Friday, August 16, 2013

Piotr Konopacki

Piotr Konopacki (1827 Gdansk - 1880 Sharon)
Szarlota Weronika Toczek (1839 ? - 1906 Sharon)

The Konopacki family is regularly counted among Portage County, Wisconsin's earliest Kashubian settlers. In her 1996 article "The Kaszuby Region," Adeline Sopa tosses out the tempting hint that "Peter Kronopeski was identified as also coming in 1859, or the next year, from Winona, Minnesota;" she also mentions that "a Peter Konopecky filed an intent in Winona County, MN, on March 4, 1859." She also mentions that Stanislaw (1788-ca. 1880) and Malgorzata nee Piechowska (1795-1880) Konopacki sailed from Hamburg on June 15, 1859 for Quebec aboard the "Amelia." My interest was piqued. Kashubian extended families generally settled down in Portage County or in Winona, not both, with the Milanowski (and possibly Libera) families being rare exceptions.

It looks like there is another rare exception. The precise date on which Walerya Barbara nee Konopacka Molski (1859/1860-1946) was born to Piotr and Szarlota is open to question, as is the precise date of her birth. But the evidence points strongly to 1859 and Winona, Minnesota. James Keck has preserved her obituary from the Stevens Point newspaper, which gives her birthdate as November 1, 1860 in Winona, Minnesota. On the other hand, the 1860 US Census, enumerated on July 24, 1860, places the Peter Konopasky family, including two-year old Walleria, in the Portage County township of Sharon. I think it far more likely that Walerya was born on November 1, but not in 1860. The census sometimes misleads, but it doesn't lie. Somewhere along the line, as sometimes happens, Walerya got a year younger. On subsequent censuses, Waleria (also listed as Valerie and as Laura) is listed as being born in Minnesota. At worst, this is just a very likely guess. But now I want to know why Piotr and Szarlota tried their luck in Winona first, and only then rejoined their extended family in Sharon.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Old Stone Road

Mankato Avenue has an extremely interesting history. The postcard at left shows it as "The Old Stone Road" -  an important intercity arterial, running from Winona's southern boundary along east end of Lake Winona and continuing along the east end of Sugar Loaf up to the prairies beyond. Myself, I think of Mankato Avenue as the "Main Street of Kashubian America" for the numbers of Kashubian Poles and Kashubian Polish businesses to be found along it. But that is another blog post. Today, Mankato Avenue veers southeastward right around the Riverport Inn, as it heads toward the Highway 61 intersection. But this was not always the case. Andrew Munsch, the proprietor of, points out that Mankato Avenue - or "The Old Stone Road" - once headed directly out of Winona along what is now Sugar Loaf Road.

Although "The Old Stone Road" referenced in the picture is now Sugar Loaf Road, you can get a definite idea of what it was like to come into Winona from the south, one hundred years ago. Having come into Winona along Mankato Avenue literally dozens of times as a kid, I find this to be a pretty incredible visual. If you look closely you can see the Wisconsin bluffs to the north. The road just to the left of the carriage is Lake Boulevard. At the bottom of the hill is the Winona and South-Western Railroad, later the Chicago Great Western Railway. As one headed north toward Winona, the road would become somewhat wider and would eventually become paved with bricks. As "The Old Stone Road" passed through the marsh land to the east of Lake Winona, it was more like a causeway, built over a swamp, than it was like a street. After a short and slight jog to the right, the "Old Stone Road" intersected with East Mark Street and, shortly afterward, the Milwaukee Road's Chicago-Twin Cities mainline.

Today, of course, the view is quite different. As this picture by Andrew Munsch shows, one can still look straight down Mankato Avenue from what is now Sugar Loaf Road. But what was once a marsh now contains Winona Health, Target, Wal-Mart, Mills Fleet Farm, the Riverport Inn, and countless other businesses. The Winona and South-Western's right of way along the south end of Lake Winona is long gone: the tracks were pulled up in the 1930s and the four-lane US Highway 61 was built in their place during the 1950s. Next time you are in the vicinity, you might consider a short visit to Sugar Loaf Road and looking down into Winona from the top of that little hill. It was a postcard-quality view at the turn of the 20th century and it is still a nice (and informative) view today!

Special thanks to Andrew Munsch for all of his spectacular work on the history of Highway 61 - the main street of my life.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Good Ship "Elbe"

On May 14, 1859 the good ship "Elbe" sailed from Hamburg for Quebec. Included on its passenger list were 62 Kashubian Poles. Some of these immigrants were destined to settle in Ontario's Renfrew County colony, which had been founded in 1858: Canada's oldest Kashubian Polish settlement. Some went on to settle in the Portage County, Wisconsin colony, which had also been founded in 1858, making it the oldest Kashubian Polish settlement in the United States. Still others went on to Winona, Minnesota. Although not founded by Kashubian Polish settlers - the city had been established eight years earlier, in 1851 - Winona would in time become the Kashubian Capital of America. As best I can establish, the families which came across on the good ship "Elbe" were Winona's first Kashubian Polish settlers.

One of these families was that of Jozef and Franciszka von Bronk, long considered to have been Winona's first Kashubian Polish settlers. Though the names are spelled in German fashion, the passenger list from the Elbe matches the other Bronk family records perfectly: Jos. and Francisca come first, followed in chronological order by their sons Johann (Jan), Ignatz (Ignacy), Vincent (Wincenty), Lorenz (Wawrzyniec), and Jacob (Jakob). Even the listed ages pretty much check out.

As a professor of classical languages and literature, I realize that legends, by their very nature, contain a kernel of historical fact. But this particular legend goes back to the spring of 1859 and no further. I will continue to peruse passenger lists as time and opportunity allow, but I doubt I will find anything that researchers such as Anne Pellowski, Adeline Sopa, Larry Reski, and Ron Galewski haven't already seen. That being the case, I have to conclude that Winona's Kashubian Polish settlement is but the second oldest in the United States, and the third oldest in North America. None of this information, however, changes the fact that Winona remains the Kashubian Capital of America.