The Foundations of an Ethnic Community
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.