Because of cultural and language barriers and the frequent changes in the work crews which moved back and forth between New Haven and Italy, a group of Italian foremen and sub-contractors arose to deal with the “alien” laboring group. Sometimes conflicts developed between the laborers and the middlemen. In 1902 Italian workmen at Sargent & Company struck because they were not told how much they were being paid and therefore had no way of knowing at the end of the week whether their pay was fair and accurate. However, the growth of Italian middlemen did give Italians a foothold in New Haven’s economy which many blacks lacked.
Banking needs were met within the Italian community. The first Italian bank in New Haven was founded in 1885 by Paul Russo. Other early bankers were Angelo Porto, Frank DeLucia, and Antonio Pepe. Private banks often grew out of a steamship agency or were run in conjunction with one. Such banks performed a variety of services: they handled savings and loans, changed and cabelled money, sold steamship tickets, and notarized documents and offered legal counsel. Often people banked with a fellow townsman. A measure of the importance of these banks is the fact that by 1930 most New Haven banks had an Italian department to compete with the Italian banks. The Depression and the consolidation of private banks marked the end of the era of private Italian banks.
The New Haven Italian community continued to grow. From 1896 to 1926 immigration and the birth of native-born children added to its population. Between 1890 and 1900, 3,386 Italian immigrants settled here. By 1920 slightly over 56% of the Italian community was made up of native born children; by 1930 65% were native-born. The colony was no more; the Italian settlement in New Haven was permanent.
With the growth of the community, stratification within the Italian society began to appear. A “better class” developed and lived on the Hill. But Wooster Square became the central Italian neighborhood. New Haven’s earlier immigrants and settlers had fled the neighborhood in a panic immediately prior to World War 1. In 1914 the
New Haven Register
called the Wooster Square area “Little Naples.” The area was bounded by Water Street on the south, Union on the west, East Street on the east, and Grand Avenue on the north. Wooster Square had its own grocery stores, fruit stands, pasta shops, fish market, and barbering establishments. It was a far cry from the days when Anthony Dematty had opened the first Italian shoe store on Grand Avenue in 1873. The community had its own lawyers, doctors, and newspapers. By 1914 there were enough Italians in the Wooster Square area to make a fair-sized city by themselves.
The Hill was predominantly settled by northern Italians, while the Wooster Square area was almost exclusively a settlement of southerners. The Hill’s residents generally had a higher economic status than Wooster Square residents. Even in the Hill there were two distinct groups: the district of the Marchigiani, people from the Marches or northern Italians, and the district where mostly southern Italians lived. A certain antagonism existed between the two.
, a distrust of outsiders, separated the various Italians in New Haven. Hill residents also mingled more freely with non-Italians who also lived in the Hill. The more homogeneous Wooster Square, therefore, became the center of Italian life in New Haven.