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The city of "parks and squares" was founded in 1682 by William Penn, a wealthy Englishman who sought to provide a refuge to the Quakers, a pacifist protestant sect that was not well liked in the home country. The name meant "city of brotherly love" and, at least during Penn's lifetime, it lived up to the ideal. His was the only colony that observed terms of treaties made with the local Indians. The industrious and tolerant Quakers made the city a leading port on the Eastern seaboard and a haven for all religious beliefs.
Among the first Polish arrivals in Penn's colony was Anthony Sadowski, a man of noble background and some education, who became a pioneer and Indian trader. He settled along the Schuylkill River in 1712 and served the provincial government as a messenger-interpreter during negotiations with Indian tribes in 1728. Though he died and was buried in 1736 at the graveyard of St. Gabriel's Church in Douglassville, PA his descendants explored the American frontier. Over time their name became Americanized to Sandusky. Reputedly they founded the town of Sandusky in Ohio.
Located mid-way between the northern and southern colonies, Philadelphia became a center of resistance to English domination. It was here that representatives of the colonies met and Thomas Jefferson presented the Declaration of Independence. Later the Continental Congress would preside in the Statehouse now known as Independence Hall. Soon two Poles would come to aid George Washington in the War of Independence: military engineer Tadeusz Kosciuszko and cavalry commander Casimir Pulaski.
Pulaski distinguished himself in battle, even before receiving his rank as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army. For a while he quartered in Valley Forge at the house of John Beaver. He fought in several battles in the area including at Brandywine and Germantown, later going down to Savannah, Georgia, where he fell in a daring charge. For his sacrifice to the American cause, and to remember his presence in the area, Pulaski was honored with a heroic statue located in the park on the west side of Philadelphia's Art Museum. Each year in October a parade that begins on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway commemorates his achievements. The Place where he met Washington -- Moland House in Bucks County (near Doylestown, the home of the famous American Czestochowa shrine) -- has received recognition in the form of an official marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 2006.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko quickly made himself useful to George Washington as a military engineer building fortifications at Billingsport and Red Bank on the Delaware River to guard the approach to Philadelphia. He earned high praise for the fortifications he constructed on the Hudson River at Saratoga, as his work made a major contribution to the victory won there. He constructed a series of forts at West Point, New York, making it so secure that the British never tried to attack it. Later, the United States Military Academy would be located at this site.
He returned to Poland and after leading a dramatic though unsuccessful insurrection was imprisoned in Russia. Released into exile he returned to the United States in 1797 and stayed in Philadelphia. His adjutant, Julian Niemcewicz found rooms at a house on the corner of Third and Pine Streets. This is where Kosciuszko lived and entertained luminaries of American society, including Thomas Jefferson, a close friend, who was soon was to become president of the United States.
Though his last visit in the city was long remembered, the location of his dwelling place faded into obscurity. Fortunately, when the historic old-city district was being revitalized in the 1960s, Edward Pinkowski, an eminent Philadelphia historian specializing in Polish-American topics, located it again. He purchased the house with his own funds wanting to create a museum there. Unfortunately, the house was in poor condition and he had insufficient resources to restore it and set up the museum. Turning to the city's Polish community he received support from City Councilman Joseph Zazyczny, industrialist Edward Piszek and many Polish ethnic clubs and organizations. The group action resulted in testimony before the United States Congress where, at last, the house was given National Memorial status and placed under the care of the National Park Service. In 1976 it opened as a Memorial and Museum dedicated to Kosciuszko. That same year the people of Poland donated a statue of Kosciuszko to the city which was placed in a prominent location on one of the city's wide parkways.
In the mid-1800s the city was home to Henryk Dmochowski, a sculptor who also used the name "Sanders." He fled Poland in the aftermath of the 1830 insurrection and returned to participate, and die in, the insurrection of 1863. Though he was admired for his talent and his busts of Revolutionary War heroes grace the American Capitol, he had difficulties in making a living because of the vagaries of the American economy. His last major work before returning to Poland was a memorial for the grave of his wife. Now known as "Mother with Children" it portrays a woman holding two babies. Located in Laurel Hill, the city's most distinguished cemetery, it has been deteriorating because of neglect. A committee backed by the local chapter of The Kosciuszko Foundation raised funds for the cleaning and conservation of this valuable art object.
Another monumental structure in Philadelphia that was the work of a Polish immigrant is the majestic Benjamin Franklin Bridge which links the city to its neighbor, Camden, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. The engineer who planned and executed this record-breaking achievement in bridge building was Ralph Modjeski, son of actress Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska). (She frequently preformed at the city's Chestnut Street Theater located near 13th Street.)
The bridge, started in 1924 and finished in 1926 for the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, turned out not only to be the longest suspension bridge on its completion but also a farsighted solution to the problems of road and rail transportation in the area. After a grand opening, attended by United States president Calvin Coolidge, all its critics were proved wrong. It was not too big! Today, its seven lanes of traffic handle over 100,000 vehicles per day and the tracks built on the outside of the roadway accommodate rapid transit trains that run to the outlying communities. The slim towers that shattered precedents with their stark functional appearance and set a new style in American suspension bridges are today considered a symbol of the city and the bridge is a beloved landmark. It celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2001 for which Ralph Modjeski Pattison, great-grandson of the builder, came from Arizona to take part in the ceremonies. The following year a book, a translation of Prof. Jozef Glomb's biography of Ralph Modjeski, was published. By a lucky coincidence pre-publication copies were ready for presentation to first ladies Laura Bush and Jolanta Kwasniewska when they visited Philadelphia. The presentation was made at the Polish-American Center which is only a few blocks away from the bridge. In 2007 a historical marker was installed at the bridge to commemorate Modjeski's contributions to bridge engineering.
This was not Jolanta Kwasniewska's first visit to the city, at an earlier time she toured the Polish neighborhood of Richmond and dined at the already well known Teresa's Buffet, (now closed) a local restaurant. Richmond is one of several neighborhoods in Philadelphia that have a distinctly Polish flavor. Two others are Bridesburg and Manayunk. In the latter is where in the late 1950s businessman Edward Piszek started his pioneering business manufacturing prepared frozen fish products. Though those early days were difficult, his "Mrs. Paul's" trademark soon became recognized for quality "heat and eat" foods. Some years ago the company was sold, and the man known as the "Fishcake King" now devotes himself to cultural projects that more often than not have something to do with Poland.
He was not the only entrepreneur to build a thriving business here. It was just outside Philadelphia that Frank Piasecki invented and built the first practical tandem-rotor helicopter creating a new industry. He became a local legend by landing his first machine at a gasoline station in order to fill up. His original factory is now known as the Helicopter Division of the Boeing Corporation and produces helicopters for military and civilian use. Meanwhile, his sons operate an aviation research center. Interestingly, some of the staff working in there are engineers who have received their training in Poland. In 2010 a historical marker was installed at the site of Piasecki's first engineering office (1937 Callowhill Street) to commemorate his contributions to helicopter design.
Another engineer and inventor of Polish background was Walter Golaski who perfected the manufacturing techniques for making the first practical artificial vascular replacements. Though his business grew to large proportions Walter never forgot his Polish roots. Most notably he served as Chairman of the Board at the Kosciuszko Foundation which encouraged the exchange of students and scholars between the United States and Poland. This helped to shape a positive image of Poland because Americans of all ethnic backgrounds were encouraged to participate in the Foundation's programs and experienced Polish culture directly.
Though many Poles have chosen to seek the open spaces of suburbia on the edges of the city, there still are large ethnic clusters around Polish Churches like St. Adalbert's (Sw. Wojciech) in the Richmond section (off Allegheny Ave.) and St. John Cantius (Sw. Jan Kanty) in Bridesburg along the Delaware River. Two other Polish Churches, St. Ladislaus (Sw. Wladyslaw) and St. Hedwig (Sw. Jadwiga) are no longer standing.
This is because the initial Polish arrivals to Philadelphia have always been drawn to places where there was a already a group of people who spoke their language and that was often near a Polish church. In recent times, even before the election of Pope John Paul II, the Polish residents could be proud to have one of their own as the head the Catholic hierarchy in the city. John Cardinal Krol was archbishop and shepherd of all the Catholics in Philadelphia from 1961 to 1987 and though born in Cleveland, Ohio, he became a Philadelphian by choice.
It was during his times that the Polish community built an imposing monument to the memory of Nicholaus Copernicus just opposite the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. And when Philadelphia became a Sister City to Torun under an international program for promoting friendly inter city communications, trade and cultural exchanges, the fact was noted on a granite slab in "Sister Cities Plaza" also located near the cathedral.
Philadelphia's Polish-Americans have a Polish Cultural Center, operated by the Polish American Congress, located in the city's historic old town. There is also a Polish Home in the Greater Northeast section, and an official honorary consul's office of the Republic of Poland (RP) in the Polish neighborhood of Richmond on Allegheny Avenue. These are but a few of the many stories and accomplishments of Philadelphia's Polonia which continues to grow and thrive as part of a vital American city. No doubt, in the future, there will be more to add to its fascinating history.
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