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THE INCOMING OF THE POLES.

The Growing Colony in the Farming Towns in the South part of This Country.

Thought To Be a Better Class of Citizens Than Those That Have Settled in the Manufacturing Towns--A Possible Solution of the Abandoned Farm Question--Some Picturesque Features of Their Life--They Play a Stiff Game of Poker.

The incoming of a considerable Polish population to the towns of Whately, Deerfield and Sunderland and Hatfield, as well as in less numbers to other towns in this county, is one of the most interesting features of the life of this county at the present time. The life of the Polish inhabitants of the mill towns, such as the colony at Turners Falls has been many times described in the daily papers, but comparatively little attention has been given to their incoming to the farming towns. The Boston Transcript published recently an interesting article which we reprinted last week, discussing in rather alarmist fashion, the settlement of the Poles on the farms in the country towns. Judging from the talk of the people of the towns above named in the southern part of this county, the immigration of the Poles is rather to be welcomed than discouraged.

The settlement of Poles in these three towns named has been going on about 10 years. A well informed South Deerfield man estimates that there are now 100 Polish people in South Deerfield, reckoning in the outlying part of the town for a distance of three miles from that village. It is claimed that there are not less than that number in Sunderland, and also in Whately. Their number varies to a considerable extent, as there are considerably many more in summer than in winter. Those who own some property now stay the year around; but the many who come in to work as farm hands, generally hiring themselves out for about eight months, in winter time go off to work in the coal mines or other fields of labor. The estimate made above includes some who are not strictly Poles, but who come from parts of Europe near Poland, are so like the genuine Poles that they are commonly grouped under the same head.

The immigration of Poles to the farms began with their coming into work as farm hands. They are a very industrious people, and their hard training in the school of labor on their own Russian steppes has given them an ability to get a living out of pieces of ground at which the American farmer would turn up his nose. Consequently there have been many, who after a few years of work as hired men on farms, have seen good chances to buy out little places of their own. The records of the local registry of deeds will show that a considerable number of these people are securing little farms. They generally take some piece of run-down land which can be had cheap. It may or may not have much if any farm buildings. They rarely buy over 10 or 15 acres, and do not often pay over $500 to $800 for the property.

Thus while the Poles who first came to the county have in many cases made some purchase of land and located themselves, others have come in to take their places as farm hands in the employ of the American farmers. It is said that nearly every farmer in Sunderland has one or more Poles working for him. Their tendency is strong to stay in the towns that have a railroad. If they continue to come more and more into such towns, they will before long get possession of all the pieces of property that are to be had for low prices, and will go further back into the hill towns, where they will find plenty of property from which they will be able to get a living.

While the Poles in their farming methods on their own farms show considerable ignorance of the best methods, they are really superior to the poorer class of farmers of American birth. Such points as the use of fertilizers, they of course do not understand very well, but they are imitative, and are constantly copying their neighbors. Their great merit is their untiring industry. Exceedingly frugal in their methods, they will make considerable savings on a very small income.

It is related of one Pole at South Deerfield that he built a tobacco barn 100 by 30, that cost him about $200. He bought a little piece of timber for about $50, went on to it in winter when he could not earn money any other way, cut his trees, and got enough timber to build the barn. The whole cost was what he had to pay out for his saw-bill and for some carpenter work. It is told of another that he got this barn of about 50 by 40 for about $100. He cut his timber and hewed out a good deal of it by hand, even hewing the rafters on one side. Another help in the earning capacity of the Polish families is the disposition of the woman to do hard word. It is not an uncommon sight in the towns to the south of Greenfield to see the women, dressed in man's clothes, down on their knees weeding in the onion bed, thus adding to the total product of the family labor. The result of such untiring labor can only be one thing, and there are not wanting those who prophecy that 25 years from to-day, if these Poles remain, as seems likely, they will be rich men.

In their farm work the average Pole is pretty avaricious when it comes to disposing of his product. If he raises onions, he is likely to put in many specimens that should be thrown out. More of the Polish farmers have gone into onion raising than into tobacco, for the reason that a barn is required for tobacco, and it takes time to get the capital to put it up. It is thus evident that the incoming of these people furnishes ready to hand a solution of the abandoned farm problems that some will consider desirable and others not. At the rate the Poles are coming in to the country, it can hardly be doubted that the next 10 years will see a considerable influx of them to the Franklin hills. That they could make many of the farms that have grown up to brush pay there is no doubt. In their favor it should be said that they would add just so much to the taxable property of the hills by their settlement, and in what they paid for groceries and supplies of all kinds would stimulate business in such villages, thus adding to the general prosperity.

Nor does it appear that their coming bodes, much danger in the way of deeds of violence. It is an almost universal rule that their occasional assaults are almost invariably on those of their own nationality. They almost never offer to molest in any way any person outside their own people. But the Poles will not be much value as citizens for many years. They are too slow moulded, too steeped in the conditions of life in which they and their ancestors have lived for centuries on their home soil, to become for a long time imbued with American ideas. Their social relations are rather proomiscuus.

All in all, however, the people of South Deerfield and the other towns where they are coming in say that they are not a bad class of citizens. They appear to be pretty honest in their business dealings; their trade is said to be valued at the stores. It is claimed that they are much superior to those that have filled up Chicopee and Holyoke, and have done so much to make those places look like foreign towns.

It would almost paralyze an American family, trained in fairly comfortable ways of living, to know for how little Polish people can live. The story is told of a man who took dinner one day with some Polish wood-choppers who were cutting off a lot in Conway. They had baked beans, fried pork, potatoes, and bread, and altogether what seemed like a passable lay-out for the rough life of the woods. "How much do you suppose it cost me to live for a week?" asked one of them on their visitor, and on further inquiry it was found that the expense was but 80 cents apiece for a week. It is said that nearly every Pole who is living with his wife in South Deerfield, Sunderland, and Whately makes a business of taking one or more boarders. They prefer to furnish both board and room, for which they are supposed to get about $2.50 a week. There are some of the single men, however, who live a great deal more cheaply than that. They are believed to get their room for about 25 cents a week, and it is claimed that they can get their living for 50 cents a week. To do this they get their bread of their boarding mistress, and do their own cooking over the common family stove. A house may contain two or three families, but it is said that there rarely is more than one stove, all using this one for their various messes. When one thinks of this, some explanation is afforded of the amount of quarreling that goes on among these people.

These statements as to the little it costs them to live sound almost incredible, but when one thinks that some of these Polish boarding houses accommodate as many as four beds in one room, of which three are double beds, one does not wonder that but little money is charged. The men take care of their own rooms, some of which would frighten a tidy New England housewife out of a year's growth. The beds are said generally to look as if the occupants went to bed with their boots and all their clothes on.

As to the low cost of food, that can be imagined by watching them hang around the butchers' shop for cheap pieces of meat. Necks, flanks, meat that has been carried too long in the cart, are what they want, and they want something for from two to three cents a pound. There is one thing about them, that they are rather helpful to each other in misfortune, and a man who is out of work will be taken care of for almost nothing. And on the other side, there are said to be but few complaints because they do not pay their bills. It is an interesting feature of the Polish family life that the woman of the family is said almost invariably to be the treasurer. The reason for that is said to be that the Polishmen are rather suspicious of each other. If they go out to one of their break-downs, where the use of considerable liquor is to be expected, they seem to think that their money will be safer at home, and no doubt their wives think so too. The crowding of the Polish boarding houses is pretty close, though not as much so as tin he manufacturing towns. One case is reported from South Deerfield, where in a house having three rooms on the first floor and two on the upper floor, there are three families living, with one boarder.

There appears to be no doubt that this colony of Poles has improved considerably since they first invaded these towns. There are fewer drunken bouts. If they have any break-downs of any kind, like the christenings, weddings and dances which the city Poles are celebrating all the time, they generally go back to some of their farm houses away from the village, where they can make considerable noise without disturbing anyone. The women are no doubt becoming neater in their habits. When they first come in they are not ordinarily tidy at all; but since the immigration commenced, very many of them have worked in nice homes in Greenfield, Northampton and surrounding towns, with the result that they have learned a great deal of the desirability of orderly methods of living. Compared with the prominence of the Poles of Chicopee and Holyoke before the police courts, they have been comparatively little before the district court of this town. In the cities above named it is very common to have up a dozen or more of them as the result of their Sunday celebrations, but it is estimated there have not been more than a dozen of them before the district court here in a year. The ones who make the most disturbance are those that have recently come in to work as farm hands, in the first stage of their life here. Those who have been here a few years are said to be pretty orderly.

South Deerfield looks like a little Poland on some of their church holidays. The Polish priest comes up from Holyoke or Chicopee about twice a year to hold service and the people pour in from all the surrounding towns.

Although rather quarrelsome among themselves, the Poles make little trouble with the officers. One of the latter tells how he found a Pole one night lying very drunk on the steps of a building. He shook him, the Pole moved uneasily, and told the officer to go to the place of eternal torment, adding some language not found in well edited Sunday school books. On being shaken a little more, and discovering that a well-known officer had hold of him, he seemed to sober off in a single moment, came to himself, begged pardon profusely and went off.

From the frugal habits of the Poles as described above, it may well be imagined that they save up a good deal of money. Of this a large part goes to the friends left at home, but no little finds its way into the savings banks.

It is said that the Poles in these country towns are doing some pretty stiff gambling. They have a game that is not unlike poker. They deal out the cards face up and there is no drawing of additional cards as in poker. The man that has the best hand takes the "pot." The peculiar feature of the game is that as long as they play, the man who wins the last hand takes all the "pots" that have preceded that hand. The less "sandy" are frozen out early in the game, and thus lose their chance at the whole hand, which goes to the man who winds the last hand of the game, and which is the inducement that leads some of the bolder to remain in the game to the finish. It is said to be quite a trick for the man who owns the house where the game takes place, called "the boss," to wait until he wins a hand, then declare the game closed, so he rakes in the stakes of the whole evening. The "ante" is said to be 10 cents and more often a quarter, and it is claimed that it is by no means an unusual thing for the winner of an evening's game to take in from $15 to $20.

The Poles have not been here long enough so that there are many of their children in school. They were mostly single men and women when they came over, and if any had children they generally left them at home. Many have been married and had children since their immigration and some of the oldest of these are now beginning to appear in the lower grades of the schools.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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Immigrants from Poland and the other countries of Eastern Europe began to arrive in the Connecticut River Valley in the third quarter of the 19th century. As newcomers, these people were different from previous immigrants. For one thing, they were Catholic. One of the late 19th century great fears was the presence of large numbers of people who, they thought, did not comprehend established American values. Native-born Americans were protective of their heritage and fearful of outsiders as they celebrated their Centennial in 1876. Conversely they also recognized that the Poles could provide a possible solution to the abandoned farmsteads in the Valley and admitted to their fierce industry to improve and work the land. After a discussion of the diet, domestic customs, and frugality the conclusion of the reporter, writing for the Greenfield Gazette and Courier, was that the immigrant is "rather to be welcomed than discouraged."

 

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"The Incoming of the Poles"

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   May 26, 1900
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   1.75"
height   16.5"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L02.165


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See Also...

"Aliens in New England" article in Greenfield's Gazette and Courier newspaper

"The Need of an Immigration Test" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Courier newspaper

"Polonaise"


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