Carroll Gardens is renowned as a premier Italian neighborhood, not only in Brooklyn, but also in New York and the United States. The influx of Italian immigrants to the area began in 1880 and continued with but a brief hiatus during WWII through the end of the 1960s. Immigrants looking for work and a better future for their families came from the southern parts of Italy: Naples, Bari, Calabria, Sorrento, Salerno, Iscia, Procida as well as the many towns of Sicily. An article from the Brooklyn Eagle dating back to 1900 said the area around Columbia Street was the largest concentration of Italian immigrants in the United States.
Despite so many changes over the last 125 years, the imprint of those Italian immigrants is clearly visible in South Brooklyn. Italian culture imbues the neighborhood from the redolent stores and restaurants along Court Street, the facades of our homes, the religious iconography centered between fig trees in the front courtyards and the other little things that you may suggest in the comments section that I urge you to supply.
My little family, Maria, baby and I, are journeying back to these beautiful towns which are the origin points from which these Carroll Gardens traditions sprang. But let us start here at home to see the connections.
The natural place to start in Carroll Gardens is at on Summit Street. It was the first, and since it is still thriving now, the oldest, Italian Catholic Church in the Borough of Churches, as well as in Queens and Long Island. The statues that line the interior walls of the church are the guardians of the history of Carroll Gardens. Each figure is a patron saint of a small town or village in Italy and each was brought to Carroll Gardens by the immigrants of those towns upon settling here.
My wife is Sicilian. Her mom and dad are from two different regions in Sicily and we are currently in Sicily visiting family. Of course much of our time is devoted to catching up with family and friends, still they have allowed me to take them on an exploration of a number of the towns of our ancestors. I have highlighted five images in Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen Church and have linked them to their towns of origin aiding me in this endeavor.
Among the images brought from Sicily are an oil painting of Our lady of Miracles from Collesano, a statue of Santa Rosalia from Palermo, paintings of St. John the Baptist and Our Lady of the Rosary from Pozzallo and a statue of Saint Angelo from Licata. All of these towns boast large segments of the population of Carroll Gardens even to this day.
During the next two weeks I will search the hills and beaches of these four towns in Sicily for the precursors to Carroll Gardens. I will also try to capture the wonder of the journey that my one year old is on, as she travels across the Atlantic bringing together four generations of her family whose recent history spans eight decades.
This is part of my continuing testimonial to the Italian immigrant story of Carroll Gardens. Stay tuned for our first two stops. Hello, Collesano and Palermo and Ciao for now.