In the Old North community of Dayton, Ohio, you can visit remnants of a prominent Hungarian labor community called the Kossuth Colony. This is one of 18 historic districts in northeastern Dayton and it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.
The main road is Leo Street where it runs between Notre Dame Avenue and Baltimore Street, both of which extend to Mack Avenue, and further on to where Notre Dame curls around the end to meet Baltimore Street.
If you are taking Stanley Avenue to Leo Street, you can turn right on Baltimore Street shortly after you pass the Holy Cross Lithuanian Church and Stuart Patterson Park.
Germans were the first foreign settlers to take root in this part of Ohio, known back then as either Parma or Texas. Soon after, at the start of the 1900s, Eastern and Central Europeans from Hungary, Lithuania, and Poland immigrated to the area.
With them they brought Roman Catholicism, distinct architecture, social aid institutions, and cultural traditions.
Cities in the United States with the highest reported number of Hungarians include Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton. Other Ohio cities of Fairport Harbor, Elyria, Windsor, Tiltonsville, Colebrook Township, Beachwood, Hartsgrove Township, Russell Township, and Amherst all maintain a Hungarian population ranging between 7%- 12% each.
There are enormous Hungarian communities in New York, Los Angeles, New Brunswick, and other places in the Midwest, but when most cities have 0.01% or less, it is wild how many Hungarians made and continue to make their home in Ohio.
Looking at whole states instead of cities, Ohio has more Hungarians than any other state with a high Hungarian population, by more than 45,000-50,000 at least.
Most Hungarians first came to the United States in one of three waves; the “Forty-Eighters” who sought to escape Austrian persecution after the Hungarian Revolution in 1848, a wave of primarily Jewish Hungarians escaping death and torture during the Holocaust (and in various subwaves during WWII), and finally the “Fifty-Sixers” who sought refuge after another Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
In Dayton specifically, Hungarians began immigrating in 1899 when a man named Jacob Moskowitz recruited laborers from Hungary to work in the Dayton Malleable Iron Works foundry, and in 1905, for the Barney & Smith Car Company. Both companies are now defunct and have no official website.
Barney & Smith constructed 40 “double houses” for workers to rent, and the area was cordoned off by a 12-feet high white fence.
These fenced-in, uniquely designed homes drew a lot of attention from anyone not employed by Barney & Smith. Curious visitors often took the streetcar into town just to catch a glimpse.
Kossuth Colony was a strange and short-lived ghetto. In 1913, a massive flood destroyed most of the area’s infrastructure so Barney & Smith closed its doors.
Employees were forced to find new jobs, and that is when many of the Hungarian workers began relocating to nearby cities and states.
You can still see many of these double-houses today, but the 12-feet tall fence has been taken down. Owners of some original homes have installed a smaller version of the white fence, either out of personal preference or to use as a historical marker, or both.
Most of the original homes and buildings that Hungarians built and lived in were demolished by the 1990s, but thankfully some remain.
Turkish and Russian immigrants, along with other Ohioans, have moved into the neighbourhood in the past several years, renovated the homes and cleaned up the area. Each new resident has left their personal touches on the historical homes through landscaping and updated exteriors.
Back in the Barney & Smith days, the company built the “Clubhouse” on Dakota Street near Summit Street. Employees were only allowed to purchase food and necessities at the Clubhouse, and mail was screened to make sure outside resources were not being sent in.
Workers were forced to share what little they had, and Hungarians even partnered with other immigrant clubs like the Czech-Slovaks for additional assistance.
This photo of the Hungarian Clubhouse is shared from UniversityofDayton.com:
Churches were the primary source of social, spiritual, and economic support.
An old Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1919 includes locations for several churches, including the Holy Name Catholic Church on Dale Avenue and St. Stephen’s Hungarian Catholic Church at 1114 Troy Street.
The map also shows the Hungarian Baptist Mission (exact address unknown) and the Hungarian Evangelical Reformed Church on Blaine Street, later relocated to Anna Street in the 1950s.
The congregation of Holy Name transferred to a new parish, St. Stephen’s Hungarian Catholic Church over time. St. Stephen’s began subletting its sanctuary to other religious congregations in recent years to the point that it is no longer known as a Hungarian church.
Other Catholic churches still stand in the neighbourhood like Our Lady of the Rosary on Notre Dame Avenue, created in 1888 by German Catholics.
Various maps also show that a cigar factory and a bottling works company was wedged into these few city blocks among various tenement buildings.
Hungarians have historical ties with the University of Dayton, a Catholic college, going back to when it was first known as St. Mary’s College and the two institutions shared leaders.
Father Bernard O’Reilly, for example, was both pastor of Holy Name Church and president of St. Mary’s College in the early 1900s and held offices of some sort into the 1930s.
Amber Rose Eastern European Restaurant on Valley Street is an Old North Dayton staple, specializing in Hungarian, Lithuanian, German, Russian, and Italian cuisine.
The 1910-era building hosted the National Guard during the 1913 floods, was the home of Sig’s General Store & Deli until the 1980s, survived a disastrous fire, and has been dishing out Eastern European delicacies since 1990.
I went straight for the cabbage rolls, served with mashed potatoes and brown gravy.
The rest of the menu was wickedly tempting but I kept to the mission at hand.
With some extensive research, I learned about several notable Hungarian establishments from Old North Dayton’s past, like the Budapest Café and Kender’s Night Club, both circa 1930s. Lukacs Grocery on Dakota and Summit was open from the 1900s through the 1950s, and Lukacs Tap Room at 348 Western Avenue was open in the 1950s and 1960s.
Across from Lukacs Tap Room was the Sucher Meat Packing, owned by a well-known Hungarian family. The Hungarian Village Restaurant at 1261 W. Third Street was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and Illes Tavern by the Hungarian Hall sat on Dakota Street at Conover Street.
St. Emrick’s Hall on Dakota may possibly have been the same entity as the Hungarian Hall, but I was unable to verify that. Then there was beloved local Hungarian and iconic DJ Gene in the 1950s at Barry’s Record Shop, somewhere in the 1200 block of W. Third Street.
Summit Street is now called Paul Laurence Dunbar Street. Western Avenue does not seem to exist. I found an abandoned building at W. Third Street that may have been the Hungarian Village Restaurant but there were no markings.
I enjoyed my visit to the remnants of the Kossuth Colony, though most of the places that made this a strong, vibrant Hungarian center are now gone. I hope that Evan’s Bakery is open next time I pass through, because it looks fantastic.
You can easily drive, walk, or bike around the old Kossuth Colony perimeter, admire the ornamental brick churches, take lunch at the Amber Rose, and look up the Magyar Club of Dayton to see if they have any ongoing events.
Delving into a bit more history of Hungarians in Dayton, I want to mention the Hungarian-Slovak “gy*sies” even though I cringe at typing that word. Gy*sy is a derogatory racial slur that Roma, Traveler, Wanderers, and other Itinerant groups do not use to name themselves. Unfortunately the word is still commonly used in academic and historical sources.
Many Hungarian-Slovak “Gy*sy” communities were settled Roma or Romani people in the USA and were well-known for the traditional style of music they brought here when they immigrated.
Levi & Matilda Stanley, endearingly called the “King & Queen of the Gy*sies,” immigrated to the Dayton area in the 1850s and were leaders of the Travelers/Wanderers community. Levi’s father was a notorious “Gy*sy” King.
The Stanleys were part of the “Fifty-Sixers” wave and settled in Troy, Ohio, just a few miles from Dayton. Soon they chose Dayton to serve as their summertime camp, and this property became a haven for other “gy*sies” in the United States. Every year, their carts and caravans would travel down Main Street in transition.
To detail all the ways the Stanleys made an impact would be way too much of a rabbit hole for this blog, but they were devout church attendees and members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, known for mystical gifts of mesmerizing, seeing the future, and helping those in need until their deaths in 1908 and 1878, respectively.
They are buried in the large Stanley family plot in Dayton’s historic Woodland Cemetery with the rest of their close relatives. When they passed, years apart, the streets of Dayton and Woodland Cemetery were filled with over 20,000 Romani and other “gy*sy” caravans, music, and mourning.
Matilda was first laid to rest in the mausoleum to the right, before being moved to her final resting place. That is, if O Lungo Drum can be laid to rest.
The deeper you look, the more Hungarians you can find in Ohio. Cleveland has been known as the “Second Largest Hungarian City” following Budapest, since the 1920s. Buckeye Road, United Hungarian Societies, the Hungarian Culture Center of Northeastern Ohio, Hungarian Village, the Cleveland Hungarian Culture Garden, and the Little Hungary Buckeye-Shaker village are essential parts of Cleveland history.
I am not sure when my fascination with Hungary and the Hungarian language/culture started, but it has nearly been lifelong. I taught myself to speak it in middle school and later visited multiple Transylvanian towns.
Maybe it was something I picked up subconsciously growing up in or near Dayton. Maybe it is just hopeful serendipity. Or maybe it is another seed that Roger planted when I was little. He took this photo when he was in the military and I begged him to let me keep it.
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