Jamestown Historical Society

Polish couple settles into life at West Ferry

This article was written by Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden for The Jamestown Press on December 14, 2023.
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Fort Greble on Dutch Island was built on the remnants of a training camp for the Civil War.

The reconstruction began in 1897 and the fort was ready for occupation by 1900. According to the 1910 Census, the fort housed 262 U.S. Army troops and their dependents.

Among the men who served at Fort Greble and stayed to become a Jamestown resident was Antoni Piliski. He was born in late 1874 or early 1875 in an area of northeastern Poland that had been annexed by Russia in the late 18th century. It is unlikely he considered himself Russian, although that is how he is listed officially. Early documents say he was born in “Luneza, Poland, in the State of Russia.”

Exactly how or when Piliski came to the United States is unknown. In September 1899, however, he was in Massachusetts with his brother and sister when he enlisted in the 43rd U.S. Volunteer Infantry. He was deployed to the Philippines in November 1899 to support the three-year Philippine-American War that resulted from the United States’ refusal to recognize the country’s independence. In the Philippines, he fought but was never wounded.

The infantry returned to Massachusetts in June 1901. Soon after his return, Piliski was discharged.

He was 26 and evidently had been content with military life. Three months later, he re-enlisted, joining the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps as a qualified cook.

Antonina and Antoni Piliski
Antonina and Antoni Piliski at the time of their marriage. Piliski was stationed at Fort Greble on Dutch Island and the couple bought property on Pierce Avenue.

For the next 27 years, Piliski continued to re-enlist as his terms of service expired.

During most of the time, he was a private.

The September before his death, he was promoted to first sergeant.

The artillery corps was responsible for the defense of the American coastline and its harbors. Fort Adams, Fort Greble and Fort Wetherill, which was built between 1901-10, were manned by the corps. Early in his career. Piliski was assigned to Fort Greble where he spent most of his enlistment.

Although he was serving in the U.S. military, Piliski was not an American citizen. In 1918, this was rectified. His certificate of naturalization, issued June 25, recognized him as a citizen residing in the “city of Fort Greble.”

In January 1920, when he was 45, Piliski married for the first time. His bride, 12 years younger, was Antonina Szymt (nee Mendys). She was the widow of a fellow Polish emigrant, John Szymt, who had died the previous year. She was born March 27, 1887, in Turaszowka, Poland.

Two years after their marriage, the couple purchased a house in the Bungalow Park Plat at West Ferry in Jamestown. The lots in Bungalow Park were small and in 1927, the Piliskis bought the two adjoining lots to create what is now 24 Pierce Ave.

Piliski did not live long to enjoy his Jamestown home. He died Dec. 13, 1928, and was buried at Fort Adams. Piliskina stayed in their home and wove herself into island life. She was an active member of St. Mark Church and, in 1964, donated a stained-glass window honoring the Immaculate Heart of Mary in memory of her husband.

She served on the advisory committee during the Jamestown Garden Club’s successful attempt to save the Round Marsh at Great Creek and also was a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. She made close friends with the Boston-based Naruszewicz family, which operated a bakery at East Ferry in the summer.

Piliskina was living on an Army widow’s pension, and as she approached her 80s, she could no longer keep the house. In 1966, when a broken hip forced her to move to a nursing home, she sold the property to the Naruszewicz’s daughter with the proviso she could return to live there if her health allowed.

She lived in Harbor View Nursing Home, which was on Conanicus Avenue near the entry to Shoreby Hill, until the closing of the facility in 1975. She was transferred to a Middletown home, where she died in December 1976 at age 89.

Piliskina was buried in St. Mark’s Cemetery following a Mass of Christian burial at the church.

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