When Olive Garden isn’t cutting it for you and you want a real taste of Italy, many people will tell you to visit Little Italy in Manhattan. Most tend to forget about the area of Little Italy in the Bronx. Taking up Arthur Ave, it is argued that this forgotten piece of Italy has the more authentic feel of the two spots. Even though this area of the Bronx has held the title of Little Italy for over one hundred years, it wasn’t always the Italians who occupied this neighborhood.
Before the Bronx was filled with apartment buildings and multicultural people as we see today, it was all farmland. The borough had a more suburban feel to it. Back in late 1700’s, the Lorillard family owned a large extent of land in the Bronx near the river as well as a part of what is known now as Belmont Avenue. The family came over to extend their successful tobacco company from the big city. While the family is well known for their successful business, many people do not know that the name Arthur Avenue is credited to Catherine Lorillard. Catherine was a big fan and supporter of the twenty-first President, Chester A. Arthur and when the city began constructing roads around the five boroughs in the mid 1800’s, she asked that the main street of the area to be named after him. Eventually, they were brought out by the state and in its place is Bronx Park. Included in the park is the Botanical Gardens which is where the Lorillard Snuff Mill still stands as the largest tobacco manufacture in the United States and as a historical land mark.
The Lorillard did make a home in the Bronx for many years but it wasn’t long before immigrants found their way to the area and called it home as well. In the 1880’s, Germans and the Irish would be the faces seen around the neighborhood but in only a mere ten years, the Italians established a settlement and they are the ones who stuck around all the years leading to today. Their gateway to the area was through an elevated train that was built from the city all the way to Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. As soon as apartments in the Belmont area were advertised, the Italians snatched them up. Now the area was surrounded by heavy Italian influences.
It goes without saying, the Italians, just like all other immigrants that came over for monetary gain, were hard workers. Small businesses, stands, and street vendors filled the streets of the Belmont and Arthur Avenue area. It wasn’t until 1940 that the mayor of the time, Fiorello LaGuardia, gave these people a stabilized indoor place for their businesses. On October 29th, the famous Arthur Avenue retail market opened. It is still up and running today and upon entrance, visitors are hit will smells of sausages, breads, pastries and deliciousness. Although they are small businesses, they are able to strive because people from all over the tri-sate area visit for the taste of Italy.
While Little Italy is still prominently an Italian neighborhood today, many Albanians, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans have settled into the Belmont and Arthur Avenue area. However, this does not stop the Italians from having their many religious festivals and showing their pride.