Greek Immigrants in Springfield
Greeks first arrived in Springfield during the mid-1880s, but it was not until the Ottoman Empire began to disintegrate in the early twentieth century that Greeks started to immigrate in significant numbers. Greek-speaking immigrants arrived from Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor, Crete, Northern Epirus, and the Aegean Islands.
Because of the language barrier, many first-generation Greek immigrants had to take low-paying jobs as mechanics, waiters, and bootblacks. Others found work at the Kibbe Candy Company managed by Eleftherios Pilalas. Pilalas eventually owned his own candy store on Main Street, and along with his brother Stavros provided translation services and found work for other immigrants arriving from Greece. A generation of younger, better-educated Greeks arrived between 1905 and 1908, many fleeing compulsory military service in the Turkish Army.
Community life for early Greek immigrants to Springfield centered around their social clubs. These clubs typically met at open-air cafes, where locals gathered to read Greek newspapers, discuss Greek politics, and enjoy Greek coffee. There were six Greek social clubs in Springfield by 1912, four on the corner of Main and Cypress Streets. One of these was operated by Panteles Hectore, a local hero who had competed in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics.
Springfield's Greek-American community grew more prosperous over time, creating a number of associations and achieving a visible presence throughout the city. In 1906, an Orthodox Society was formed to purchased land and a brick house on Auburn Street, which became St. George's Orthodox Church the following year. Local immigrants from the island of Crete established the oldest chapter of the Pan Cretan Association of America in Chicopee. The Greek American Progressive Association was organized to preserve and perpetuate Greek ideals in American life, and young Greek-Americans joined clubs such as the Sons of Pericles and the Maids of Athens. By the mid-1930s, nearly 100 Greek-run lunchrooms and restaurants provided new flavor to the local culture, and Greek-Americans operated candy, ice cream, fruit, hat-cleaning and tobacco shops, even a tourist agency. In 1940, the St. George Orthodox Church relocated to Memorial Square, and its cathedral and cultural center have become downtown cultural landmarks. In 1977, new facilities were completed on Carew Street in Springfield to house the Minos-Crete Association and the Ladies Proodos Society. That same year, St. Luke's Greek Orthodox congregation was established on Prospect Street in East Longmeadow.
The Greek community of Springfield has produced doctors, lawyers, bankers, stock brokers, newspaper editors and politicians. Nicholas Nestor, an immigrant from Sparta, founded the Massachusetts Republican Club, and organized a Springfield branch of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association to help Greek immigrants adjust to life in the United States. Kyricos Tsolainos of Springfield represented Greek-Americans at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I and later became American secretary to Greek Premier Eleftherios Venizelos. George Bacopoulos, a graduate of American International College in Springfield, served as a member of the Chamber of Deputies in Athens and became Greek Minister of the Interior. Charilaus Lagoudakis, from Springfield College, became Director of Athens College in Greece.
Active and energetic in local and international affairs, Greek-Americans have enlivened the cultural life of Springfield while nurturing their distinctive identity and maintaining links to their Hellenic past.
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