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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Johnstown Slavic Festival Presentation: “From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown Area”

The first Johnstown Simply Slavic Festival was held Saturday, September 19, 2015 at the Heritage Discovery Center in Johnstown, Pa. The Carpatho-Rusyn Society provided a Rusyn genealogy/culture display and sales table.

The festival included a speaker program as follows:
  • Connie Martin: Genealogical Research in Slavic Countries;
  • Dr. Michael Kopanic: The History of Slovakia;
  • Susan Kalcik: Kroje Slovenska: Folk Dress and Slovak Identity in the Old and New Worlds;
  • Bob Rychlik: Demonstration of the Fujara Flute;
  • Bob Dvorchak: Mike and Annie: A Family History;
  • Steve Purich: My Experience as a Serbian Immigrant to Johnstown;
  • Richard Custer: From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies: Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown Area.
My presentation was primarily visual, numbering over 180 slides used to tell the story of the development of Carpatho-Rusyn community institutions in the area of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, including northern Cambria County, Somerset County, and parts of Indiana County. Here I present a synopsis of the presentation, and of necessity only a selection of the slides, briefly annotated for the online viewer's aid in following the presentation without my original verbal explanation.

Carpatho-Rusyns first settled the Johnstown area in 1887 and began to establish their own churches and other institutions. Other Rusyn immigrant centers quickly developed: Barnesboro, Patton, Windber, South Fork, Conemaugh, Portage, and beyond, with thousands of Rusyn immigrants making this area their home, and making up a strong part of the workforce of the local steel mills and coal mines.

Descendants of these Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants are still found in this region in large numbers, their numerous churches are included among historic landmarks, and they retain a strong love for their roots here and in the Rusyn homeland. The presentation will cover their early settlement in the region, their places of origin in the European homeland, and the development of their churches and fraternal and cultural institutions here.

Download Presentation Handout [PDF]

From the Carpathians to the Alleghenies:
Carpatho-Rusyn Immigrants in the Greater Johnstown Area

  • The Beginnings of Carpatho-Rusyn Immigration (omitted here)
  • Development of Organized Rusyn Communities
  • Telling the Story: "The Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania" (omitted here)
Here is a selection of the presentation slides. NOTE: The version given here is an abbreviation of the presentation as given, but expanded with additional details to make the narrative work better in blog format.

Development of Organized Rusyn Communities

Primary places of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant settlement in greater Johnstown
With only a few exceptions, it was bituminous coal mining that drew Rusyn immigrants to this area. This can especially be seen by the Rusyn settlements along PA Route 53 stretching from Centre County southwest through Philipsburg, Osceola Mills, the Houtzdale area, Cresson, Lilly, Portage, and the South Fork area, all of these significant coal towns. Johnstown's steel mills were the primary employer of Rusyn immigrants there. Limestone quarries and iron forges brought Rusyns to the Tyrone and Williamsburg areas (not covered in this presentation).
The main Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant settlements in northern Cambria/eastern Indiana Counties
The earliest Carpatho-Rusyn settlements in the northern part of this area were around Barnesboro and Patton (mid-1890s). Jump to this portion of the presentation
The main Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant settlements in southern Cambria and Somerset Counties
The earliest Carpatho-Rusyn settlements in the northern part of this area were around Portage and South Fork (mid-1890s). Jump to this portion of the presentation
According to one Rusyn source, the first Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants arrived in Johnstown in 1887 from the village Kamjunka, Spiš County. Among these pioneers were Van'o Totoš-Zvončko and Jurko Fol'varskŷj; following them in 1889 was Petro Duranko. Around the same time, Rusyns from Ol'šavica, Spiš County were also settling in the city. Most of these immigrants labored in the local steel mills or in coal mines surrounding the city. In 1892 Duranko and others founded a Rusyn fraternal society, Brotherhood of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, which became one of the founding lodges of the Greek Catholic Union of Russian Brotherhoods (GCU), and chartered the St. Mary's Greek Catholic Congregation. Years of effort to build a church came to fruition in 1895 with the arrival of Fr. Hilarion Dzubay, who established St. Mary’s (Protection) Greek Catholic Church on Power Street in Cambria City.

Johnstown's Rusyn immigrants came largely from the Spiš County villages Kamjunka, Ol'šavica, Podproč, Nyžni Repašŷ, Orjabyna, Velykŷj Lypnyk, Fol'vark, and Zavadka; but there were a number of families from Šaryš County (especially Mal'cov and Nyžnij Tvarožec), Gemer County (Šumjac), Novyj Sanč County (Dubne and Leljuchiv), Krosno County (Mŷscova, Hŷrova, and Poljanŷ), Zemplyn County (Trebišov, Ol'ka, and Ublja), and Bereg County (Rodnykova Huta and Ploske).

In addition to neighborhoods around St. Mary's Church (the heavily central/eastern European-populated Cambria City, near the major steel mills), such as Morrellville, Minersville, Brownstown, and Oakhurst, Rusyns living more distant were members of St. Mary's, especially those in the Woodvale and Moxham sections of Johnstown, Franklin Boro, Conemaugh (East Conemaugh), and the village of New Florence. The already large Rusyn settlement in and around Windber, Somerset County, provided a significant portion of the early membership of St. Mary's, and Rusyns from throughout Cambria, Somerset, and Indiana Counties traveled to or were served by priests from St. Mary's for several years until they established churches in their own areas.

St. Mary's parish and pastor served other even more distant places: Ganister/Franklin Forge, Wood/Robertsdale, Bradenville, Wilpen/Fort Palmer, and Black Lick/Homer City, until churches were established in some of those areas.

In 1901 a second St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church was built in Cambria City.
St. Mary's school children, 1909.
Officers of Greek Catholic Union Lodge 449 in 1920: Anna Zakucija, Marija Kušnir, and Kataryna Hluhman.This lodge, founded in 1909, was actually the second women's GCU lodge in Johnstown, the first, Lodge 116, founded around 1899.
The large Rusyn community of Johnstown supported its own "Uhro-Rusyn" [Rusyns from Hungary] bank in the late 1910s and 1920s. Among the officers were Rusyns Kondor, Eperjessy, Kesselak, and Husovsky.
In 1920 the second Rusyn-language periodical published in Johnstown began publication, Chranitel’/Guardian, and ran for two years. Its editor was the longtime pastor of St. Mary's, Fr. Nicholas Szabados. (The first, Cerkovnaja Nauka, appeared in 1903.)
Chranitel’/Guardian included articles in Rusyn as well as parish news, such as financial statements. One can see from this partial list of parishioners how large the parish was in the 1920s.
The publication was also supported by ads from Rusyn businessmen such as Cambria City-based undertaker John Sember. "Everyone should patronize their own!"... "Carriages for weddings, picnics, and funerals..."
A massive new church was built on the site of the previous churches in 1920 (completed 1922) in the Byzantine style.
The 1920 church's cornerstone,, partially in Church Slavonic.
View of Cambria City from the nearby Minersville hillside, another substantially Rusyn neighborhood.  (The turquioise-domed two-tower church is the former St. Stephen Slovak Roman Catholic Church.)
The church interior was renovated in the early 2000s to add Byzantine iconographic murals throughout. (Photo: Steve Kutchman)
Cross monument in front of the rectory, dedicated in 1909.
The First Russian American Federation social/political club was established by Rusyn immigrants in the Morrellville neighborhood in 1916. This was to become a center of organization and support for a new parish.
In 1929, the Vatican decree Cum data fuerit abolishing the right of the Greek Catholic Church in America to ordain married men as priests set off a firestorm of conflict in St. Mary’s parish in Cambria City. In 1932 a Johnstown chapter of KOVO--the Committee for the Defense of the Eastern Rite--was established with more than 600 members, whose goal was to have the Vatican recall Cum data fuerit. Those who opposed the decree and the pastor's siding with Rusyn Greek Catholic Bishop Basil Takach of Pittsburgh who was charged with enforcing it filed a court case to have St. Mary's parish ruled to be an independent church. Their efforts were not successful; the saga culminated in the 1937 founding of Christ the Saviour Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Morrellville.
In 1950, Christ the Saviour Church became the cathedral of the American
Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese; its seminary was also established nearby. The current cathedral church was dedicated in 1952.

Conemaugh & Franklin Boro 
Conemaugh (officially, East Conemaugh Borough), just adjacent to the city of Johnstown to the northeast, had its own Rusyn immigrant population by 1899. The large Cambria Steel Company mill in Franklin Boro on the Conemaugh River at Conemaugh had begun operations in 1898. The Conemaugh Rusyns were a significant portion of St. Mary's parish in Cambria City. But their first real local organization was the Holy Trinity Brotherhood, founded in 1904 as Lodge 253 of the GCU.

In 1908, Rusyns living in Conemaugh and Franklin Boro, on facing hillsides above the Conemaugh River, decided to establish their own church in Conemaugh; after disagreements, largely between those from the Lemko Region of Galicia and those from Spiš, Zemplyn, and Už Counties, two churches are established: Holy Trinity Greek Catholic Church (4th St.), a mostly Subcarpathian congregation, and St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church (1st St.), a mostly Galician, Lemko congregation. That year the Galician Lemko group also organized the Brotherhood of the Nativity of the Mother of God, Lodge 88 of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society (ROCMAS)
Holy Trinity Church on 4th Street in Conemaugh. Its members were mostly from Spiš County (Orjabyna, Fol'vark), Zemplyn County (Banske, Runyna, Pryslup, Topolja, Velykŷ Poljanŷ, Rus'kŷj, Staryna), and Už County (Velyki Lazŷ, Denkovci, Hluboka, Nyžnja Solotvyna, Vŷšnja Solotvyna, Ljachovci, Dubrovka, Chudl'ovo).
Holy Trinity's 1908 cornerstone, mainly in Rusyn, in the Cyrillic alphabet. Unfortunately it has substantially worn away.
Greek Catholic Union Sokol (gymnastic/athletics) Brotherhood, 1916.
Holy Trinity Church choir, 1920; cantor-teacher: Pavel Halagan.
Holy Trinity's First Holy Communicants and parish school children, 1920; pastor: Fr. Basil Berecz; cantor-teacher: Theodore Stinich.
Officers of Holy Trinity Church, 1925; pastor: Fr. Gabriel Chopey; cantor-teacher: Theodore Stinich.
21st anniversary of Holy Trinity Church in 1929.
The American Carpatho-Russian Citizens Club on Greeve Street (now closed).
During the era of McCarthyism (the "Red Scare") in the 1950s, not wanting to be mistakenly associated with Russia or Communism, the club was renamed the American-Carpatho Citizen's Club.

One of the most noted members of Holy Trinity was the Rusyn American U.S. Marine Michael Strank (Mychal Strenk, born in Orjabyna, Spiš County), from Franklin Boro, who was one of the flag-raisers on Iwo Jima during World War II.
St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church on 1st Street in Conemaugh. Its members were mostly from villages in the Lemko Region: Grybiv County (Bilcareva), Jaslo County (Halbiv, Krampna, Kotan, Svjatkova Velyka), and Krosno County (Hŷrova, Smerečne, Poljanŷ, Mšana, Vilchovec, Ropjanka, Barvinok, Vilšnja).
The 1908 cornerstone of St. John's Church, partly in Rusyn (e.g., using the form "Ruska" rather than the Russian form "Russkaja").
The largely-Lemko congregation of St. John's was true to their own heritage, resisting cultural Russification, as evidenced here in their 1931 production of the "Lemko Wedding" play.
Although Lemko Rusyns settled in significant numbers in Cambria, Somerset, and Indiana Counties, the Lemko Association (founded in 1929) had its only local lodge in Conemaugh, Branch 17, pictured here at a picnic in 1932.
Woodvale (Johnstown)
The Woodvale neighborhood, nestled between downtown Johnstown and Conemaugh/Franklin Boro, had its own steel mill and a substantial Rusyn community. Most of these Rusyns came from villages in Lisko County, such as Serednje Selo, Ustjanova, Berehŷ Dolišni, Lodyna, Bereska, Volja Matjašova, Bachlova, and Močarŷ, and Dzvinjač Horišni, Turka County; many Galician Ukrainians also began to settle in that neighborhood.

In 1910 most of the Rusyns living in Woodvale, who had remained members of St. Mary's rather than joining either of the newer churches in Conemaugh, established St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church. Some other Rusyns and Ukrainians living in Conemaugh, Franklin Boro, Moxham, and Minersville joined the parish as well. Around the same time a Woodvale lodge of the Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO), the St. Nicholas Brotherhood, was founded.
The Woodvale church, on Maple Avenue, was completed in 1921.
After a dispute with the contractor, and financial difficulties brought on by the Great Depression, the parish was reorganized twice. In 1941 it took the name St. John the Baptist.
The Providence Association, a Greek Catholic fraternal organization that was essentially a Galician counterpart to the Subcarpathian-dominated GCU, had a large membership in Woodvale. Its St. Nicholas Brotherhood (which shared a name with the original Woodvale church) is shown here in 1916. This may have been the same St. Nicholas Brotherhood that was originally part of the RBO.
Continue to Part 2: Northern Cambria County / Eastern Indiana County

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


  1. Dear Mr. Custer,
    This is so wonderful! Thank you so much for posting this work, especially for those of us who were unable to attend the live presentation!
    Sincerely, Marcia Kokus

  2. Dear Mr. Custer,

    Do you have any displays or other research available? I am trying to understand the differences between the sub-groups. My great grandfather was born in Bereska, Galicia and worked in a variety of Rusyn communities in PA from Wyoming in the NE to Derry in the SW, where the family finally settled.


I welcome your feedback, inquiries, and suggestions. Hostile or off-topic comments will not be approved.