Dedicated to my grandchildren, so that they never forget their heritage and continue..........

Federal Hill Tours


Brief History of Federal Hill / Courtesy of Historian Paul Campbell

(In memoriam)

The turn of the Century became a time of transition for food and traditions. Specialties such as lentils, polenta, calamari, and baccala' were peasant foods with which Italians were familiar and accustomed to eating, but were also foods that estranged them from other nationalities. These foods were unavailable in local grocery stores or on restaurant menus. As Italian communities gathered together and developed in a section of cities, food was only one primary factor in bringing immigrants together. The very name "Federal Hill" developed through the years, and although unclear historically, some believe that it was so-called because the Federal Troops camped on what is today the area around the State House. Others have different versions, yet Federal Hill inevitably started on Spruce Street. Spruce Street runs parallel to today's Atwells Avenue. Still, at the beginning of the century, it was the cradle of the Rhode Island Italian Colony, or "Little Italy," as it is commonly called. Very few streets are entitled to such recognition; to Rhode Islanders, it is the equivalent of what Mulberry Street means to New York City or the North End to Boston. On this very street one hundred and twenty-five years ago, many noted men and women began their way into the New World and created a future for their families based on solid ethical traditions. The first Italian immigrants settled on Federal Hill in 1870 and continued until 1910. In the early days of settlement, in Rhode Island and throughout the United States, the church was the focal point. Due to the severe handicap and obstacles created by the lack of knowledge of the English language, most immigrants relied on the pastor to translate letters, documents, birth certificates, and referrals to doctors and undertakers, and for the essential factor, job placement.