One of Michigan’s Polish Pioneers—Ambrose Ciechanowski

By his gr-grandson: Charles Ciechanowski-Chinoski-Chase


Ambrose was born December 8, 1833 in Sliwice (Gross Schliewitz in German)–Tuchola, Bydgoszcz, Poland to Thomas (Tomasz) Ciechanowski and Francisca, nee, Dobecka. Ambrose had four siblings: Thomas (b. December 20, 1830), Josephine (b. March 16, 1832), Johannes ( b. May 5, 1835) and Theodora (b. May 14, 1837). Within a few years after the birth of Theodora, their father, Thomas, died. With a family of active young children, Francisca needed someone to help her raise these children and serve as a father figure.


Old postcard from Sliwice.


In this same time frame, another family had experienced the loss of a parent. Casper (aka Casimir) Smielewski had been married to Catherine, nee, Gliniecka and resided in Sliwice, Tuchola, Bydgoszcz, Poland. Together they had seven children. About 1840, Catherine died. Casper suddenly was in need of someone to help raise his children. Either through previous knowledge of each other, or through mutual friends, Casper Smielewski and Francisca Dobecka-Ciechanowski formed a close and mutually supporting relationship which ended in marriage in 1842.

The new Smielewski couple had a child, Thomas, about 1843. The Ciechanowski children were either adopted or simply assumed the surname Smielewski. When Ambrose made his first land purchase in Michigan, it was done using the surname Smielewski (misspelled Smelewski on the Land Patent dated 1 July, 1857). In the 1880 Census for Huron County, Ambrose Ciechanowski (by then reverting back to his original birth name, although misspelled in the this census as Cichanowski) is shown with his wife and children. Additionally, Casper Smielewski and Francisca Smielewski are included and are indicated as being Father and Mother respectively.

Ambrose immigrated first into Canada. He and many other Poles entered Canada through Quebec and lived in Canada for a period of time that probably included, for Ambrose and family, parts of 1854 and possibly 1855. While in Canada, the Poles worked at building Canada’s railway system and clearing forests. Initially, they obtained work through an “agent” in the Quebec City area. Their use of only the Polish language confined them to limited job opportunities. They were laborers who worked on the railroad during the warmer months, and felled trees (for railroad ties and buildings) during the winter. Many of them lived with theirs and other families small roughly hewn cabins. During the actual railroad construction the workers probably lived in boxcars. When building the railroad, they traveled by train to the end of the line and worked on extending that line. They built a railroad from Quebec to Thomasville and later from Quebec to Paris in Upper Canada, Canada West, Ontario. The Smielewski’s (Ciechanowski’s) eventually settled in the Paris, Ontario area where they stayed till about 1854/1855. Paris was later contained within the current Brant County of Ontario.

Ambrose, with his older half-brother Thomas Smielewski, presumably traveled to the Ontario, Canada port of Goderick and took a boat to MI—possibly to Detroit. From Detroit he probably sailed to White Rock in the “Thumb” of Michigan. White Rock is a port city on Lake Huron, located opposite the location of what became Parisville. Ambrose recognized the farming potential of the land in what is now Paris Township, Huron County. Much of this land was covered with forest and included much marshland that needed to be drained to eventually support farming. His experience in working to help build the Grand Trunk Railroad of Ontario, Canada taught him how to properly and efficiently drain wetlands.

Ambrose purchased his first parcel of land for which he received his first Land Patent (#32523) July 1, 1857 for 120 acres in the NE Quadrant of Section 34, in Paris Twp, Huron County. The actual purchase took place in late 1856 in Detroit. He paid 50 cents an acre, or, $60 in gold. As stated above, this purchase was made under the name Ambrose Smielewski (Smielewski was the surname of his stepfather) and was for the east half of the NE quarter and the SW quarter of the NE quarter of Section 34.

Ambrose eventually owned the SE quadrant (160 acres) of Section 27 in Paris Township, Huron County. This property fronted on two roads: 1) Parisville Rd and 2) Munford Rd. On this land they primarily grew oats, wheat, Navy beans and some alfalfa. Corn was not grown in this region in large quantities till many years later when new hybrids were developed to grow in this Michigan climate. This land in Section 27 was purchased in 2 parts: (1) on July 21, 1860 he purchased 120 acres for a cost of $150 that consisted of the following parts of Section 27: the West half of the SE Quadrant + the NE Quadrant of the SE quadrant and (2) on May 17, 1865 he purchased 40 acres for a total cost of $1 that consisted of the remaining portion of the SE Quadrant of Section 27 described as the SE Quadrant of the SE Quadrant of Section 27. It is within this quarter section that the Centennial Home of the Ciechanowski’s (changed to Chinoski in late 1800s) still stands.

Ambrose Ciechanowski is consider to be one of the original pioneers and founders of the town of Parisville in the Township of Paris, in the County of Huron, in the “Thumb”: of Michigan. Historical documents say that it was through his driving force that other key Polish pioneers came and helped found/develop Parisville in the era of 1854-1856.

In 1861, Ambrose married Frances (Franzka) Polk, the daughter of another important Parisville pioneer, Francis (Franz) Polk (my gr-gr-grandfather) and his wife Josephine (Josefa), nee, Slawik. Frances was born 1 October, 1843 in Dembowa Gora, Lubliniec, Poland. Together, Ambrose and Frances had 14 children: Eva, Peter (my grandfather), Victoria, Louis (Ludwig), Sherman, Simon, Josephine, Mary, Frank, August, Juliana (Anna), John, Alexander and Joseph.

Ambrose died 23 May, 1911 and is buried in St. Marys’ Cemetery in Parisville. Frances Polk-Ciechanowski died 31 December, 1928.

Author: Charles Chase

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