IN Phoenixville Area Fall 2017 - Page 74

INTHEKNOW Phoenixville Polska By Ryan J. Conroy PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF RYAN CONROY Phoenixville has long been home to individuals hailing from a variety of nationalities and backgrounds. The community first saw a large wave of immigration in the latter part of the 19th century with the majority of individuals coming from Eastern European countries seeking employment by the Phoenix Iron Company. One of the largest groups of immigrants was from Poland. At that time, most of the Polish immigrants moved to the North Side of Phoenixville, locally known as Tunnel Hill. They formed their community around the church, social clubs and organizations, and the small stores they owned and operated on most of the corners around the neighborhood. The first-known Polish families began to arrive in Phoenixville around 1880. This original community of four families quickly grew, and by 1903 there were more than 50 families. The families attended St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart churches, but in July 1903, after a fundraising picnic, the growing community decided to form their own Catholic parish and apply for a permanent rector. A committee was formed to meet with Bishop Ryan and he appointed Father Marek Januszkiewicz as the first pastor of the new Polish church. When Father Januszkiewicz arrived in Phoenixville, his new parishioners purchased the old Dayton Street School building. At one of the first parish meetings the committee voted to name the new parish “Swieta Trojca,” which means Holy Trinity. In 1907 the 72 1.800.558.0940, ext. 202 TO ADVERTISE | Phoenixville Area committee purchased land and broke ground for the new church. The cost of building this brand-new church was high, funded by donations from the immigrant families until its dedication in 1910. In an effort to cut costs, volunteers began to dig the basement. One of those men was Andrew Gawell, who came to Phoenixville in 1903. These men would work day and night, in between working their shifts at the iron company, breaking their backs for their new community. When Gawell arrived in Phoenixville with his wife and two small children, he lived in a house on what was known as Basin Row, a nickname for the specific section of Vanderslice Street. The family then moved to High Street and opened a small grocery store. At the time, there were many stores popping up on the corners of the North Side offering Polish foods such as Babka, Kielbasa, Kapusta, Galupki and many other items. Butchers, bakers and other trades lined High Street as well as St. Mary’s and Marshall streets, and it’s said you could hear Polka music playing from nearly every window. In 1922 the Polish community formed their first social club known as the Polish American Citizens Club and built a building on the 300 block of High Street. The second building was constructed in 1948 and still stands and operates to this day. To have a dedicated Polish club still in operation is extremely rare, so as a community Phoenixville is very fortunate. The Sunday breakfast, which is open to the public each week, is a community favorite. There are still many families living in Phoenixville who are direct descendants of the original Polish immigrants. Ryan J. Conroy is a direct descendent of Polish immigrant Andrew Gawell. Gawell is Conroy’s great-great-grandfather. Conroy’s Babci always taught him to be proud of his Polish heritage and to celebrate it. Sto Lat! 