Tales of Tuscaloosa: Immigrants (February 18, 1916) Featured

(Left) Professor Michael Toumey, First Alabama State Geologist. Daguerrotype by Eugene Allan Smith, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. (Right) Early Tuscaloosans born in Ireland were native to at least 14 counties (shown in green). Base map courtesy of Getdrawings.com. (Left) Professor Michael Toumey, First Alabama State Geologist. Daguerrotype by Eugene Allan Smith, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. (Right) Early Tuscaloosans born in Ireland were native to at least 14 counties (shown in green). Base map courtesy of Getdrawings.com.

One of the clichés of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American life was a city with an Irish police chief, Jewish merchants, Italian and Greek restaurants, and a Chinese laundry. In that sense, Tuscaloosa was the stereotypical city of the times. 

Unlike many large urban areas, Tuscaloosa was never a major immigrant destination. There were no ethnic neighborhoods such as in New York, Boston, or Chicago. However, there was a steady stream of foreign-born newcomers who made significant contributions to the city. 

In the early nineteenth century, a number of new citizens came from Ireland. Many farmed, established businesses, or worked professionally. Among the best known was Prof. Michael Toumey from Cork, the first Alabama State Geologist. James McCrory of County Antrim was one of the area’s first settlers. Thomas Ralph from County Mayo was a jeweler. William Miller was elected county Probate Judge, while Anthony McGill served as Tuscaloosa’s Police Chief. Patrick Brady of County Cavan and Michael Rabitte of County Galway were merchants. Based upon a review of early death notices, Tuscaloosans from the Emerald Isle were native to at least 14 Irish counties.

Other parts of the United Kingdom furnished a steady stream of newcomers. Durham native Charles Lewin was an innkeeper. Robert and Thomas Maxwell from Cumberland (now Cumbria) were successful merchants. John F. Warren of Dover edited the early newspapers, The Flag of the Union and The Tuscaloosa Times. Dr. John and Mrs. Barbara Little came from Scotland. 

Eastern Europeans contributed to early growth and cultural development. Merchants Charles Black, Bernhard Friedman, Adolph Holzstein, and Herman Gluck came from Hungary. Merchants Joe Altersohn and Louis Rosenfeld were from Romania. Russian born Abe Brown established a longtime landmark department store at the corner of University Boulevard and Greensboro Avenue. Charles Schamoltulski, a Pole, was a butcher.

Other immigrants were from Western Europe. From Germany came Carl Gantzhorn, editor of The Tuscaloosa Times, botanist Dr. Charles Mohr, land developer F. W. Monnish, Charles H. M. Yunker, merchant Herman Rosenau, and stonecutter William Dillman, who helped construct the first locks on the Black Warrior River. Martenia Bologna was a butcher and restaurateur from Italy. Theo Cherones from Greece operated the Busy Bee Cafe. In later years, his nephew, Tom Cherones, directed many episodes of the popular television comedy Seinfeld. Swede A. J. Lindgren was a prosperous blacksmith, while civil engineer E. Fasy was Swiss. Frenchman Dr. Andre DeLoffre was a University of Alabama Professor who tried in vain to prevent the burning of the campus in 1865. 

Not all immigrants came from Europe. Sun Lee of China operated a laundry on present day Sixth Street. Missionaries accompanied tribal Prince Kassongo from central Africa. Art teacher Miss Jennie Brown was Canadian. J. M. de St Rose came from Martinique.

Foreign-born Tuscaloosans were of divergent backgrounds, but many quickly assimilated and became patriotic citizens. James McCrory was a Revolutionary War veteran. Charles Lewin was a Colonel in the Creek Indian War. Charles Yunker, Michael Rabitte, and Herman Rosenau served during the Civil War. Theo Cherones even returned to Greece and enlisted in the Greek Army during a tense period in the Balkans. When interviewed by West Alabama Breeze Editor John Bealle on February 18, 1916, he emphatically stated that he had just become an American citizen and would not again return to Greece.

After 200 years of growth, thousands of present day Tuscaloosans were born in other countries. However, during her first century, Tuscaloosa was a small American microcosm.

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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