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From Life and Times in Toledo’s Birmingham Neighborhood by Thomas E. Barden and John Ahern

July 28, 2014

From the beginning, Birmingham’s strategic location near the mouth of the Maumee River made it naturally attractive to settlers in northwest Ohio. Even before the first Europeans arrived, Native American tribes were drawn to the area by its easy access to Lake Erie, its abundant fresh fish, and its location under a major migratory bird route. What would become the Birmingham neighborhood was settled early on by French, German and Irish farmers impressed with the area’s rich loamy soil. Streets and park names such as Collins, Valentine and Paine commemorate these early farming settlers.

Birmingham’s economic shift from agriculture to industry happened suddenly, beginning with the establishment of a foundry by the National Malleable Castings Company. In 1890, the company transferred approximately two hundred Hungarian workers from its home plant in Cleveland to its new East Toledo site on Front Street. Birmingham quickly became a working-class Hungarian enclave.

Birmingham’s name was meant to invoke a thriving iron and steel manufacturing center. And by the time of World War I, it did resemble its English namesake, as National Malleable had been joined by United States Malleable, Maumee Malleable Castings, two coal yards, a cement-block manufactory, and the Rail Light Company (later Toledo Edison). The population of East Toledo was growing rapidly, too, going from 17,935 in the 1900 census to 39,836 in 1920. With this increase came civic amenities such as sidewalks, paved streets, grocery and dry good stores, banks, bakeries, and saloons. Birmingham’s own neighborhood school came early in its history. The first public-record mention is in 1894, in the annual report of the Toledo Public Shools

The ethnicity of East Toledo and Birmingham in particular continued as the total population increased. The main ethnic group in Birmingham remained Hungarian, but others were present as well. Immigrant Slovaks, Czechs, Germans, Poles, Bulgarians, and Italians all appear in the World War I-era census records.

World War II brought profound changes to Birmingham. The number of Birmingham residents becoming citizens in 1941 doubled from the previous year. The numbers remained high throughout World War II. The socio-economic upheaval of the war years also changed Birmingham. Young women, housewives, and mothers left the home for the first time to staff the war industries while their boyfriends and husbands were drafted and shipped to far-off locales. These experiences re-oriented both groups, connecting them to different ethnic peer groups in the military and in the work place. The family and local community were no longer their only social influences, and a wider view of the world inevitably resulted.

While a gradual fading of ethnic consciousness in Birmingham occurred following the second World War, it came to an abrupt end in 1956 when the Hungarians openly rebelled against Soviet occupation and repression. Community cooperation grew as the newcomers were greeted and efforts were made to settle them in homes and jobs. About three hundred individuals came to Toledo; approximately one-fourth settled in Birmingham. The infusion provided new leaders for the community since a majority of the refugees were well-educated engineers, business people, and professionals.

Although the new leadership and ethnic pride the 56ers brought with them had significant impact, it was not enough to reverse the overall trend of Birmingham’s decline. As the 1960s began, the eventual dissolution of Birmingham as a vital neighborhood became increasingly apparent as the younger generation began to drift toward the suburbs. But in 1974, two events occurred that brought Birmingham back from the brink, both as an ethnic community and as a political force in the city of Toledo.

The first was the proposed closing of the Birmingham branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Residents organized a group called Save Our Library out of the churches and the 20th Ward Democratic Party Club, and after several reversals, convinced the library to keep the neighborhood branch open. The other significant event was an attempt by city and county planners to widen Consaul Street and build an overpass that would have split Birmingham into two parts. Birmingham civic leaders organized to respond. They mobilized a protest and blocked traffic in front of St. Stephen’s along Consaul Street, the main thoroughfare to the Maumee River. Teachers and their students together streamed out of St. Stephen’s School, stopping trucks and cars. These demonstrations enabled Birmingham to “beat city hall.” That summer the issue was voted down unanimously by City Council, and the bells of all three of Birmingham’s churches were rung simultaneously for the first time since the end of World War II.

The Birmingham Ethnic Festival, originally a victory celebration, has become an annual event – held continually since 1974 on the third Sunday in August, close to St. Stephen’s Day. The main effect of Birmingham’s 1970s revitalization was the rekindling of Birmingham as a cohesive unit. Birmingham was seen not as a random sprawl of streets and houses with a curious past, but a community capable of thinking in terms of “self-defense.”

Today, if you drive into Birmingham from the south along Front Street, you pass a large green highway marker hanging over the road, announcing “Welcome to the Birmingham Ethnic Neighborhood.” The sign marks the physical beginning of Birmingham, but the actual community remains larger than the neighborhood itself.

17th Annual BEF Article: Birmingham Celebrates 100 Years of Growth

July 26, 2014

by Andrew Ludanyi (This article appeared in the 1991 Festival Book):

The Birmingham neighborhood of East Toledo is on the threshold of celebrating its 100th anniversary. The people that built this neighborhood began to settle here with the transfer in 1892 of the Malleable Castings Company operation from Cleveland to Toledo.

The earliest church records show that a handful of Hungarian and Slovak settlers were already in this area by the autumn of that year. The farms that formerly occupied this region along with Maumee now began to give way to the construction of modest working class homes, built in the orderly rectangular pattern which still characterizes the neighborhood today.

The continuity of the neighborhood’s physical outline is less surprising than the stability of the profile of its residents. The core of the community was composed of Malleable’s work force which moved to Birmingham with the operations of the steel mill. They were mostly Hungarians, but the community included many other ethnic strains, particularly Slovak, Moravians and some Ruthenians.

Later, these first settlers were joined by other ethnic groups, including Bulgarians and Italians. By World War I, the basic profile of the neighborhood was well defined, both in terms of its boundaries and its inhabitants. Subsequent changes and new settlers simply added to its diversification, but they did not redefine the neighborhood’s basic Central European mix.

The continuity is most evident in the churches that have provided the neighborhood with its centers of activity. Saint Stephen Roman Catholic, the Magyar Reformed (now called Calvin United), Holy Rosary and Saint Michael Byzantine churches provided the solid center. They were later joined by the Zion Hill Baptist Church for the ever-increasing black population.

The churches were surrounded by a self-contained community that was almost completely self-sufficient in its material needs. All this was reinforced by the people’s relative isolation from the rest of Toledo by the “hard boundaries” of the Maumee River, the railroad tracks, Collins Park and years later by Interstate 280.

Through 100 years of existence, the people of Birmingham have survived many crises and challenges. They saw their young men march off to Two World Wars, as well as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. They faced the Great Depression and survived. The people confronted red-lining and sustained the values of family and community. In 1974, the community also stood up to city hall and won the battle of the Consaul Street overpass.

In all of this, community pride and ethnic solidarity played an important role.

On the threshold of their centennial, the Birmingham community has a lot to celebrate. They have done what few urban communities can claim in an age of high mobility and urban decay. They have survived!

In the process, they have richly contributed to the economic life, industrial growth, cultural wealth, spiritual dimension and political activism of Toledo and Northwest Ohio.

It is now time to celebrate these achievement and to contemplate the prospects of the next 100 years.

Food for Sale!

July 23, 2014
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The following information is tentative and subject to change/update. Please check back periodically for more information.

Saint Stephen’s Church / Epiphany of the Lord Parish – 1880 Genesee Street

Saturday & Sunday (outside food tent):
Kolbasz on a bun
Stuffed Cabbage
Hot Dogs w/ Sauce
Dumplings w/ Gravy (Sunday only)

Sunday (St. Stephen School Hall):
Chicken Paprikas Dinners – $11 per person
12-3PM or until we run out!

Hungarian Club of Toledo (on Saint Stephen’s Lot)

Saturday & Sunday:
Szalonna Sutes (Hunky Turkey)
Paprikas Dumplings with Chicken
Stuffed Cabbage
“Hungarian” Hot Dogs
Assorted Pastries

Calvin United Church of Christ – 1946 Bakewell Street
Homemade Kolbasz Sandwiches
Stuffed Cabbage
Cabbage and Noodles
Palacsinta
Paprikas Noodles
Homemade Baked Goods
Szalonna Sutes (Hunky Turkey)
Zwack – a fine Hungarian liquor
Gulyas (Saturday night only)
Chicken Paprikas Dinners – Saturday at 5PM, Sunday at Noon
(call the church office 419-691-3033 for information/reservations)

VFW Post 4906 – 2161 Consaul Street

Friday:
Hamburgers & Chips

Saturday & Sunday:
Stuffed Cabbage
Chicken Paprikas
Cabbage & Noodles
Szalonna Sutes

Arts & Crafts Vendors

July 23, 2014

While reservations are still coming in, here is a list of vendors who will be set up on the Festival Mall:

Cornhole Mama
Sand & Candy Art
Forever Treasures
Aryel Button Harmony
Bailey Worthington
Arlene and Roger Mallon
Margaret Bako
It Works Global
Henry Morales
Sabo African Products
Kim Pohorecki & Kim York
Jaime Yacelga
Scentsy
Thirty-One Gifts
Me & T Soap
Curb’s Candle Co.
Just Dazzle

The Foundations of an Ethnic Community

July 20, 2014

The below article was prepared for the First Annual Festival Book, August 17, 1975.

 

by John M. Hrivnyak

Industry served as a stimulus to bring a number of immigrants to this country, including the Hungarians. As the industry continually moved westward, the immigrants followed it. And so, when heavy industry finally reached Toledo in the early 1890’s, it was not long before the Hungarian immigrants arrived.

The company which did the most to entice the Hungarians to Toledo was the National Malleable Castings Company. In 1891, the National Malleable Castings Company of Cleveland purchased property for this plant located at Front Street and Paine Avenue. The National Malleable decided to transfer many of the trained workers from its Cleveland plant, thus bringing the first large wave of Hungarians to Toledo. Most of these people had come originally from the Abauj-Heves and Gomor counties in Hungary. Their hard labor at the foundry earned them very respectable wages. They wrote letters to friends and relatives in Hungary encouraging them to come to this country, especially to Toledo. THe number of Hungarians in Toledo began to increase rapidly.

The name “Birmingham” was given to this section of East Toledo because it resembled the iron and steel manufacturing city with the same name in England, with its foundries, factories and furnaces belching out smoke and soot. The National Malleable served as the magnet to attract the first Hungarians to Toledo, but other industries helped to increase the Hungarian population, including the United States Malleable Iron Company, the Rail Light (Toledo Edison Company), and the Maumee Malleable Castings Company.

When the first Hungarians arrived in Birmingham they found a sparsely settled area with only about twenty houses and considerable farm land between them. Originally what is now Birmingham consisted of the Collins, Benedict and Valentine farms. Since this area was so sparsely populated, it lacked the conveniences of other parts of the city such as paved streets and sidewalks. These luxuries did not arrive in Birmingham for quite some time.

Many of the early immigrants established their own businesses in the neighborhood, including taverns, dry goods stores, butcher shops, grocery stores, a bakery, shoe repair shops, barber shops, dry cleaning stores and a jewelry store. This concept of small privately owned businesses remained a characteristic of Birmingham until the 1950’s when the larger shopping centers became popular.

The majority of the residents of Birmingham had very little or no education and consequently obtained those jobs which required unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Thus, they turned to the factories, foundries, and mills of East Toledo. Despite the long, hard work days, these people remained relatively happy in their jobs because of the earning power they possessed in America compared to what they would be making in a similar job in Hungary. The money acted as a stimulus to attract other immigrants. A considerable percentage of the money earned was sent to help friends and relatives in Hungary in coming to America.

Once the Magyar immigrant arrived in Toledo, he made his way for the Hungarian settlement. He was forced to settle in this part part of the city because of his language, which proved to be a true handicap to these people. The Magyar language is related to no other language in Europe and to very few in the world. In order to adjust to American ways, immigrants from Hungary moved into Magyar settlements where they learned English from their countrymen who knew both languages.

As soon as the new settlement increased sufficiently in numbers, the Hungarians began to feel a need to organize, so they formed the King Matthias Sick and Benevolent Society, a non-sectarian organization. In 1897  religious issue saw this non-sectarian society break up when the Catholic members formed the Saint Stephen Roman and Greek Catholic Sick Aid Society. The next seventeen years saw the establishment of the three Hungarian parishes.

In 1898 St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church was established. The non-Catholics organized their Hungarian Reformed Church (Calvin United Church of Christ) in 1903. The last church to be established was Saint Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church in 1914. Although the conflict in the King Matthias association centered along religious lines, the three Hungarian parishes worked together successfully throughout their histories. The closest union of the churches occurred durinf the 1920’s under the leadership of Reverend Louis Bogar, Pastor of the Reformed Church, Father Augustine Komporday, Pastor at Saint Michael’s, and Monsignor Elmer Eordogh of Saint Stephen’s. The spirit of cooperation shown by these three men influenced their parishioners, who associated in a harmony evidenced by people from all parts of Toledo. Parish life was particularly important to the members of these churches since their spiritual, social, religious, educational and athletic activities centered in their individual parish.

The lives of Birmingham’s residents were interrupted in 1914 by the First World War. Despite the fact that the United States did not enter the war for several years, the Hungarians in Toledo were greatly affected since Hungary was a member of the Central Powers. When the United States did enter the war in 1917, she entered on the Allied side opposed to Hungary and the Central Powers. The people of Birmingham were caught in the middle of this war. However, their loyalty was given without question to their newly adopted homeland. Many young men from the Birmingham neighborhood served in the armed forces. In addition, the people of Birmingham contributed financially to the Liberty Loan and the Red Cross campaigns.

At the conclusion of the war, the residents of Birmingham again attempted to show their devotion to the United States by becoming naturalized citizens. To be a good American one must also be able to vote – thus the need for naturalization. In 1918 the American-Hungarian Citizens League was established to promote Americanization and to encourage those of Hungarian birth to complete their naturalization. This organization met monthly at the three churches of the community. Striving for a number of civic improvements for the Birmingham area, the group called for better street paving, improved collection of garbage and the construction of a swimming pool and shelter house at Collins Par.

The following year, in 1919, the East Side Catholic Community House opened. Americanization work constituted one of its major activities with two weekly classes in English and one in Citizenship being offered. Other classes included gymnastics, cooking, sewing, folk dancing and singing. In 1920, the Toledo Public Library opened a branch in this building and pleased the local community by purchasing a number of volumes in Magyar. These books included Hungarian history as well as novels written by Hungarian authors. The welfare activities of the Catholic Community House included such personal services as sending telegrams and letters, directing the needy sick to St. Vincent Hospital Medical Clinic and the Social Service Federation dental clinic, cooperating with truant officers and the juvenile court and, of course, encouraging Hungarians in Birmingham to become American citizens through the naturalization process.

Despite the great desire of the Hungarian residents of Birmingham to become naturalized citizens, they remained ever mindful of their past. Each March the Hungarians of Birmingham celebrated their Szabadsag Day, or Liberty Day in remembrance of March 15, 1848 when Louis Kossuth led the Hungarians in a vain attempt to gain independence from the Austrian Hapsburgs. They also organized the Verhovay Aid Society which provided assistance to the needy, both in Toledo and abroad. Following the first World War, this group remitted thousands of dollars to Hungary for the relief of the starving children there. The Verhovay Aid Society, the largest non-sectarian society in the Birmingham community, represented all three neighborhood parishes.

The various industries that attracted the immigrants from Hungary also brought immigrants from other countries to East Toledo. Because of this immigration and a natural increase in population, East Toledo grew at a phenomenal rate in the first twenty years of the next century. The population of East Toledo in 1900 was slightly under 18,000, yet by 1920 it had doubled to nearly 40,000.

The residents of Birmingham tried to become faithful Americans, first by learning the English language and then by becoming naturalized citizens. Throughout the years these people have contributed to the City of Toledo politically, economically, culturally and religiously. The residents of Birmingham can proudly boast that their neighborhood was, is, and shall remain “America’s Finest Ethnic Community.”

John M. Hrivnyak was born and reared in Birmingham. An alumnus of Defiance College, he is currently completing work for an M.A. at the University of Toledo. Hrivnyak’s thesis was the source for this brief sketch of the neighborhood’s Hungarian history. Mr. Hrivnyak teaches social studies at Perrysburg High School.

 

 

19th Annual BEF Waiter’s Race

July 18, 2014

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The residents of Birmingham invite you to the “Unofficial Opening” of the Birmingham Ethnic Festival with the 19th Annual Waiter’s Race!

When: Friday, August 15 – 7PM
Where: Consaul Street with Start/Finish line at VFW 4906

A relay team consisting of 4 members will carry a tray with a pitcher of beer and 2 glasses. Exchanges will occur throughout the course down Consaul Street. The team to finish first AND with the most beer remaining in the glasses and pitcher wins the race. Points are awarded for order of finish and amount of beer remaining.

The Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band will provide entertainment. Once the race is over, stick around for the fun at VFW 4906, where there will be hamburgers and chips for sale.

Waiter’s Race past champions

1996 – Rumpus Room

1997  – Knights of Columbus

1998 – Tony Packo’s Restaurant

1999 – Rumpus Room/East Side Raiders

2000 – Consaul Tavern

2001 – Rumpus Room/East Side Raiders

2002 – Rumpus Room/East Side Raiders

2003 – Rumpus Room/East Side Raiders

2004 – Rumpus Room/East Side Raiders

2005 – Hungarian Club

2006 – Hungarian Club

2007 – Hungarian Club

2008 – Hungarian Club

2009 – Hungarian Club

2010 – Hungarian Club

2011 – Steelworkers

2012 – Hungarian Club

2013 – Hungarian Club

Please join us on Consaul Street on Friday, August 15 for an event that has only gained in popularity over the years and, with your help, will only get better!

Hungarian Cultural Delegation from Algy, Csongrád County, Hungary

July 16, 2014

The 2014 Birmingham Ethnic Festival Committee is proud to announce:

delegation

A 3-member cultural delegation from Csongrad County (the Sister City of Lucas County, Ohio since 1996) has been invited to Toledo, Ohio for the 40th Birmingham Ethnic Festival. Members of the delegation are from Algyo, a small town near Szeged in the Southern Plain of Hungary. Since 2002 this town has developed a successful cultural association (GYEVI-ART), bringing together talented people in a variety of cultural areas. One of their largest programs is the Parlando Choir, whose mission is to preserve the Hungarian music traditions from operettas to folk songs, as well as engage and entertain every generation from the youth to seniors in singing and music, so they can all have a meaningful and enjoyable free time activity.

Two of the senior members of the Parlando Choir were selected to participate in the Birmingham Festival: Jozsef Bakos plays the accordion and enjoys singing as well. He plays operettas, french chanson, Hungarian songs, csardas and other popular songs.

Janos Antal is a singer and he loves to sing operettas and other type of music.

They have both received recognitions and awards at different local and national competitions. Recently, Janos Antal received a Gold Medal at the national senior competition in Keszthely, Hungary. They regularly perform at festivals, community events, and small gatherings in Hungary and abroad.

Representing the folk artists Mrs. Izbéki Gabriella Cseuz will come to the U.S. She likes sewing and embroidery, knitting,
crocheting, beading etc. Her favorite fabric is the „kekfesto,” a traditional Hungarian fabric dying that is typical in the Southern Plain. She is the leader of the Quilting Club providing training and consulting, as well as arranging exhibitions. In addition, Gabriella is an educator and she is organizing summer camps and workshops for youth to teach them traditional folk arts and crafts.

She will bring and teach traditional embroidery of the South Plain „szucs himzes” that is typical in that part of Hungary. She is also bringing a small exhibition of folk art from Algyo and Csongrad County artists to create displays at various programs where they will participate in the U.S. to share the rich cultural heritage from Hungary. Gabriella will also display some of the artwork that the quilters created in her association. Gabriella is also looking forward to working with youth at different small workshops.

This will be their first visit to the U.S. and they are looking forward to meeting with Americans who are interested in learning more about the Hungarian culture. They also hope to support Hungarian-Americans and their organizations and provide programs for those who are interested to share and preserve the Hungarian heritage in the U.S. They would like to entertain and work with every generation from youth to seniors.

Their tour in the U.S. will include 3 states, visiting Toledo, Northwest Ohio, and Columbus and Lake Hope in Ohio, Detroit area in Michigan, and in Chicago, Illinois.

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