Showing posts with label Northampton MA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Northampton MA. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Do You Remember the 1940s?


In 1941 (if that is the annotation on the photo) my Dad was 16 years old. He is shown here in the front, with his twin brother John Szymanowicz behind him, and their older brother Henry in the rear. Wasn't he a snappy dresser?

As we look forward to the release of the 1940 census, I'm anticipating the "snapshots" of our families that will be revealed.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flood Damage

Our flooding in Western Massachusetts this week, resulting from Hurricane Irene, is eliciting comparisons to historic storm events.

My father was born in Easthampton, MA on 1 August 1925 of Polish immigrant parents. He and his twin brother were the youngest of seven children who lived to adulthood.

Through my research, I was able to show him a few things that he hadn't known: the house where he was likely born in Easthampton, a death certificate of a brother in Poland, a baptismal certificate for his oldest brother Bennie in Poland.

As is often the case, some family stories were not proven by the record evidence, but there was a kernel of truth. My uncle Henry thought that there was a baby who had died on the voyage to New York. Instead, we learned that the first child of Piotr and Walerya Szymanowicz had been born in their village of Drohiczyn in eastern (Russian) Poland in 1907 and died just short of his second birthday. Their second son, Boniface, was born a few months after the death of the first. It was the second child who took, and survived, the trip aboard the SS Finland, arriving in New York 23 August 1910.

Piotr and Walerya had six American children in Easthampton, MA and both became citizens themselves. Often the case among immigrant families, the oldest son left school early and began working to supplement the family income. Bennie also began the citizenship process as a young man, filing a Declaration of Intent in the Hampshire County Court. We know he worked in a gas station and had shares of Cities Service Company.

In March of 1936 torrential rains fell on the Connecticut Valley, which had seen an unusually large snowfall in previous months. The thaw, the rain and the ice breaking up in the river combined to produce record flooding. The Szymanowicz family had a small neighborhood grocery store adjacent to their home at the corner of Holyoke and Hawley Streets in Northampton, MA. The flood waters rose, filling their basement and the store at street level. Dad remembers eating "mystery meals" from the cans that lost their labels on the shelves.




Pleasant Street, Northampton - Photo from WGBY

When the water receded, river silts were left behind. Bennie developed a skin infection from contaminants that were deposited with the river silts as he attempted to clean up his parents' property. These were the years before common use of penicillin, a wonder drug that we take for granted 75 years later. Bennie died at age 27, on 14 April 1936 in Northampton. His pall bearers were Knights of Columbus, of whom he was a member. He was buried in St. Stanislaus cemetery in Easthampton beneath an Italian marble statue of Immaculate Mary.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Szymanowicz Family in Northampton MA


Fifteen years after arriving at Ellis Island, Peter Szymanowicz and his wife Valerie purchased a home and opened a neighborhood store on the corner of Holyoke and Hawley Streets in Nothampton, MA. Their children attended local schools and were becoming more Americanized as time went by. They continued to speak Polish at home, and among friends and family in the local ethnic community.

Workers were needed in the early 1900s in the farms and factories and they were recruited from Canada and Eastern Europe. Witold Zawacki, the first of the family to arrive in this country, chose industry. When Peter left the mills of Easthampton, his corner grocery still depended to some extent on another factory; the Belding Silk Mill was located nearby on Hawley Street and the store provided sandwiches and snacks to the workers.

When he turned 18 in 1926, their oldest son Benny, who was born in Poland, filed a Declaration of Intent to become a United States citizen. He described himself as a store clerk, 5 feet, 5 inches tall, 130 pounds, with light brown hair and blue gray eyes. He was described in the City Directories in later years as a restaurant worker, working for Federated Baking Company, and later as a gas station attendant.

Valerie also filed her Declaration and later, the Petition for Naturalization in 1929. She described herself as 5 feet 4 inches tall, 159 pounds, with brown hair and eyes; a housewife. Her friends Theresa Golash and Mary Borowski were her witnesses. Peter's Petition was witnessed by John Franchi and Antoni Zaleski, both of Easthampton, also in 1929.


The Szymanowicz family first belonged to St. John Cantius parish on Hawley Street, which served the large Polish American community. In 1931 a large group left the church in a disagreement with the pastor's "tyrannical" attitude. Some of them founded the Polish National Church on King Street. Valerie transferred her family to Sacred Heart church and school on King Street, a predominantly French parish. The boys served on the altar. Henry, John and Joe made their first communion at Sacred Heart on 28 May 1933 and were confirmed on 30 April 1936.

In 1936 the Connecticut River valley experienced its worst flood in at least 100 years, when ice jams in the river combined with torrential rains and frozen ground. Flood waters rose on Hawley Street and the inventory of the Szymanowicz grocery was ruined. The family salvaged some of the unlabeled canned goods and had "mystery meals" for weeks after. But the toll taken by the storm was much worse. Benny contracted an infection during the clean-up after the storm and died 15 April 1936 in Dickinson Hospital. At 27 he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, who served as poll bearers. He was buried at St. Stanislaus cemetery in Easthampton.

On 26 November 1936 Valerie died of ovarian cancer at the age of 47. The date was Thanksgiving Day. Her obituary states that she died "after a short illness," but she had been seen by a surgeon in Boston who determined that the condition was inoperable. The obituary enumerates her membership at Sacred Heart Church, Our Lady of Czestokowa Society, the Polish Women's Alliance of America, the Polish Roman Catholic Union, St. Anne Society of Easthampton, and the Polish National Alliance Wolna Polska of Northampton, which were represented at her funeral. She was buried with her son in Easthampton.

After Valerie's death, 20-year-old Jennie assumed the household duties for the family. Charlie was working in Connecticut. Bert was 16; Henry was 13; the twins 11. Jennie worked in a variety of jobs around Nothampton during the following years. She was a waitress at Smith College between 1937 and 1938. In 1938 the Belding Silk Mill closed and so did the Szymanowicz' store.

Bert was the first of the children to graduate from high school. The Nothampton High School year book in 1938 said, "Her composure and wit never fail her even at the most critical moments." As a senior she was on the staff of the Students' Review and was listed as Advertising Manager, and was photographed with the Literary Club and Science Club. She then attended Smith College and graduated in 1942. After Henry and Joe graduated from high school in 1943, Peter sold their home. He was 62 and moved to an apartment on Main Street above the store fronts with his children Jennie, Henry and John. John joined the Navy after graduation in 1944, as Joe had in 1943. Thus the next chapter of the Szymanowicz family closed after 18 years of home ownership.