With so much political talk about immigration issues, Cleveland Heights historian Dennis R. Sutcliffe reminded me of the early trials and tribulations of Italians. There were a handful of names (135) in the Cleveland city directories of 1870. More than 20,000 Italian immigrants arrived in the following 50 years. Most were peasants from southern Italy where poverty and government negligence brought unbearable hardship. After the turn of the 20th century, Italian immigrants labored with picks and shovels in the ever-increasing city services. Many worked on bridges, sewers and streetcar tracks, providing cheap labor. Skilled in embroidering and needlework, Italian women and men also worked in the garment industries.
With the formative period completed in the late 1920s, six Italian neighborhoods were established. The largest was Big Italy, along Woodland and Orange Avenues from E. 9 to E. 40th. Many of those immigrants came from Sicily. Little Italy centered at Mayfield and Murray Hill Roads and the primary occupations included tailoring, monument and cemetery work and gardening. Blue Rock Springs was nearby in the E. 107th and Cedar area. There was a substantial settlement also in the Five Points Collinwood area and two on the west side, one near Clark and Fulton and the other on Detroit Ave. at W. 65th. Another developing region was established on Woodland Ave. and E. 110th. Each of these communities put in place nationality parishes, mutual aid organizations, traditions, patron saints, feasts, and family-owned businesses.
Nationality churches like Holy Rosary, Holy Redeemer and Our Lady of Mount Carmel East became the lynchpins of the neighborhoods. This data is simply a reminder of our ethnic identity and a preservation of our values. We treasure our heritage so that our legacy will continue to have a future in the greatest country on the planet, the United States.