EDITOR'S NOTE: Fairfield, established in 1639, is one of Connecticut's oldest communities. From its settlement 375 years ago by English colonists on "four squares" of land that Native Americans called Uncoway to the vibrant town of 60,000 residents that it is today, Fairfield's history is a chronicle of compelling events and colorful characters.
The Fairfield Citizen will highlight vignettes from that rich history throughout this 375th anniversary year on a regular basis.
Hungarians were the largest new immigrant group to take up residence in Fairfield between 1900 and the '30s.
That influential legacy -- reflected in churches, businesses and many street names -- is still evident primarily in neighborhoods on the eastern side of town, as well as at the Fairfield Museum and History Center where the Robert D. Kranyik Hungarian Collection was recently established for those interested in the local Hungarian heritage.
Hungarians settled in several areas of town in the early 20th century when immigrant leaders and entrepreneurs purchased large lots, subdivided them into smaller, less-expensive lots, and offered to sell them to their countrymen.
Timko Street, now incorporated into the Fairfield Metro train station complex, bears the name of Frank Timko, an early Hungarian immigrant who came to Fairfield and in 1906 purchased local property. He sold about 20 plots to other Hungarian families.
Several Hungarians who were leaders of the Bridgeport community: bankers, political leaders and businessmen also bought a large tract of land together in Fairfield and named it Karolyi Park after Count Michael Karolyi, a Hungarian political hero. Between 1915 and 1920 they divided the property into small lots and sold them. Some streets in Fairfield still bear the imprint of the Hungarian settlement and the Hungarian heroes after whom the streets were named including Rakoczy, Andrassy, Hunyadi, and Apponyi streets, named after Hungarian statesmen and nobles. In 2006, a small park, also called Karoyli Park, was dedicated on the corner of Jennings Road and Hunyadi Avenue, to commemorate the contributions of Hungarians to the settlement of Fairfield.
Most of the new settlers who bought the Fairfield plots used them at first for gardens or as a small get-away from their Bridgeport apartments, needing to save money until they could build substantial houses there. Other parts of Fairfield where Hungarians bought and subdivided land for fellow immigrants include northern Stratfield, and the neighborhood bordered by what are now Reef and Oldfield roads near the shore of Long Island Sound.
One of the largest areas of Hungarian settlers, near the southeastern corner of Fairfield, was known as Gypsy Springs and Villa Park. Today, the town's 2.5-acre Gypsy Springs open space area lies between Grace and Beaver streets.
The Hungarians started building houses in earnest in Fairfield and setting up their own churches after World War I. A Hungarian Protestant church was opened on Kings Highway in 1925, and a Roman Catholic Hungarian Church opened in 1932. Today, respectively, Calvin United Church of Christ and St. Emery's Roman Catholic Church continue to highlight their Hungarian heritage with church dinners and sales of Hungarian specialties such as goulash or sweet treats.
The neighborhood also still has a Hungarian food store, the European/Hungarian Meat Market and Delicatessen, 849 Kings Highway East (formerly Drotos Bros.).
The Fairfield Museum and History Center, celebrating and chronicling the impact the settlement of Hungarians has had on Fairfield, dedicated a new Hungarian collection last October. It was named after the late Robert D. Kranyik, a Fairfield resident who was the driving force behind the creation of the Hungarian archive. The collection includes documents, photographs, artwork, books and other materials that help to tell the story of Hungarian settlement of the area.
For more information about accessing the museum's Hungarian Collection or adding to the collection, call 203-259-1598.