SECOND LOOK: Memories of an Italian neighborhood in the 1950s

Published on Wednesday, 6 March 2019 19:00
Written by Art Secondo

Second Look

The 1950s was a decade of simplicity, innocence. Growing up in Southington when immigrant families had settled in their specific neighborhoods, one in particular seemed to represent the new era in working class America.

This downtown street had a nationalistic name and its homes were not fancy, colorful or large. Ethnic families had guarded what they regarded as their territory. The Italians had circled a section of downtown and now Liberty Street, three tenths of a mile long, which became its center of varied activity.

Numerous Italian families lived on the street that was sandwiched between Center Street and Eden Avenue. Yet, only a few families dominated the tough northern section. They were the Tully and Mauro clans with off-spring numbering over 20. It was an era of shooting marbles, pitching coins, playing prisoner’s base, stocking ball which was tightly sewed socks made into a ball, and tackle football without pads. There were no drugs, no alcohol and no crime, just lots of children, many who were welcomed from other streets.

The 1950s represented an era that is gone for many Americans where life was tough but each day was appreciated. A time in history where a high school education promised a comfortable living and where family values were shown through television shows.

Money was appreciated but not revered. If there was enough money to pay the electric bill, purchase some groceries from neighborhood stores, gas for the car and simple clothing for the kids, it was enough.

Today, Liberty Street looks nothing like it did 50 years ago. Gone is the Tully candy store. Gone is the Mauro home where 11 people lived and, along with the home, gone is Tippy Mauro’s cherished garden and the first bocce court in town. No barking dogs, no children playing - just traffic.

Gone is the Silver Bell bar, the cordial Giammatteo family and Southington Oil. Heading south toward Eden Avenue, resided a quiet section where front lawns were just feet from the road. Backyards had grape vines, small barns, clotheslines and usually a leashed dog.

The late Anna Tully raised four sons and four daughters. Her tiny first floor residence, now a new apartment complex, was a virtual community center where friends gathered using empty beer and soda cases as seats and string lights hovering over penny candy and a few shelves of canned goods.

Across the street where a modern office building now sits, was the Mauro house, a hotbed of nightly and weekend activity from stocking baseball and bocce games. The Mauros had 11 children, five brothers nicknamed Mouse, Toot, Pobo, Rocky and Chili. Many of the Liberty Street people worked at Pexto Manufacturing around the corner. Like the Tullys, it was a family of good people who cherished their nationality, their religion and their family.

Non-Italians regarded Liberty Street as a hotbed of loud thugs, but also outstanding athletes since dozens were to become Southington High standout players. The street was regarded as a farm system for the high school. Yet, Liberty Street was a prime reflection of what America had become following World War II and the Korean War.

The postwar economy was booming and people had plenty of time on their hands. People used Friday night as the big shopping event downtown and soon more and more restaurants and bars began to open. Southington had less than 15,000 residents with a tiny firehouse at the corner of Liberty and a police force of friendly Italian, Polish and Irish officers.

Similar to neighbor cities, Southington’s Liberty Street had self-proclaimed gangs but not the kind people feared. There were scuffles but nobody was beaten badly. Nobody called the police because gangs of yesteryear were wannabees of the tough guys in movies.

Occasionally, a so-called gang of outsiders from Bristol Street or Vermont Avenue would venture into Liberty territory. After a few minutes of rock hurling and verbal insults, peace reigned and parents knew nothing about any pending battle.

During the 1960s many families moved away from Liberty Street but remained in town. Many would later comment that other neighborhoods were never like Liberty Street where front doors welcomed neighbors and nobody went to bed before midnight.

Today, there is no evidence of the former Liberty Street of the 1950s.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Southington Herald on Wednesday, 6 March 2019 19:00. Updated: Wednesday, 6 March 2019 19:02.