|Coming to America|
By the latter decades of the 19th century, the already marginal economic situation of the Carpatho-Rusin people had become even more precarious. The old peasant way of life, which in the best of times provided an ability to eke out only a meager living, irreparably broke down under the strain of a changing economy. The old peasant economy, based upon feudal notions of barter and service, was replaced by a modern cash economy. Having no money, Carpatho-Rusin peasants found themselves strapped to purchase basic necessities and to pay ever increasing taxes.
The lack of available land also increased the economic plight of the Carpatho-Rusin populace. Although serfdom had been officially abolished in 1848, the ownership of the land remained concentrated in the hands of the ruling Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. The Carpatho-Rusin people, while no longer serfs, were forced to continue to work under the same aristocratic landlords as poorly paid or indebted agricultural laborers.
With the advent of new labor saving machines produced by the factories of the Industrial Revolution, modern farming techniques were introduced and the need for the agrarian labor supplied by the Carpatho-Rusin peasantry decreased drastically. Having no manufacturing or heavy industries located in their own region to fall back upon, the now surplus agricultural work force could not be absorbed into the local economy.
The economic pressures upon the Carpatho-Rusin people were further exasperated by their practices with their own limited land holdings. Land was passed down not by a system of primogeniture where the eldest son inherited all of his father's estate, but rather was subdivided among all of the male children. As the Carpatho-Rusin population grew, the limited land holdings, often minuscule to begin with, were so continually subdivided into such tiny plots that they could no longer support the basic needs of their owners.
Beset by a changing and depressed economy, overpopulation and a lack of available and productive land, the Carpatho-Rusins sank deeper and deeper into poverty with no immediate hope of improvement in their situation. Faced with these grim prospects, it was inevitable that the Carpatho-Rusins would look to improve their fortunes by emigrating abroad.
Word of the opportunities to be had in America began to spread throughout southern and eastern Europe by the 1880s. Not only were Carpatho-Rusin peasants urged to leave by letters from relatives and neighbors already in America earning dollars but also by steamship agents and recruiters for rapidly growing American industries who traveled from village to village in search of cheap labor. Not surprisingly, their message of readily available land and steady employment at wages substantially higher than what they were accustomed to making found a receptive audience among the impoverished Carpatho-Rusin people. Before long, the exodus of economically destitute Carpatho-Rusin peasants in search of economic improvement in America began.
For the most part, the journey westward to America for a Carpatho-Rusin peasant took a common course. After a heart wrenching farewell to weeping loved ones and a final blessing under the wayside cross at the head of the village, the prospective immigrant traveled either by horse drawn cart or on foot to the nearest major city. From there, the immigrant boarded a train for transport to a faraway coastal port where he or she would embark by ship for the journey to America.
The Carpatho-Rusin immigrants who lived in the counties of Szepes (Spiš), Sáros (Šaryš), Zemplén (Zemplyn), Ung (Už), Bereg, Ugocsa and Máramaros (Marmaroš) departed for America by two different routes. One route was from the North Sea ports of Bremen and Hamburg in Germany; the other route was from the ports of Trieste and Fiume on the Adriatic Sea.
Arranging for overseas travel for immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a large scale enterprise. Two companies shared control over this lucrative passenger trade. They were the Cunard Lines and the Hamburg-Amerika Line. Thus, it is likely that the Carpatho-Rusin immigrants traveled in steerage class to America on such ships as Hamburg's "Berengaria" or Cunard's "Pannonia" or "Carpathia."
The earliest Carpatho-Rusin immigrants made their first settlements relatively close to their New York arrival point. After their processing on Ellis Island was completed, the Carpatho-Rusin emigres settled initially in northeastern Pennsylvania in and around the cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and the smaller towns of Hazleton, Freeland, Mahanoy City, Shenandoah and Olyphant and took jobs as miners in the anthracite coal fields of the region.
As time progressed, more and more Carpatho-Rusin immigrants would arrive in America. Steadily, they would move ever westward. Their destination was Pittsburgh and employment in its steel mills. One of the major new areas of settlement for the Carpatho-Rusin newcomers in the Pittsburgh area would be a small suburban mill town called Homestead.