Albion man creates website for Polish community and leads

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 April 2014 at 12:00 am

Heritage Hero: Matthew Ballard

Photos by Tom Rivers – Matt Ballard serves as co-director of the Cobblestone Society Museum. He is pictured in front of a church built in 1834.

ALBION – Matt Ballard has fond remembrances growing up on Brown Street and being a part of the St. Mary’s community. Ballard was an altar server and his family was very active in the Catholic parish.

The Catholic Diocese closed the church in 2007. Our Light of Victory has since acquired the church property and has Sunday services there. But it is no longer St. Mary’s. The big mural of Mary was painted over.

Ballard didn’t want to see the history of the parish lost. He created a web site in 2010,, that first catalogued the art inside the building – the stained-glass windows and murals.

The site has expanded to include baptismal records, marriage licenses, and funerals of the Polish community. Ballard has photos of many of the weddings. He has a searchable database that helps people on a genealogical quest. He is up to 379 marriages and 736 funerals from the St. Mary’s community.

Courtesy of – Albion Polonia started as an effort to catalog the art work inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Albion, including this mural of Mary.

In recognition of his efforts, Ballard will receive a “Heritage Hero” award on April 25 during the Civil War Encampment at GCC in Medina. He is one of five winners. At 26, he is also the youngest.

“It’s a labor of love,” Ballard said about Albion Polonia. “It’s a way to give back to a community that has given so much to me.”

Ballard said the parish was close-knit and loving. His father Bob Ballard was a long-time trustee at St. Mary’s. The Ballard family was connected with many other families in the parish. The younger Ballard felt that love growing up.

“It’s that saying, ‘It takes a community to raise a child,’” Ballard said.

The Polish immigrants settled on the east side of the village on Brown and Caroline streets. They built a church in the early 1890s at the corner of Brown and Moore streets. Ballard thinks the Polish community has been underappreciated.

Many of those immigrants worked in the local sandstone quarries and helped shape the stone in prominent buildings in the region and state, Ballard said.

He receives feedback about the sent from people in the community and around the country. They have shared photos and some details from the Polish community, helping to enrich the site. Ballard welcomes more contributions.

Ballard has been involved in other historical initiatives. He is a board member of the Orleans County Genealogical Society. He served on the Albion Historic Preservation Commission and also on the board of directors for the Cobblestone Society Museum.

Courtesy of – This historical photo shows St. Mary’s Catholic Church and a school next door.

In February he was named co-director of the Cobblestone Society Museum. The eight buildings near the intersection of routes 98 and 104 are a National Historic Landmark, the only site in the county with that designation from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Ballard praised the community that rallied to start the museum a half century ago, and their devotion in preserving the buildings and the artifacts inside.

“It’s amazing that we have something like that in our county that is so unique,” he said.

Matt Ballard said it is an honor to be a part of the Cobblestone Society Museum. He is co-director with Sarah Karas.

He commended Bill Lattin, in particular, for being such a devoted caretaker and champion of the historic site. Lattin served as museum director for 40 years.

Ballard works part-time as a library supervisor for Hilbert College in Hamburg. He shares the museum director duties with Sarah Karas.

The museum opens on Mother’s Day. Ballard said it’s an privilege to help promote a museum that includes structures dating back to the 1830s.

“It’s a continuation of the people who came before me,” he said. “A lot of well-respected people in the community spearheaded the museum and a lot of well-respected people in the community continue to believe it’s very important.”