularly if they had not been baptized. Instead of the bear, although there were enough of them in Portage County, the Polish mother was apt to scare her children with the threat of calling jedza, the horrid old witch.
Most of these beliefs in a naturalistic spirit world may be traced back to pagan times and are closely related to the Norwegian nisse and huldre even as they are related to all people in all lands since time immemorial. Occasionally, the loneliness and frustration of the early years of life in America brought on tensions which the immigrant was unable to cope with and he went to all kinds of lengths to defeat the power of the boginki. At such times, lacking psychiatric treatment, the local priest was brought in, and, by performing certain rites, he attempted to cast out the evil spirits which allegedly inhabited the house. Often it had the right effect. Today, a person who begins hiding from the boginki is more apt to be taken to a hospital for therapeutic treatment under doctors trained to detect the difference between the world of reality and the world of fancy.
A comparison between the letters written home to Norway by Norwegian immigrants in America and letters written home to Poland by Polish immigrants suggests that a Norwegian was more apt to boast about his success in his adopted land, while the latter was apt to discuss family affairs and express himself especially in what is known as the "bowing letter." Polish letter writers have been classified into several categories, such as the "bowing letter," the "informing letters," "sentimental letters," and so on. The difference between the general run of Norwegian letters and Polish letters lies in the fact that the latter, writing from America to relatives in the Old Country, were not obliged to justify their reasons for emigrating to America. The opposite was true of the Norwegians; they faced the same scarcity of land for their children, nevertheless the Norwegian government and state church did everything short of passing a law to discourage people from emigrating to America. To leave Norway, particularly during the period from 1840-1860, was an act of defiance which had to be justified as soon as the newcomer had settled in America. The Polish emigrant was not a rebel against the government; when he arrived in America his relation to his people in Poland was still that of a son who had left home to seek a better life, and when he wrote home he was careful to fulfill his social obligations to his family which he did in the so-called "bowing-letter."3 It was a beautiful form of expression, for even though separated by time and space, the writer of the letter could be visualized bowing to his relatives and friends in Poland. The letter writers in Poland make frequent mention of feast days in the church year, and often addressed their relatives in America with religious salutations such as "Praised be Jesus Christus" answered by "In centuries of centuries. Amen."
An example of the "bowing letter" was received by Mrs. Mary Check, nee Kozolek, living near Polonia in 1928. It was sent from Walentynowo, Poland, and opens with a stylized version which translated may read as follows:
My dear little letter don't be detained anywhere but speed to the threshold of my sister and brother-in-law. Bow low to their feet and praise God (with the words): Jesus Christ be praised!
On the occasion of a birthday in 1910, Mary Kozelek received a card which had two small pages inside for a message. The first page of this card carries a printed form which reads in Polish:
Ile rosy pada z nieba,
Ile kropli mieści morze
Tyle zdrowia, szczęścia, chleba
Niech Twe życie wspiera, wzmoże.
(Literally: "As much as there is dew from heaven, as much as there are drops in the sea, so much of health, happiness and bread may your life bring to you.")
Appended to this card appears the following message in Polish, the translation of which follows:
I am taking pen in hand and this white paper, hoping that my words will please you. I went into the garden to look for a fragrant flower, but I could not find anything but this piece of paper, and now I have to think what sort of greetings I should send you. I am wishing you many of God's blessings. May you live 150 years and grow as the most beautiful flower. These wishes are sent to you by your brother, Antoni.
Dear Sister, Give my best regards to Aunts, Grandfather, Brothers and Sisters. They are probably angry with me for not having written so long. Dear Aunt, I'll write you a long letter and tell you about everything, so don't be angry. Greetings from Father, Mother, Sister, Brother-in-law, and all relatives and acquaintances, and finally from Anton. Amen.
Both Polish and Scandinavian immigrants in the first and second generations were exclusive in their cultural habits and traditions, and tended to remain in their own communities with little social contact with other Americans, but of the two ethnic groups, the Poles were more marked in their banding together. Even though many Polish families stopped en route to Wisconsin to work in Schenectady or Chicago, they usually settled in communities where the Polish language was spoken, and, when they came to Portage County, were still unable to converse freely in the English language. This linguistic isolation was probably heightened by the fact that the Poles were the last of the major ethnic groups to settle in the county. Moreover, family ties were strong and life revolved around a complicated structure of family obligations which were deep rooted and affected those who emigrated to America in the first and second generations.
But the third and fourth generations, while still having trouble with their "th" sounds, have become completely adopted to the mechanical aspects of American civilization, equally at home in a spanking new car or on the seat of a John Deere "70" tractor, often delaying the installation of modern plumbing in the old house in favor of a TV set. The familial attitude, so strong in the first generations, has weakened in the third and fourth generations under the circumstances of rural American civilization where the head of the family, with one of the boys still at home, can operate the farm — even with the addition of two forties bought from a neighbor — while the children are working in Milwaukee. On a week-end, two or three cars are apt to be parked in a Polish farmer's yard in Portage County for these are the cars of the children who have come home for a visit, bringing gifts from the city, and being given fresh eggs and probably a bushel of potatoes in return. The instinct to see one another remains strong and even today it is not uncommon to find a framed quotation hanging in the kitchen of the Polish home, Boże Błogoław Nasz Dom, meaning "God bless our home."
While the first generation was continually being reminded by those who remained in Poland not to forget the land of their fathers, the third and fourth generations entertain no nationalistic feeling toward Poland. Many of the first generation served in World War I and the third generation in World War II. After the last war the lack of sentiment for Poland as the "motherland" was reflected in the marked absence of political feeling over the Stalin betrayal of Poland after Yalta. Attempts by American politicians to use this as campaign material failed and the vast majority of citizens of Polish descent continue to vote Democrat even as their fathers before them.
The reason why the Poles, as an ethnic group in Portage County, vote Democrat and the Scandinavians once voted Republican cannot be easily determined. The Scandinavians, however, who came to the county in the 1850s, were deeply influenced by the issue of slavery. Many felt they had escaped from a form of human slavery themselves and sympathized with the abolitionist sentiment of the North. Their support of Lincoln established a political pattern and as in so many matters, what father did, his son did after him. Scandinavian Republicanism held almost unbroken down to the Depression when many, especially among the farmers, shifted to the Democrat ticket. This broke a familial tradition, a process which is being continued, and Scandinavians are today divided by self-interest, not necessarily sentiment. The fact that a Democrat but Protestant candidate for the United States Senate (William Proxmire) could carry a heavily Catholic majority in Portage County in 1958 also suggests that the people of Polish descent today cast their ballot on the basis of self-interest.
The majority of the Polish newcomers to the county arrived in America some time after the Civil War and many came during the corruption of the Grant administration of the 1870s. This may have had some effect in determining a pattern, but probably the main reason lay in the fact that many of the early settlers did not come directly to Portage County from Poland. While most of the Scandinavians were nearly destitute when they arrived, they had been lucky enough to come early when land was cheap. The Polish decision to emigrate to America came later and most of the good land had already been taken or acquired by speculators and logging companies. To make up the difference for being late, many heads of Polish families, who later settled in Portage County, came here by a decision made not in Poland, but in the cities of the East. In the early 1900s a colony from Illinois was attracted to the southern part of Belmont where a broker, J. J. Heffron, offered cheap (but sandy) land for farming. Long before the 1900s it was common for the Polish immigrants to work in the cities before moving to Wisconsin. From this contact with the early labor movement they were imbued with the Democrat tradition which established a pattern their children followed after them.
Polish wedding customs in Portage County have changed in the last several decades, although one feature which has not changed is the rather early-morning ceremony at the church, usually between 9 and 10 o'clock. About 10:30 a.m. the parade of highly-polished cars, often with tin cans dragging behind the car of the bride and groom, rush gaily down the highway, horns blowing and streamers flying. In this manner speed is identified with life as opposed to death.
After the wedding, the bridal party, relatives and friends, many from Milwaukee and Chicago, arrive at the local ballroom, often operated by a tavern adjoining the dance floor. About 11:30 a.m. dancing begins with an orchestra specializing in Bohemian polkas, waltzes interspersed with Rock 'n' Roll. This is an occasion when children dance with each other among the adults, and when women, with or without escorts, dance with each other for the sheer joy of dancing. Drinks are poured at the bar and breakfast is served. The bride and groom, observing one of the sacraments of the church, have not eaten before the ceremony. Dancing continues all afternoon and evening with a dinner party late in the afternoon.
A Polish wedding before World War I was an historic affair. People referred to its coming with awe and a sigh of regret if not invited. The featured event was the bridal dance, a custom brought over from Poland. Usually reserved for the evening, it began when the father of the bride announced "Jeszcze nasza" (pronounced yesh-che nashah) meaning, "Yes sir, she's still ours!" The musicians and guests were expected to echo the same phrase whereupon the men formed a circle around the bride and began to exchange dances. The father stood among the guests and everyone who wished to dance with the bride was expected to throw a dollar into a cigar box or, as it was often done, throw a silver dollar against a dinner plate on the table so that it would ring or even break the plate. Each partner was expected to dance only once or twice around the ring and in this manner the young bride was whirled round and round in great humor. The music was furnished by a fiddler or two who played the same tune over and over until it rang in one's ears for days.
The money collected from the bridal dance was given to the bride. The custom was probably deliberately pursued to make up for the lack of a dowry which was part of wedding ceremonies in the Old Country but dropped in the N ew World. After World War I the American custom of a "shower" grew more common among Polish brides-to-be and since World War II it has become almost as common among the girls of Polish descent as among other ethnic groups, again indicating the nearly complete absorption of Polish culture into the American.
A common way of serving liquor before the turn of the century was to scrub an ordinary wash tub and fill it with punch, one part alcohol, one part water, mixed with sugar, and a big chunk of local pond ice floating in the middle. Tin cups were available on a nearby table and anyone who wished had only to dip and sip, often toasting the other with the familiar expression, Na zdrowie! (pronounced nahs-dro-vie) "To your health!"
Early weddings among the Poles, as with other ethnic groups in the county, were often held in the barn in spring before the new hay was brought in and which made it possible to dance on a temporary platform, or upstairs in the hayloft. One of the last of the Polish barn dances in Sharon occurred shortly after World War II.
Before the wedding dance broke up in the middle of the night, or later, a fight usually began, often between the Polish guests, but especially if some neighboring Irishmen or Norwegians crashed the party and began to make remarks touching on the honor of the Polish people.
In 1958 a fight at a wedding was considered in poor taste and also unwise because most of the guests arrived and left in the latest model cars which dent easily.
Down to 1925 inter-marriage between the Polish and other ethnic groups in the county was uncommon, although considerable mixing was already under way among Scandinavians, Germans, Irish and Yankee strains. The failure to inter-marry was not only a result of a deeper loyalty to church precepts among the Poles, but also one of communications. Before World War II, North Star in Sharon seemed, to those who did not live there, like a place apart from the rest of the county because it was inaccessible and the roads sandy and irksome to drive over even after the Model-T Ford was introduced. But today the blacktop road and modern automobile have destroyed both isolation and clannishness among all people everywhere and while the various churches may still frown on mixed marriages which involve separate church affiliations, there is no known cure for this aside from ex-communication which no one in the 20th Century would attempt to use on these grounds; in fact, it is considered un-American to dissuade mixed marriages if both sides in the union are sincere.
The position of Polish women to their menfolks differs in some respects from other Europeans in that the husband and wife are socially on a basis of greater equality than women in, for instance, England and Germany where the male assumes a more dominant role in the affairs of the family. This near-equal status of wife to husband among the Poles was carried over into Portage County in the first and second generations. A cattle broker, for example, when buying a cow from a Polish farmer seldom closed the deal before the husband went into the house to "see what the woman says." Her word on the price of the cow was final. I t could be argued that she held the deciding vote because she and the children did most of the milking, which was naturally being done by hand, and therefore had a more vital interest in the disposition of the cow. But it was also a reflection of a closer economic partnership between man and wife, a tradition adhered to in Poland.
Increasing acquaintance with American values and customs has all but eliminated this feature among third generation farm families of Polish descent. The milking machine has largely replaced the milkmaid, and the women wash the milk cans and pails in a Grade A milk house.
Down to World War II, both Polish and German women helped their menfolks in the field more than women of other ethnic groups, but since World War II, women of all nationalities — all Americans now — work in the fields, especially during planting and harvesting, when they drive a tractor as well as anyone. Barn cleaning has also become a man's job on most farms, although in the early days, when women did most of the milking, they also did much of the cleaning. As a rule the men took care of the horses.
Like the names of other nationalities which do not translate well into English, it is not uncommon for people of Polish descent in the county either to alter the spelling of their surname or to shorten it. The change in spelling between early documents involving Polish farms in 1900 and 1950 is unmistakable. It is also a fact that young people who move away from the county to Milwaukee or elsewhere often alter their names to make them sound less Polish. This follows the present pattern of American social values which seeks to bring everyone up to a level where no one is supposed to be different from anyone else. Christian given names among people of Polish descent have definitely changed and instead of calling a boy Roman, he is named Robert, and the girl, instead of Apolonia is called Darlene. Nor do the young folk any longer, when speaking of a third person, refer to him by his surname first, for example, "Stanislowski Joe," but rather as Joe Stanislowski, although the former expression may still be heard among the older generation.
In the break-up of the feudal system in Europe, many of the Polish peasants were given names from the estate on which they worked, or from the fauna and flora around them, and carried these names with them to America. They often added a "ski" signifying a family of titled ancestry which in many cases was not valid. Names which have not been changed, would include, for example, Laska (meaning a cane or walking stick), Wiora (wood shaving), Skiba (a field farrow), and Shroda (Wednesday).
The main cultural bulwark of the Polish newcomers to the county was the Catholic church, even as the church of the Lutheran faith served the Scandinavian and German newcomers. The church gave the people a sense of belonging to a continuous culture which had been briefly interrupted by the transition to America and helped to bridge the gap between the old and the new in their lives. The center of this Polish culture was at Polonia because the largest congregation of Polish Catholics developed here, and because it was the heart of the Polish farming, or folk, community.
Sacred Heart Church at Polonia originated as a result of a split in St. Joseph's church at Ellis because of frequent disturbances of the peace and rowdyism in adjacent saloons. Part of the congregation at St. Joseph's agreed with their pastor, the Rev. Joseph Dombrowski, to leave the church and build a new one a mile and a half to the east near a new post office called Polonia which Dombrowski was instrumental in having established in preparation for the move. St. Joseph's then became known as the "condemned church" and eventually closed.
The Rev. Dombrowski is still remembered in the eastern part of the county as one of the most beloved and respected pastors to serve his people. The exact date that the new church at Polonia was occupied is uncertain, but it was in process of construction in the latter part of 1874. On Oct. 31 the editors of the Stevens Point Journal had this to say, inter alia:
"While in the town of Sharon last week, we spent a very pleasant hour with Father Dambrowski ... a zealous and efficient worker, and although he has been located there but a comparatively short time, has already accomplished a great work. He is a man of indomitable perseverance and energy, of which fact the large and handsome church which he has far on the road to completion bears ample evidence. [He] has also maintained a school in one of the rooms in his own house, and is now putting up another building in which he will establish a permanent school in a few weeks. He has sent to Europe for Poland Sisters and they are expected to arrive in a short time. It will be the first convent school in charge of Polish Sisters ever established in the United States. Father Dambrowski has established a printing office, and is now engaged in getting out a Polish almanac, a good deal of the type for which he is setting himself ... He is a strong temperance advocate, and is doing a good work in that direction ..."
The Journal reported on Jan. 30, 1875 that it had received a copy of Father Dombrowski's Polish almanac "the first one ever published in America. It is a pamphlet of forty pages, and presents a very creditable appearance."
On May 18, 1875, fire destroyed the new church at Polonia in addition to the parsonage and convent. The Journal said "there now seems to be little doubt but that the fire ... was the work of an incendiarist." Work was commenced within a few months on a new and larger church which, though in use before 1884, was not completed until that year. This second church, built of local stone and capped by parallel steeples, served until 1902 when it was replaced by a larger structure, strongly reminiscent of European cathedrals, and reputedly the largest rural Catholic church in the United States. Standing near the apex of the terminal moraine, it could be seen for many miles in all directions. On St. Patrick's Day, 1934, it was struck by lightning and partially burned. As a result it had to be razed and was replaced by the modern building which was located on the opposite side of the street facing north.
The Rev. Dombrowski also labored to convert local Indians to the Catholic faith, and the church records of the 1870s and 1880s carry the names of quite a few Indians who were baptized. Older parishioners still recall a story told about Dombrowski's attempt to help an Indian village near Shantytown Lake. With his own funds he purchased seed potatoes and showed the Indians how to plant the seedlings. Weeks later he returned to see how they were doing with the potato patch only to learn that the Indians had become hungry and eaten the seed.
Despite the dishonor which fell to St. Joseph's Church at Ellis, it was nevertheless the first Polish Catholic church established in the county, probably in 1864. Before this time, the Polish people participated in Catholic services with their German and Irish brethren in Stevens Point at St. Stephen's Church, built in 1856, and at St. Martin's of Ellis, built by German and Irish pioneers in 1857. As the Polish community in Sharon and Stockton grew, St. Martin's became crowded and the Polish settlers were naturally anxious to have services conducted in their own language. This led to the creation of St. Joseph's. The second Polish Catholic congregation was established at Casmier, north of Stevens Point, as the Polish newcomers began to buy up lands being vacated by the Irish in the town of Hull. The third Polish Catholic and second largest congregation in the county, was established on the Stevens Point North Side with the building of St. Peter's in 1876.
Although many first generation Polish settlers, like other nationalities in the county, could not read, many of the second generation were able to follow the newspapers both in English and in Polish. To fill a demand for a Polish-press in the county, Zygmunt Hutter and Teofil Krutza in December 1891 founded a weekly newspaper at Stevens Point called Rolnik (The Farmer) which has maintained a steady readership down to the present day. The subscribers who still take Rolnik are people in their seventies and eighties, probably the last descendants of the Polish-born to read a newspaper in the language of their fathers. Although the Poles were a generation later than the Scandinavians in the county, it does not follow that Rolnik will be read by a generation beyond the present; the process of Americanization has become so complete that any suggestion of cultural advantage to be had by maintaining a link with the Old Country through a Polish paper has vanished.
Rolnik was taken over by John Worzalla and sons in 1903 and is still in the Worzalla family. Since the 1930s it has been edited by Adam Bartosz, an immigrant in his youth from Poland who first settled in Baltimore and later came to Portage County. In addition to Rolnik the Worzallas in 1908 began publishing a national weekly, Gwiazda Polarna (The Northern Star), which is also edited by Bartosz, and will probably be read beyond the present generation because it has a national circulation and appeals to Polish immigrants still arriving in the United States under the quota, as well as to political emigres. Worzalla Publishing Company, which occupied a new and enlarged printing plant and office at Stevens Point in 1958, has gained a national reputation for excellence in general printing and bookbinding.
Other concerns which began with Polish backing and administration around the turn of the century were the Stevens Point Brick & Construction Company, the Stevens Point Automatic Cradle Company, today known as Lullabye Furniture Corporation, and the Nigbor Fur Company. Probably the first Polish business man in Stevens Point was Thomas Kuklinski who established a tailor shop in the early 1860s. L. E. Glinski of Stevens Point, who in the mid-1920s took over a tailor shop established by his father in 1881, has inherited the original pair of shears used by Kuklinski.
In 1914 Dr. L. P. Pasternacki, a local dentist, 29, became the first mayor of Stevens Point of Polish descent, the second native son and the youngest ever to be elected to that post. He was encouraged to run by Dr. D. S. Rice as well as Meehan Pfiffner who acted as campaign manager. The campaign was non-partisan, and after the victory, the city band, with a crowd of supporters in tow, marched to the home of the victor and serenaded. The new mayor, following time-honored custom, came out on the porch and made a short speech. This custom has been discontinued, but while it lasted it was a strong reminder of earlier days when torch light processions as well as noisy bands assembled to celebrate political victories. In the formative period of growth, when new patterns of life were being created, it was important that the party which considered itself most right should win, and when it did, it was considered a vindication of good over evil and called for a celebration.
Dr. Pasternacki did not choose to run in 1916. He says that the odds at Jack Rowe's Saloon on Main Street, where the sports of the period did their serious betting, was 5-3 in his favor and when he heard this he withdrew because it was not enough of a fight. The position was mostly honorary as the mayor's salary was only $300.
In the 1930s county offices, formerly dominated by Republican candidates, came largely under Democrat control. The first Polish postmaster of the city was Herman Glinski and the first Polish assemblyman from the county was John T. Kostuck, blinded by an accident in his youth, who was elected in 1930 and in 1958 was serving his fourteenth consecutive term.
Probably the only Polish settler to come to Portage County as a result of the Chicago fire in 1871 was Jacob Zbelewski who immigrated from Poland a short time earlier. After the fire he found it more difficult to find a place to live than a place to work. Through the Woyak families who had already settled southeast of modern Polonia, and to whom he was related, Zbelewski was encouraged to come to Stockton township. Recounting his father's early experiences, Andrew Zbelewski said: "The trouble was, he could raise turnips and carrots, and he had plenty to eat but there was no market for these things and so he had no money. They was cryin' in Poland about bad times, but when they came to America, the times wasn't so good either. He bought two young steers for $100 from a Norwegian farmer near lola. Them Norwegians was here before, you know, and so they was raisin' steers, like, to sell'm. But on the start he didn't have his own barn. He built the barn by digging into the side hill which gave him three sides and finished the roof and covered it with leaves."
Before the turn of the century and well into the 1920s one of the most noted institutions in Stevens Point was the Public Square which, owing to the number of Polish farmers who brought products to sell, was often referred to as "Polish Square." Market days around the turn of the century and down to World War I were Thursdays and Saturdays and on these days the powerful voice of Lon Myers, son of the first stage line operator in the county, could be heard all over the square as general auctioneer and factotum.
And on Monday, May 4, 1891 the Polish people of the county and surrounding counties gathered at Stevens Point to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Polish constitution. The grand march down Main Street was headed by John Boyer, Joseph Moses (Mozuch) and John Maslowski as "generals," and by John Borchardy, Andrew Kreiger, and E. C. Naliborski as "marshals." Following them came the color bearers, bands (one from Grand Rapids), girl singers in carriages, representatives of church societies, and guards on horseback trailed by thousands of civilians on foot. It was the greatest parade ever staged by people of Polish descent in Portage County.
In the evening the visiting delegates, local officials, church dignitaries and leading citizens of Stevens Point assembled at the Rink Opera House at the corner of Clark & Strongs Avenue where speeches and greetings were heard in English and Polish, and dances and skits were presented in native Polish costume. By this "coming out party" the Polish established themselves in the community and in the life of their fellow citizens, proud of their cultural background, but even more proud to exhibit it as Americans surrounded by other Americans.
In 1929 Stevens Point, together with other cities having heavy populations of Polish descent, celebrated the 150th anniversary of the death of Casimir Pulaski, a volunteer and general officer in the American Revolutionary War killed in action near Savannah, Georgia, Oct. 11, 1779. Several cities sponsored campaigns to erect memorials, but Stevens Point was the only one which unveiled a monument of Pulaski on the date of the anniversary and today stands in McGlachlin Park.
1 Application for Citizenship, Microfilm Reel 177.
2 This is no doubt the Rev. Jan Polak mentioned in Waclaw Kruszka's Historya Polska w Ameryce as having been the first Polish pastor to serve St. Stephen's Congregation from 1860-62. His naturalization papers reveal that he was born in 1818 and entered the United States at New York in September 1855.
3 William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, (5v Boston: R. G. Badger, 1918), Vol. I, pp. 317-356.