Chicago’s early Polish history on display at Taste of Polonia


An exhibit on the history of Chicago’s Polish heritage is one of the featured cultural events at the annual “Taste of Polonia” festival which will be held over the Labor Day weekend at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.

The Polish Museum of America’s the traveling exhibit “Polish Past in Chicago 1850-1941” will be on display in the center’s annex all four days of the festival. The exhibit debuted in May at the Thompson Center, and a similar display, which includes original artifacts, is on display at the museum, 984 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The exhibit, which consists of eight, double-sided panels with pictures and text in Polish and English, focuses on the early history of Polish immigrants in the Polish Triangle neighborhood at Milwaukee and Ashland avenues and Division Street. Photographs of the first settlers and their houses, businesses and organizations are featured.

“Poles first began to settle in Chicago in the 1850s, but it was not until the 1880s that their arrival assumed the character of a mass migration. From that time until the 1930s, the number of Police immigrants rapidly increased.

“They were drawn to industrial area, and Chicago, with work opportunities in its many factories, steel mills, slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants, quickly became America’s most Polish city,” the museum states in a description of the exhibit.

Chicago historian Edward Kantowicz has written that Polish residents began settling further north along Milwaukee Avenue after Saint Adalbert Catholic Cemetery, 6800 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles, opened in 1872, said museum volunteer Dan Pogorzelski.

Many of the Polish immigrants were buried there, and families became more familiar with the Far Northwest Side while traveling from the “Polish Downtown” at Milwaukee and Ashland avenues to the cemetery, which is adjacent to the city, Pogorzelski said.

Another factor is the settlement of Polish immigrants on the Northwest side was the establishment of the Saint Hyacinth Parish near Milwaukee and Central Park avenues in the 1890s, according to exhibit curator Julita Siegel.

Also in the annex, the Northwest Chicago Historical Society will have a display with photographs and information about the history of Jefferson Township and the development of the center’s 1,900-seat theater, which opened in 1930 as a movie theater for “talkies.” In the 1970s the Copernicus Foundation acquired the former Gateway theater, and today it is used primarily for live performances.

A documentary on Thaddeus Kosciuszko, an engineer who helped build military fortifications at West Point during the Revolutionary War, will be shown in the theater at 3:15 p.m. Saturday during the festival. The Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra and Chicago Chopin Society will conduct a Polish-American friendship concert in tribute to Kosciuszko at 4 p.m.

The festival’s hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 2-3, and noon to 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4. Admission is $5 before 5 p.m. and $10 after 5 p.m., and children age 12 and under are free.

The festival includes carnival rides, bouncy houses, beer tents, a casino and world music and tribute stages. For times of shows and activities, visit

Also over the Labor Day weekend, the North Mayfair Improvement Association will hold the “Bikes, Bites and Brews” festival on Sept. 1-3 at Lawrence and Kostner avenues, and the Chicago Fringe Festival continues through Sunday, Sept. 10, at various locations in the Jefferson Park business district.

The Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce will hold the “Throwback Music Fest” on Friday through Sunday, Sept. 8-10, at Milwaukee and Elston avenues.