The Immigration: Creating roots
By Kris Leonhardt
Part IV continued from previous edition
PORTAGE COUNTY – Portage County saw the rise of steeples across the landscape over several decades, as emigrants nurtured their religious communities in America.
Elements of early American churches reflect communication tools for those unable to read, such as stained glass telling the stories of the Bible. The steeples themselves are also symbols, pointing upwards in devotion. Altars, statues, and painted murals also told the stories of Polish saints and religious lessons.
Roadside shrines were a mark of the Polish faithful, as numerous monuments were erected as a symbol of faith and comfort to travelers and those far from their church.
In the late 1800s, more Polish emigrants were settling the rocky areas from Polonia to the town of Stockton, and further east. The hard-working farmers were willing to take on the back-breaking work to tame the land and make it fertile, in exchange for a low purchase price.
In the 1890s, the large Polish settlement continued to grow, spilling into the towns of Hull and Dewey where they created a community named in honor of the Old Country – Torun. It was at this time that early developer, John J. Heffron began targeting Polish immigrants as he developed a planned settlement in the town of Belmont. Ahead of his time, Heffron created a spec home and offered low-cost financing.
By the turn of the century, one-third of Portage County’s population was of Polish heritage, and they kept coming, until the advent of World War I.
With their arrival, they also brought their knowledge of raising potatoes and rye, and the two soon became the county’s leading crops.
The sandy soil in the area was the perfect setting for a good potato crop. Rye was seen as a staple for baking bread in the early days of the settlement.
As many emigrants were familiar with the log construction back in Poland, most family settlements started out with a log home. A typical log home was one story high, with a pitched roof to allow for a sizable attic. The homes were created with tight-fitted timber, with precise dove-tailed corners. The houses often had no interior walls or were divided into two simple rooms.
In the new country, they quickly took to the “stovewood” method of construction. The method used logs of identical size stacked similar to a woodpile and secured in mortar.
Social events often centered around the church, with dances held in barns, granaries, or outdoors, until public facilities were built.
Dancing was very popular among the immigrants, with a string ensemble providing the necessary waltzes and folk music from the Old Country. As the concertina became popular and ethnic music styles integrated, the polka came to the forefront.
Continued in next week’s edition