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In eastern Livingston Parish, Louisiana, due south of a small town called Albany, there exists the remnants of a rural ethnic Hungarian community that began over a century ago. By the beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians had migrated to the United States in an attempt to improve their social condition and expand their economic opportunities. By 1920, Hungarians could be found in virtually every state in the Union, with their stronghold in states of the Northeast such as New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois. Some of these Magyar immigrants found their way to the pine forests of southeastern Louisiana by 1896.
(The above photo contains the founders of the Arpadhon community. Julius Bruskay is on the far left. Adam Mocsary and Theodore Zboray are on the right. Father Grosse, center, was one of the first priests to minister to the Hungarians near what is now Albany, Louisiana.)
The Charles Brackenridge Lumber Company had opened a mill in eastern Livingston Parish in 1890, which provided jobs for these first Magyar setters. The Brackenridge Lumber Company usually sold the cut over timber land in twenty-acre sections for ten dollars per acre. Mill workers could purchase land on credit, which gave many Hungarians an opportunity they never would have had in their native homeland.
After finding the area suitable to live and discovering the opportunity to buy cut over timber land for farming, the first three original Hungarian settlers, Julius Bruskay, Adam Mocsary, and Theodore Zboray, went to great lengths to encourage other Hungarians to join them in Louisiana. They wrote to friends and relatives living in the United States and Hungary, telling of the warm climate, the work at the mill, and the chance to own land. Bruskay and Zboray even made trips to Hungarian communities in the North to spread the news of a Magyar settlement in Louisiana. In an attempt to bring more settlers to the area, the Illinois Central Railroad agreed to pay $900 a year to advertize this region in the Szabadsag, a Hungarian language newspaper printed in Cleveland, Ohio. As more Hungarians made this community their home, they began calling the settlement "Arpadhon," which means "home of Arpad." According to the Hungarians, Arpad united the Magyar tribes in eastern Europe and conquered what is now Hungary in 896.
An immigration house (pictured left) was built to accommodate settlers until they could find a place to live. It also helped to meet the immediate religious, educational, and social needs of the community and served as a place of worship for both Catholics and Protestants until separate churches could be constructed. The immigration house also provided a place for social functions as well as the first public education in the area.
In 1908, under the leadership of Reverend John Kovacs, the Presbyterian Magyars of Arpadhon constructed the first church in the Hungarian community. The Hungarian Presbyterian Church (pictured below) was built on twenty acres of land donated by the Brackenridge Lumber Company. Making up about 25 percent of the Magyar community, the Presbyterians worked very hard to complete their church as inexpensively as possible. The Presbyterians were fortunate enough to have Hungarian ministers serving their congregation for many years. As a result, services were held exclusively in the Hungarian language for over fifty years. The main person responsible for this was a very prominent community figure named Alexander Bartus, who served the church as pastor for over half a century.
In 1910, the Catholics of Arpadhon began the construction of St. Margaret Catholic Church (pictured left) on twenty acres of land donated by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Juhasz. Named after a patron saint of Hungary, St. Margaret served the larger (about 75 percent) Catholic population of the community. The rough lumber for the church was donated by the nearby Brackenridge Lumber Company, and the flooring and finishing materials came from the Thomas Lumber Company in Hammond. A northern contractor, Frank Kiss, was hired to build the church, and all available Catholic men in the community assisted, working free of charge. The Catholics had a difficult time securing Hungarian priests to serve their congregation. After 1912, no more Hungarian priests served at St. Margaret.
The Baton Rouge, Hammond, and Eastern, a railroad connecting Hammond and Baton Rouge, built in 1907-08, slowed the commercial growth of Arpadhon. A train depot named Albany, established about two miles north of the Hungarian community, caused a slight shift in population. Albany grew into a small town, which became the center for local commerce. Shortly after the completion of the railroad through Albany, the local Hungarians started a movement to change the name of the town to "Balaton," which is the name of a famous fruit growing region and the largest lake in Hungary. They petitioned to the railroad company, who denied their request for the name change.
In 1916, the local branch of the Brackenridge Lumber Company closed, which made more land available for settling. This prompted the local Hungarians to practice full-time farming as their community grew throughout the 1920s. Before the turn of the century, some of the local residents had decided to experiment with strawberries and found they could be grown fairly easily in the mild Louisiana climate. Agriculture became the foundation of economic life for the Hungarians, and strawberries became the primary money crop of the community. By the 1930s, raising strawberries became the largest agricultural endeavor in Livingston Parish. Some people felt the "Hungarians... had a knack of picking berries at just the right time so that theirs looked better than the others." The name "Arpadhon" gradually faded from use as many began to refer to the area as Hungarian Settlement. By 1935, this community contained about two hundred Hungarian families (fifteen hundred people).
By the late 1930s, the tight-knit ethnic Hungarian community south of Albany was well on its way to becoming Americanized. One resident stated, "Until the Thirties and Forties, the Hungarian saying in the home was you have to marry a good Hungarian girl and vice versa. For a while, this did happen." Another resident stated that, "with the schools...and with the war, the Hungarians got out and started mixing with everyone, started assimilating real well, too well, with the rest of the world." World War II appears to be a crucial turning point concerning the integration of the Hungarians of Albany into American society. Marriages with those other than Hungarians became a more common occurrence after the war, and the use of the Magyar language began to fade.
In 1976, the Bicentennial of the United States triggered a cultural awareness throughout the country, including Louisiana. In an attempt to preserve and promote the Hungarian culture of the Albany area, some of the local Magyar descendants established the Arpadhon Hungarian Settlement Cultural Association (AHSCA).
Very little Hungarian is spoken in or near Hungarian Settlement today. Any such conversations take place exclusively among the elderly residents, who tend to blend it with a little English.
Currently, through the efforts of a few community members and the Arpadhon Hungarian Settlement Cultural Association (AHSCA), Hungarian songs are performed at certain cultural events and during Christmastime at St. Margaret Catholic Church or the Hungarian Presbyterian Church.
The Arpadhon Hungarian Settlement Cultural Association continues its efforts to preserve and promote the Hungarian culture of the Albany area. Members of this association include some of the descendants of the first Hungarian immigrants to come to the area and a few non-Hungarians who are interested in perpetuating the Magyar culture. On the first Saturday of every October, the AHSCA sponsors the annual Hungarian Harvest Dance, which is currently held at the American Legion Hall on La. Hwy. 43, near Springfield.
Hungarian Settlement celebrated its centennial on Saturday, October 5, 1996. The AHSCA sponsored the day's events that began with a Hungarian dinner at their association hall (former Erdey-Kiss Post Amvets Hall) just south of Albany. The dinner included cabbage rolls, kolbasz (Hungarian sausage), cucumber salad, homemade bread, and Hungarian pastries. A Hungarian folk music ensemble from New York, called Eletfa, provided entertainment for the dinner crowd. All other events took place at the American Legion Hall on Hwy. 43 near Springfield. A canopy of vines and fruit hung from the ceiling of the hall, which was decorated with streamers of red, white, and green, the national colors of Hungary. The centennial ceremony began at 2:30 P.M. when the elderly citizens (ages 75 and older) of Hungarian descent were recognized and treated to a concert of Hungarian folk music performed by Eletfa. The evening events began with a variety of Hungarian folk dances performed by the Baton Rouge International Folk Dancers, led by Vonnie Brown. The evening culminated with the traditional Hungarian Harvest Dance, which has been passed down for three generations in the community. Local residents, dressed in white costumes decorated with ribbons of red, white, and green, performed a series of dances beneath the canopy of fruit in the center of the hall. When the Harvest Dance ended, onlookers were invited to "steal" the fruit hanging from the ceiling as they did in the early years of the Hungarian Settlement.
Though much has changed over the past 100 years and the community has assimilated into American society, the descendants of the rugged individuals who first came to the area continue to take pride in their ethnic roots. The preparation of Hungarian-style food is a good example of the continuation of the Magyar culture of the region. Many use traditional recipes that they learned from their parents and grandparents. The AHSCA has been instrumental in preserving this aspect of the Hungarian culture of the Albany area.
The AHSCA compiled community recipes and published a cookbook in 1992 that includes many local ethnic family recipes. To date, it has been reprinted eight times and over 1,300 copies have been sold. Interestingly enough, the surrounding area has been influenced to the extent that some who are not of Hungarian descent have taken the initiative to learn how to prepare some of the Hungarian dishes. The AHSCA also perpetuates and promotes the preservation of the Magyar cuisine of Albany by offering Hungarian dinners for sale at least once a year, usually in conjunction with the annual Hungarian Harvest Dance. Some community members, including non-Hungarians, assist with the food preparation to learn how to make certain food items such as Hungarian sausage or membership grew tremendously. Currently there are at least 150 active members in the AHSCA. Many live out of town and some live out of state.
(Hungarian Presbyterian Church, 2002)
(St. Margaret Catholic Church, 2002)