Mansfield’s Immigrants & The Syndicate: 1890-1925

When factories were first being built in the Flats in the 1880s & ’90s, the population of Mansfield was around 13,500 people.  By the 1950s, the population was 50,000.  Only one factor can account for this dramatic growth: the rise of local Industry and the need for more hands to turn the gears of manufacturing.

In 1930 Mansfield had 8,775 employed in Industrial jobs; by 1950 there were almost that many working at Westinghouse alone!

So where did all these people come from?

In the earliest decades, from 1890 to 1925, most of these new faces in town were Immigrants from across the sea, landed in Mansfield to start a new life.

In 1915, when these men from the Foundry Department of the Seneca Chain works were photographed, at least 50% of them spoke only enough English to pick up their pay. (The little factory on Longview Avenue turned over a billion pounds of iron into chain that year.)

The American Cigar Company on East Fifth Street had 600 men, women and children rolling cigars in 1909. In order for them to turn out 200,000 cigars a day it didn’t matter what language any of them spoke.


New faces weren’t always particularly welcome.

As far back as the 1850s, Richland County had an influx of Irish immigrants who had come to build the railroads, and at that time the “native Mansfielders”—folks who had settled the town only one or two generations earlier—saw these invaders as a corrupting force come to steal jobs of Americans.  

It only took a couple generations, however, before the Irish were sufficiently native Mansfield enough to, in their turn, look down on the next surge of immigrants: from central and southern Europe.

Every new wave of immigrants has had to undergo its painful initiation and badgering before it gains admission into the Richland culture.

Fortunately for foreigners seeking a new home in Mansfield, the rise in immigration was matched in the city by the rise of new Industries in the Flats, so the newcomers were wanted, even if they weren’t entirely welcome—at least as much as they were willing and able to fill a role on the factory floor.

Without question, the largest number of foreign speaking Mansfielders were born in Germany, Austria and Hungary.  The city had German churches, a German newspaper, and a whole thriving German culture.

The city’s German newspaper, called the Mansfield Courier, started publication in 1872 and was the only German paper in Ohio to survive WWI. It didn’t last much longer after that.

North Central Ohio had such a large German-speaking population, politicians needed to issue their propaganda in two languages in order to get votes. This is from 1844.

Starting in the 1890s, German American Mansfielders began hosting informal German Day celebrations at parks around the city, with sports events, bands, singing contests and lots of food. By 1900, Deutscher Tag was a regular formal holiday. In 1906, the Mansfield News listed a calendar of City holidays, and in addition to Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years, it included Lincoln Day, Valentines Day, Washington’s Birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, German Day, Labor Day and Election Day.

In 1894 the offcial city brass band clearly shows the influence of Mansfield’s German population.

Then in 1914, when the European continent exploded into war and chaos, a wave of refugees rolled into the city from Yugoslavia, Rumania, Armenia, Greece and Macedonia.

Those who could find translators told nightmare tales of fleeing their homelands after their families were killed and property stolen.

To these new Americans of the 1910s, Mansfield was a miraculous haven of peace and stability and prosperity.  No sacrifice was too large for them to make in order to stay here.  They lived in the Flats in improvised housing where a one-family home could be turned into an apartment building by adding a few creative room dividers.  Factory workers would take turns sleeping in a single bed: scheduling it in shifts just like their jobs.

Louis Bromfield, the American novelist from Mansfield, wrote that his father owned rental properties in the Flats and would regularly send his son to collect the rent.  Louis said as he knocked on the front door he could see all the people dashing out the back door so it wouldn’t be obvious that forty people were living in the small two-story house.

It was during these decades, from 1890 to 1925, when the Syndicate really took root.

This photograph taken during the Flood of 1913 shows the “huddled masses” of immigrant population idled in the flats when the factories flooded.

The Syndicate

When the neighborhood was named in the 1880s, the word “syndicate,” innocently enough, meant simply ‘a group of individuals organized to a purpose;’ and since the land was purchased and subdivided as a business proposition by ‘a group’ of local businessmen who referred to themselves on paper as ‘The Syndicate,’ the neighborhood was appended to the city map as “The Syndicate Addition.”

Later on, in the 20thcentury, the word ‘syndicate’ took on whole new levels of connotation when gangsters and mafia organizations were referred to in the newspapers as ‘syndicates.’  And since that particular neighborhood of the city had—admittedly—an inordinately high percentage of foreign-speaking neighbors, the gangsterland word seemed to indicate in local lore that this northeast quadrant of the city was the center of nefarious underground activity.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth.  As newly-minted Americans, immigrants living in the Syndicate actually held to the letter of the law and spirit of order more scrupulously than established families.

They definitely brought their old-world rural lives with them to Mansfield.  Court cases in the Mansfield News show neighborhood squabbles about goats and geese, ducks and cows.  They all grew gardens and fruit trees in their yards.  One woman complained to the police that someone had stolen her tobacco crop hanging on the back porch.  It didn’t seem fair to her, she said, because everybody else on the block had their own tobacco patch.

Courts had to suspend activity periodically through the day while someone ran out to find a translator who spoke whatever language the plaintiffs and defendants were speaking.

The easiest place to find a translator: the neighborhood saloon. Throughout many blocks of the Flats were bars where only one language was spoken: the Italians had their hangout; the Poles, and Hungarians, and Slavs each had their own taverns.

A German saloon and boarding house on Grace Street circa 1913.

Flocking Together

In the first few years of the 20thcentury, the US saw record-breaking immigration, and as the national discussion took place in Congress and newspapers, many of the buzzwords of the day found their way to the Mansfield conversation.  Two principal designations of arriving foreigners were “desirable,” as in ‘well behaved workers;” and “undesirable aliens,” who were automatically labeled before they came to town from Bohemia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Sicily.

The Syndicate was Mansfield’s repository for all “aliens,” and since nobody could be sure what language they were speaking, they were often assumed by downtown merchants as “undesirable.”

That was why so many foreign-speaking “Mom & Pop” grocery stores thrived for so long in the Flats and in immigrant neighborhoods—so New Americans wouldn’t have to face the scorn of Old Americans.

They lived in the Syndicate so they could walk to work at the factories and not have to ride streetcars, or mix with the American-speaking Mansfielders any more than necessary.  

It was the hands of these immigrants, however, who tended the forges, turned out the tires, shaped the brass, and bent the wires into place that made Mansfield an important industrial center of America.

The area highlighted to the right on this 1896 map of Mansfield is the formally designated neighborhood known as the Syndicate Addition, though informally the immigrant neighborhood referred to as “The Syndicate” included adjoining streets as well. In white is the downtown axis of the city: Fourth Street and Main Street.
Highlighted also are landmark factory districts that existed in 1920, as well as their later expanded areas: all within easy walking distance of The Syndicate.

The Friendly House Settlement

From the 1890s through the 1920s, a large percentage of factory workers in Mansfield could barely speak English.  Accordingly, those same decades in the Flats saw the rise of the Friendly House—a mission settlement devoted to the welfare of foreign-born children and immigrants seeking naturalization papers to become US citizens.

This original home of the Friendly House stood on North Main Street within a hundred yards of the Erie tracks. Founded in 1912, the organization grew out of the People’s Mission begun in the Flats in 1901 as a multi-denominational Temperance institution to assist Mansfield’s immigrant population. The Friendly House had cooking and sewing classes for girls, and sports and shop classes for boys, as well as the city’s north end Campfire Girls and Boy Scouts.

Documentation from the Mansfield News in 1927 lists some of the city’s very cosmopolitan immigrant population originating from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Yugoslavia, France, Norway, Croatia, Switzerland, Ireland and Mexico.

In this naturalization document from 1866, Charles Schroer was required to renounce allegiance to the King of Bavaria to become a United States citizen.

A Citizenship class at the Friendly House in 1927 made Americans out of folks from Hungary, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Holland, Ireland, Austria, Serbia and Norway.

Related documents from 1906: Certificate of Citizenship and Money Order back home.

The Outsiders

As outsiders of unknown qualities, it was the immigrant population of Mansfield who bore the brunt of resentment, persecution and intimidation from the Richland County Ku Klux Klan during the dangerous era from 1915 to 1924.  

As minority representatives of Catholic, Jewish, and other non-“100% American” ethnicities, they were accused of being anarchists, socialists, Papists, and spies of the Kaiser.

The local KKK performed many of their signature cross-burnings in Richland County, but the one memorable occasion that was most flagrantly ambitious took place on top of Ashland Hill. The event was quite intentionally positioned directly over the Syndicate.

If anything, this unwarranted attack made the new citizens even more vigilant about committing their lives to the principles of honest American values.

But make no mistake, the new Mansfielders who took root in the Syndicate were just like every other new wave of immigrants to the city: once they felt at home, they resented the next wave coming in—the new invaders coming to take their jobs.

In 1920, there were 128 property owners in the Syndicate who petitioned City Council to have an ordinance enacted to keep ‘colored people’ from buying houses in their neighborhood. 

The city’s Italian Band posed in South Park before a concert in 1910.

Some brothers named Sauvage moved from France to Mansfield, Ohio, USA, where they operated a cleaning business on North Main Street for decades as the Sowash Brothers.

In 1942, when a WWII bond drive brought Hollywood stars to the city, one of the celebrities–Ilona Massey, an opera star turned movie star–was paid special tribute by the Mansfield Hungarian Social and Political Society. (In the background looking at the camera: Fred Astaire.)

A Nation of Immigrants

Our city and our industries were born of the blood of many nations.  It is this complex mix of diverse elements that provides catalyst for our robust strength.  Under critical stress it is this wide net of culture and experience that provides adaptability and perspective.

Because they had to work harder to survive, try harder to keep hope in the face of scorn; to dig deeper into faith in the American Dream: they pushed our community to a higher level of achievement; and with their integrity they spawned a stronger next generation of native-born believers.

In the 1910s, kids at Newman School who lived in households that spoke Bohemian or Hungarian, didn’t bring apples to their teachers from their parents: they brought chickens. The school had a number of class pets that year.

Here’s the other Newman School story, because that’s where all The Syndicate kids went.
It was 1917 and all the schoolkids were picking up the angry and frightened vibes from home about the approaching war, and it translated to the playground as punches thrown at kids whose parents spoke with a foreign accent. The Principal, Prof. Kemp, simply arranged a flag raising for the entire neighborhood. He knew if everybody stood side by side behind their kids and sang ‘America,’ it wouldn’t matter what language they spoke. They all knew the song.

I guess I do have one more Newman School story: this photo taken in 1910-11 shows boys of the 7th & 8th grade class who lived nearby in the Syndicate, whose parents mostly spoke German or Hungarian; names like Lommatzsch, Andregg, Falckner and Styert.  
The boy sitting in the center, number 4, had a father born in the USA and a mother born in Germany. He died in 1952 and in 1963 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His teacher wrote on this photo his first name as Wilbur, but he is known in the history books as Pete Henry.


  1. Also, as the immigrants got here they couldn’t speak English, but they all learned the language, and became citizens of there new country!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s