“Local tradition holds that Baltimore's Polish community began in 1868, when a small group of Polish Catholic immigrants with only sufficient funds to pay their passage to America, settled in the eastern section of the city, known as Fell's Point. These first immigrants found not only an abundance of affordable housing but also opportunities for work. There was a need for unskilled workers in port related activities, such as stevedores and carters as well as new industries as canning, slaughterhouses and fertilizer plants. Once established, these immigrants wrote those they left behind to emigrate to this land of opportunity.”1
Decker Avenue, where Martin and Frances Michalak lived in 1920 and 1930, is part of the Fell’s Point community of Baltimore. Based on the names, approximately half of the heads of household were the same between the two decades. Statistically, the age of the population was not significant different between the two decades, suggesting that those who moved onto the street by 1930 were young enough, or had enough young children in their households, to offset the aging population from 1920. This is evidenced by the Michalak family themselves. In 1920, the household consisted of Martin and Frances (ages 59 and 47), Martin’s daughter Ida and son-in-law Stephen (both aged 24), and Martin’s grandchildren (0 and 1 years old).2 By 1930, Martin’s family was no longer living with them, family tradition is that the Stephen moved his family to Delaware for better work opportunities. So, by 1930, Martin and Frances had taken in renters Edward and Mary Sas (ages 23 and 26) and their son Edward (age 2), in place of the young family.3
All of those who were not born in the United States immigrated before 1914, which aligns with the decline of the number of people not born in the United States from 1920 to 1930, of about half. There was also a significant drop in the percentage of the population that could not speak English, from 17% to only 4%.
There is a shift in the work performed by the residents of Decker Avenue from 1920 to 1930. The shipyard industry that held nearly half of the working residents fell significantly in favor of work in factories. The occupations in 1930 suggest more skilled labor, as many held specific titles, such as “machinist”, rather than the generic title of “labrorer” in 1920.
I am looking forward to comparing the population of Decker Avenue in 1940 after the census is made public in April 2012 for a broader view of how this community changed.
1. Polish Community History. PolishCommunity.com (http://www.polishcommunity.com/PolishCommunity1/polish_community_history2.htm : accessed 26 February 2012).
2. 1920 U.S. Census, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland, population schedule, Baltimore, pages 14-B, 15-A, 15-B, 16-A; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 February 2012); National Archives and Records Administration, T625.
3. 1930 U.S. Census, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland, population schedule, Baltimore, pages 15-B, 16-A, 16-B; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 February 2012); National Archives and Records Administration, T626.