Waves of Culture: The Ebb and Flow of the Hungarian Immigrant Population in Franklin, New Jersey


Nomads

The history of the Hungarian people suggests that they have always had nomadic tendencies. In fact, historical records suggest that the first Hungarians (or Magyar) had migrated across Asia to eventually settle in the Danube valley in 896 AD. The Hungarian people were distinct from their Slavic and Germanic neighbors in culture and language. While this is an extreme minimization of the epic history of the Hungarian people, it does serve as an analogy for their eventual settlement in Franklin, New Jersey. In this small town in Northern New Jersey, a group of Hungarians were able to form a small community which, for a time at least, kept alive the culture, language and traditions of their home across the world.

The Arrival of the Hungarians 1892-1894

The Arrival of the Hungarians 1892-1894

Like their ancestors of old, modern Hungarians began moving out to new lands to discover new opportunities. Travel to and settlement in Franklin was no different. The opening of the zinc mine by the New Jersey Zinc Company at Franklin Furnace in New Jersey (the largest zinc deposit in the world) offered a chance for immigrants from many different nations to find work and create a foot-hold on a new life. Many who settled in Franklin planned to stay and begin building new lives. Others, hoping to return to their homelands with greater wealth and prosperity, worked and then eventually left. This ebb and flow of immigrant population was normal in the early days of Franklin and would persist until the decline of the zinc industry in the 1960s. The first major disruption however came much earlier.

War

The First World War disrupted the plans for many Hungarians. What was once one of the largest nations in Europe became divided in 1920 to become one-fourth of its original size under the Treaty of Trianon. Many Hungarians suddenly found themselves as minority groups in surrounding countries as the borders became redrawn. For the worker in Franklin, this posed a new problem and choice – stay established in America and try to bring family here, or return home to friends and loved ones in a changed (or even new) nation.

The consequences from the Treaty of Trianon

The consequences from the Treaty of Trianon

Following the First World War, after the dismembering of the Hungarian nation … the Hungarian in America did not want to return to the land of his birth. The pioneer Hungarian was able to cope with the situation in the stone quarry, in the coal and iron mines, [and] by the blast furnace… The Hungarian through his sweat and blood, and the sacrifice of his life helped to fashion his country of America into a powerful and rich nation.” Makár p.19

While heavy on the poetic prose, this statement by writer János Makár echoes the determination felt by many immigrants in their steadfast resolve to stay in America and make the best of their newly adopted home.

For Hungarians still in Europe, the choice was parallel but opposite. They could continue on and live within the newly drawn lines of nationalities, living as a minority group reflected in culture and language, or venture forth to new lands and opportunities as others have before. Many chose to leave for other lands and sought out enclaves where Hungarians had already been established. Along with New Brunswick and Garfield, Franklin, New Jersey saw a steady ebb and flow in its Hungarian population.

This pattern would continue in the following decades. The normal ebb and flow of population returned until disruption by World War II. The aftermath of the war saw another influx of refugees fleeing the remnants war and strife. Some fled the destruction, some the Nazis and others later the Soviets and the imposition of communism. The fallout from the failed Hungarian Revolution in 1956 against the Soviet backed communist government saw one of the last major influxes of Hungarian immigrants to the United States.

Industry

 South Street - Franklin

Yet for Franklin, and its Hungarian community, it was the faltering mining industry that lead to the decline of its Hungarian population. By the mid 60s, the New Jersey Zinc Company had been sold off and the need for miners dwindled. The jobs that helped establish the small mining encampment that began in 1757 and saw it grow to a full fledged town in the early 20th century with its own hospital and school, were disappearing, leaving a town with little to no industry outside of mining.

The life of the Hungarian Reformed Church of Franklin itself also reflected the rise and fall of the Hungarians in the community. The church, which had begun with a small following in 1909, had grown by to be a major fixture of the community by the 1930s. The church had been able to prosper and expand its services to its membership, due in large part to sponsorship by the New Jersey Zinc Company. Yet as the New Jersey Zinc Company left, so did the support. The church, which eventually became just a footnote in the history of the town, was closed and the building slowly began to decay.

Restoration

For many years the only physical evidence of the legacy of Hungarians in Franklin lay in a small display case in the Franklin Heritage Museum on Main Street. This one case, roughly three feet wide by eight feet tall houses a mélange of items including photographs, costumes, and letters donated by the ancestors of the Hungarians who had made Franklin, New Jersey their home. The case, however small, is the only one in the museum dedicated to any specific cultural group despite the fact that people from many other nationalities also found their way to Franklin in the early 20th century. This speaks to the impact, ever so brief in scope, which one culture had on the town.

Today there is a major restoration effort underway to revitalize the building which once served as the community hub of Hungarians in Franklin. In 2005, the building which was left decaying in a back lot was donated to the Franklin Historical Society. An ongoing fund raising effort has enabled the building to be moved to a new location and placed on a fresh foundation. Structural repairs are still ongoing with additional funds needed.

Hungarian Reformed Church with Renovations

The Franklin Heritage Historical Society is hopeful that, as the Church becomes restored, it can again become a space for community gatherings as well as a venue to display the heritage of the Hungarian community. Until then, the legacy of Hungarians in Franklin resides in the blood of their descendants, a few fading photographs and the occasional half remembered greeting, “Jó napotkívánok!”

Works Cited:

Molnar, August J. “Part III – Ethnography of the Franklin Hungarian People.” The Story of An Immigrant Group in Franklin New Jersey. By János Makár. New Brunswick: János Makár, 1969. 106-08. Print.

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About Steve Sandor

Steve has been working as a vice principal at the BRICK Peshine Academy in Newark since 2015. His previous experience includes working as a teacher in Franklin, NJ for 12 years where he taught students in grades K to 8. Steve also developed and implemented a school-wide Enrichment program for the district and served as the school play director from 2003 Steve holds an Ed.M in Supervision and Administration, and a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Steve's love of travel and exploration have lead him to travel across four continents. and included a year of teaching English in Taiwan in 1999.
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7 Responses to Waves of Culture: The Ebb and Flow of the Hungarian Immigrant Population in Franklin, New Jersey

  1. Roberto Medina says:

    Thank you for another informative writing on the History of the Hungarian people in Franklin. I never knew until you started posting these blogs that the Hungarian people were so integral to the zinc mining industry in Franklin. The Hungarian Reformed Church looks almost taken straight off of the set of Little House on the Prairie. If memory serves me correctly, in a previous blog entry, you noted that the church filled a similar function to the Hungarian people of Franklin, in much the same manner that the Church in Walnut Groove served its citizens. One can imagine the people meeting in fellowship of their God, as well as sharing their mutual Hungarian heritage, offering each other support in a new world.

    • Eleanor Carlin says:

      I grew up in that church, baptised & confirmed, along with many of my friends. I still remember the many Hungarian dinners that were held there, along with the music!!! It was all so great, the food, the dancing!! How I would love to go back to those days, to smell the cigars smoked by the old Hungarian men along with their Brandy!! Our Catechism and prayers were all taught to us in Hungarian, and the Hymns…….

  2. Elaine Hocking says:

    oh, yes…those Hungarian dinners in the hall…such wonderful cooks. i remember the dances and the old cymbelum (spelling) that was there…i never heard it played tho.

  3. Linda Brown Webb says:

    I attended Hungarian school there during the summer with my two cousins to learn to speak and read Hungarian language. So glad it is being restored rather than torn down and forgotten! Linda Webb

  4. Judy Williams says:

    I am one of the people involved in the restoration of this beautiful building. This building was originally built by Thomas Edison and was moved from Edison Mountain to Franklin for serve as a church for the Hungarian Community. In September 2007, we were able to move the building from Evans Street to Main Street in Franklin. Fundraising continues, and work continues. I personally patched and sanded every board on the building to date. Joe Bene and I applied two coats of primer and two coats of top coat to the building in 2010. We painted from July 15- November 5. I planted the trees and shrubs, and my husband, Jim, daughter Jenna, and I maintain the grounds by mowing, trimming, and weeding. Many people think the town pays for this, but that is not so. We are at a crossroads now because it is getting more difficult to raise money because of insurance costs, material, and labor costs. Still, the Franklin Historical Society is trying to bring this building into use for the community and public. The work continues …

    Judy Carlin Williams

  5. Wendy Waczek says:

    I was browsing around today and came upon this. My mother grew up in Franklin on Butler Street. She is now 87. I also found a photograph of the Hungarian Men’s Association from 1932 taken at the end of the street. My grandfather was in it!!

  6. Reblogged this on hastingsonhudsongirl and commented:
    I am finding such a wealth of information about the Hungarians of Franklin New Jersey and it has made me want to research more about my family.

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