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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.