A house of dreams: Plans unfold for an emigration museum in Slovakia

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By Mark Dillon

On my first trip overseas to Poland in May 2014, my cousin Stanislaw unfolded a large, hand crafted genealogy chart several meters in length across his kitchen table.

From my perspective as an American, it was a treasure map that revealed seven generations of family history since Jakub Dylag was born in 1727 in the village Libusza, named for the Czech princess Libuše. The folklore is that her wagon train broke down nearby as she journeyed to visit the Carpathian foothill provinces of Great Moravia.

On Stanislaw’s mind, however, was filling holes in a century-old genealogy puzzle, one that for many families remains largely unanswered on both sides of the Carpathians.

His questions: Where did Dylag family members go once they left Central Europe, what did they do when they came to America, and who’s around now?

Dr. Martin Javor, an associate professor at the Institute of History of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Prešov, is hoping more Slovaks are asking the same questions about their relatives. He wants to build a world-class museum in the village of Ťahyňa to take his countrymen on a journey across time and space. 

Ťahyňa is in the rural southeast corner of Slovakia 80 kilometers east of Kosice and close to the Ukrainian town of Uzhorod, which used to be part of Czechoslovakia prior to World War II. The region has historically been home to many Carpatho-Rusyns and Slovak Jews. Village population fell from 390 in 1828 to 222 just before World War I amid emigration

map showing Ťahyňa, Slovakia

A century ago, in the winter of 1920-1921, the American Relief Administration under Herbert Hoover was providing food to Uzhorod amid famine that began during The Great War and continued amid post-war border disputes. The region’s governor during the same tumultuous 1920-1921 period of Rusyn-American lawyer was Gregory Zatkovich of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Javor owns an 1892 stucco and wood-beam ceiling home that was originally built and financed by Slovak-American Julius Harajda of New Jersey. In fact some of Javor’s extended family still lives in Middlesex County south of the Raritan River a few miles from where I grew up in Sayreville (See the June 2012 issue of Naše rodina for more about Slovaks in New Jersey).

“My great-grandfather left Ťahyňa for work with his wife, leaving at home a young son, my grandfather, whom they saw 20 years later,” Dr. Javor says on his website. “ It was this ignorance of my own history that led me to the idea of setting up the Museum of Emigration. I plan to restore and furnish the house.”

Future home of the Slovak Museum of Emigration

“At the Museum I plan to present the history of Slovaks in North America, as well as everything related to their emigration. I have assembled a large collection of Slovak memorabilia from different areas of North America. The museum will include a library with rare books of American Slovaks since the 19th century,” he adds.

Dr. Javor is hoping to raise 50,000 euros to restore the building, and then add new buildings on the surrounding four-acre property to house an education center and exhibits that include many ribbons, corporate seals and artifacts of Slovak and Czech-American fraternal insurance organizations from New Haven, Connecticut to Montgomery, Minnesota donated by diaspora. 

Seven years ago, I was able to tell my cousin that my Polish grandfather Maciej found happiness in the U.S. after arriving at Ellis Island in 1905. He journeyed up the Hudson River to Newburgh to meet his future Slovak-American bride, Theresa Pavlovic, whose father Michal and mother Carolyna emigrated from Kúty near the Morava River an hour’s drive north of Bratislava, in 1892.

Someday after COVID-19, perhaps with a new generation of American help, Dr. Javor might be able to share many such stories in person from uniquely Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn perspectives.

Future home of the Slovak Museum of Emigration