Pontiac hosted various ethnic groups

When the textile strike of 1922 finally ended in September, Pontiac attempted to resume the pattern of life it had followed earlier in the century. Much in the village had changed since the time of the dominance of the Knights, including the ethnic makeup of the village workers.

The Ethnic Groups

By the time of the strike, large numbers of Italians were working in the mills along with the Swedish, French Canadian and Irish immigrants. As each group tended to gravitate toward those alike in language and customs, the village was, in effect, divided along ethnic lines physically. Most of the Swedes lived in the vicinity of King, North, and Central Streets and owned their own homes. The area was known to many at the time as "mortgage hill."

The section of Pontiac below the tracks, on what was then Railroad Street and is now West Natick Road, was inhabited by Italian and French Canadian workers, most of whom lived in company houses and paid rent to the B. B. & R. Knight Company.

In the area furthest from the mill complex were company houses in a section known as "Yankeetown."

Religious preferences

The divisions were obvious, not only in the housing and the positions held in the mill, but in the choice of churches as well. Most British workers attended All Saints Episcopal Church on Greenwich Avenue while the Irish and French went to St. Joseph's in Natick.

The Knights had favored the Episcopal Church and helped to establish the parish in Pontiac. In nearby Natick, the Sprague family who preceded the Knights as paternalistic mill owners, while not Catholic, donated land for St. Joseph's church in 1867. The differences in the ethnic groups in Pontiac and Natick were evident in the makeup of the congregation and services at St. Joseph’s. There were actually two distinct congregations, one English speaking and the other French and services were held in both languages.

The Italians, searching for an identity of their own, at first attended St. Joseph's and by 1912 prevailed upon the bishop to grant them an Italian-speaking priest. As a result, the Reverend Achille Tirocchi came to the parish in 1912. Jealousy, disagreements and ethnic pride brought a series of problems. The Italian immigrants, not fully satisfied with the arrangement at St. Joseph’s, built the Sacred Heart Church in Natick in 1929. Father Tirocchi, who in 1922 was instrumental in convincing the workers to refrain from violence in the strike, was the new parish's first pastor.

St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church

The Swedish immigrants continued to attend the St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church on Greenwich Avenue. Shortly after the Strike of 1922 ended, Frank G. Granquist was asked to become the church's pastor. Reverend Granquist preached his first sermon at the church on April 22, 1923 and remained its pastor for more than a quarter of a century. The 1949 history of the church in referring to the Rev. Granquist's long tenure notes, "Children have been baptized, confirmed, married, and their children have been baptized by the same pastor in these years. There has been an opportunity to learn to know both parents and children. This is advantageous for a pastor...."

During the 1920s and 1930s, improvements were made to St. Paul’s church property, including the parsonage and the cemeteries. It was during this time, as well, that the Lutheran church became famous for its church suppers. The "smorgasbord" put on by the Tabitha society of St. Paul's was an event eagerly looked for and helped to raise funds for the church. An article describing one of these feasts noted that, "For three days before the supper the ladies worked, cleaning and boning herring for Inlagd Sill (pickled herring)...preparing veal for Kalvsylta (a jellied veal dish), hamburger and pork for Kottbullar (Swedish meat balls) and jellied mackerel." The feast consisted of 25 different dishes and the article notes it was in keeping "with the Anglo Saxon word, smor, meaning "to smother," the table was smothered with food in variety, subtle enough in taste to tickle the palate of an epicure."

The story of Pontiac will be continued.


In 1929, the Italian immigrants of Pontiac and Natick built the Sacred Heart Church not far from the older St. Joseph’s.
Photo by Don D’Amato

All Saint’s Episcopal church continued to be the one patronized by most of the British immigrants and their descendants.
Photo by Don D’Amato

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