Friday, February 17, 2012

Why settle in St. Paul?

Why settle in St. Paul?  There were plenty of thriving cities on the East Coast where my ancestors entered the U.S.; and they traveled through several sizeable towns on their way to Minnesota.  A huge number of Poles headed for Chicago and settled there. (At one time Chicago’s Polish population was greater than that of Warsaw, Poland)  And it gets awfully cold up there in the Twin Cities.

In fact, my great grandfather, Joseph Dachtera, took his family first to Pennsylvania where they stayed only a couple of years. I’m guessing that he worked in the coal mines there before heading to St. Paul.

The Minnesota winters wouldn’t have been an issue for my ancestors.  They came from the province of Poznan (Posen in those Prussian days) which sits at about 52 degrees North latitude.  While the Baltic Sea has some moderating influence on the climate, Polish winters can be brutal. 

To put that into North American terms, Poznan, at 52 degrees is just about the same latitude as Calgary, Alberta which is at 51 degrees.  St, Paul and Minneapolis are farther south at about 44 degrees.

Here’s the arithmetic.  One degree of latitude is 60 nautical miles which equals about 69 land miles. So, basically they ended up in a place 550 miles south of their homelands. 
In the 1880’s the Twin Cities were booming. When my ancestors were arriving, the Twin Cities were in the period known as their Golden Age (1880 - 1895). In 1880 Minnesota's population had swelled to 780,773. Minneapolis population was 46,887; and St. Paul's 41,473. Together the cities had been nurtured by the river; together they had been strengthened by the railroad network. In 1880 they were poised on the edge of a remarkable era that would carry them into the ranks of major American cities. Industry and commerce flourished during the 1880's. City improvements included cedar-block and asphalt paving on some streets, improved sanitation and hospital facilities as well as hundreds of acres of parkland. Private power companies began to generate electricity, lighting many streets and providing industry with a new source of power.
By 1893, however, the U.S. was in a severe economic depression that hastened the end of the golden age and slowed the cities' growth. The population boom was over. It was in this economic climate that the first American-born of my family greeted the world.

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