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Karnes  County
Karnes County


A Polish Ghost Town in Texas

Karnes County, South Texas

28° 57' 29" N, 97° 53' 50" W (28.958056, -97.897222)
FM 81 just off Hwy 123
5 miles W of Helena
N of Karnes City & Kenedy
60 miles SE of San Antonio
Population: 96 est.

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Polish house in Penna Maria, Texas
This building, now used as a barn, was the first Polish house in Panna Maria (c. 1858) The steep roof was a Silesian design to prevent the accumulation of snow.
TE Photo, 5-01
The Panna Maria Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

History in 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 Bandera 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.
Panna Maria Tx Post Office 78144

Panna Maria Post Office, TX 78144
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, May 2013

Panna Maria post office store

The Store/Post Office was once the barn of John Twohig
TE Photo, 5-01

More Texas Post Offices
Penna Maria , Texas historic building

The Panna Maria Visitor's Center
TE Photo, 5-01
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.
Penna Maria Oaks

The Panna Maria Oaks
TE Photo, 5-01
On Christmas Eve, 1854 the immigrants huddled together from the cold and Mass was held under the Live Oak trees that stand today in the churchyard.

Father Moczygemba 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 per acre.
house on main street

A house on main street
TE Photo, 5-01
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 said Mass.

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.

The Panna Maria Cemetery

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 elaborate tombstones.
tombstone with sculpture
Tombstone with Sculpture
TE photo, May 2001
The community 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.
confederate soldier's grave
At least one grave testifies that Polish immigrants did play a role in the Civil War
TE Photo, 5-01

The population 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.
children's watering trough in a school house

The children's watering trough
TE Photo, May 2001
BBQ pit counter weight

BBQ Pit counter-weights
TE Photo, May 2001

Panna Maria TX Immaculate Conception Church

Photo courtesy David Scheffler, June 2005

The Immaculate Conception Church

Nearby Destinations

  • Within 5 miles are Helena (another ghost town) to the East, and Cestohowa to the North.

  • From San 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.

  • Book Hotel Here › San Antonio Hotels

    Panna Maria Chronicles
  • A 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...more

  • Panna Maria, Texas Forum
  • Greetings 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

  • Take a road trip

    Panna Maria, Texas Nearby Cities & Towns:
    San Antonio | Karnes City | Kenedy | Helena
    See Karnes County | South Texas

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