Created By: Matthew
The earliest Italians began arriving in Wilmington around 1869; these early arrivals found no groups of fellow countrymen to assist with finding work or a home. One of the first neighborhoods to have an identifiable Italian American population is sometimes referred to as “The Hill” or the “Wilmington Colony” but is more commonly known today as Wilmington’s “Little Italy”. Located in the southwest section of the city, “Little Italy” is bounded by Lancaster Avenue, Eleventh Street, Union Street, and Broom Street. Much of the land that is today occupied by “Little Italy” was empty when the Italians arrived. With little industry in place prior to their arrival, it appears that the impetus for settling the Wilmington Colony was the B&O Railroad which ran across both the western edge of the city and the neighborhood. By 1900 the number of Italian-born immigrants in Delaware totaled 1,122; ten years later, that number had doubled. The size of the Italian-born community in Wilmington was similar in size to those in states such as Maine, Oregon, and Utah, and was far smaller than the communities in New York City and nearby Philadelphia.
Wilmington’s Little Italy exhibits elements found in many Italian American communities that represent social values and cultural norms derived from the historical experiences of most Italians relocating to the United States. Among these elements are small-scale neighborhoods that facilitate intrafamily and interpersonal relations, assert a preference for high human density, mix commercial and industrial activities with residences, and provide a wide range of places for groups to gather. The streets in the Wilmington Colony are densely populated grids with low buildings of two or three stories abutting the sidewalk. Many buildings have ground floor commercial space with the upper story reserved for residential use.
The properties highlighted on this walking tour help to identify a small sampling of sites that were, and are, important to the history, culture, and social fabric of Wilmington’s Little Italy.
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