The Kossuth Colony


Immigration 100 Years Ago

My Hungarian mother was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio near the remanents of the Kossuth Colony. Her immigrants parents, my grandparents, actually lived there for years.

The Kossuth Colony was built in 1905–1906 to house the Eastern European immigrant workers for one of Dayton’s then oldest and largest industries the  Barney and Smith Car Company. The immigrants were largely Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian. These immigrants included my maternal grandparents.

This international and well-known car company manufactured ornately decorated wooden railway cars. In 1904 they expanded their plant in order to begin manufacturing metal railroad cars. To manufacture those kind of train cars the company needed more workers. So they set about to bring immigrants to Dayton to work for them. Thus the Kossuth Colony was born.

The Colony included 40 structures including homes and a building referred to as the Clubhouse. The Kossuth Colony was completely enclosed by a gated fence until 1913, the year of the great flood in Dayton, Ohio.

My mother used to talk about her parent’s life in the Colony fairly often. A 1974 Dayton newspaper* article confirms her memories and gives a more detailed look into life in the Colony.

A condition of living in the Colony was that you had to work for Barney and Smith. Loss of a job meant eviction. Workers were not paid in U.S. currency, but instead were issued script by Barney and Smith.

And here is the kicker. ALL immigrant purchases HAD to be made at stores inside the Colony and these stores were owned by Barney and Smith. So Barney Smith paid my grandparents and then they had to give that money back to them for food and material goods. If the worker needed something B&S  did not carry they could go elsewhere.

And the prices of food and clothing at B&S stores were high. Very high. Many people tried to get around this rule. But there was a guard at the gated entrance to the colony who inspected packages. If you were caught bringing in food or other commodities from outside the Colony you were fired and evicted.

Wikipedia Public Domain Photo

My maternal grandfather had to walk a mile from the Colony to the car works factory. He was paid about $10 for a 55 hour week. This $10 had to pay for rent inside the Colony (to Barney & Smith) and for food (also to Barney & Smith.) He was lucky if he had a few dollars left after that.

Yet life flourished. They were not unhappy. THEY WERE IN AMERICA!!! The residents formed a tight knit community. The residents continued to observe traditional Eastern European customs and prepare traditional Eastern European foods. This is where my mother learned to cook from my grandmother.

The immigrants also participated in lavish Christmas, Easter, and wedding celebrations. This must be why my mother always baked and cooked up a storm for these holidays. It was what she knew.

Churches and schools served the community, including Allen School, which still stands in North Dayton; and Our Lady of the Rosary Church and School, where I went to elementary school. It too is still standing in Old North Dayton.

Language barriers were broken down as these schools, churches, and the YMCA, and Webster School (still standing*) provided English classes for the immigrants.

*UPDATE: Nov. 15, 2012 ~ Sadly Webster school was torn down in the summer of 2011.

Source: Wikipedia

It was the Dayton Flood of 1913 that eventually brought the Colony to a close. While the Colony itself was not damaged, much of the fence was torn down by people who needed wood to make rafts in rescue work. Life was never the same in the Colony after that.

That and the Smith & Barney car plant was severely damaged in fourteen feet high flood waters. The plant never recovered and was forced into receivership.

The immigrants either moved or assimilated throughout Dayton, many of them staying and living near the old colony.

Today some of the original Colony homes still stand in old North Dayton. In fact, The Kossuth Colony area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 21, 1979.

I wanted to insert some pictures of the Colony into this post. But the Dayton History Organization charges a $125 fee per picture for permission to use a picture on a website. This simple, humble blog cannot afford that. So, if you want to see a few pictures of Kossuth Colony, simply click the following link:  Old North Dayton Pictures

On the left side of the page in this link is a list of places in Old North Dayton. Except for one, Canal House, I know and used to play in or around all of them growing up. The second from the last, The E.C. Doren Library, was where I had my first paying job. I was a page there my junior and senior years in high school.

If you want to read more about Old North Dayton you can click the following link: Old North Dayton.

Most of the immigrants did not seem to mind what we would call today essentially slave labor. The reason was because they wanted to live in and be citizens of the United States of America. They were happy just to be here in America. It was better than the country they left behind.

And compared to where and what they came from, it was far better living HERE  in a fenced in colony than where they came from. All they wanted to do was live here and become citizens.

Someday I will share some of the stories about “the old country” my grandfather shared with me. This post is long enough without sharing those now.

Just suffice it to say that to this day those stories make me glad and proud to be American and to have born in this country.

Featured Recipe           Ann Hunter’s Beef and Noodles

I can imagine my mother learning to cook and making this very recipe with my grandmother in Kossuth Colony. It is very inexpensive. It uses beef shanks. Beef shanks are certainly not the tenderest part of the cow. But since you have bone marrow in the shank it certainly is one of the tastiest cuts.

Bone marrow adds incredible flavor to any dish. My mother’s recipe also calls for adding soup bones, which just adds another layer of flavor. My immigrant ancestors did not have the money to buy the more expensive cuts of meat. But what they did have was the know-how to make the most of the left over cuts disdained by the gentry.

This is a perfect meal for these recessionary times what with food costs rising with each increase in gasoline prices. Shanks were far less expensive when my mother was a child, but they are still less expensive than other cuts of meat.

Beef and Noodles is like soup or stew. It is an inexpensive and delicious way to stretch meat to feed more people.

I did an internet search to see if I could find a recipe for Beef and Noodles like my mom’s. For the most part these days Beef and Noodles today are made with the better cuts of meat. And they are often made with canned or packaged soups.

The only one calling for shanks and the closest to my mom’s cooked the shanks and the vegetables together for six hours and then cooked it another hour or so after that. I did not understand cooking the vegetables that long. I understand why the long cooking time for the meat; to make it more tender. But I did not understand cooking the vegetables that long. They would be mush after six hours.

My mother’s recipe cooks the meat first and then the vegetables.

SALT: My mother never mentioned salt when she gave me this recipe. If you want, you can season the meat before browning it. I wait till the dish is on my plate, and if it needs salt I add it then.

This is what you will need for 3-4 people:

1 pound of beef shanks

About a tablespoon vegetable oil or lard

Soup bones, if you have any lurking in your freezer (Optional)

Some carrots

Some celery

An onion

Some pepper corns

Some tomatoes if you wish

Parsley Optional

Salt and pepper Optional

NOTES: Sorry I cannot be more specific. My mother mostly cooked from memory and not from recipes; especially her Hungarian recipes. This was what she dictated to me from memory and as written down by me.

She used beef shanks becasue they are so inexpensive, probably a necessity in the Colony.

I did not use any soup bones today.

Here is what you do:

Brown the meat on both sides in the oil.

Add water to cover the shanks.

Lower the heat and cook till tender, about 1 hour.

NOTE: Just cook, the water should not boil. Watch so it does not.

Clean and prep your vegetables: wash, peel, and cut.

Add the vegetables and the peppercorns to the pot and cook till tender, about 30 minutes, maybe a bit longer.

When the vegetables are cooked to your liking, take them out of the broth. Take the meat out too.

Place a large strainer over a bowl large enough to hold the broth and strain the broth……………….

…….and then pour back into the pot.

Now add the noodles to the broth and cook until al dente. I used about 8 ounces of noodles. AGAIN, do not  boil the broth. The noodles will cook in the hot broth.

While the noodles are cooking cut the beef off the bones.

NOTE: I cut off as much of the fat and muscle as is humanly possible. I also got everything I could off the bone, as you can tell from the photo. My mother and grandfather loved to remove the cooked marrow from inside the bone and spread it over bread to eat. I never cared for that. But you might like it.

Add the beef into the pot………..

and then add the vegetables back into the pot.

Mix it all together.

When the noodles are cooked and the vegetables and meat are hot again serve with some bread and a salad.

NOTE: There may be a lot of broth or liquid in the pot when you are done. You cna do several things with it. One cook it down and concentrate the flavor of the beef broth. Or you can pour some of it off and use in Beef Vegetable Soup at a later date.

Bon Appetit!!!!


1 pound of beef shanks        $3.09 

1 tblspn vegetable oil           $0.06

Soup bones                         No Cost

Some carrots (3)                 $0.27

Some celery   (4)                 $0.56

1 onion                               $0.75

Some pepper corns              $0.30

Some tomatoes (2)              $1.99

Parsley optional                   $0.03

Salt & pepper

Total cost = $7.05
Cost per person (3) = $2.35
Cost per person (4) = $1.76

Quote of the Day

And you have to remember that I came to America as an immigrant. You know, on a ship, through the Statue of Liberty. And I saw that skyline, not just as a representation of steel and concrete and glass, but as really the substance of the American Dream.
Daniel Libeskind, American architect
*I don’t know which newspaper in Dayton. My yellowing and brittle copy does not say. It looks to be a Sunday insert. Or it could be a small local neighborhood newspaper. It is dated March 31, 1974. It was written by Elizabeth M. Zimmerman. I called the current Dayton newspaper and inquired about it. But no one would help me. I was told repeatedly that they had no information on articles from that far back.
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15 comments to The Kossuth Colony

  • Laura

    I don’t see the dish served as a soup. What do you do with the broth? Save it for another dish?

    • Roberta

      Good question. I poured some broth over the noodles after plated. You can’t see it because it went to the bottom. Beef and Noodles is not a soup. However, if you have a lot of broth left over you could make some soup. The water is mainly used to cook/tennderize the meat.

  • Leslie

    I loved reading this post! That was some family history that I was completely unaware of and those links go to some very interesting sites. Thanks 🙂

  • Floyd

    Thanks I really enjoy your stories of the past I had not heard of this place in Dayton
    and I have been there many times.
    My Father worked at a place simlar to this in Columbus they made coal mining machinery and they had a company store where you coould buy groceries,clothing , as well as many other things. They would then take your purchase’s out of your pay check.

  • Wow, that looks soooo yummy. I love to take cheap cuts of meat and make it succulent and delicious.

    • Roberta

      Taking those inexpensive cuts of meat and making them yummy was how people survived during the Depression.

  • […] about those flat-bottomed boats mentioned above in a previous MTTD post, The Kossuth Colony: It was the Dayton Flood of 1913 that eventually brought the Colony to a close. While the Colony […]

  • michael s achs

    My grandparents also were Kossuth colonist, my father was born at the corner of Mack/Baltimore,1723 Mack avenue. My grandmother cleaned the the colony houses for $300 yr. She kept live chickens in her back yard up into the 60’s, I remember her going outside to get a chicken for dinner. Thanks much for the article.

    • Roberta

      WOW!!! I know right where Mack/Baltimore is. It is a small world indeed. Kossuth Colony is an amzing story. I bet those chickens made some mighty tatsy dishes. Nice memories. Thanks for sharing.

      Did your granparents or parents ever make Greasy Bread?

  • michael s achs

    Now if you come across a great Chicken Paprikash(goulash) recipe, or maybe cabbage rolls! Great Hungarian dishes.

    • Roberta

      I have both recipes from my mother handed down from my grandmother. The Paprikash is in her own handwriting. Some day I will make Chicken Paprikash for the blog. It is a scary proposition for me though. What if it doesn’t come out well? I have made it several times. It is an easy recipe.

      I have never tried to conquor my mother’s cabbage rolls. I mean she ground up her own ham. She made the lightest filling for cabbage rolls than any I have had before or since. Gourmet peasant food.

      Thanks for dropping by. Always nice to meet another Hungarian. 🙂

  • Pat

    What a fascinating story, Rah—history isn’t just events, is it, it’s the story of people…a large portion of which is sustenance. Food, not just for fuel, but for pleasure, and how to make a ‘little something’ into a feast.

    This is a good read, and a good meal!

    • Roberta

      It is fascinating. I love living history like this, as you do. Indeed history is a story of people. That is best way to teach it too. Far more interesting for students. Make it come alive!!!

      Yes…history is food too. You said it best!

      Glad you liked the read and meal. 🙂

  • Lillian E. Barker ( Dudas)

    Thank you for the recipe & instructional pictures. I am American-Hungarian. Grandparents on boith sides came from Hungary. My MOther was born here in the USA. my father wsa born in HUngary and came here with his parents & siblings. Settled in Garfield New Jersey & my Mother’s parents in Phoenixville, Pa. My Uncle was a minister sent to open a HUngarian Reformed church here in Phoenixvlle and then took over a cal in Passaic New Jersey. They als.o owned and operated an industrial business in NYC … they made the cork inserts for bottles & jars. We lived as an immigrant household. Meat was used primarily for the beef & Noodles dishes and soup. I can not rememebr ever NOT having soup bones or shanks in the refrigerator each week.
    The aromas from the beef & spices are still in my hhead. I made this for my grown children and for covered dishes for organizations in our community. I have tweeked the recipe as there are some people who won;t eat meat… It doesn’t compare to the beef with noodles., however. I use the left over broth for soup or najing ither dishes. I freeze it in containers or freezer bags. I may even make a light gravy/sauce to accompany the noodles. I am sad to say I do not make the noodles as my mother did.
    I too have may recipes I wrote down as my grandmothers & her children /our relatives didn’t measure. If y ou didn’t sit & watch or participate ( boys in family included) you issed out on a rich experience of family and cooking/socialization. I can still hear them talking in Hungarian, which I still speak.
    Thank you again. Please share more reciipes and stoies. I believe every little town had Kossuth Colonbies. I know Phoenixville did. I remember visitn relatives in Ohio and Michigan and being taken to the Ohio Kossuth site more than 30 years ago. I have fond memories and had a very happy childhood depsite the fact that there was little money and resources back then. I thank God everyday for my Hungarian family & heritage. I share my immigrant family through story telling at a local elementary school when they are studying about immigrant kids and an era of my parents growing up in America.
    We go on occassion to other festivals on the east coast. My Mother’s family friends were the BErtalans from Brinswick , New Jersey. He headed the HUngarian foundation at one time. A frequent visitor in our homes.

    • Roberta

      What a wonderful story Lillian. I know that Hungarian name, Dudas. Nice to meet you.

      We have such similar back grounds and stories. My parents and yours knew how to make great food on the cheap. We may not have had much money…but we always ate well.

      Wish we could meet in person some day. What a time we would have sharing stories.