Focus on History: They found a home in Amsterdam

Peter Segen, the author's uncle by marriage.

Peter Segen, the author's uncle by marriage.

The first Ukrainians to migrate to Amsterdam did so about 1903. These early settlers included Simon Kolodeychuk and Elias Yurkwych.

St. Nicholas Brotherhood formed in 1907 with 26 members from Amsterdam and other communities. Construction of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Amsterdam began that year on Pulaski Street. The church was completed and dedicated to St. Nicholas in 1910.

There were about 70 Ukrainian families in Amsterdam before World War I. In 1914, the Sisterhood of the Immaculate Conception of Mary started. The first president was Anna Kwas.

My uncle by marriage, Peter Segen, was from Ukraine. One of his daughters, Barbara Segen Gould, wrote, “He was born in Galicia a province of Ukraine sandwiched between Poland and Austria-Hungary. In 1898 when he was born it was ruled by Austria-Hungary, but I remember him saying that its governance regularly switched from Austria-Hungary to Poland to Ukrainia. Dad proudly called himself a Ukrainian and let no one call him anything else!” 

The family has a letter indicating the original spelling of Segen may have been Sygin. Segen Gould lives in Connecticut but two sisters, Betty Pronk and Margaret Hisert, live in the Amsterdam area. A brother, John, died years ago.

Segen Gould wrote, “Upon the death of his parents, the farm on which Dad grew up was left to either his oldest brother or the two older brothers. Dad was 18 in 1916 and with a young uncle who I believe was about 30, decided to emigrate.”

They made it to Hamburg, Germany, and stowed away on a passenger ship bound for New York. They were discovered and had to work for their passage.

Segen Gould wrote, “Upon landing at Ellis Island, Dad and his uncle went through the usual screenings and although without papers, were allowed to remain in the United States.”

Peter left Ellis Island to work for a coal mining company in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He developed tuberculosis and was sent to the Mount Loretto convalescent home in the town of Amsterdam.

My mother’s sister, Jane Cook, was a cook at Mount Loretto. She and Peter married in the 1930s. They moved to a small house on Touareuna Road.

Meanwhile, at St. Nicholas in Amsterdam in the twenties and thirties, the church sponsored an orchestra, dance troupe and dramatic group.

Ukrainian immigration to America increased after World War II. The large number of children led to an Amsterdam parish school.

The Ukrainian Catholic Youth League organized after World War II. There were basketball teams for boys and girls and a Ukrainian Boy Scouts troop. The church rectory was built in 1948.

When I was young (I was born in 1945), our family lived in a flat on Pulaski Street near St. Nicholas. My sister and I would look out our window when the church had colorful processions on Easter and other special days.

A portion of Amsterdam’s St. Casimir’s Lithuanian Cemetery off Widow Susan Road was purchased in 1955 and named St. Nicholas Cemetery

A Ukrainian–American Citizen’s Club, built in 1961 on Amsterdam’s Teller Street, held programs for Ukrainians and others. By the early 2000s though, the club had ceased to function.

The number of Ukrainians in Amsterdam started to drop in the 1970s largely due to general decline of industry in the city.

However, Ukraine’s independence in 1991 opened the doors for more immigration.

Now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a dark cloud over the future of Ukraine itself.

Information on Amsterdam’s St. Nicholas Ukrainian community was provided by Martha Swidersky. Swidersky’s father Myron Swidersky is a longtime advocate for the Ukrainian community in Amsterdam.


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