Life on "The Hill"
“The Hill” already had an immigrant population of Germans, Irish and French when Italians settled in the neighborhood. Many early Italian families settled near the Massoni allotment, and later the Massaro allotment when Andrew Massaro sold lots from it in 1912.1 Life revolved around community in Little Italy. After working long, hard days at industries like the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Wooster Brickworks, Italians came home and sat out on the porch, where they could converse with many of their neighbors. Lucille Santangelo, a former resident of the Hill, explained, “We were very good at neighboring.” In the tightly-knit community, residents knew the names of almost every family in the neighborhood. They visited friends and family whenever they had the chance, and found opportunities to share what they had. “Everybody had a garden--the bigger, the better,” Santangelo said. When the vegetables were ripe, neighbors would bring over plenty to share, including green beans, corn, and an abundance of tomatoes.2
America’s large cities saw waves of nativism and a hostility to the settlement of the growing numbers of immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and small towns like Wooster saw some discrimination as well. Articles in the Wooster Daily News comment on the “foreign element” in Wooster.3 John Yankello observed in a 1979 Daily Record article that “There has always been a dividing line between our end of town and the north end.”4 While some were reluctant to recognize Italians as fellow Americans, Italians demonstrated their commitment to their country through their dedication to the community. At no time was this more apparent than during the World Wars. After America entered WWI, Wooster’s Italians joined the ranks of volunteers for Company D, 146th Infantry, 37th Ohio Division. Carlo Coppola was the first man in Wayne County drafted for military service, seeing action at St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne.5 Second generation Italians volunteered with the same spirit in WWII. Men and women of the East End served their country as soldiers, nurses, officers, counter-intelligence agents, and crew members in the navy.6
Most of the original Italian residents no longer call the Hill home, but the community remains strong in spirit even without a geographic center. Italians of Wooster have retained much of their culture, sharing their customs with the community through the Lamplighter’s Social Club and Festa Italiana, a festival dedicated to promoting Italian heritage.
1Dominic Iannarelli, “Little Italy,” A Touch of Italy in Wooster. (Wooster: The Daily Record, 1968).
2 Lucille Santangelo, interview by Brittany Previte, Wooster, OH, June 23, 2014.
3 “Italians Here Very Thrifty,” Wooster Daily News. August 27, 1910.
4 Paul Locher, “People on ‘The Hill’ Proud of Heritage,” The Daily Record. March 3, 1979.
5 Iannarelli, “WWI,” A Touch of Italy in Wooster.