No Poles in Kosciusko, Mississippi
But Local Folks Honor the General

1998, Polish American Journal

There are no Poles in Kosciusko, Miss., according to the brochure from the town’s information center. But that doesn’t stop local folks from keeping alive the memory of the American Revolutionary War hero.

In some ways, these non-Polish Southerners are doing a better job of preserving Kosciuszko’s memory than some groups whose heritage is more akin to that of the general.

Consider the statement of Ellen Scarborough, a volunteer at the Kosciusko Information Center in Kosciusko, Miss.

"I like the people from foreign countries that I meet at the Information Center. They want us to identify the trees and the flowers. They are interested in our customs, especially our friendly greeting, ‘Hi, ya’ll.!’ I enjoy telling them who Tadeusz Kosciuszko was and that he was from Poland. When I leave I always anticipate the next time I serve!"

Another non-Polish volunteer at the Kosciusko Information Center, Richard Benson, likes to relate this story:

"About two or three months ago, Claire and I were working together at the Center. Three guys in their thirties from Poland came over from Columbus where they were doing some government contract work.

"They were quite interested in the ‘Polish’ Mississippi town. The guys visited with us for a while and when Claire reached out to shake hands good-bye, they in turn kissed her hand, which naturally was their custom!"

Volunteer Sue Power notes the town is not only named after a ‘Polish military man’ but is also the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey.

"One sunny morning two women who were traveling with their small dog came into the Information Center. My sister Helen and I had a wonderful time talking with them and discovered that they were from Dahlonega, Georgia. We said that Kosciusko is known for being the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey and being named for a Polish military man, although we had no Poles living in town that we knew of," she said.

The Kosciuszko Heritage Foundation was founded in 1984. As of December 4, 1994, there were 425,185 visitors to the Kosciusko Information Center; visitors from 86 foreign countries have registered, residents of all 50 states register annually, the yearly average is 42,631 visitors - about 3,804 visitors a month.

Through the caring and dedication of many area, state and national citizens, the Kosciusko Information Center has far surpassed the initial dreams of its planners. The November 1, 1984, dedication speech was made by notable Polish American Edward Piszek, founder of Mrs. Paul’s Kitchen. On August 13, 1989 a celebration was held honoring the Center’s 100,000th visitor. And again on April 16, 1992, a recognition celebration was held for the 300,000th visitor. During the week of June 6-12, 1994, the 400,000th visitor registered at the Center.

Most visitors quickly question the significance of the life-size wax figure of the Polish General, Tadeusz Kosciuszko. But to students of American or Polish history, the question could just as easily be, why him? General Kosciuszko came to North America in 1776 and volunteered to fight with the colonists as a military engineer during the American Revolution. He engineered fortifications for the famous battles of Saratoga and Ticonderoga. His group of fortifications and redoubts for the area of West Point, New York, were so successful that the British withdrew their forces without attacking.

During the latter part of the Revolution, he served in the South where he became acquainted with the institution of Negro slavery and acquired a burning hatred for it. Before leaving the area, General Kosciuszko left funds with Thomas Jefferson for "the purchase and liberation of Negro slaves".

So when the first representative of Attala County in the State Legislature, William D. Dodd, was given the honor of naming the county seat, he expressed his admiration for this Polish hero who had served in the American Revolution with Dodd’s grandfather. One can easily see that unified efforts of all nationalities have forever been a tremendous driving force behind the town of Kosciusko.

These same types of efforts were instrumental in the actual development of the Center. Superintendent Jim Bainbridge of the Natchez Trace Parkway coordinated a partnership agreement between the National Park Service and Kosciuszko/Attala Chamber of Commerce to establish an interpretive visitor center museum at the junction of Highway 35 and mile marker 160 on Parkway property. Today the area is very grateful for the continued assistance of present Superintendent Dan Brown and his staff for making this an internationally known center of hospitality and information.

Since the Center is not a government facility, the Kosciuszko Heritage Foundation is totally dependent upon volunteer workers. In 1986, ’87, ’88, and ’89 fund raising dinners were held to support the expenses of the ongoing operations of the Center. In July 1991, Kosciusko became the 11th community in the state to impose a 2% lodging tax. This money, thus far totaling $76,948.04, is used for the operations and upkeep of the Center.

In 1989, a group from the Polish community throughout the United States raised $15,000 to purchase historical displays for the Kosciusko Information Center. A life-sized wax figure of General Tadeusz Kosciuszko dressed in Revolutionary War uniform greets the visitors as they enter. Adjacent to him is a tabletop scale model of West Point, New York fortifications and photos of seven monuments of Kosciuszko throughout the nation. Other displays of local history and the Trace are located in the museum room.

The spirit of unity and volunteerism in Kosciusko actually started when General Tadeusz Kosciuszko of Poland volunteered to fight for the colonist’s freedom in the American Revolution. These types of unified efforts have continued throughout the history of Kosciusko, Mississippi, especially during the most recent decade with local volunteers offering their time and talents to operate the Center seven days a week.

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