Early History – Italians in New Haven
October 1, 2021
Mass migrations to America in the 1880’s changed the Yankee flavor of New Haven forever. New arrivals began to outnumber the inhabitants of British stock for the first time in New Haven’s history. The earliest known Italian inhabitant of New Haven was William Diodate, who lived here from 1717 to 1751. The next recorded Italian residents were Venetian Jews. Ezra Stiles. Her diary reported their arrival in an entry on September 13, 1772. Almost a century passed before records showed a real beginning of an Italian settlement in New Haven. Among the early Italian inhabitants of the city were Francisco Bacigapolo, a musician in 1861; Lorenzo De Bella, Giroamo D’Angelo, and G. Milazzo, all barbers in 1864. By 1880 the census listed 102 Italian residents of New Haven. The earliest Italian immigrants included sailors who had docked in New Haven, bootblacks, day laborers, street vendors, and young boys under the padrone system.
The earliest Italian settlement in New Haven was on the fringes of Wooster Square. The immigrants frequently got their first jobs in this area. The need to live near their place of employment resulted in a sizeable concentration of Italians in the Wooster Square area. The Italian population grew in the Hill neighborhood also. An Italian presence had been felt there as early as 1874 when Paul Russo, opened the first Italian grocery store in at the corner of Congress Ave and Oak St. The railroad was responsible in part for scattering Italian emigrants along its route, not only in New Haven but in other Connecticut towns and cities through which its coaches passed.
Early settlers often “roomed” on Hill Street, lower Congress Avenue, and especially on Oak Street and the adjoining section of the lower Hill. The Oak Street area covered a whole neighborhood (much of which was demolished during the urban renewal programs of the 1950’s and 1960’s), bounded by George Street on the north, Broad Street on the west, Cedar Street on the southwest, Congress Avenue on the southeast, and Temple Street on the east.