This is a transcription from the Warwick Valley Dispatch, dated April 4. 1979. Used with permission.
The Filipowskis first Polish settlers in Pine Island
by ANN GURDA
The Filipowski family, whose roots were implanted in Pine Island at the turn of the century, holds the distinciton of being the first Polish family to settle in the area. Leo and Anna Filipowski settled in Pine Island in 1903 and bore twelve children, seven of whom are still living. All reside within a 20-mile radius of Pine Island, with the exception of one daughter, who resides in South Carolina.
Mr. Filipowski had first moved to Florida, near the Jessup swamp area, alongside the creek, from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Prior to coming to Florida, he had obtained employment in a sugar wharehouse, where "they won't hire a Pole - only Germans." He had been born in Germany to Polish parents and spoke both languages. To get the job, he added a few years to his age and changed his name to Reynard Arndt.
While living in Florida, Mr. Filipowski worked on the James Finn farm, which was devoted to onions. He later met Floyd Teather, an owner of a grocery store in Florida and the owner of a farm in Pine Island. He became a sharecropper with Mr. Theater and also helped to clear swampland for crops. As a scrarecropper, Mr. Filipowski lived in a home near the Lehigh and New England Railroad which was located near the Teather farm. Teather had also been the owner of a sawmill, which was located at the junction of the Erie and L. & N.Y. RR in the vicinity of the Joseph Hucko farm on Pulaski Highway. Several years later the Filipowskis moved to living quarters located on the sawmill property. He later purchased a house on Pulaski Highway in the vicinity of the Krasniewicz home, from Jack Cook, a man of German descent, who moved to the Little York area. He later built a home near the Kaminski residence and remainded there until his death. Only the foundation remains today.
Most of the settlers in the Pine Island area upon the Fillipowski arrival had been of German descent. However, he blended in with the community because he was bilingual.
Mr. Filipowski helped with the excavation of St. Stanislaus R.C. Church using a pick and shovel. He also planted the maple trees that surround the church and served as its janitor and custodian.
Prior to the construction of the church, which was dedicated in 1912, Mr. Filipowski and his wife, and children walked the six miles by railroad track or the seven miles by black dirt to attend Mass in St. Joseph's Church in Florida. St. Stanislaus Church was contrusted on property owned by the Knapp family, also former owners of the Joseph Huko farm.
Mr. Filipowski, a six-foot tall, robust man, was known for his good humor, his love for music and hard work, a philosophy he has instilled in his children. As a clarinet player, he had formed a three piece band, including a base fiddle and violonist , the only band in Pine Island. Consequentlly he had been contracted to play for many of the Polish and German weddings in the area.
His son, John, recalls playing with his father on the bass fiddle at the age of 14. His first professional engagement was the Victoria and Chester Smolinski wedding in 1910. "Wedding took place on weekdays in those days," Mr. Filipowski said. "Mr. Smolinski, who resided in the Mission Lands area, owned a team of bay horses and a nice fringe carriage." So they drove to Florida," Mr. Filipowski continued, "and we sent them away playing march music and in about four hours they returned. We greeted them music and played for dancing which was held in the barn near the Smolinski home." he concluded. It was not so uncommon for weddings in those days, according to some oldtimers, to last as long as three days. One Polish man in the area renting a tuxedo for his wedding in 1933 for $3.00 and wearing it for three days. Mr. Filipowski's son, Tony Phillips, provided the music for that reception which was held in his father-in-law's barn. Because of a chill in the autumn air, the musicuans wore gloves to keep warm.
The Smolinski family was the first to settle in the Mission Lands area, according to Mr. Filipowski, and they were followed by the families of John Brozdowski, Frank Bogdanski, Paskiewicz, Staskewwicz, Roman Czubak, Theodore Bastek, Peter Grusz, and Adam Foremny families. Mr. Filipowski, who had been a 30-year salesman for the Metropoitan Life Insurance Company and a resident of Goshen for most of his life, married one of the Foremny girls of the Mission Lands. Like the elder Filipowski, he too raised a large family and led a productive and fruitful life. He devoted much of his time to community affairs and played important behind-the-scenes roles in projects as the paving of Pulaski Highway and the erection of the Polish Legion of American Veterans monument at St. Joseph's Cemetery. He also served as the first commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, Post # 16, which was first organized in Florida. Its home is now Pine Island.
John still remembers working in the black dirt fields from 7 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. at 10 cents an hour to help his family. He had also worked at Borden's creamery in Pine Island at the rate of $1.50 per day.
While Leonard Filipowski busied himself with providing for his family, his wife, Anna, also played an important role in the community. As a mother of a large family, she automatically became the midwife for the Polish community and supervised the birth of many of the older members of the community including the Hucko and Labanowski children, and "never lost a mother or a baby," in spite of the fact that she had no formal training.
Daughter Julia Kobylaski clearly remembers the days of her mother's duties as midwife. "I was a little girl and could not understand why my mother had to suddenly leave. A knock would be heard on the door in the middle of the night and off she went."
The Filipowski's, who enjoyed a long and productive life together, had also met with tragedies and setbacks. A flood hit the area when they lived in Florida that had Mrs. Filipowski scurrying about moving what she could to the upper floor of the home, including the children and their pigs and chickens. A hurricane destroyed their home on the sawmill property leaving them without furnishings and clothing. They had also lost a son while Mr. Filipowski worked on the excavation for St. Stanislaus Church, who had drwoned in the river.
Mr. Filipowski died at the age of 97 on Jan. 6, 1962. His wife preceded him in death. The seven remaining sons and daughters are Frances Kerstanski, Sophie Evansky, of South Carolina, Julia Kobylaski, Rose Lowkis, Anthony and Adam, all of Pine Island, and John, of Goshen. Mrs. Kerstanski's son, Joseph, followed in his grandfater's footsteps in his love of music and formed a band - Jolly Joe and His Sons - and is widely known in the area.
Anthony, another musically inclined member of the family, formed an orchestra known as Tony Phillips and His Orchestra and like his father, also played at many Polish weddings and affairs for several decades. His grandson, Leonard, 13, of Middletown, N.Y., has become an accomplished pianist and appears with his grandfather on many of their public engagements. Leonard is also the organist for his parish church.
Daughter Julia and her husband, Michael Kobylaski, had for many years operated a trucking firm which was located on Pulaski Highway near her father's home. She was one of the first women in the history of the Town of Warwick to ever serve on a jury for justice court.
Leonard Filipowski had been described by an Orange County historian as a man who "had a Santa Claus beard and plenty of white hair, a twinkling eye and a merry manner, as any Santa Claus person should; and a love of live and black dirt farming." He exemplifies the legacy of black dirt farming as well as the heritage of the Pole who contributed mind and muscle toward the establishment of the black dirt community as it stands today.
Many of the transcriptions found here are now in published form. They have been published by the Orange County Genealogical Society (in Goshen, New York). Volume 3 includes my Volume 3 and Volume 5. Volume 4 includes my four parts of New Milford history. There is a planned Volume 5, which will include my Volumes 6, 7, and 8, Part 1, which is about 250 transcriptions. They can be purchase through the Genealogical Society. Just Google them and print out the order form. Or they can be purchased from the Warwick Historical Society. They are also on sale at the gift shop at Baird's Tavern. I would like to thank the Genealogical Society and Dan Burrows for their efforts. Started a new blog for images of Warwick. Go to: www.imagesofwarwicknewyork.blogspot.com.