belarus genealogy tours

The Filipowicz/ Phillips family from Zalesye guta, Ilia

updated on 20/08/2014

The guta in Zalesye is about 250 years old – or rather was – because it went bankrupt in the early 2000s. Its foundation year has been for a long time considered 1769 based on the map of Rzecz Pospolita issued in 1772 with the enterprise pinned on it. Since data for a map was collected within 3 to 5 years it was assumed that the glass manufactory (guta) was established in 1769. However, a 1749 map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania also had both Ilia and Guta villages. In view of the above mentioned fact it can be assumed that it was already there in 1746.

"Nowa Huta" as entered on the Ellis Island ship manifest was clearly meant as a transliteration of "Íîâŕ˙ Ăóňŕ" - a village just down the road from the glass factory, where we were welcomed with wonderful hospitality. Perhaps they should have transliterated it as "Novaya Guta," since there's a "Nowa Huta" in Poland and it seems to mean something completely different.

The guta was established in Ilia on a river bank by the Sologub brothers and in 1792 was sold to Mikhal Kleofas Oginsky – the famous politician and a music writer. Since the latter took part in the national uprising of Tadeush Kostyushko all his properties were confiscated and handed over to more loyal landlords.

Count Nikolai Saltykov, a field marshal ran the guta at the turn of the centuries. One out of 11 similar manufactories, Ilia guta was a typically serfdom enterprise. Its products – bottles, carafes, glasses, pharmacy and window glassware was aimed at well-off people and was sold at the local market and later – to Vilnius and Minsk.

The takeover of the Belarusian lands by the Russian Empire gave broad opportunities to the local enterprises. The guta underwent an upgrade and increased its output considerably. Next to the guta a settlement was established called Staraya Guta.

zalesye guta products

Kerosene lamps - trend of the late 19th century

In the early 19 century a Jew Hertz Yakubovich was renting the guta. The production was based in a wooden building using the local sands, chalk, potash and ash. Upon having depleted the local resources in 1815 the new owners relocated the manufactory to Strezhyslav where forest was still quite thick. Three furnaces were built and the number of employees - local serves – reached 26. Amongst other things they annually produced 2015 pieces of window glass. The new settlement for the guta workers was established nearby – Novaya Guta.

In 1820 it was purchased by Stanislav Radzishevsky, an army officer who took an active part in Warsaw uprising of 1830-1831. A Cossack regiment searching for the rebels invaded his home estate, pillaged the property and destroyed everything that could not be moved. The court ruled that since the owner supported the opposition to the Russian tsar the consequences were entirely his trouble. On top of the Ilia estate was again confiscated by the state.

After having operated more than a decade in the village of Pogrebische near Ilia, in 1855 the guta was relocated to Zalesse and began to evolve into a capitalist enterprise with the serves working there being replaced with hired labor.

In the late 19 century the kerosene lamps were becoming a fashion so Zalessie guta was producing these along with pharmacy and chemistry glass kits. The number of employees reached over 150 in the early 1900s and the guta was rented by the Jews. The factory went through some hard years with the personnel downsized and turnout considerably cut in the years of the first Russian revolution of 1905-1907.

village house zalesye

A typical village roof - gont

Only 9 glass factories out of 23 across Belarus worked at the time when WWI broke out. In late 1916 the guta was relocated by its shareholders into Central Russia and it was only returned in 1936.

Located in the woods, the guta always enjoyed cheap labor force with many women and children employed at the production. Conditions were so harsh and appalling that even adults couldn’t manage through 2 or 3 hours non-stop. However, until 1882 kids aged 8 to 16 worked there because their salary was three times lower than that of an adult. Salaries were low and were quite often delayed.

Onufry Filipowicz who migrated to the United States in 1907 (and later became Owen Phillips) recalled:  “I was born on 16th of January 1891 in Zalessie, County Wilejka, Province Vilna, Europe, Poland, Russia.”  He had about ten brothers and sisters.  His family was Polish and Roman Catholic, but he also spoke Russian.   

When Onufry was 12, which would have been in 1903, he graduated from the sixth grade and went to work in the Zalessie glass factory. It is not known which school he attended - the one in Zalessie or Ilya. His recollections about it “About 40 children attended school in the one-room log schoolhouse adjacent to which were the quarters of the teacher and the doctor.” From the ages of 12 to about 15, Onufry worked in the glass factory, first as a helper and then as an apprentice.

The 1905 revolution saw all-country strikes and subsequent cuts of personnel and production. That was the case with the guta, too, and many including Onufry and his father were laid off. Onufry’s father, Jan Filipowicz, had two brothers who had gone to America. Around the beginning of 1907, trying to improve his ability to support his large family, Jan ordered a steampship ticket to go to America to join them, but at the last minute Onufry, the oldest son, volunteered to go in his father’s place.  He used his father’s steampship ticket and arrived in New York on March 10, 1907. 

The idea was that Onufry would send money home to the family and eventually return.  He did in fact send money home to the family for many years, but he never returned and never saw them again. The 1907 ship manifest for Onufry’s trip to America describes his occupation as farm laborer, and the “last permanent residence” is shown as “Nowa Huta.”

During a 20-year-long interval the villagers of Zalesye survived on farming. The former glassblowers from Vilno bought the shares of the revived factory in 1936 and with the total personnel of 42 started to produce glass again.

During the Great Patriotic War the Nazis thoroughly pillaged the factory converting its main building into a pillbox. The entire village except for seven buildings was flattened. After the liberation of Belarus they swiftly launched the factory and reached the prewar output by 1953. Its director Nikolai Mordas was in charge for three decades and his efforts resulted in Zalesye being renamed into Partizansky in 1969. Local fuel and raw materials ran out and these were now supplied from Southern Belarus.

zalesye glass factory

Formidable silhouette of a disused Soviet factory (Zalesye guta)

A pretty efficient enterprise in the Soviet times employed about 500 persons and the town was thriving. The mid 1990s saw the first signs of the factory’s collapse because of the poor competitiveness of the glassware. Production stopped, hundreds were laid off and after another attempt to restore the process in the early 2000s the factory stopped. Skeleton staff of about a dozen along with the rest of the village population whose life was once a part of the factory are cherishing a hope of its reopening someday…


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