Pittsburgh’s Diverse Immigrant Past & Present

This post is part of an ongoing series seeking images and documents in connection with the #Pixburgh: A Photographic Experience exhibition opening this fall at the Heinz History Center. Read all posts related to the project by searching the #pixburgh tag on our blog.

Decades before Lawrenceville became synonymous with microbreweries and artisanal coffee shops, Joseph Borkowski documented and researched the history of the neighborhood. Borkowski’s interest in the neighborhood was inspired by its many residents of Polish descent. An auditor-accountant for the City of Pittsburgh by day, Borkowski wrote prolifically on topics related to Lawrenceville and the Polish community in the region.

Joseph Borkowski at Fort Eustis during World War II. Heinz History Center.
Joseph Borkowski at Fort Eustis during World War II. Joseph Borkowski Papers and Photographs, MSS 684, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Lawrenceville’s Round Corner Hotel, the site of today’s Round Corner Cantina restaurant, c. 1980. Heinz History Center.
Lawrenceville’s Round Corner Hotel, the site of today’s Round Corner Cantina restaurant, c. 1980. Joseph Borkowski Papers and Photographs, MSS 684, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Like Borkowski, the History Center has long been interested in documenting the immigrant groups and ethnic communities that comprise Western Pennsylvania. The Detre Library & Archives preserves and provides access to materials from individuals and families, social service agencies, fraternal groups, and religious organizations that shed light on the lives of immigrants and their descendants. Much of the material in the collection focuses on the European immigrant groups that began arriving in the second half of the 19th century, motivated by jobs in the burgeoning industries of Pittsburgh.

Efforts by the History Center to collect documentation of these groups dates back to the early 1930s, when the organization (then known as the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania) embarked on the Western Pennsylvania Historical Survey. Headed by then-director Solon J. Buck (who would later be appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt as the second archivist of the U.S.), the Survey established committees consisting of members of the local Polish, Hungarian, and Czech communities to assist in collecting materials for the Library & Archives.

Solon J. Buck, former director of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Heinz History Center.
Solon J. Buck (left), former director of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Internal Archives Photographs, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Page from a program for the dedication of the Saints Phillips and James Church in New Castle, Pa., which served a Polish ethnic parish. Heinz History Center.
Page from a program for the dedication of the Saints Phillips and James Church in New Castle, Pa., which served a Polish ethnic parish. The program was donated to the Library & Archives in the early 1930s. Polish Historical Committee Collection, MSS 732, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

More recently, efforts to build the History Center’s ethnic collections expanded in the mid-1990s, when the Senator John Heinz History Center moved to its current location in the Strip District. It was around this time that History Center staff worked with Joseph Borkowski to acquire material that he had collected over the course of his life. The Joseph Borkowski Papers and Photographs contain photographs of street scenes in Lawrenceville and Polish Hill, programs from Polish Falcon events and Polish Day at Kennywood Park, and a scrapbook documenting Borkowski’s experience in World War II.

Polish Army veterans marching outside Allegheny Cemetery to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial, 1976. Heinz History Center.
Polish Army veterans marching outside Allegheny Cemetery to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial, 1976. Joseph Borkowski Papers and Photographs, MSS 684, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Group outside the Holy Family church in Lawrenceville for the Polish tradition of Święconka - the blessing of Easter foods on Holy Saturday. Heinz History Center.
Group outside the Holy Family church in Lawrenceville for the Polish tradition of Święconka - the blessing of Easter foods on Holy Saturday. Joseph Borkowski Papers and Photographs, MSS 684, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
An image of the Mostowy hardware store, formerly located in Polish Hill at 3105 Brereton St, c. 1980. Heinz History Center.
An image of the Mostowy hardware store, formerly located in Polish Hill at 3105 Brereton St, c. 1980. Joseph Borkowski Papers and Photographs, MSS 684, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Pittsburgh continues to attract immigrants, though not at the same pace it once did. More recent arrivals are not only coming from Europe, but also countries in Asia, Latin America, and South America.

Front page of the July 1980 issue of the Organization of Chinese Americans - Pittsburgh Chapter newsletter. Heinz History Center.
Front page of the July 1980 issue of the Organization of Chinese Americans - Pittsburgh Chapter newsletter. Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Front page of the November/December 1993 issue of Noticiero, a newsletter issued by the of Pittsburgh’s Latin American Cultural Union. Heinz History Center.
Front page of the November/December 1993 issue of Noticiero, a newsletter issued by the of Pittsburgh’s Latin American Cultural Union. Angeles Stiteler Papers, MSS 469, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

The History Center has an ongoing interest in documenting Pittsburgh’s immigrants and ethnic communities. If you or your family have material you’d like to share, please let us know!

Matthew Strauss is the chief archivist at the Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Use the form below if you have old images, documents, or artifacts related to Pittsburgh’s past. We’d love to talk with you about adding unique content to our permanent collections. Please include a brief description along with your contact information and a History Center team member will be in contact with you.

(*) Required field

Your Information

* First name:

* Last name:

* Email address:

* Telephone number:

City:

State:

Item(s) Information

Please describe the materials you wish to donate.

Please describe anything you know about the history of the materials.

For example, you might explain who owned them and when or how they were used, or why they were produced. Please include which collection (saloons, Strip District, outdoor recreation, etc.) you're submitting to. Additionally, we are looking for material with a Western Pa. connection, so please include relevant information here.

Do you own the item(s)?

YesNo

If you have an image or scan of your item, please attach it here. (Maximum file size: 2MB)

Leave a Reply

« « Samuel Langley: Pioneering Standard Time | Reading the Menus » »