WYSO

What Happened To Hung-Town? WYSO Curious Goes In Search Of Hungarian Dayton

Apr 7, 2016

In today’s WYSO Curious, we field a question from WYSO listener Delaine Adkins, who lived in Budapest Hungary for a couple years and was curious about an historic area in Dayton called Hung-Town.

She wondered whether there were still any residual influences from the original occupants.

I started my search for Hung-Town in the middle of a street in what remains of the Kossuth Colony, a former Hungarian settlement in Old North Dayton off Leo and Troy Street. The Colony was constructed in 1906 for Hungarian workers brought to build steel railroad cars for the Barney and Smith Car Works. A fair number of the original houses still stand, showing the signs of age and neglect, and empty lots dot the street, but here and there a few houses have been recently renovated.

I catch one of the residents as she pumps up a flat tire on her car and call out to her—Joyce Winning says she’s been in the area 54 years. I ask her how many of the original colony duplexes are left.

“This is one. That one down there is one,” Joyce answers, pointing down the street. Others have since been torn down.  “How I know that they’re the Kossuth Colony is because the bathrooms are in the back. No windows, and they’re off the kitchen.”

Back in the early 1900s, there were thousands of Hungarians living in Dayton. The Kossuth Colony was built and owned by Jacob Moskowitz, a Hungarian Immigrant who served as a foreign-labor contractor.  During the turn of the century, Dayton’s economy was booming and there was a huge shortage of unskilled labor. So, foreign-labor contractors like Moskowitz, hired immigrants away from factories on the east coast to supply labor for heavy industries in the midwest.

During the Great Flood in 1913, residents of the Kossuth Colony began removing boards from the fence to build rafts, and that marked the beginning of the end of the Colony as a company town. The Barney and Smith Car Works was put up for auction in 1921, and Moskowitz began selling off the homes in the Colony.

At the height of the industrial movement, there were thousands of Hungarian Immigrants living in Dayton. Joyce says now, there’s not much sign of them—it’s mostly Turkish and Russian immigrants in Old North Dayton.

But there are still some Hungarians around. The Dayton Hungarians have a Facebook and web page. They list events like Cabbage Roll Dinners, and performances by the Hungarian Festival Dancers. A few places in Dayton also serve Hungarian food, like Amber Rose.

There were also two Hungarian Churches in Old North Dayton. St. Stephen’s now sits empty at the edge of the former colony and further up the road is the Old Troy Pike Community Church.

St. Stephens, the Hungarian Catholic church, stands empty in north Dayton.
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

 

At the Old Troy Pike church, I get a tour from Andy Dobo, a 76 year old member of the congregation who came over from Hungary 60 years ago to escape the revolution. We go around the church to a back top parking lot, where a low brick building sits off to itself.

We’re entering a low brick building behind the church’s parking lot, called the Kossuth Hall.

“So this used to be a center of Hungarian activities and culture.  We often, well not often like a couple time a year, have various events here.” Andy tells me in a quiet voice, “Now the church is down to four of us. Five of us. Used to be a significant church but…”

“Wait, back up. There are only four members left in your church?” I ask.

“Correct.” Andy says.

Andy leads me into a big open room with high ceilings and a commercial kitchen. There are really large oil paintings hanging on the walls that depict Hungarian life. A worship area is set up for Sunday services in the corner, and tables are still out from the cabbage roll dinner last weekend.

Cabbage roll dinners are among the social events hosted by Dayton's small Hungarian community.
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

“Eventually we will have to sell this property because it is so difficult to maintain this hall,” Dobo says. They rent out the church in front to a Baptist Congregation. “And they do a very nice job of keeping it up.”

I ask Andy where you can still get authentic Hungarian food in Dayton. Turns out he has a daughter who makes traditional foods, Dobo’s Delights. “Of course she is not making a living out of Hungarian pastries. There has to be donuts and cake.”

“So I’m getting the sense from you that there’s not a lot of Hungarian stuff left in Dayton,” I ask.

“Unfortunately, that is correct,” he says.

So, to answer Delaine Adkins’ question, there’s not a lot left. But if you have a hankering for Hungarian culture in Dayton—there’s the upcoming Spring Dinner Dance at the Czech-Slovak club April 30th and the festival dancers will be at World A’Fair, Dayton’s International Festival in May. More information about the Dayton Hungarian community can be found at daytonhungarians.org.

WYSO Curious is our occasional series about your questions and curiosities—let us know what you are curious about in the Miami Valley, and your question could get answered by a WYSO reporter. WYSO Curious is a partnership with Hearken, founded by Jennifer Brandel based on her work at Curious City/WBEZ Chicago.