|The oldest Polish
settlement in the United States.
The Panna Maria Historic District is listed on the National Register
of Historic Places.
Oldest Permanent Polish Colony in America.
Settled by 100
Polish families who came to Texas to gain economic, political and
religious freedom. Led by Father Leopold Moczygemba, O.F.M., Conv.,
they made a contract in 1854 with John Twohig, a San
Antonio banker and merchant, for land at this site. The colonists,
natives of Upper Silesia and Krakow, landed at Galveston
after a hard voyage of nine weeks on a sailing ship. They hired Mexican
carts to haul their farm implements, featherbeds, and the cross from
their parish church in Poland. The 800 men, women, and children walked
- some in boots, others barefoot - the 200 miles inland to their new
home. Babies were born on the way, and some of the people died. All
suffered from hunger and exposure. On Dec. 24, 1854, they reached
this site. They named it Panna Maria (Virgin Mary), placing it under
the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. Beneath a large oak they
offered their first Midnight Mass of thanksgiving and petition for
strength and courage. They camped out until they could put up huts
of mud, straw or wood, later building in stone. In spite of hardships,
they founded a stable community, aided in settling other frontiers,
pioneered in education, and gave Texas many patriotic, dedicated citizens.
The Panna Maria
a Pecan Shell
Panna Maria is
polish for Virgin Mary. It is the oldest permanent Polish settlement
in the entire U.S.
A Polish missionary Father
Leo Moczygemba had been preaching to scattered immigrants around
Texas in the 1840s. After witnessing the successes of his German
parishioners, he decided that his fellow Poles would thrive in Texas
as well. He wrote back to his father in Silesia.
In 1854, the first
group of immigrants arrived - including Father Leo's four brothers.
The trip from Poland via Germany took a harrowing three-months.
Eve, 1854 the immigrants huddled together from the cold and Mass
was held under the Live Oak trees that stand today in the churchyard.
bought land from a banker in San
Antonio named John Twohig with church money and set aside parcels
for the school, church and the immigrants too poor to afford their
own farms. Twohig saw them coming and sold them land at inflated prices.
Land that was selling in other parts of Karnes
County for 1.50 an acre were sold to the Poles for close to 6.00
After a severe drought and other setbacks, Father
Moczygemba was blamed for bringing the unhappy Poles there and
had to leave because of threats to his life. He went to Michigan,
another state with recent Polish immigrants. He died there, after
years of service to the Polish community. In 1974 citizens brought
his remains back to be reentered under the same tree where he once
dwindled and the town was bypassed by the railroad.
The Community Center still serves the hundreds of former Panna Marians
and descendents for various festivals and holidays.
The Catholic school has been turned over to the Karnes County ISD.
It appears not to be in use.
L - The children's
R - BBQ Pit counter-weights
The Panna Maria Historical Society & Visitor's Center
13780 N. FM 81
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
Gibson, May 2013
Built 1875; second
oldest store in Panna Maria; still has original rafters and floors.
Lime for mortaring stones (visible on back and sides) was fired in
home kilns. Store was bought by Victor Pilarczyk, 1913. First gas
pump was installed 1919.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1968
in Panna Maria
Built in 1855;
used as a storeroom for landlord's share of Panna Maria crops. The
landlord, John Twohig, a devout Catholic, set aside one room of store
for the church and school. Owned and operated by the Snoga family
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1966
Incise in base: Marker furnished by Snoga families in memory of Frank
and Annie Snoga
To get to the Panna
Maria Cemetery, go just south of the church to the large white community
buildings and turn West. The road will lead straight to the cemetery
gate after about a quarter mile.
The oldest part of the cemetery is obvious due to the taller and more
The name Moczygemba still is held by several Panna Marians and many
stones in the cemetery are marked with the family name. One of Father
Leopold's four brothers had ten children.
L - Tombstone
R - At least one grave testifies that Polish immigrants did play
a role in the Civil War
was harassed for its perceived Union sympathies or its failure to
support the Confederacy during the Civil War. The community was so
isolated that strangers passing by on horseback had no idea who they
were or where they were from.
At least one tombstone in the cemetery shows that the Poles did participate
to some degree. One young man (Albert Lyssy) served in the Confederacy,
was captured, released and then placed in the Union Army where he
was wounded and taken prisoner again - this time by the Confederates.
Maria historic oak with support
Gibson, Feb. 2011
Maria Centennial marker
Gibson, Feb. 2011
Town of Panna
Oldest Polish settlement
in Texas -
Established December 24, 1854 by the Reverend Leopold Moczygemba O.F.M.,
who was instrumental in bringing from Poland about 100 Polish peasant
families - Within a few months the majority sought homes in other
localities in Texas.
Erected by the State of Texas 1936
L - This building
was the first Polish house in Panna Maria (c. 1858) The steep roof
was a Silesian design to prevent the accumulation of snow.
R - A house on main street
Snakebitten Legacy by Clay Coppedge
Father Leopold Moczygemba, who founded the country’s first Polish
community, first Polish Catholic School and who also consecrated
the first Polish Catholic Church, was one person who had to pay
a price in his own time for an honored place in history..... Read
from South Texas
A bit of information for the small town of McCook.
From what I have gathered, McCook was established by some Polish
folks that moved down from Panna Maria, Texas. They established
a small farming community in south Texas and built a nice church.
The folks in McCook are a fine bunch and right neighborly. I grew
up in Edinburg,
about twenty five miles from McCook. I still remember some the the
names of the Polish students that came from McCook. We had the Kotzurs,
the Pavelics, the Pilarziks, the Pavlickas, the Sekulas and the
Kellers to name a few.... more
- Richard Sanchez, August 20, 2006
Within 5 miles
are Helena (another ghost
town) to the East, and Cestohowa
to the North.
Antonio, take Hwy 181 South to FM 81; or take Hwy 87 South to
Hwy 80 South to Helena
to FM 81. Approximately 60 miles drive.
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories,
landmarks and recent or vintage photos, please contact