Avenues Folk: Mary Kijowski-Konstanty, 47 15th Ave.

Dublin Core


Avenues Folk: Mary Kijowski-Konstanty, 47 15th Ave.


A collage of photographs shows a young girl on the porch of a typical Avenues style home at its center, with an accordion player and men drinking alcohol in othersCenter: A young Mary Kijowski on the porch of 47 15th Avenue, c.1933. Photos from her personal collection. In North Tonawanda, the Polish ruled the Avenues.

The industrious immigrants pour into the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s, snatching up the plentiful work offered by Tonawanda Iron and Steel, the still-booming lumber industry, Buffalo Bolt and others. By 1933 they have established a vibrant  community of over 5,000 people, with its own churches, taverns, community centers, and stores selling the goods needed to support the traditions of their European homeland. 

The photos and ephemera in this collection were the personal property of a first-generation Pole living on the Avenues, the late Mary Konstanty (née Kijowski, c.1926-2000). Her Polish-born parents are Szymon (who works at nearby Buffalo Bolt) and Paulina. Mary is the youngest of eight siblings, all born in America between 1911 and 1926. In a 1920 Census the family is at 21 14th Avenue, squeezed in with another family. By 1926 they have settled at 47 15th Ave.

The collection is a vivid snapshot of social life on the Avenues: the men drinking conspicuously and posing with beers on a bench in their tiny backyard; the family farming and ice skating in the unsettled swaths of the upper east Avenues that would be covered by homes after WWII. The sounds of accordions and Polish would have been ringing in the air. 

Mary is always smiling in the photos; always seemingly keenly aware of some devilish fun to be had, whether she is posing on a tractor, ice skating, or peeking around a tree with her future husband, John Konstanty II. Only the last, 1980 photo of her shows her unsmiling--perhaps annoyed by the picture-taker as she tries to read her newspaper on her porch in peace. 

Her many grandchildren may or may not know it, but Mary Kijowski appears to have been a bit of a wild child.

The Tonawanda News has memorialized one case in point: In October 1942, the paper reports that 16 year-old Mary was out after 4 a.m. in a car driven by her friend Helen Polek of 15 14th Avenue. As they turn a corner on Sweeney Street, Mary tumbles out of the open passenger door, suffering "severe" brush burns and a fractured arm. Helen takes her younger friend to De Graff Memorial Hospital, where Mary is admitted for treatment. They may not have had the Internet to record youthful indiscretions in her day, but they had microfilm.

Like many women of her time, Mary Kijowski steps up to help keep factories running while the nation is at war. A March 11, 1943 postcard from the U. S. War Manpower Commission invites her to Buffalo for a job interview. She is assigned to the same factory her father works at, Buffalo Bolt. A wonderful photo in this set shows her with other women inside the North Tonawanda factory; another shows her posing proudly in full "Rosie the Riveter" regalia: a do-rag on her head, and a men's plaid shirt tucked into pants that are far too long for her.

She marries John Konstanty II in 1952 at Our Lady of Czestochowa Catholic church. They have four children by 1959. John works at Bethlehem Steel and runs for alderman that year. 

A son, Jeffrey, is born in 1962.


47 Fifteenth Ave., aerial photo (1938).jpg

47 Fifteenth Ave., aerial photo (1938).jpg

Many of the upper east avenues were still unoccupied in 1938.

Benjamin Kijowski in a baseball uniform, photo (1940-05-19).jpg

Benjamin Kijowski in a baseball uniform, photo (1940-05-19).jpg

Appears to be Felton Field (along Thompson Street east of Vandervoort).