Carpatho-Rusyns are one of the major ethnic groups of Pennsylvania. From the time they settled the state’s small towns and cities in the late 1870s until the present time, Carpatho-Rusyns have left an indelible mark on the state, and their story should be told. This blog is about a project that will do just that. Read more

Friday, April 10, 2015

Worth 1,000 Words – Times 1,000

My eventual book will be, as I’ve said, “heavily illustrated,” primarily with photographs. These will be photos I’ve taken – of churches, cemeteries and Rusyn immigrant gravestones, social clubs, various events – but also historical photos showing the life of the community when it was largely immigrant-based.
Congregation of St. Stephen Greek Catholic Church, Leisenring, Fayette Co., ca. 1898

The sources of the historical photos are many; the primary ones are:
  • Actual photos loaned to me or digital scans of original photos
  • Photos published in parish anniversary booklets
  • Photos published in fraternal organization almanacs and other historical publications
There are a few photos of value that I’ve found in local and Rusyn immigrant newspapers, although the quality of these reproduced will not be very good.

I've also found a small number of photos in various archives, some of those of professional photographers who captured a particular scene or church... and they are valuable enough that I will be paying fees to reprint them.
Funeral of Mykolaj Koneval, a native of Kamjunka, Spiš County, Johnstown, Cambria Co., 1920s.
(Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pa., blown up wall-size as part of a permanent exhibit on Eastern European ethnic communities and traditions in western Pennsylvania.)

I’ve cultivated quite a collection of postcards of Rusyn churches and birds-eye-views of towns where Rusyn immigrants settled. In some cases, a postcard is the only image I’ve found of some churches that no longer exist, such as St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church of Columbus, Erie Co.:

St. Mary's G.C. Church, Columbus, Erie Co.
Ascension of Our Lord G.C. Church, Clairton, Allegheny Co.

In a few places, I’ve found useful photographs in publications like town anniversary/history booklets. For example:
  • Carpatho-Rusyn jasličkari carolers in Ford City, Armstrong Co.;
  • An outdoor family scene from Slatington, Lehigh Co., with the no-longer-existing St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in the background.


Artifacts: In my travels, I’ve discovered special items in private individuals’ collections, instituional archives, and in churches or businessesplaces, such as fraternal lodge pinback ribbons, lodge or church charters, and rare old prayerbooks from Europe. These contain important historical information and give a glimpse into the lives of Rusyn immigrants. I will also include covers of important locally-produced Rusyn publications, such as parish anniversary books or language instruction books.
Various Rusyn fraternal lodge ribbons from northeastern Pa. (Shenandoah, Mt. Carmel, Hazleton)
Large handwritten charter of Assumption of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, South Philadelphia, with founders'/incorporators' names and addresses
(Russian) Practical grammar textbook for parish schools in North America, printed by Stefan Telep's print shop, Mayfield, Lackawanna Co.
75th Anniversary Jubilee Book (1959) of St. Michael's G.C. Church,
Shenandoah, Schuylkill Co., the first Rusyn church in the United States.
Church buildings: current church, any past churches, any and all cornerstones, and interior photos (preference for color), especially showing major variations of interior appointment, especially when an icon screen was present and later removed, and stained glass windows of note. Some churches that were destroyed by fire, or torn down to build anew, before my time I have no photographs of. Surely someone does! For example:
  • Aliquippa, Beaver Co.: the original Ss. Peter & Paul (Ukrainian) Greek Catholic Church (replaced by a new church built in the 1960s).
  • Barnesboro, Cambria Co.: the original St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church which burned down in 1924.
  • Colver, Cambria Co.: the original Holy Ascension Russian Orthodox Church which burned down in the 1920s.
  • Newtown/Bobtown, Greene Co.: the former St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church.
  • Tyler, Clearfield Co.: the former St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church.
  • Wehrum, Indiana Co.: the original Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church that later moved to Vintondale.
An unusual find in a church is stained-glass windows memorialized by natives of a particular village. I will be including photos of all such windows.
Stained glass windows in St. Michael Russian Orthodox Church, Mt. Carmel, Northumberland Co., given by members from four villages of Grybiv County (western Lemkovyna):
Vafka/Wawrzka, Boguša/Bogusza, Florynka, and Kamjana/Kamianna.
Stained glass window in Ss. Peter & Paul G.C. Church,
Palmerton, Carbon Co., given by
parishioners from the village Sil'ce, Bereg County
Cemeteries: overall views of parish cemeteries, or interesting views of Rusyn sections of public cemeteries; photos of individuals’ graves with interesting features, especially those with inscriptions not in English and showing the immigrant’s birthplace or their photograph. Some cemeteries have dozens of interesting gravestones; unfortunately I will only be able to include a select handful.
St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Cemetery, Barnesboro (now Northern Cambria),
Cambria Co., established ca. 1897.
Grave of Mychayl Tegze (1873-1932), born in Berezovo, Maramoroš County, written in Rusyn.
West Point Cemetery, Avella, Washington Co.
Grave of Štefan Sakmar (1878-1909), born in Ol'šavica, Spiš County.
St. Mary's Greek Catholic Cemetery, Johnstown, Cambria Co.
Grave of Father Emil Moskva.
St. Nicholas (Ukrainian) Greek Catholic Cemetery, Glen Lyon, Luzerne Co.
Community-owned buildings: these include social clubs and Rusyn immigrant-owned businesses. Unfortunately, when I set out on this project and my focus was just on the churches, I neglected to photograph the clubs that still existed at that time, and now 20+ years later, most of those clubs have closed and the signs have been removed. I am hoping for offers of such photos from my audience here! Photos of the businesses are even harder to find, since almost none of these places survive today in a way that makes a photo of them interesting. I do, however, have a few photos of the inside of a Rusyn immigrant-owned tavern.
American-Carpatho Citizens Club (orig. Carpatho-Russian Citizens Club), 346 Greeve St., Conemaugh, Cambria Co.

A separate but related group of illustrations that I want to use as many of as possible is advertisements for Rusyn-owned businesses in early Rusyn newspapers and fraternal organization almanacs. Not only do they provide insight into the type of businesses, locations, and their names of their owners in a local Rusyn community, but often include a sort of folk poetry, either in Rusyn or one of the other languages to which the proprietor gravitated (or a mix of them) in self-identity.
Advertisement for Teodozij Talpaš’s hotel/restaurant in Shamokin, Northumberland Co. (published in Svoboda, 1895) "Rusyn restaurateur & hotelier... not far from the Rusyn parish house."
Ad in the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society's almanac/kalendar' for Mychal Kačur's notary public service in Reading, Berks Co. "All Rusyns should patronize the honorable Rusyn M. Kačur. He's the president of the Russian Orthodox Church." (Kačur was a native of Radvan', Zemplyn County.)
1925 ad in the United Societies' almanac/kalendar' for Andrejkovič Brothers, in Beaverdale, Cambria Co., the "First and Largest Rusyn Butcher Shop & Grocery... Here everyone, whether Rusyn, or Slovak, can get fresh home-cut meat... Patronize your own."

Significant events like the dedication of a church, blessing of church bells, etc.  And these photographs, while rare, are usually quite dramatic, especially candid shots. They provide many insights into the community’s life and relative size, and can be helpful (as can other group photos mentioned below) in corroborating historical events and dates.

This photo from St. Nicholas Church in Duquesne, Allegheny Co., is one of my favorites in the entire collection.
Dedication of churchyard cross, St. Nicholas (founded as Greek Catholic, by this time Orthodox) Church, Duquesne, 1940s.
20th anniversary of St. Michael's Greek Catholic Church, Sheffield, Warren Co., 1926. The banner in Rusyn reads "Welcome, Most Reverend Master [Bishop]!"

Groups of Rusyn immigrants and their children:
Most of these are church groups, such as trustees, choirs, school children or “First Holy Communion” groups, Christmas carolers (jasličkari), and dramatic ensembles. The dramatic ensemble photos frequently depict the “mock wedding” or other plays and the style of the folk dress worn can in itself be the object of a sociological study – were they wearing the dress of a single village or Rusyn region, or were they perhaps wearing more generic Galician Ukrainian, central Ukrainian, or even Russian costumes? And did the community’s preference for that change over time, perhaps along with a shift in the community’s prevailing ethnonational identity?

First Holy Communion group of St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church, Bradenville, Westmoreland Co., with the church officers, 1917. Priest: Fr. Emil Burik; cantor: Aleksander Harpaš
Choir of Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church, Minersville, Schuylkill Co., 1936. Priest: Fr. Emil Nevyckŷj; choir director: ?
Guarding the grave of Christ on Good Friday in Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church, Erie, 1925
Bethlehem carolers (jasličkari), school children of St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church, Perryopolis, Fayette Co., 1921. Priest: Fr. Julius Vojtovyč; cantor: Daniel Sočka

Funerals are among the rarest photographs to find in Carpatho-Rusyn Americana, even though it is said that this type of photo was frequently taken. I probably only have two usable funeral photos at this time. I would like to include more, as they are usually dramatic and very revealing about the traditional Rusyn “psyche” regarding life, death, and community.
Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant funeral, Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church, West Brownsville, Washington Co., 1920s? Priest: Father Gregory Kobasa
Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant funeral, St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church, Mayfield, Lackawanna Co., 1920s/1930s. Priest: Fr. Vasyl' Repella.
The funeral aspect of the photo was obscured when it was used as the cover photo for the parish centennial comemmorative journal; if I can locate the original photo I would like to use it in its complete state in my book.
Photos of fraternal organization lodges represent the largest number of non-church group photos in the collection.
Women's lodge of the Greek Catholic Union at St. John Chrysostom Greek Catholic Church, Forward Ave. (Greenfield - Rus'ka Dolyna), Pittsburgh, 1916. Priest: Father Nestor Volenskŷj
Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO) Lodge in Simpson, Lackawanna Co., in front of St. Basil's Russian Orthodox Church, 1919
St. Mary's Brotherhood of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society (ROCMAS), Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne Co.

I plan to use some photos of Rusyn immigrant families, or perhaps of a wedding; preference will be given to those of prominent individuals in the community, or perhaps as thanks for individuals who have been especially helpful to me in this endeavor, a photo of their immigrant family will be included.

In any case, preference for photos that are dated and where individuals are identified will prevail when I have more photos from a given community than I can use in the book.

I probably have at least 1,000 photos to choose from, so for many communities I will need to be very selective about what to reprint. I can think of several parish communities where I may have 10 or more “First Holy Communion” photographs, and depending on what else I have from that community, I might not use any of them. Consideration will be given to one that has some kind of extra interesting detail or perhaps has the individuals identified beyond just priest and cantor.

The Town itself: I want to give readers an idea of what the places Carpatho-Rusyns settled actually look like, especially at the time they first arrived. Postcards are an important source of those images, and I particularly want to include those where a Rusyn church is visible in the scene. I also want to include some example photos of the steel mills, coal mines, etc., that employed our people.

Clymer, Indiana Co. St. Michael's G.C. Church is just left of center.
Mahanoy City, Schuylkill Co. The original St. Mary's G.C. Church is right of center, with the domes, between the two steepled churches.

Here is where I’m reaching out to you for help! Some of these things may exist, and I would never know it. If you have photos in any of these categories or from any of the Rusyn communities below, please get in touch with me.

Communities for which I have no usable photos except the church(es) and cemetery:
  • Aliquippa – Ss. Peter & Paul (Ukrainian) Greek Catholic Church
  • Altoona, Blair Co.
  • Arcadia, Indiana Co.
  • Avella & Burgettstown, Washington Co.
  • Barnesboro (Northern Cambria), Cambria Co. – St. John the Baptist Greek Catholic Church
  • Beaverdale, Cambria Co.
  • Bitumen & Renovo, Clinton Co.
  • Bobtown, Greene Co.
  • Buck Run, Schuylkill Co.
  • Clarence, Centre Co.
  • Clifton Heights, Delaware Co.
  • Coal Run (Clune) & Iselin, Indiana Co.
  • Colver, Cambria Co.
  • Corry/Columbus, Erie Co.
  • Crossingville, Crawford Co.
  • Dixonville, Indiana Co. – St. Mary's Russian Orthodox Church
  • Ellwood City/Ellport, Lawrence Co.
  • Export, Westmoreland Co.
  • Girard, Erie Co.
  • Glen Lyon, Luzerne Co.
  • Hawk Run, Clearfield Co.
  • Heilwood, Indiana Co.
  • Jenners, Somerset Co.
  • Jeannette, Westmoreland Co. – Ss. Cyril & Methodius Russian Orthodox Church
  • Jerome, Somerset Co.
  • Lopez, Sullivan Co. – Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church
  • Macdonaldton, Somerset Co.
  • Madera, Clearfield Co.
  • Meyersdale, Somerset Co.
  • Middleport, Schuylkill Co.
  • New Castle, Lawrence Co. – Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church
  • Oil City, Venango Co.
  • Pageville/Edinboro, Erie Co.
  • Patton, Cambria Co.
  • Pittsburgh, South Side, Allegheny Co. – Ss. Peter & Paul/Assumption Russian Orthodox Church
  • Portage, Cambria Co –St. Michael Russian Orthodox Church
  • Revloc, Cambria Co.
  • Sagamore, Armstrong Co.
  • Slatington, Lehigh Co.
  • Tobyhanna, Monroe Co.
  • Tyler, Clearfield Co.
  • Tyrone, Blair Co.
  • Urey, Indiana Co.
  • Yatesboro, Armstrong Co.
    I’ve also made a list of photographs that I’ve seen at some point but was unable to scan or otherwise get a copy of, and photos that I think may exist somewhere, but I don’t know for sure.

    If you can assist with providing access to any of these items, please get in touch with me at Thank you!

    Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.


    1. You may want to look at the Salemville web sites.

    2. Uniontown PA, in Fayette County, still has a viable Greek Catholic population. They are still active in keeping alive many of the GC traditions and the church is beautiful. I'm sure many would be interested in this website...will pass the word!

      1. Thanks for helping to spread the word! I have lots of great material from Uniontown and vicinity for my book, even if I unintentionally haven't mentioned it much here on the blog.


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