Italians in Syracuse, New York
The Italians in Syracuse, New York number nearly 22,000 and are concentrated around the Little Italy of Syracuse, and the Northside of the city. Italian immigrants first settled in the area of Syracuse, New York beginning in 1883, after working on construction of the West Shore Railroad, that reached from New York City to Buffalo, New York. In Syracuse, they created an Italian-American community made up of immigrants from several regions of Italy and their descendants.
Italians first settled in the territory of Onondaga County in the early 1880s during construction of the West Shore Railroad. At first, they were quite transient, sometimes moving to other areas for work. Eventually they began to settle on the Northside of Syracuse, which had previously been dominated by German immigrants. The West Shore Railroad was constructed from Weehawken, New Jersey, west across the Hudson River from New York City, and north along the west shore of the river to Albany, New York. From there it was constructed west to Syracuse; its final destination was Buffalo. Although organized as a competitor to the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, it was soon taken over by that company.
A Syracuse newspaper reported in August 1882 that the Sanitary Inspector had received a letter from Secretary Harris, of the New York State Board of Health, saying that typhus fever was prevalent among the Italian laborers on the West Shore Railroad. A state inspection was made of workers along the line from Nyack to Syracuse. Instructions for treatment of the disease were distributed governments and medical personnel in 67 towns.
By the end of the nineteenth century, nearly 3,500 Italians lived in Syracuse. They had established a mutual benefit organization called "Society Agostino Depretis", named for a noted Prime Minister of Italy. By the mid-twentieth century, the Italian Americans in Syracuse had largely integrated and assimilated successfully into the larger society. Roy Bernardi (a graduate of Syracuse University) was elected in 1993 as 51st Mayor of the City of Syracuse, New York, where he served from 1994 to 2001. A Republican, he later was appointed to a high-level position at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the administration of President George W. Bush.
In the mid to late twentieth century, Lyncourt, a suburb of Syracuse beyond the North Side, developed as a destination for many Italian-American families migrating to the suburbs for newer housing and other suburban amenities. This continued until the early 21st century, when this transition slowed. More than 3% of people living in Lyncourt speak both Italian and English, a greater percentage than in 99% of the country. During the early 2000s, Lyncourt was one of the most densely populated Italian-American areas in the nation. This culture has greatly influenced the neighborhood, as many families still maintain traditional practices.
Because of difficulties learning a new language, most immigrants lived in ethnic "colonies" and worked in large gangs under "bosses" of their own nationality. The earliest Italian immigrants were illiterate. Coming from different areas of Italy, most spoke distinct Italian regional dialects. When they first settled in Syracuse, it was easier for them to be among other Italian speakers. They did not assimilate easily into the English-speaking population.
Little Italy is an ethnic enclave on the Northside of Syracuse that contains several bakeries, cafés, pizzerias, restaurants, beauty salons, shops, bars and nightclubs. The main street in Little Italy is North Salina Street on the city's Northside.
Originally a German neighborhood following mid-19th century immigration, that population was succeeded by Italian immigrants, as the Germans moved to other housing. The Italians essentially established their own business district along North State and North Salina streets.
By March 1897, almost 7,000 Italians lived in Syracuse and most were Catholic. Rev. Dean L. M. Vernon (d. 1896) opened a Methodist mission in rooms of the West Shore Railroad. His work was followed by that of Rev. Antonio Peruzzi. During the summer of 1896, ten gospel meetings were held in Italian districts. Soon after, the Italians organized a church society known as the Free Italian Church of Syracuse.
Our Lady of Pompeii
St. Peter's Italian Church
In 1896, St. Peter's Italian Church was a Roman Catholic church located at the corner of Burnet Avenue and Lock Street. (It later moved to 130 North State Street), north of Erie Boulevard East. The Italian congregation had taken over what was originally known as The Church of Messiah, built in 1853 by the Unitarian Congregational Society of Syracuse.
The history of the church reflected demographic changes in this area of Syracuse, as a succession of ethnicities occupied the area and used the church. When the Unitarian congregation had mostly moved out of the neighborhood, they sold the building to Lutherans in 1885; that congregation was primarily ethnic German, made up of immigrants and descendants from earlier migrations. Between 1885 and 1895, this building housed St. Mark's German Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The congregation of St. Peter's Italian Church parish purchased the church in 1896 from the Lutherans. Finally, in 1953 St. Peter's congregation built a large Romanesque church at 701 James Street, at the corner of Catherine Street, where they relocated.
By December 1905, the W.C.T.U. (Women's Christian Temperance Union, an American society made up primarily of Protestant women at this time) established a school for Italian children at the corner of North State and North Salina streets. It also was located in the same quarters as the Italian Methodist Mission under direction of Rev. Morrello and his wife. The W.C.T.U. held a sewing class there every Saturday afternoon. The Catholic priest resented the Protestants trying to evangelize among his people.
The North Salina Street Historic District has many buildings of the mid and late 19th century that are predominately Italianate in style. Their construction preceded the development of the predominately Italian neighborhood, at a time when American architecture of that period was strongly influenced by European models. Many buildings in the Italianate style were constructed between the 1860s and the 1880s, and may still be seen on the east side of the 700 block of North Salina Street. The facades of these "row buildings" are characterized by round-arched window openings and corbeled brick cornices, features that are characteristic of the Italianate style.
Like other immigrant groups, Italians founded fraternal clubs or mutual aid societies, as places to socialize and help each other. They were often formed by immigrants from the same village or region in Italy. The Italian-American Club of Syracuse voted to attend the inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt at Washington D.C. in March 1905. Thomas Marnell, president of the society, said that an estimated 100 Syracuse Italians in uniform would represent the organization at the event. A dancing party was held on February 15 at Turn Hall to raise funds for entertainment on the trip. In May 1906, the Agnostino Depretis Military Society (named for a noted Prime Minister of Italy) donated $420 to the victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Naples.
Italians in Syracuse celebrated formation of a new Italian society, Duci Degli Abbruzzi (meaning Dukes from Abruzzi, a province northeast of Rome) with a gala evening and blessing of the flag. The men wore uniforms with gold lace on May 9, 1907; committees met visiting delegations at the trains. At noon, a dinner was served at Turn Hall. Later, a parade of 850 men started from the hall and marched to the Italian national hymn from North Salina Street to Catawba Street, and on a procession around the neighborhood, returning to Turn Hall. Hundreds of people viewed the procession, where James Lanzetta officiated as grand marshal.
By 1929 a number of Italian-American lodges were established in Syracuse in addition to that of Abruzzi: Ruggiero Settimo (named for a leader in Sicily), Onesta e Lavoro ("Honest Work"), Duca Degli Abruzzi, Maria Montessori (named after a noted educator), Junior Progresso Lodge, Excelsior, and Golden Jubilee Lodge (a women's lodge). Founded by three local men, the Order Sons of Italy in America established a lodge in Syracuse in 1929. Over the decades since then, people's interests changed as they became more assimilated into other areas of American society. By 1974, all but the Progesso Lodge and Golden Jubilee Lodge had dissolved; these two combined that year into what is known as the Progresso Lodge #1047. They have continued to raise money for charitable and local causes, helped support the annual festivals and parades, and worked for social justice.
As early as 1905, ethnic Italians celebrated the annual Columbus Day Parade in October. The Columbus Day Celebration Committee of St. Peter's Italian Church, a Catholic church, planned a grand parade of the Italian societies through the downtown streets. The committee in charge of the arrangements for the celebration included Rev. Frank Morassi, pastor, Thomas Marnell, James Lanzetta, Frank Pellegrini, Frank Sco and Joseph DeBarbieri.
Ethnic Italians continue to celebrate their heritage, including American citizenship:
- Festa Italia Syracuse is a three-day event in downtown Syracuse that has been celebrated since 1996. It is held in late September in front of city hall at Washington and Montgomery streets.
- Little Italy's Columbus Day Parade, begins three days of festivities, beginning on Friday night before the formal holiday in mid-October.
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- "Progresso Lodge #1047, New York State Order Sons of Italy in America, 2018
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- Big events and festivals, The Post-Standard, 28 July 2010