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Front Street: Hartford’s original “Little Italy”

Hartford

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The Front Street that exists in Hartford now is in stark contrast to what it was more than 100 years ago.

“I’m a sentimentalist. I like the old style, the old times,” said Paul Margolfo, who grew up in an Italian-American family not far from Front Street. He was one of many people who called the capital city home.

“In 1910, 14-percent of the city of Hartford was Italian and 60-percent of people lived in the Front Street neighborhood,” said Michael Messina with the Connecticut Historical Society.

Italian immigrants began coming to the United States in the late 1800’s. French and German immigrants occupied many of the jobs in New York and New Jersey, so many of the Italians made their way to Hartford because of the jobs it offered unskilled workers. The Italians began to settle along Front Street, which was located near the Connecticut River.

“The Front Street neighborhood had plenty of opportunity for people to live either above where they worked or near where they worked,” said Messina. “Hartford downtown was different.”

“Front Street was unique,” said Margolfo. “Nowhere else in the city you could go and have outdoor cafes, all little stores. People were hanging out of windows all day saying, ‘hey, how are you doing?'”

A major flood in 1934 changed the Front Street neighborhood in a big way. Many stores and homes were badly damaged.

“Just because a flood came in, for them, it didn’t mean they were just going to leave,” said Messina.More Italian in Connecticut:

Everything changed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when developers began setting their sights on the Front Street neighborhood. It was prime real estate because of its proximity to the water. The city had the area designated as a slum with the help of the federal government. That’s when Italian families started moving out of the area. Many of them relocated along Franklin Avenue, which is known as the modern day “Little Italy.” Other families left Hartford and moved to surrounding towns.

As Italians began to relocate, a skyline began to grow in Hartford due to all the construction taking place. It set the ground work for the Hartford we know today. The original Front Street is completely gone, but a few blocks away you’ll find a road with the same name.

“It’s just a new neighborhood of what Front Street used to be in modern times,” said Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra.

The current Front Street has gone through a great deal of revitalization in recent years. You’ll now find restaurants, entertainment and apartments.

“The situation here is one of growth,” said Segarra. “Bringing people back into the city.”

A parking garage now sits where Paul Margolfo used to live along Winthrop Street. In fact, the only remnants of his old neighborhood are the Sacred Heart Church and an old clock tower.

“I mean it’s so different now,” said Margolfo. “I can picture it. I can picture the building. I can picture the street.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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