In eastern Livingston Parish, Louisiana, due south of a small town called Albany, there exists the remnants of a rural ethnic Hungarian community. 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 conditions and expand their economic opportunities. By 1920, Hungarians could be found in every state in the Union. Some of these Magyar immigrants found their way to the pine forests of south-eastern Louisiana by 1896, where they established a Hungarian community that still preserves its cultural identity and ethnic roots.
Community history – the Charles Brackenridge Lumber Company
The Charles Brackenridge Lumber Company had opened a mill in eastern Livingston Parish in 1890, which provided jobs for the first Magyar setters. The Brackenridge Lumber Company usually sold the cut over timber land in twenty-acre sections. 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. 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 advertise this region in the Szabadság, a Hungarian language newspaper. As more Hungarians made this community their home, they decided to name it after Árpád, a national Hungarian hero, who united the people of Hungary, and conquered the land known today as the country of Hungary in 896. They called their new home Arpadhon, however, today it is simply called Hungarian Settlement.
The Immigration House
Later, an immigration house 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.
The Hungarian Presbyterian Church and the St. Margaret Catholic Church
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 was built on twenty acres of land donated by the Brackenridge Lumber Company. 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.
In 1910, the Catholics of Arpadhon began the construction of St. Margaret Catholic Church on twenty acres of land donated by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Juhasz. Named after a patron saint of Hungary, St. Margaret served the larger Catholic population of the community. 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.
A railroad connecting Hammond and Baton Rouge, built in 1907, slowed the commercial growth of Arpadhon. A train depot named Albany, established about two miles north of the Hungarian community, which caused a slight shift in population. Albany grew into a small town, which became the centre for local commerce.
Agriculture as a way of making fortune
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 that 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 endeavour in Livingston Parish.
The impact of WWII
World War II appeared 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. As a result, 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.
Arpadhon Hungarian Settlement Cultural Association
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). 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 maintaining 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 Building on Hwy. 43 in Springfield, LA.
Preservation of traditional Hungarian cuisine
Though much has changed over the past 120 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.
written by Gábor Hajnal