Concentrated within a mile radius of the Division, Ashland, and Milwaukee Avenue intersection is Chicago’s earliest Polish settlement -- “Polish Downtown.” It was the capital of American Polonia from the 1870s through the first half of the 20th century. Nearly every Polish undertaking of any consequence in the U.S. during that time either started or was directed from this tight-knit neighborhood. Nearby are some of the most beautiful churches in Chicago. St. Stanislaus Kostka, Holy Trinity, and St. John Cantius are stunning examples of Renaissance and Baroque Revival architecture that form part of the largest concentration of Polish parishes in Chicago. The Catholic schools these parishes founded are a tribute to the desire of immigrant Poles to preserve Polish Catholic culture for their children. The selfless dedication of Polish orders of religious women in staffing these schools, as well as founding hospitals, day nurseries, and homes for the aged is inspiring.
map of Polish Downtown
Some of the spirit of Chicago’s old Polonia lingers in the churches, institutions, and buildings still standing here. Take a walk around and listen carefully—the spirit and energy of today’s Polonia all began in Chicago’s Polish Downtown over 150 years ago.
The national headquarters of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America and The Polish Museum of America are among the few remaining Polish institutions in an area where once were clustered the headquarters of almost every major Polish organization in America. The fraternal organizations provided economic security and social support for Poles arriving in a strange new land. Four Polish language daily newspapers were published in Polish Downtown, and papers were delivered across the U.S. and to a score of foreign countries. Polish-owned businesses, which first opened in the old storefront buildings that once lined Noble Street, later took over most of Milwaukee Avenue.
Polish Roman Catholic Union of America
Perhaps the most significant Polish undertaking in the early 20th century was the movement to create a free Poland during World War I. Leaders of Chicago’s Polonia, inspired by Polish exile statesman, Ignace Paderewski, met in upstairs offices that overlook this triangle, plotting the restoration of the Polish nation to the map of Europe. 3000 Polish-American Chicagoans were recruited to serve in the Polish Army in France, and $50 million was raised in war relief funds, all from this tiny corner of Chicago.

NOTE: The triangle itself once contained several commercial blocks, but they were demolished when Ashland Avenue was widened as part of the implementation of the 1909 Burnham Plan of Chicago.

Excerpted and adapted from Chicago’s Polish Downtown, by Victoria Granacki, published by Arcadia publishing under the Images of America Series, 2004.

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1. St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, Rectory, and Elementary School, 1351 W. Evergreen Street
2. Holy Trinity Church and Rectory, 1120 N Noble Street
3. Holy Trinity Elementary School, now Polish offices, 1135 N. Cleaver Street
4. Holy Trinity High School, 1443 W. Division Street
5. Holy Family Academy, now Near North Montessori School, 1434 W. Division Street
6. St. Stanislaus Gymnasium, now residential, 1521 W. Haddon Avenue
7. Polish Roman Catholic Union of America and Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Avenue
8. Polish National Alliance, now College of Office Technology, 1520 W. Division Street
9. Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division Street
10. Polish Welfare Association, now other businesses, 1303 N. Ashland Avenue
11. Polish Women’s Alliance, now residential, 1309 N. Ashland Avenue
12. Northwestern Trust and Savings Bank, now other businesses, 1152 N. Milwaukee Avenue
13. Second Northwestern Trust and Savings Bank and later, Alliance Printers and Publishers, now retail store,
1201 N. Milwaukee Avenue
14. Home Bank, now Mb Financial, 1200 N. Ashland Avenue
15. Polish Veterans Home, now art gallery, 1239 N. Wood Street
16. Falcons Hall, now other uses, 1062 N. Ashland Avenue
Chicago's Polish Downtown by Victoria Granacki
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Polish Downtown