The first Bohemians to settle in St. Louis arrived in 1848. It began what was to become a flood of Bohemians here. Joseph Slezak was born in Hradištĕ, a small village in the Pilsen District in Bohemia, in 1821, and came here in 1852 with his parents, siblings, and new wife Katerina. As a tailor, he had an excellent reason to stay in a city the size of St. Louis. Many of the Bohemians moved on to rural areas to farm.

When those early Bohemian immigrants arrived, they settled in an area of St. Louis just south of the bustling riverfront near what was called Frenchtown. The area, which is now known as Soulard, was eventually called Bohemian Hill, and, at its center, was the first Bohemian Catholic church in America, St. John Nepomuk’s on 11th Street at Lafayette Avenue.

Joseph and Katherina were often godparents to other children in the parish at St. John’s including a few illegitimate babies. Of the men in his family, he was the only one who became a citizen of the United States. Together, Joseph and Katerina had five children, all of whom survived to adulthood. They all married and had children.

Rose, their eldest, married Michael Simunek, the surname becoming Sims, and had six children. Their daughter, Josephine, married Joseph Volker and had three children grow into adulthood. Anna married Peter Simunek, brother of Michael, and together they had four children. Her husband Peter and their two sons were in the shoe business, which was a major industry then in St. Louis. One of their daughters became a nun.

Frank, the oldest son, moved to Kansas City, married a woman born in England named Mary Eagan and had six children. Joseph Jr. also moved to Kansas City and married Elizabeth Bradley. They had four children. Joseph Sr. and Katarina had a total of twenty-three grandchildren.

For a time, Joseph and his family lived at 1011 Geyer Street. in Bohemian Hill. That house still stands and is known as the Slezak House. Some of the facts on the plaque are misleading but are still exciting to see. The plaque can be seen on the picture of the house and reads:

“Probably built in the 1850s, this house first appears in historical records when Bohemian immigrants Joseph Slezak, born 1819, and wife Catharine, born 1824, moved here with sons Frank and Joseph. Joseph Krivanec immigrated in 1882 with his wife Catherina and son Joseph and bought the house in 1892. Daughter Marie was born in 1895, and her descendants owned the house until 1975. Work by family members and tenants, some from attached or adjacent buildings no longer standing included homemaker, tailor, saddler, blacksmith, stonemason, carpenter, and fireman. Joseph, died 1890, and Catherine, died 1891, The Slezaks are buried in Ste. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis.”

Written by Mary Lee Chivetta
June 2019

© 2019, St. Louis Genealogical Society

Geyer Slezak House
Slezak House on Geyer Street
Photo in the collection of Mary Lee Chivetta
Used with permission

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Last Modified: 01-Oct-2019 17:11