The Italian Village section of downtown Jersey City, once known as “Italian Town” and “Little Italy”, has paid witness to many social and cultural changes throughout its more than 100 year history.
“At the turn of the century, the Village pulsed with life. Men played bocci on side lots. Mamas called out open widows to children. Brunswick Street, the main shopping street, was nicknamed “Bushel Avenue” because of it’s many pushcart peddlers and outdoor produce stands. People came from all over the city to buy fresh, high quality goods at low prices and the sidewalks were often so crowded that strollers were forced into the streets.” The Village Guide, published 1979
From the 1880’s through the early Twentieth Century, Jersey City’s population burgeoned due to the economic strength and influx of immigrants arriving through Port Jersey. Germans, Polish, Irish and Italians immigrants came straight from Ellis Island to work on the many railroads and factories that prospered during the height of the Industrial Age. Many Italian immigrants settled downtown under the shadow of the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company smoke stacks. As their roots in this country deepened, many defined their American Dream by opening small businesses in the many store fronts that lined The Italian Village streets.
Following the Second World War, many urban neighborhoods, The Village among them, began to lose their residents to the hope of a better life in suburbia. One by one, stores closed and the old Italian family’s moved away. From the late 1950’s through the early 1970s, the Italian Village suffered its greatest period of decline. Many buildings were destroyed by fire and general decay. Complete blocks of the Village neighborhood were all but erased leaving behind empty lots of rubble. By the late 1970s, despite a valiant energetic revitalization effort entitled “Risorgimento” by the VITA (Village Italians Take Action) organization, The Village became a sleepy enclave throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A mere shadow of its former self.
Times have changed. The Village, like other Downtown Jersey City residential districts, is undergoing a real estate and cultural renaissance. The Village Neighborhood Association, a non-profit corporation formed by Village residents in late 2007, has become the steward of its quality of life issues. The VNA is determined to reinvent The Village neighborhood and continue its ongoing rebirth.