AND SLOVAKS IN FLORIDA
to the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences on June 27,
2003, at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
to the 1990 census, there were 36,000 of Czech descent, 70,000
of Slovak descent and 15,000 described as Czechoslovak descent
living in Florida.
is true that few Czechs and Slovaks came to Florida directly
from Europe, the migration of people from the northeast and
mid-west to Florida included a significant number of both nationalities
as we shall see during this presentation. To illustrate this
point I shall review two communities started in Florida during
the early part of the twentieth century, describe an important
historical event and historical site, and briefly review some
of the organizations that were formed after WWII.
In 1911 several members of the congregation of Holy Trinity
Slovak Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio incorporated themselves
as the Slavia Colony Company. They purchased about 1200 acres
of land northeast of Orlando. This was the beginning of the
little community of Slavia.
the early settlers were from rural areas in Central Europe and
had found it difficult to adapt to urban life in Cleveland.
Most likely they were attracted to Florida because of the state's
campaign to attract settlers due to its warm climate and good
soil for farming. For the first decade of its existence, the
settlers of Slavia struggled to make a living. At first some
families were engaged in lumbering and turpentine collection.
All had gardens from which came potatoes, beans, squash, radishes,
turnips, cabbage, cucumbers and celery. By the mid-1920s, farming
became the most important occupation with celery being the leading
was one of the cornerstones that held the community together.
In 1912 eight men organized themselves into the congregation
of St. Luke the Evangelizer. It wasn't until 1935, however,
that the congregation finally obtained a full time pastor.
will not find a commercial district in Slavia. The heart of
the community is the lovely St. Luke the Evangelizer Evangelical
Andrew Duda was one of the first four settlers of Slavia. He
had come from Europe to Cleveland in 1909 where he had friends
and relatives. In the summer of 1912, Andrew's wife, Katarina
and her four children, left Velcice in Austria-Hungary (present
day Slovakia) and arrived in Slavia to join Andrew.
family lived in a shack previously used by black turpentine
and sawmill workers. There were cracks in the walls and cracks
in the floors. When the mosquitoes were out in force, they slept
under mosquito netting. Andrew worked in the swamps among the
alligators cutting cypress logs and taking them out with oxen
and mules. He also worked at a nearby citrus packing plant for
the Duda family as well as the other Slavia settlers was difficult
indeed. After struggling financially for four years, the Duda
family returned to Cleveland in 1916. Ten years later they returned
to Slavia and harvested their first cash crop of celery from
their 40-acre farm.
It is quite
marvelous to think that the present day company known as A.
Duda & Sons, Inc. started from such humble beginnings. This
diversified, international company now has a domestic land base
of 100,000 acres. Privately owned by the Duda family, management
includes third- and fourth-generation family members.
primarily in Florida, Texas and California, DUDA is the largest
fresh vegetable grower in the United States. Major vegetable
products include celery, radishes, onions, lettuce, sweet corn,
carrots, cabbage and peppers. The company grows, packs and ships
fresh and processed citrus fruit. It also markets sugar cane,
sod and cattle. Lastly, the company has undertaken land development
projects such as the establishment of Viera (which means "faith"
in Slovak), a new town located in east central Florida.
In 1924 Joseph Joscak, editor of the New Yorksy Denník, a daily
Slovak newspaper in New York City, began writing a series of
articles about the wonderful State of Florida where it was reported
that it was possible to grow as many as three crops annually
due to the warm climate. These articles appealed to many Slovaks
laboring in the coal mines, steel mills and other industries
in the North.
1924, 60 Slovaks and one Czech formed the Hernando Plantation
Company. Its purpose was to buy land in Florida. They bought
10,000 acres in Hernando County in Central Florida north of
Tampa. Later another 14,000 acres was added in adjoining Pasco
County. Three months later about 135 shareholders left Ohio,
Pennsylvania, New Jersey but mostly from New York for what they
called "Joscak's Paradise."
the start of Masryktown, named in honor of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk,
first president of Czechoslovakia. They named streets running
north and south after American presidents and named east to
west streets after Czechoslovak poets, writers, patriots and
plan to earn money was to raise oranges. Thus many orange groves
were planted. However, two consecutive winters with hard frosts
occurred and wiped out all the trees. Many had to abandon their
farms. Some borrowed money from relatives in the North while
some husbands moved back to the North to find work and sent
money back to their families left behind.
stayed in Masaryktown started to grow onions, sweet potatoes
and cucumbers. The problem was that a steady market could not
be found and this type of farming failed. Small poultry farmers
formed an egg producers' cooperative. The eggs were successfully
sold in the Tampa and St. Petersburg markets. This cooperative
was at one time the largest such cooperative in the Southeast
and made Masaryktown the egg capital of Florida.
is a sleepy little village without much evidence of its rich
Slovak heritage. However, there is still a library containing
books in Czech and Slovak, and a small museum is housed in the
of Mayor Cermák
One of the most mysterious political assassinations ever taken
place occurred on February 15, 1933 when the Czech-born mayor
of Chicago, Anton Cermák, was mortally wounded.
story is that Cermák was shot by anarchist Giuseppe Zangara,
who opened fire on a crowd of people, trying to kill then President-elect
Franklin Roosevelt in Bayfront Park in Miami. FDR accompanied
the mayor as he was rushed to the nearest hospital. "I'm glad
it was me, instead of you" he reportedly gasped to Roosevelt.
4th Roosevelt was inaugurated. He called Cermák on the telephone
immediately after the ceremony. Doctors thought the mayor would
recover, but he developed pneumonia and died two days later.
Five hundred thousand people gathered to watch the mayor's funeral
procession in Chicago. He was buried in the Bohemian National
version of the story is that the Al Capone mob orchestrated
the plot to assassinate Cermák because he was trying to kick
out the Capone gang. Zangara deliberately fired wildly over
FDR's head to distract security guards while another hit man
got in close and fatally wounded the mayor. The bullets that
struck Cermák came from a .45-caliber weapon whereas the gun
taken from Zangara was a .38-caliber pistol. Zangara was executed
in Florida's electric chair five weeks after the shooting. Zangara
allowed himself to be used as a decoy in Cermák's murder because
he was dying of cancer and wanted to provide for his family
after his death. The Capone gang cut a deal saying if Zangara
would take the rap, the mob would take care of his family after
his death. Zangara insisted to the end that he wasn't shooting
Albin Polášek was born in Moravia in 1879 and came to the United
States in 1901. In 1906 he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy
of Fine Arts and won scholarships in 1907, 1908, and 1909. He
was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome from 1910-1913
after which time he started his own studio in New York City.
he went to Chicago where he became head of the Department of
Sculpture at the Art Institute, a post that he held until 1943.
he designed his retirement home and studio on the shore of Lake
Osceola in Winter Park located in the Orlando area.
the Albin Polášek Foundation was established and a gallery was
built to house his works. He died in 1965 at age 86.
Albin Polášek Museum and Sculpture Gardens holds more than 200
sculptures and paintings. In 2000 it was added to the National
Register of Historic Places.
been to the Albin Polášek Museum and Sculpture Gardens on several
occasions and can heartily recommend a visit there. It is open
to the public from September through June.
and Slovak Organizations
The Slovak Garden, A Home for Slovak Americans, Inc.
is probably the largest of the Czech and Slovak organizations
was sown for the Slovak Garden way back in 1939 when Mr. and
Mrs. John Jerga of Detroit, Michigan gave $10,000 to the Zivena
Beneficial Society for the purpose of establishing a Slovak
retirement community. The money was held in escrow until 1949
when a 40 acre farm with a two-bedroom house was bought near
Winter Park, Florida. It wasn't until 1952 that the Slovak Garden
came into existence due primarily to the efforts of Karol Belohlavek.
Slovak Garden has more than 30 apartments for rent, a large
building that houses a library and museum, a smaller hall, a
swimming pool and shuffleboard court. The annual Slovenský Den
is held on the first Sunday of March and is attended by several
hundred people. It begins with a Mass said in Slovak, followed
by a traditional Slovak dinner, entertainment, and dancing.
Czechoslovak Social Club (now known as the American Czech-Slovak
Cultural Club) was founded in 1949. It has a clubhouse situated
on 3.5 acres adjacent to Arch Creek in North Miami. The restaurant
serves traditional ethnic meals every Sunday. The bar is open
on weekends and serves a variety of Czech and Slovak beers.
There are over 100 dues paying members.
Miami was organized in 1969 in North Miami. Retired Sokol
members who came to South Florida mainly from New York, New
Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut started the unit. Representatives
went to Prague in 1990 to participate in the Sokol Slet. This
group will probably disband in 2004.
Czech & Slovak Friends in South Florida meets once a month
at a community center in the Fort Lauderdale area. It was founded
in 1979. There are about 120 members.
Czechoslovak Club of Lake Worth was founded in 1955 by residents
coming mostly from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and
New York. In the 1960s a clubhouse was purchased and it was
enlarged in the 1970s when membership peaked at about 250. Due
to diminishing membership, the clubhouse was sold in 1998. The
club meets at local restaurants twice a week during the winter
season. Currently they have 20 to 25 members.
On the west
coast of Florida, the Czechoslovak Cultural Center is
located in Gulfport that is in the St. Petersburg area. They
own a large building containing a restaurant and bar. It is
open on Sundays except July and August. It was formed in 1953
and its peak membership was more than 300 about 20 years ago.
During the 1990s there was a small wave of young immigrants
to South Florida coming mostly from the Czech Republic. Relatively
few immigrants arrived from the Slovak Republic largely due
to the fact that the U.S. government issues considerably fewer
visas to citizens of the Slovak Republic compared to the Czech
Republic. Many of these young people come on tourist or student
visas and just stay in Florida after their visas expire.
these recent arrivals live in Key West, which has a total population
of about 25,000. Current estimates are that there are about
2000 young Czechs and Slovaks living there. Another concentration
can be found in Broward County in the Fort Lauderdale area.
I hope you
now have a better understanding of the Czech and Slovak presence
in Florida. While membership in some of the organizations described
has diminished, the continued immigration of young Czechs and
Slovaks gives hope that the culture will continue to thrive
for a long time to come in Florida.
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