Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Stockton Quarry

Stockton Quarry, ca. 1880
Winona's Kashubian Polish community grew rapidly during the 1870s. The first generation had settled in and was raising families - usually very large ones. Meanwhile, the pace of emigration from the Old Country picked up rapidly after the German Empire was established in 1870. Under the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, Poland was subjected to active Germanization. Moreover, Bismarck declared a feud with the Roman Catholic Church - the so-called Kulturkampf. It was a better than ever time to leave the Old Country, and many Kashubians did just that. Pretty much all of the decent farmland near Pine Creek had been bought up. Starting in the middle to late 1870s, some Kashubian families migrated further west into Minnesota, or even into the Dakotas. Those newcomers who remained in Winona were only to happy to take whatever jobs they could get - even in the Stockton Quarry.

Winona's first railroad, the Winona and St. Peter, was established in 1862 and bought out by the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1867, although it kept its name until around 1900. Sold to the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern in 1986, it is now the property of the Canadian Pacific. As originally built, it twisted and turned its way up through the Stockton Valley to the prairie beyond. The tracks were continually improved; after 1880, numerous trestles were either filled in with gravel or replaced by massive stone arches such as the pair at Farmers' Community Park. The Stockton Quarry, located across the railroad tracks from what is now the park, provided much of this stone. Getting to and from work was an issue - the quarry was 11 miles away from downtown Winona. Even by special train, it took time.  Digging the stone out and either crushing it for gravel or making blocks of it was dangerous work. So was transferring the finished product to the work sites, which required the construction of a narrow gauge railroad with its own miniature locomotive.

The finished results - bridges like the famous "Arches" - were beautiful, but costly in human life. On 23 December 1881, the newly-arrived Walenty von Zuroch Czapiewski suffered massive internal injuries when a bank of clay collapsed on him at the Stockton Quarry. He died at home the next day: Christmas Eve. On 9 August 1882, Jan Ostrowski was run over and "horribly mangled" by a gravel train. He was transferred to Winona by train but died in a wagon as he was being brought home. Finally, on 2 January 1883, Jozef Bambenek had his right arm and right leg crushed when he was thrown from a gravel car and run over. His mangled limbs were amputated after he was taken home. The standard of medical care was obviously appalling; I'm sure he died of his injuries but I have not yet been able to tell exactly when. The Stockton Quarry evidently shut down for good around 1906, with no further fatalities I have been able to discover. But obviously it remained a very dangerous place to work, and serves as an illustrations of how hard the Kashubians of Winona had to work just to survive.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Riot at New City, Wisconsin

As Hieronim Derdowski observed, "There is no Kashubia without Poland and no Poland without Kashubia."

Poland, as Derdowski's words clearly imply, could not be at its greatest without embracing its entire range of ethnicities: Poles, Mazurians, Kujawians, Ukrainians, Gorals, Silesians, and Kashubians. So too with the Polish community of Winona and Trempealeau Counties. Winona is indeed the "Kashubian Capital of America," but Poles of all ethnicities have contributed to our Polish community's proud achievements. As the story of the Riot at New City demonstrates, we Poles have always stuck together.

The little settlement of New City was established in Burnside Township around 1869, where Travis Creek flowed into the Trempealeau River. The first business was a mill, followed by the combination store and saloon of Michael Fugina and the tavern of Peter Eichmann. A blacksmith shop and another store appeared later. When the Green Bay and Western Railroad came through in the early 1870s, there were hopes that a depot would be built in New City. Instead, a depot was built during 1876 in the newly platted town of Independence, a mile and a half northeast. The businessmen of New City hastened to set up shop in Independence, and the site of New City has been a farm field ever since. Thanks to some careful research by La Vern Skroch, we now know the precise location... what is today a big, open field!

One could never guess it from this picture, but in the spring or summer (to judge from the reference to clothes drying on a line) of 1873 this field was the scene of what one observer called a "race riot" between Poles and English-speakers. I have taken the liberty of screen-capturing Merle E. Curti's account from his 1959 book, The Making of an American Community. For what it's worth, I believe anyone with even a passing interest in Trempealeau County history should obtain this book, since it is literally all about Trempealeau County. Best of all, good used copies are very easy to purchase online. Curti's points about the significance of this "riot" are well taken, but for the purposes of his book, only the Polish vs. English aspect is important.

Examined just a little bit more closely, the story also illustrates the traditionally friendly relationships between the Slavic population of Winona and Trempealeau Counties, and especially between Kashubian Poles and Silesian Poles. Michael Fugina (1841 Ceplje - 1901 Chicago) was a Slovene; his wife, Julia nee Woychik (1856 Popielow - 1882 Independence) was Silesian born. Peter Eichmann (1847 Lipusz - ?) was a Kashubian; his recently deceased wife, Susanna nee Sura (? Popielow - 1873 Burnside), was the daughter of the area's first Silesian settlers, Peter and Tekla nee Kachel Sura. Although the town of New City was primarily Silesian, it was the Kashubian, Peter Eichmann, who went to Galesville to speak on behalf of the community. Local educator and attorney Stephen Richmond (1848 Louisville, NY - 1912 Arcadia) remembered "Pete Eichman" as Trempealeau County's "leading saloonkeeper." Paradoxically, Peter Eichmann appears on the 1880 US Census as a "day laborer" in Independence  - and then disappears from the record entirely. That is not to say that I've given up, though.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Franciszek Rumpca

Franciszek Rumpca (1846 Przetocyno - 1901 Grenville, SD)
Anna Retzlaff (1850 Przetocyno - 1882 Delano, MN)
Kunegunda Hulda Brilla (1865 Germany - 1930 Grenville, SD)

I began researching the Rumpca family by request of a visitor to the Winona Polish Museum website. The surname did not ring a bell - it sounded Polish, certainly. As it turned out, exactly one Rumpca family settled in Winona, that of Felix (1881-1936) and Ida nee Gonsior Rumpca (1886-1961), at some time before the First World War. But the Rumpcas more than make up for their lack of quantity with the interesting variety of the family's experiences after emigrating to the United States.

The first wave of the family was led by Jozef (1820-1882) and Elzbieta Ludwika "Louise" nee Romptz Rumpca (1824-1909) of Przetoczyno, a Kashubian village near Wejherowo, who arrived in New York aboard the Hammonia on March 28, 1872. It is likely that their oldest son Franciszek (1846-1901) and his wife Anna nee Retzlaff Rumpca (1850-1882) arrived in the United States at around the same time.

Franciszek and Anna first settled in Chicago, where their children Franciszek, Jr. (1874-1967), Matilda (1876-1948), and Bertha (1878-1892) were born. By the time of the 1880 US Census, Franciszek and Anna were living on a farm in Delano, Minnesota, next to the family of Jozef and Elzbieta. In 1881, Franciszek and Anna became the parents of their youngest child, Felix Rumpca. Anna died in 1882; in 1884 Franciszek married Kunegunda Hulda Brilla (1865-1930) in Delano. To date, I can find no further information about Kunegunda; my guess, for what it matters (zero) is that she was of German descent. They had eight children together: Joseph (1884-1950) and Mary (1886-1962) were born in Delano; Rose (1888-1967), Jacob (1891-1960), Anton (1892-1982), Leo (1895-1979), Bernard (1896-1965), and Anna (1899-1984) were all born in Grenville, South Dakota, making it possible to date their big move to about 1887.

On February 12, 1907 Felix Rumpca married Ida A. Goncior (1886-1961) in Grenville. The 1910 US Census finds them still in Grenville, but at some point after 1913 (after the birth of their youngest child, Clara) they relocated to Winona. Kashubian Poles from Winona (and occasionally Pine Creek) had begun to move to western Minnesota and the Dakotas. starting in the late 1870s. In the beginning, they moved primarily to obtain inexpensive farmland; sometimes they returned. Once Winona's lumber business started winding down at the turn of the century, the town's economic stagnation added another reason to go west. Felix and Ida, on the other hand, moved east. Felix's job in the Chicago and Northwestern's Winona Shops does not provide a clue; since the C&NW never ran anywhere near Grenville, it is more likely that he did not move due to a job transfer.

Nor is it likely that Felix and Ida moved to Winona to be near other Kashubians. Frank was Kashubian, but from a different part of Kashubia (with a different Kashubian dialect) than that of the Winona Kashubian Polish community. Moreover, the Rumpcas frequently socialized outside of the Kashubian Polish community, to judge from references in the Winona Republican-Herald - the 1910s being a time when Winona's Kashubian Poles still remained rather clannish. By all accounts they seemed very happy in Winona until Felix's untimely death on November 11, 1936, while being treated in Minneapolis for injuries incurred in a taxicab crash. In October 1937, the Rumpca estate obtained a judgement of $1,500 against the cab driver, Robert Hines.


The picture at left could have come straight out of Michael Lesy's 1973 book Wisconsin Death Trip, a work I have loved and admired for literally forty years now. As Lesy observes in his Introduction,

You should know that none of the pictures were snapshots, that their deepest purpose was more religious than secular, and that commercial photography, as practiced in the 1890s, was not so much a form of applied technology as it was a semimagical act that symbolically dealt with time and mortality. 

Notice the elaborate floral displays with funeral themes (the anchor, for example). The photograph of the deceased superimposed on a photo of the flowers. The plaintive inscriptions, complete with "My Husband" spelled with backwards letter N. This picture didn't speak to me. It literally cried out to me.

The deceased brother and husband, Jacob Wieczorek, was born in 1871 in the village of Zabiczyn in Wielkopolska, and died in Winona on September 15, 1904. Jake was the son of Wawrzyniec (1839-1901) and Katarzyna nee Wachowiak Wieczorek (1840-1904); his siblings were Jan (1863-1942), Stanislaw (1870-1950),  Marianna (1875-1946), and Piotr Wieczorek (1878-1961). Since Marianna and Piotr were born in the United States, it would seem the family emigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1875. Piotr was also the grandfather of my uncle and godfather, Gene Henry Wieczorek (1929-2001).

On January 16, 1894 Jacob married Marianna Cierzan (1876-1961) at Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish. Almost two years afterward, on December 28, 1896, "Jake Wieczorek" became a naturalized citizen of the United States. The 1900 US Census shows Jacob and Marianna living at 121 Chatfield Street, with Jacob employed as a "tall sawyer" at one of the lumber mills. At some point after the census they adopted their only child, Mildred B. Wieczorek (1898-1982), who was born in New York City and came to Winona on an "orphan train." Mildred and her husband, Bernard Schultz (1896-1969) raised a family of three sons and three daughters. The originals of these scanned items were donated to the Polish Museum by their oldest son, the educator and local historian Bernard "Ben" Schultz (1923-), who was inducted into Winona's Polish Hall of Fame in 2011.

The next historical record available is a statement in the September 12, 1904 Winona Republican Herald that "Jacob Wieczorek is in a very low condition as a result of an attack of brain fever." At this point, the Winona Newspaper Project failed me temporarily. A slight flaw in the PDF scan of September 15, 1904's Republican Herald rendered this preliminary obituary invisible to the search engine. I would not have discovered it had I not, finally, drilled down to the individual issue. I have not found Jake Wieczorek's final obituary yet. Neither have I given up. Marianna never remarried, and lived as a widow for fifty-seven years.  I have been a widower for only two and a half years now. It gets less awful with time, but only slightly. I can only imagine her pain.

It would be churlish, of course, to blame the Winona Newspaper Project, which has afforded me hundreds of hours of solipsistic bliss, and which will no doubt console me well into my dotage. I think Lesy is rather too dismissive of those who have made this sort of work possible:
...each issue was reduced to the size of a stamp by technicians who had no time to notice anything but the title and date of each brittle paper rectangle they placed underneath the copy lights of their cameras.
Me, I'm just grateful to anyone and everyone who has assisted my research, intentionally or otherwise. Lesy, of course, has been a titan in my estimation ever since Wisconsin Death Trip was serialized in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal 's "Insight Magazine." But we also serve who merely remove the smiles from the boxes, dust them off, and put them where perhaps someone might find them someday... and enjoy the same flash of perception I enjoyed when I first set eyes on the floral displays from Jake Wieczorek's funeral one hundred and nine years earlier.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Jakub Skroch

Jakub Skroch (1804 Popielow-1869 Popielow)
Anna Schwiec (1803 Popielow-? Popielow?)

Jakub and Anna Schwiec Skroch never emigrated to the United States, nor were they Kashubian. Instead, they lived their lives in Popielow, a village near Opole in Silesia. Like the Kashubians, the Silesians are a minority ethnicity living in what is today Poland. Also like the Kashubians, the Silesians found themselves living on the fault line between the Germanic and Slavic civilizations, a fact which helped to make emigration attractive. Beginning in the late 1860s, numerous Silesian Polish families settled in Trempealeau County, near the towns of Arcadia and Independence. Among them were the families of Jakub and Anna's four adult sons: Jan, Franciszek, Jakub, and Wojciech.

Jan "John" (1830-1916) had one son by his first wife, Julianna nee Bedok, and six children by his second wife, Maria nee Sobotta (1840-1910). They seem to have emigrated from Poland in 1882, because only their youngest child, George D. Skroch (1882-1940) was born in Trempealeau County.

Franciszek "Frank" (1836-1894) and his wife Agnieszka nee Sobotta (1847-1903), had ten children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.  The first of their children to be born in the United States was their sixth child, Michael Clarence Skroch (1877-1953). Michael married Anna Bambenek (1884-1976), daughter of the late Walenty Bambenek (1856-1888) and Paulina nee Rozek Bambenek Bautch, in 1903 at Independence.

Jakub "Jake" (1838-1917) and his wife Renetta nee Filla (1846-1897) had eight children. Their fourth child, Urban Skroch (1878-1967) was the first to be born in the United States. Urban's oldest son, James Peter "Jake" Skroch (1905-1995), longtime supervisor on the Green Bay and Western Railroad, was named to the Winona Polish Hall of Fame in 2013.

Wojciech "Albert" (1843-1888) and his wife Christina nee Lukaszczyk (1849-1888) had six children. First of these to be born in the United States was their fifth child, Michael Alphonse Skroch (1883-1970).

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Milanowski Grocery Store

At first, the two-story building at 557 East Second Street looks like nothing more than an exceptionally well-cared for house. However, it served for more than 80 years as a grocery - and, at times, as a dance hall and saloon. Although the grocery was operated by three separate families - in turn, the Milanowskis, the Brezas, and the Wieczoreks - it has always been known as the Milanowski grocery.

As early as 1872, Jozef Milanowski (1840-1885) was purchasing real estate on Front Street, namely Lots 10 and 11 of Block 6 of Hamilton's Addition. But according to the 1894 Winona plat map, 557 East Second Street sits on Block 9, Lot 5. So perhaps his grocery business began on Front Street; the 1880 US Census lists him as a grocer living (and presumably doing business) on Second Street. As covered in more detail on my Kashubian Cemetery Gates blog, the Milanowski family suffered a terribly when Jozef died unexpectedly at the age of forty-five. His widow, Anna Goven Milanowska (1846-1925), took charge of the grocery and eventually passed it on to their son, Hieronim "Jerome" Milanowski (1878-1940). Upon Jerome's death, the grocery was purchased by Vincent and Josephine Scharmach Breza, who passed the business on in 1957 to their daughter, Annette Breza Wieczorek and her husband, Ralph Wieczorek. The Wieczoreks closed the store in 1965 and converted it to a house, where Annette Wieczorek still lives. Until very recently, that was all I knew about the business: I had been far more interested in the Milanowski family itself.

Last week, though, I had the opportunity to meet Annette Wieczorek at the Polish Museum, where she is a volunteer. It turned out she had some of the record books (or "ledgers") from the Milanowski Grocery in her basement, and was waiting for someone to pick them up. With a big grin, Father Breza generously offered my services. What a treat! One ledger contained account information for the families of Jakob Bronk, Walenty Radomski, Pawel Rudnik, and even an account for Fr. Romuald Byzewski, pastor at St. Stan's from 1875 to 1890. It would seem Father Romuald enjoyed his three-cent stogies: he bought a hundred at a time, right around once a month. The same three dollars would buy the Bronks, Radomskis, or Rudniks three sacks of flour. But if anyone on the East End deserved a little luxury, it would be the good Father! These ledgers are not only fascinating for their beautiful handwriting, but they provide a gold mine of information about how Winona's Kashubian Polish families lived back in the day.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

M.J. Kowalewski Drug Store

If going up to Winona and staying at the Bambenek abode at 578 East Fifth was the coolest thing in the world back in the day, hitting up the candy store at 601 East Fifth Street was the second coolest thing. When I was a kid, the candy store was owned by Mom's uncle, Ralph Bambenek (1918-1988) and aunt, Bernice Stolpa Bambenek (1919-1977). No trip was complete without multiple trips to Uncle Ralph's to stock up on penny candy and (coincidentally, I'm sure) get out of the grownups' hair, if only for a short time. Uncle Ralph was always friendly enough to us kids. Mom claimed he could make himself sneeze whenever he wanted just by looking up at the sun, which only raised his status in my eyes. Aunt Bernice was another matter. She would stand behind the huge glass counter and just glare daggers at us while we dithered over exactly what we wanted her to fish out. Too bad. If she didn't like kids, she shouldn't have married a guy who owned a candy store. Oh yes, there was a liquor store with a separate entrance on Carimona Street, which the grownups no doubt found quite convenient.

The building at 601 East Fifth has enjoyed a long and interesting history. According to the Winona Herald, it housed a private business school in the late 1880s. At the turn of the century it housed the store of Mieczyslaw J. "M.J." Kowalewski, pharmacist and city political figure, who died in a tragic car accident in 1915 at the age of 61. Interestingly, M.J. Kowalewski was not related to the Kowalewskis of Hot Fish Shop fame, nor was he even of Kashubian descent, having been born in the Poznan region. The Kowalewski family did not live in the apartment over the store, but in the house next door at 208 Carimona. Sigmund Kowalewski, the oldest son and also a pharmacist, took over for a short time; by 1917, he had relocated to Minneapolis.

The establishment then did business as Max A. Goltz and Sons (a branch of the Goltz Pharmacy at 274 East Third), and from about 1921 to 1923, by J.M. Czapiewski as the "East End Drug Store." In 1923, the "Young Ladies' Onward League" maintained a clubhouse upstairs. In April, 1923 Henry Jezewski and Lawrence Jaszewski purchased the store. On March 1, 1962 Uncle Ralph took possession of the store from Lawrence Jaszewski and operated there until Aunt Bernice's death in 1977. At that point, Mary Pendleton and Mary Bergland then purchased the store and opened up Mary Twyce Antiques and Books. Ms. Bergland soon left the business, but Ms. Pendleton kept the store open until she retired, at age 89, in 2007. At present it hosts the "Find Your Peace" art studio and yoga school - a nice return to the building's original function!