|Acorn Street in the heart of Federal Hill
From at least 1857 to 1862, my great great great grandparents, James and Ellen Duggan lived on Acorn Street. By 1865, ninety-seven percent of the heads-of-household (37 adults) on Acorn Street were Irish. For many of them, probably including James and Ellen, Irish was their first language.
Only twenty years later, in 1885, more than two thirds of heads-of-household (109 adults) on Acorn Street were Italian, with many or most speaking the mother tongue.
Six years before this picture was taken, my great grandfather, Patrick Aloysius McKenna, was living on this street and working a few doors away at Nicholson File Company. Hopefully, he was taking advantage of the cuisine of his Italian neighbors and their warm approach to life. But probably not. Unfortunately, the Irish and the Italians were pitted against each other. By the community, by the Church, and by a need to have themselves and their families respected and successful in society.
While some Irish were still living on Federal Hill after the second world war, the Italian Community had done more than take over the hill:
They branded Federal Hill! Federal Hill’s Italians made Federal Hill the most famous neighborhood in Rhode Island and one of the most famous in New England. To this day, it is as well known a “Little Italy” as any in America.Good for them! And good for me! Because of them, I get to write essays about a famous neighborhood with wonderful cuisine.And while I enjoy my pasta at Venda Ravioli, I get to see the Federal Hill that few others do: A Community that welcomed my family to America, sheltered them for three generations and helped them to succeed.