Pittsburgh Celebrating 125th Anniversary of Greek Immigrants’ Arrival

First Cretans Picnic 1923, Pitssburgh, PA. Photo: Courtesy of American-Hellenic Foundation of Western PA

PITTSBURGH, PA – This December marks 125 years since the arrival and settlement of the first fifty Greek immigrants to the City of Pittsburgh in 1893. Fifteen years later, the first significant wave of Greek women would arrive from the homeland. The American Hellenic Foundation of Western Pennsylvania (AHFWPA), together with the Greek Room Committee of the Nationality Rooms Program at the University of Pittsburgh is sponsoring three events this December and in January, 2019.

On December 2, AHFWPA with the Byzantine Choir of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh presented a commemorative concert for the 125th Anniversary, which also coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the Choir which is the longest-in-existence Byzantine Choir in the USA. The Foundation will celebrate a Proclamation on the 125th Anniversary issued by the City and the Mayor’s Office on December 9. An exhibit will be featured inside the Main Lobby of City Hall to close out 2018 and begin the New Year, December 29-January 6, 2019.

According to the City of Pittsburgh records, the first Greek immigrants began to arrive in Allegheny County in the 1890s. By December 1893, there were about 50 Greek men in the city of Pittsburgh. Most were sailors from various Greek islands and engaged in manual labor at first. Soon, many entered business for themselves; some were street vendors, others were restaurateurs, coffee shop owners, or confectioners. Men were often employed in restaurants owned by their fathers or brothers until they either assumed the business or opened a new one themselves. The first Greek restaurant in Pittsburgh was located at Diamond Square in the Market District.

A page from the Immigrant’s Guide in America by Seraphim Canoutas. Photo: Courtesy of American-Hellenic Foundation of Western PA

The peak of Greek immigration to Allegheny County was 1910-1912. Most immigrants were from the Aegean islands, Asia Minor, and the Greek mainland. The main settlements at the time were North Side, Oakland, Downtown, East Pittsburgh, McKeesport, and Monessen.

The noted lawyer and author Seraphim Canoutas in his book The Immigrant’s Guide in America reported that in 1908 there were approximately 3,500 Greeks living in the wider Allegheny County region. According to Reports of the 13th Census of Pittsburgh, between 1908-1910 there were 816 Greeks from Greece of Greek immigrant parentage, 130 Greeks of mixed immigrant and American parentage, 37 Greek immigrant families were localized inside the tenement population of Greater Pittsburgh (mainly in the Penn Ave. district). The number of Greek students in Pittsburgh was the third largest in the USA, after New York and Chicago, and the largest per capita in terms of Greek parentage. There were 66 Greek students attending public elementary and high schools in December 1908 of which 60 were in the first three grades of elementary.

The first Greek community, as a formal organization was founded in 1905, consisting of 3,000-4,000 individuals residing in and around the city of Pittsburgh. In 1909, the community purchased a building, 97 Fulton Street. This location also served as a house of Greek Orthodox Christian worship. By 1912, there were two organized churches: Evangelismos (Annunciation), 10 Whiteside Road, and St. Nicholas, 547 6th Avenue; the latter also operated a Greek language school. Other organized Greek communities were established in East Pittsburgh, 803 Braddock Ave., Ambridge, Aliquippa, and Verona.

A page from the Immigrant’s Guide in America by Seraphim Canoutas. Photo: Courtesy of American-Hellenic Foundation of Western PA

After a merger with Annunciation Church in September, 1918, it was agreed that worshipers would unite under the name “The Greek Community of Allegheny County-St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church”. St. Nicholas is the oldest Greek-Orthodox Christian community and church in Allegheny County (now located at 419 South Dithridge).

The largest, in membership, brotherhood was that of immigrants from the Aegean island of Ikaria and of those from the town of Vlachokerasia, near Tripolis, Peloponnese.

In 1914, a chapter of the Panhellenic Enosis (Union) was organized in Pittsburgh. The Greek-American Progressive Association, focused on preserving Greek traditions, culture, and language was founded in Pittsburgh in 1923.

In the 1910s, a large movie theater together with a billiard hall on Fifth Avenue, between Smithfield and Wood, was owned by Greek-Americans; Mr. Baziotis and Mr. Antonopoulos.

Other areas in Western PA with Greek immigrant presence were Ambridge, Canonsburg, New Castle, McKeesport, Aliquippa, and Monessen.

A page from the Immigrant’s Guide in America by Seraphim Canoutas. Photo: Courtesy of American-Hellenic Foundation of Western PA