George Szymanski: American, Immigrant, Builder, Architect and Naturalized Citizen

July 29, 2019

Most of the time when doing any kind of writing project, you find information that is not pertinent to the actual project but is related and lends flavor to what you know. About four weeks ago, I arrived at the Dade County Commission offices to begin working on a grant for the renovation project of the old courthouse. I was informed by one of the grant-writing partners that he had done some research on the architecture of the old girl. I could tell that there might mischief afoot. The catch was that our courthouse was styled almost exactly like a building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That building is one of the original Schlitz Brewery Buildings.

 

For a few weeks, I have been harassed and jazzed by a select group of people who think that I would be upset by our courthouse being styled after a beer factory. Alas, I am not. I really think that it is kind of funny and almost poetic that our hall of justice for almost 90 years is a facsimile of the producer of an item that was not even legally for sale in the county for most of those years. Irony abounds.

 

It did however make us wonder about the origin of the architect and why he would choose this style. We knew the name of the architect from the original blueprints and the 2001 renovation survey. Just who was the man who put the Polish Cathedral flair on centerpiece of our town? 

 

His name was George Stephan Szymanski. In 1926, he drew the plans and probably was on site for building the historic Dade County Courthouse. He was employed by a firm in Dalton. We can follow his life through the census and other government documents found on Ancestry.com.

 

He was born on December 16, 1873, in Poland or the Republic of Germany (depending on which census you check out and who was in charge of the Rhineland at the time). His parents were Edward F. Szymanski and Mary A. Moder. He listed Poland as their birthplace.

 

He came to America in 1905. He was 32 years old. He arrived in New York City on November 8 on the ship Molke, which had departed from Cuxhaven about a month earlier. Shipping documents list him as an engineer. He had $25 with him when he arrived in New York.

 

He did not stay in New York very long. By the 1910 census we find that he has moved to Alabama (Attala or Gadsden). There is a marriage certificate in Marshall County, Alabama. He married Frances Emmy (Fannie) Battles on Dec. 7, 1907. There is no information to tell us if he had a job in Alabama before he left Germany or if possibly he and Fanny had been corresponding before they met and married.

 

In 1910 he is listed in the census as a stone mason. He is called a wage earner. He and Fanny rented their home and he could read and write. One wonders how long it took him to learn English, since his native language was either German or Polish.

 

By the 1920 census, his job was listed as contractor who owned his own house and was free of a mortgage. It shows that he had applied for citizenship. That was completed by April 12, 1917. His naturalization papers say that he had brown hair and eyes and dark skin and that he was 5”4” in height and weighed 125 pounds. He had a scar next to his right eye. His naturalization took place in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

The 1930 census states that he is an architect who is working for himself. By the 1940 census he gives his level of education as four years of college and trained as an architect.

 

George also signed up for the World War I draft but I can’t seem to find that document. I suppose a new citizen in 1917 would have felt duty bound to be part of the war effort.

 

George did not live to be an old man. He died in 1941 and was buried at Hill Crest Cemetery in Boaz, Marshall County, Alabama. Fanny, his wife, followed about 10 years later in 1951. They did not have children.

 

It is very interesting to know what a hard worker he was and that while he did not

have children, his buildings were probably his points of pride. We are proud that he did leave an imprint on our town in the form of our historic Courthouse.

 

--Donna Street 

donnam.street@gmail.com

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