Polish Flats

Polish Flats kw004016When the Poles arrived in Milwaukee, they started at the bottom of the social ladder. Because other groups had been there longer, the Poles were often forced to take low-paying jobs in factories. Despite this, they purchased land and built their own homes as soon as they saved enough money. The Poles of Milwaukee, along with many other immigrant groups to the United States, believed that land, not money, offered security.

The Poles of Milwaukee were known for building small cottages on their newly purchased land. These cottages, usually four-room structures, were often constructed of reused materials. Once this one-family home was completely paid for, the owners often raised the structure on jacks and excavated a basement beneath it. This turned the structure into a two-family home and provided the owners with extra income as a rental property. These were known by Milwaukeeans as “Polish flats,” but they were not unique to this city. Raised cottages could be found across the Midwest in many immigrant communities, but they were called “Polish flats” only in Milwaukee.

Katie Steffan
Graduate Student
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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