By: Angie Aslanidis
Lancaster, PA- On Friday, June 5, 2015, the Lancaster community gathered for the first time ever for a unique cultural event at the Lancaster Library’s First Friday. A special presentation of “Into the Heart of the Greek-American Community in Lancaster” was organized by Dr. Nikitas J. Zervanos, MD, FAAFP. Dr. Zervanos is a second-generation Greek-American from Lancaster, who is the Director Emeritus of Family and Community Medicine at Lancaster General Hospital. Dr. Zervanos presented the audience with a slide show on the history of the immigration of the Greek community and culture preservation in Lancaster, PA.
Dr. Zervanos, MD
“Although Greek immigration to America did not begin in earnest until after the Greeks became a sovereign nation in 1829, there were Greek sailors who frequented the port cities of America throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and were known to have established themselves in New York, Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Galveston and New Orleans, and even along the Mississippi. They came in such large numbers that nearly 25% of Greece’s male population immigrated to America. By 1920 a half million Greek immigrants populated this country, not just from the sovereign country of Greece, but from much of the known Ottoman world. That was certainly the case with most of the Greeks who came to Lancaster before the Great War. It was in 1896 that the first Greeks came to Lancaster County. William Jackson and Peter Davis were from the Peloponnesus. Like so many immigrants coming through Ellis Island, they chose to Anglicize their names. They settled in Pittsburgh, learned the confectionery business, saw an opportunity in Lancaster and established the New York Confectionery at 116 North Queen Street,” said Dr. Zervanos.
According to Dr. Zervanos’s presentation, several Greeks operated businesses along North and South Queen Streets and East and West King Streets. The Greeks started various business ventures such as restaurants, candy factories and the famous Stock Yard Inn that was founded in 1952. The Greeks of Lancaster got together and worked together to raise funds not only to purchase their own church, but to send money back to Greece to help more immigrants come over to the land of opportunities. It was not an easy road, they endured several hardships, however, with hard work, dedication to their homeland and to their families, the Greeks of Lancaster were able to build quite the Greek community in Lancaster. To this day, the Lancaster Greek community is very well known and thriving.
Attendees also had the pleasure of watching Greek folk dance performances by the youth dance groups of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, ΚΕΦΙ Dancers (J.O.Y. aged kids lead by Angie Hessen and Tina Georges) and the ΖΗΤΟ dancers (G.O.Y.A. aged kids led by Despina Proithis). Special parallel programs were designed for the children, such as having them reenact the journey from Greece to America. These programs were run by Alexandra Diamantoni and Rachel Veronis.
Additionally, there was an enthralling exhibit displaying Greek artifacts, photos from the immigration, Orthodox iconography and church memorabilia of the community. The exhibit will remain open until July 24th.
The presentation and exhibit of the first Greek immigrants that settled in this beautiful part of Pennsylvania known as Lancaster, was truly a success. It was the first First Friday that was packed! It was a lovely representation of the hardships of the Greek people that they endured back then that forced them to leave their homes to come to a land known for its opportunities. Greeks fought hard, and never gave up on their hopes and dreams of establishing their new homes in Lancaster. They worked together to help others realize this dream as well. Greeks are known for how important they consider their faith, families, education and of course philanthropy.
Congratulations and we wish you continued success with this new effort!