Settlements Minn

Research History Settlements Minn

History & Culture

Polish Settlements in Minnesota 1860-1900

Sister M. Teresa, O.S.F.


For the student of history and sociology, the Polish immigrant of Minnesota does not offer the unusual. He is merely a contributor to the general pattern commenced by previous migratory groups - the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Germans, the Irish, the Finns and the Czechs. In this heterogeneous group, however, the pioneer Pole has shown the stamina to forge ahead and offer his adopted country his best talents and his physical strength.


The Minnesota Pole came to a territory that once was a part of a great interior basin and now is a vast undulating plain, a State of ten thousand lakes, "L'Etoile de Nord". Minnesota offered numerous natural attractions to the immigrant: good climate, good soil, a rolling and almost flat land conducive to agriculture, livestock and dairy farming. Its mountain ranges and pine forests enticed him to mining, fishing, and hunting, log-rolling and skiing.


It was the territory which Henry W. Longfellow immortalized in his "Song of Hiawatha". Of the immigrant Pole, as of Hiawatha, it might be said:


So he journeyed westward, westward, 
Crossed the rushing Escanaba, 
Crossed the mighty Mississippi.

until he


Saw the beauty of Wenonah.

And it was in Winona that the first Polish settlers found their home.1 They came from Pomerania, Poznan, and East Prussia.


The Polish immigration to the United States after 1865 is characterized by M. Haiman as an economic one, although it also had numerous political implications.2 The Polish Insurrection of 1863 left its mark on the extensive emigration in the early 70's. Both Roucek and Wachtl, basing their conclusions on Haiman's earlier studies, mention the fact that by 1860 Poles were to be found in all states of the Union, the greatest number in New York, Texas, California, Wisconsin and Michigan .The Rev. S. A. Iciek states that


... some Poles came from the eastern provinces of Germany ...with the Forty-eighters. Many more came after the War of 1870. In the nineties they were followed by their countrymen from Austria-Hungary. Lastly those from Russia settled here.4


Esther Jerabek, in a brief study of the foreign population of Minnesota, makes the statement: "As Poland-is a rural nation, a large proportion of its emigrants were attracted to farms here."5


The majority of Poles did not intend to sever connections with their mother-country. A great number of them planned to return to Poland. This accounts for their reluctance, at the beginning, in accepting local customs and traditions. Thus when Walenty von Radowski of Winona, wrote a letter on March 26, 1864, to a Polish paper "Echo z Polski," requesting that the back issues be sent him, he reflected the thoughts and desires of many of his countrymen.6 In another interesting letter, written by Anton Durayewski of Winona, February 26, 1864, the author asked for Polish prayer-books and hymnals. Included in this letter was an offering for the Polish cause from the Poles of Winona. About 15 families constituted this group; among them were two brothers Piotr and S. Szawlowski and Szymon Strzelewicz.7 In 1873, the Poles, organized into a parish, placed themselves under the patronage of St. Stanislaus. Father Romuald Byzewski, an exiled Franciscan and a victim of Bismarck's Prussianizing policy, pioneered in this group.8


As time went on, the Winona settlement grew and expanded. By 1886 there were over 700 families.9 Their political and social aspects were carefully reflected through one of the first Polish newspapers in the State, namely, the "Wiarus (Good Patriot)" which functioned from 1886 to 1915.10 Although Father Byzewski was one of its organizers, Hieronim Derdowski, a Kashub poet of note and one of Minnesota's ablest Polish writers, gave the paper its distinctive impetus.11 His patriotic and humorous poems brought him an enviable reputation, not only in America but in Poland. Under his editorship, the "Wiarus" was known as the foremost Polish weekly in the United States. Up to 1892, when Derdowski's health began to fail him, a large part of the paper was devoted to foreign news; then it began to take on more local color, but it always remained a non-partisan publication.12


In 1893 Derdowski changed the name of the paper from" Wiarus" to "Katolik," but reverted to the original name quickly.13 E. H. Dunikowski, of Warsaw, a geologist and traveller, in describing his experiences along the Mississippi River wrote of Winona, as having "a sizeable Polish colony and parish. . . the seat of the famous `Derda'. .. the editor of the famous paper "Wiarus," now known as the "Katolik."14 Derdowski also did more through his newspaper towards urging Polish readers "to obtain naturalization papers and become law-abiding citizens of the land of their adoption" than any other Pole in a prominent position.15 He took special interest in advertising the various enterprises of Poles in Chicago, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Detroit, and New York, and capitalized on the sale of farms in different parts of Minnesota and Nebraska. It was through this paper that a number of Poles, learning about the cheap lands of Owatonna (65¢ an acre), took homesteads and made good farming lands there.16


By 1873, Polish settlements were to be found not only in Winona but also in Long Prairie, Perham, Gnesen (1867); in St. Anthony (1868); in Duelm, Ward, Duluth (1870); North Prairie (1871); Delano, Fairbault, Silver Lake and Foley (1873).


Many Polish families moved into Wells, directly from Prussian Silesia. The first Pole to arrive was Thomas Yoziel who came in 1874. Others who followed shortly were Felix Schultz, John Troska, Ignatius Rathai, and the Stolach, Cierpich, Kalis, Kula and Wielowski families.17 This "noble band of pioneers, whose faith was the seed" from which St. Casimir's parish sprang in 1881, labored under the handicap of a strange language and a poverty that tried their mettle. This was true, of course, of other settlements. In 1883, Reverend Henry Jadzewski, was sent to take care of the Mission at Wells.18 Three years later, Reverend John Hanak became the first resident priest of Wells, and Minnesota Lake became a mission of Wells. The history of the Polish congregation of Wells would be quite inadequate if one were to overlook the efforts of Father J. Cieszynski, who was appointed pastor in 1889.


Father J. Cieszynski, born in Eastern Pomerania, was a man of many interests. He "went up to the North woods with the lumbermen to earn the money necessary to secure the education he desired."19 Having learned the English language in a comparatively short time, he attended the Winona Normal School, the Pillsbury Academy in Owatonna, and finally St. Paul Seminary.


The flame that consumed his heart was the love for his people, and his ardent hope was to see them take the place for which their natural gifts fitted them among free Americans.20


His influence was felt in three counties - Fairmont, Martin, and Jackson - where he built churches, helped and coached the Polish youth in their high school subjects, encouraged parents to send their children to colleges and academies for general education as well as for religious training. Father Cieszynski's fondest dream was "to establish a Polish colony in North Dakota, but ill health prevented the realization of these plans." 21


In the Twin Cities, Minneapolis claims having Poles as early as 1875. Through the efforts of Reverend Dominic Majer of St. Paul, the Holy Cross Church, the oldest Polish parish in the city, was organized, in July, 1886. The Reverend Jacob Pacholski was appointed its first Pastor.22 By 1894, there were about 450 families. Dunikowski in his travels makes mention of the charming hospitality extended to him and to his party and of the edifying attendance at Polish devotions23.


In St. Paul, according to Reverend Waclaw Kruszka, there were about 68 families by 1876.24 In a relatively short time, two Polish parishes, St. Adalbert and St. Casimir, were organized. Probably the most outstanding and influential single figure at this time was the Reverend Dominic A. Majer, pastor of St. Adalbert's Church.


About the time the Twin Cities were being settled, Poles were setting up colonies in Delano, Appleton, Taunton, Elmdale, Gilman, and Little Falls.


Simultaneously with the settlement of Winona, Duluth was going through the same processs. Reverend S. Iciek states that in the late 60's in a town approximately 12 miles from Duluth, Polish pioneers were making their homes at Gnesen (Gniezno).25 In Duluth, the outstanding leader was Theodore Helinski. Born in Posen in 1856, he found his way to Duluth in 1886. He started a real estate bureau together with a fire insurance company. For several years, Helinski was president of the Committee on Fire Protection. Eventually, he was appointed post-master general of Duluth, a post he held until 1898.26 The integrity of this pioneer Pole, once he showed signs of assimilation and accomodation, was never questioned. Helinski chose Anthony Grabarkiewicz for superintendent of the Post Office. The Duluth Evening Herald praised him highly as a real business man .27 Writing to his friends in Buffalo, Helinski mentioned the fact that a handful of Poles settled on farms in the vicinity of Duluth and that several families found their way to Cloquet, among the French settlers.28


Records indicate that the group at Sturgeon Lake, which broke away from Winona, was pretty well organized by 1890. The settlers were especialy interested in politics and business.29


Probaby the oldest town in the three counties of Marshall, Kittson, and Rosseau, was Florian, formerly known as Stanislawowo, in honor of the agent, Stanislaw Peszczynski. It had about 120 families in 1885.30 The Valley of the Red River of the North was quickly recognized by the Pole as a veritable gold mine. The region is one of the finest for raising springwheat.


The colonies were to be found in practically every county in the central portion of the State. Numerous settlements were made in Carlton, Pine, and Chisago Counties.


In the southwestern part of the State, in Lincoln county, a little town of Wilno was settled around 1883. The organizer of the parish was Reverend Francis Grabowski, who was aided by Anton Klub, a real estate man from Chicago. The first recorded baptism in St. John Cantius Church was that of John Kasigroch, born on January 3, 1884. The first trustees were Jacob Gorecki and Michael Felcyn. In all, there were about 300 Polish farmers in this locality. Here, in 1898, the Poles organized a fire insurance company under the name of The Sobieski Mutual Fire Insurance Company.31 


The church at New Brighton was built by Poles who at one time attended St. Charles Church in Mound View, a congregation of German, Polish and French settlers. Although the New Brighton church was not used until 1902, nevertheless, its beginning was due to members of the following families: Matz, Rosenthal, Goracki, Soyka, and Bona.32


North Prairie, formerly called German Settlement, dates back to the early sixties, when farmers from Germany began taking up land. But by 1871, with the influx of many Polish immigrants, the town took on a more cosmopolitan outlook. The first pastor at Holy Cross Church who served the Polish Congregation was Father Nagl (1875-1893). He was followed by the Reverend Gospodar.33 August Wroblewski, an organist and teacher, wrote a letter to editor Derdowski in 1880, stating that nowhere would Polish settlers find better climate and such rich soil as here; it was identical with the climate and soil of Poland.34 By 1881 there were over 150 Polish families. Year after year, the community grew, and Poles began to realize their civic duties by taking an active part in the administration of their town.35 The railroads brought many pioneer Polish Catholics into Stearn County. North Prairie was favorably situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, just three miles from the Northern Pacific R.R. and the Royalton station.


Benton County had four great Polish settlements: Duelm, Sauk Rapids, Foley, and Gilman. Ludwik Jurek, writing in June 1880, remarked that twelve years ago he bought a farm of 240 acres in Duelm. He offered forty acres for a church.36 At this time about 30 families who had settled some years ago were living in Duelm; now, 125 more families bought land, because the railroad company was selling it at three to five dollars an acre.37 Always in search of good land, the Polish farmer encouraged others to move westwardly over the State.38


In Ottertail County, a pioneer settler struck upon a tract near Marion Lake about five miles south and west of the present village of Perham. This was in 1867. Then with the steady flow of new settlers, mostly of German and Polish origin, a parish was formally organized by Father Perz in 1869. The census of 1873 indicated 81 families, mostly German and Polish.39 It seems that the impetus here was the building of the Northern Pacific Railroad through the territory of Perham (in 1872). This brought an influx of Catholic settlers, among whom were some Poles from Ohio.


One of the first concerns of the pioneer Pole was the training of his children in the Catholic religion. At Long Prairie, the scene of several Indian attacks, a school was opened on February 3, 1880, with three Benedictine Sisters in charge. One of them many years later wrote:


...we opened school Feb. 3, 1880.  I believe the attendence was about 30 to 40 pupils. Sisters Clementine and Theodora taught in the same room, one conducting either a Polish or German class, while the other took care of the English pupils.40


Foley and Browerville likewise developed as a result of the north branch of the Great Northern Railroad (1882-1884), but Polish workers and their families were already well established there by 1876. Most of them came directly from Europe; some left Chicago for the wild and heavy timber lands of the North.41 Elk River, Flensburg, Little Falls, Opole - these are but a few of the numerous and widely scattered settlements. The tourist map of today still contains names that are reminiscent of early Polish settlements: Sobieski, Warsaw, Opole, Wilno, Gnesen (Gniezno), Pularsky, Grygla.


The Polish press also played an important part in the settlement of the relatively new state.42 One such example will clarify the point.


In northern Minnesota, today, one can find a town called Grygla. On November 21, 1894, a Chicago Polish daily paper featured an interesting article, which was supposed to have appeared in another Polish daily (the"Zgoda"). The title of the article was "The Colonization Movement of Mr. Gryglaszewski". It seems that Mr. Gryglaszewski had advertised that the Polish National Alliance, a fraternal organization, was organizing a Polish colony. The central office of the Alliance denied the claim, stating that no one was appointed to organize a Polish colony in the name of the organization.43


The St. Paul Pioneer Press of October 15, (continued the Chicago daily) announced that six thousand families were about to move westward. Arrangements were already being made for settling 1500 families in the valley of the Red River. The settlers were Poles and Slavs, coming from other parts of the country. The movement was indebted to the efforts of Frank Gryglaszewski, a traveling agent for the Great Northern Railroad.44 Gryglaszewski was also the executive secretary of the Polish National Alliance.


On the 24th of October, 1894, Michal Kaniewski from Willow River, Pine County, wrote to the editor of "Zgoda," that Gryglaszewski had aided him in this colonization movement. Coming from Poland, Kaniewski, a farmer, therefore, an unskilled laborer, ignorant of the English language made no progress until 1880, when Gryglaszewski sent him out to examine the land in the deep forests near the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad.45


By 1890, the Poles became part and parcel of the political and social life of their respective communities. In St. Paul, the first Polish organization in Minnesota was started by Msgr. D. Majer, pastor of St. Adalbert Church, on June 13, 1890. The first president of the Polish Union was Józef Jarosz.46 An interesting society was organized in Duluth by Walenty Krzeszewski on January 1, 1884. The title of this group was the Society of St. Joseph. The purpose was to honor St. Joseph by assisting at Mass, Benediction and Procession, by visiting the sick and burying the dead. The society belonged to the Polish National Alliance. It registered 39 members.47


As regards politics, Sygurd Wisniowski, (born in Poland in 1841 and settled in Minnesota in 1873), was elected to the state legislature for a term of two years in 1874. Wisniowski was a writer and a traveler. He traveled not only through Europe but through England, Australia, New Zealand, and made two trips around the world.48 In 1894, Gryglaszewski wrote in a Chicago Polish daily ("Zgoda") that the Republicans as well as the Irish Democratic Club of Minneapolis had nominated Alexander Dabrowski for alderman in the first ward. Another Polish daily stated that Dabrowski, a Republican won over a German Democrat by 16 votes.49 


The campaign of 1896 offered the Poles several political opportunities. The Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan who favored free silver at 16 to 1, while McKinley ran on the Republican platform of high tariff, protection and gold. Many of the Poles supported McKinley; nevertheless, there were enough Silverites among them to warrant several general meetings. A. Murlowski of Minneapolis gave a speech on silver in Jarosz's Hall which was filled to capacity. A similar meeting was held in Silver Lake, led by the McKinley Republicans who asked K. Zychlinski from Chicago to speak on gold.50 In spite of the fact that Minneapolis had a majority of Silverites, Joseph Szuta ran for the state legislature on the republican ticket, but without success. Party divisions among the Polish settlers were already making themselves felt. The Minnesota Poles were thinking and acting for themselves, like their American neighbors.


Such in brief outline is the story of Polish settlements in Minnesota from 1860 to 1900. It is far from being a complete story, yet even in its fragmentary form it indicates that the pioneer Polish settlers of Minnesota, in spite of a late start, have done well in their adopted land, both for themselves and for the country of their adoption.


1 Rev. S. A. Iciek, Their Grandson, (unpublished autobiography still in manuscript) pp. IV-V.
M. Haiman, Polish Past in America, pp. 1-2.
F. J. Brown and J. S. Roucek ed., One America, pp. 135-144; Karol Wachtl, Polonja w Ameryce, p.57.
4 Iciek, op. cit., p. V.

Esther Jerabek, "The Expansion of Minnesota's Population". Minnesota Alumni Weekly, vol. 33 (Sept. 23, 1933).
6 Dokumenty Tow. Dem. Wygnanców Pol. z Rapperswylu (Komitet polski, N. Y. 1864) Rap. 424, V (Isza czesc). Transcripts in the Archives and Museum of the Polish Roman Catholic Union in Chicago.

Ibid., Rap. 424, V (Isza czesc).
8 X. Waclaw Kruszka, Historya Polska w Ameryce, vol. XI, pp. 19-20.

Wiarus, July 7, 1888, Winona, Minnesota.
10 Wiarus, Feb. 9, 1911 (Anniversary Number, 1886-1911). Wiarus had its predecessors but they were short-lived, lasting only a few months: Przyjaciel Ludu and Kurjer Winonski.
11 Wachtl, op. cit., pp. 214, 235, 242.
12 Winona Republican-Herald, June 18, 1937. See also Wiarus, Feb. 11, 18, 25; March, 4, 1886, "Poles in Poland".
13 Katolik, September 14, 1893, No. 37. Also Wiarus, Memorial Number, October 21, 1902.

Emil Habdank Dunikowski, Meksyk i Szkice z Podrozy Po Ameryce, (Warsaw: Gebethner & Wolff, 1893), Tom I, Serya C, pp. 424-5.
15 Winona Republican-Herald, June 18, 1937.

Wiarus, June 9, 1886. No. 18. An interesting, editorial on Derdowski is found in Dziennik Chicagowski, Dec. 19, 1933, No. 295; also in Dziennik Pomorski (Niwa Pomorska) Dodatek, April 3, 1927, No. 14.
17 Rev. John Mikolai, "History of St. Casimir's Parish" (Souvenir), 1916. 
18 Kruszka, op. cit., p. 22.
19 Mikolai, op. cit.
20 Helen H. Hielscher, Saint Casimir (Souvenir) 1916; also Kruszka, op. cit. p. 22. 
21 Kruszka, op. cit., p. 22.
22 Ibid., pp. 9-10; also Wiarus, June 9, 1886, No. 18, "Polacy w Minneapolis". 
23 Dunikowski, op. cit., pp. 426,436.
24 Kruszka, op. cit., pp. 7-8 cites Kalendarz (1876) p. 104. See also Nowiny Minnesockie, February 13, 1935, where the claim is made that the Polish settlers were in St. Paul by 1870.
25 Rev. Iciek, op. cit., p. 87. 
26 Kruszka, op. cit., p. 41.
27 Zgoda, "Polacy w Ameryce", Nov. 14, 1895, p. 5. Correspondence of W. Romieniecki.
28 Kruszka, op. cit., pp. 41-43.
29 Ibid., pp. 42-43; also Wiarus, July 8, 1886, No. 22. It seems that the group set out to start a new settlement under the name of Sobieski.
30 Kruszka, op. cit., pp. 43-44. The name was no longer used in the Catholic Directory of 1907. It was then called "Florian"'. Was it to honor the Rev. Florian Matuszewski, who became pastor, in 1902?
31 Ivanhoe Times, June 1, 1923. Also Kruszka, op. cit., p. 14.
32 Archives of St. John the Baptist Church, New Brighton, Minn.
33 Register, Jubilee Number, St. Cloud Edition, XV, Section 4, No. 37, p. 6. 
34 Przyjaciel Ludu, June 23, 1880, p. 7.
35 lbid., p. 7.
36 Przyjaciel Ludu, July 7, 1880, p. 7. Korespondencja Ludwika Jurek. Also Register, Section 2, p. 22.

Przyjaciel Ludu, p. 7. 
38 Ibid., p. 7.
39 Register, Section 4, p. 10. (Jubilee Number). 
40 Register, Section 3, p. 20. (Jubilee Number).
41 Ibid., p. 5 and 8, Section 3. Also Clara K. Fuller, History of Morrison and Todd Counties, pp. 249, 255.
42 Minnesota was admitted to the Union in 1858.
43 Dziennik Chicagowski, Nov. 21, 1894, p. 1. 
44 Ibid., p. 1.
45 Zgoda, October 24, 1894. Correspondence of Michael Kaniewski.
46 Historya Unji Polskiej w Stanach Zjednoczonych polnocnej Ameryki, wydane z okazji 50-letniego jej istnienia, 1940, p. 39. See also Wachtl, op. cit., p. 173.
47 Dziennik Chicagowski, Sept. 8, 1892.

S. Zielinski, Maly Slownik Pionierów Polskich, pp. 595 6.
Zgoda, Oct. 17, 1894; Dziennik Chicagowski, Nov. 27, 1894.
Dziennik Chicagowski, Oct. 20, 1896, "O Polakach w polityce."


This article is reprinted from Polish American Studies, Vol. V. No. 3-4, July-December 1948, with permission from the Polish-American Historical Association.