Wednesday, July 07, 2010

an abridged history of the borough of SNPJ, and my first trip to Slovenefest

I have been waiting to tell this story for almost a year now.

It's about a trip to an ethnic festival located in the smallest municipality in the state of Pennsylvania, and the history of that place with the quirky name.

Introducing ... the borough of S.N.P.J. PA.

Located 15 miles southeast from the city of Youngstown, the jurisdiction lies just off the Ohio-Pennsylvania line.

population: 14
population during its annual Slovenefest celebration: a couple thousand

- - -

The land which one day would become the 500 acre community of S.N.P.J. has its roots in the award provided from the U.S. Government in 1786 to Andrew Marker, for his service during the revolutionary war.

S.N.P.J. actually stands for "Slovenska Narodna Podporna Jednota", or the "Slovene National Benefit Society". Formed in 1904, this non-profit organization promotes Slovenian culture, sells annuities and life insurance, and awards scholarships among other activities. It is one of many valuable ethnic fraternal organizations in this country that built its wealth through labor, pride, and babkas.

Fast forward to 1915 when Jacob and Louisa Serjak, a Slovenian family from nearby Bessemer PA, purchased the land and farmed it for 40 years.

In 1963, S.N.P.J. purchased the land and was turning the space into a retreat for its membership. Over the years infrastructure was added such as pavilions, a swimming pool, a banquet center, a man-made lake, etc.

Here's the neat part (as explained to me by S.N.P.J. members last year) of the story:

The township on which the farm/retreat resided was North Beaver Township in Lawrence County, which has some limitations on the sale of alcohol. Since the fine members wanted to enjoy a brew now and then, the 500 acre farm succeeded from the county in 1977 and thus gained more control over the ability to serve liquor.

And thus, the borough of S.N.P.J., the smallest community in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was born.

- - -

Every July, the population of S.N.P.J. explodes as they celebrate their annual Slovenefest, in 2010 now in it's 29th year. (that's Slovenefest XXIX for you Romans out there)

Think of this event as an ethnic Woodstock or Bonnaroo, with four live polka stages spread throughout the farm playing at once - with ethnic food, historical items, and good ol-fashioned summer goodness in all its forms and varieties.

What follows is a snapshot of last year's Slovenefest, showing you what one can expect this weekend, just a short drive from Youngstown.

Here's the entrance to S.N.P.J., the "smallest town with the longest name"...

The man-made lake:

The view from the old barn, with the tents in the background:

ethnic t-shirts:

Inside the main building, a Slovenian museum:

Lace-making demonstration:

A painting of a man and his accordion:

Slovenian clothes for sale:

Library of books in Slovenian:

Slovenian sundries for sale:

This shirt says it all:

The kids' section of the library:

One of the outside tents with polka music:

An accordion decorated with an eagle:

Kids going on a tour of the grounds:

Bocce courts:

Miss S.N.P.J. 1957:


An outdoor polka pavilion:

Waiting in line with ethnic clothes:

Meat on the spit:

The S.N.P.J. shrubbery:

this is just a sample of the sights from last year.

- - -

Don't let this post make you feel that S.N.P.J. is a one-time only place to visit. Events take place usually weekly, especially those of the musical variety.

Slovenefest, the ultimate in rust belt chic.


Zak said...

I stayed there last night, it was great

Don said...

Not bocce, balina. Bocce is played on grass. Balina on sand courts