The history of the Poles in Greenpoint

The Polish community in Greenpoint has been well-established for over a hundred years, but I have read nonsense on the internet that there was no Polish community in Greenpoint until the nineteen eighties. There were actually two Polish born people living in Greenpoint listed on the 1855 census, but the first report of an actual Polish community comes later.City officials investigated the Greenpoint tenements and in an 1885 report thy noted a plethora of overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, but also noted that there was one exception. Two Dangerstown tenements were full of Polish immigrants who kept their buildings very clean. Two Poles were listed on an earlier census, but this is one the first mentions of a Polish Community whose population would continue to grow for the next fifty years, attracted to the area by the presence of industrial jobs.

As many of the older Irish and German immigrants moved out the area in search of better neighborhoods, Dangerstown became increasingly Slavic as many Poles and Russians moved in replacing the Irish and Germans. The Polish population grew until it became the area’s largest ethnic group.

Much of this growth was due to the presence of the Area’s first Polish church, Saint Stanislaw Kostka, which was built in 1896. Famous for their devotion to the Catholic faith, in the early eighteen nineties Poles in Greenpoint had to travel all the way to South Brooklyn for a Polish language mass. However, a Polish priest secretly purchased a number of parcels of land from Germans on Humboldt Street and Poles built the graceful church, which has been a focal point of the Polish community ever since.

Like the Irish immigrants who came before them many Polish immigrants came to Greenpoint because of poverty in their homeland and the presence of factory work. The Poles quickly became the largest group working in the Havermayer sugar plant and in the American Hemp Rope manufacturing company on Oak Street. In 1910 Polish men and women organized a strike of both the American Manufacturing Company and the sugar factory, demanding higher wages. They tried to occupy the factory on Oak Street and the police were called out to quell the disturbance. The Police expected to confront Polish male workers, but were shocked when several dozen Polish women confronted them with rocks, brick, sticks and other weapons. The New York cops did not know how to respond, but several Polish women strikers ended up arrested.

Poland before the first world war did not exist as an independent country and many Poles could see that war was looming on the horizon. Fearing being drafted into the Russian, German or Austrian armies many Poles found there way to Brooklyn.

In 1918 the Poles also opened another church, St. Cyril and Methodius on DuPont Street. However, The Poles were not accepted immediately into the area. There was a strong Nativism in Greenpoint and local boys, led by Pete McGuinness and others established the “Native Borns,” a community group that opposed the foreign customs of Polish and Russian immigrants moving into Greenpoint and would beat up Poles and other foreigners who spoke their native languages on the street

During the nineteen sixties many people fled Greenpoint for the suburbs. They were replaced by Polish immigrants who were fleeing communism and poverty in Poland. Some estimates said that Greenpoint was eighty percent Polish and Polish American. Recently with the steep rise in rent the Polish population has fallen dramatically. Some say that half the Polish population has left within the last three years.

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One thought on “The history of the Poles in Greenpoint

  1. Pingback: A Brooklyn Starbucks with a movie theater past | Ephemeral New York

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