Alexander Alvini
A History of the Italian Community of New Castle -- 1898 to 1978

At the turn of the 20th century New Castle was a small town along the west shore of the Delaware River. New Castle was an important fishing port, the center of a rich agricultural section and a town with a background of having been the capital of a colony and state, and the county seat of government.

Italian immigrants arrived prior to the turn of the century. They were not the first immigrants, however. Before them came Dutch, Swedes, and English -- mostly Scotch-Irish. The Dutch in 1657 induced 300 Piedmontese to settle in New Castle, preceding their later brethren by 246 years. Unfortunately very little is known about the first Italians to settle in New Castle.

These new arrivals were hard, sturdy men from the mountainous region of the Province of the Abruzzi. Most could neither read nor write but possessed a strong will and a determination to succeed. Others came from Tuscany, the Marches, the Roman Provinces and Sicily. They found their way to New Castle by way of Baltimore.

As the railroad wound its way through New Castle, these Italians decided to settle here. It was an important center providing good job opportunities, especially with the railroad, and a home in a small but dynamic community.

The core of the early 1talian community was made up of Carlo Marcozzi, Francesco Antonio, Vincenzo di Giangiacomo, and Pietro Ottaviano. Others followed. By 1913 there was a sizable Italian community.

A more complete listing of all the Italian immigrants who settled in New Castle is attached to this history [along with a map of the Teramo province of Abruzzo].

With the outbreak of World War I a number of these returned to Italy and fought with the Italian army in the mountainous regions of Venezia-Giulia. They experienced both defeat (Caporetto) and victory (the Piave-River from where the order was given to "hold or die"). The Italian Army held and defeated a strong German force. The river Piave ran red with the blood of the combatants on both sides). Many of these early settlers did not return to New Castle. Others did return with their spouses and began anew their life in America. A sizable number joined the American Army when the U.S. entered the war and fought with distinction in France.

After the war the second wave of immigrants arrived in New Castle, and continued until 1933.

The family made up the central core of the group but because of the closeness and unity within the group each family helped one another so that all advanced together.

Italian was the language spoken in the home, thus the children became bilingual. Many of the earlier children upon entering first grade could not speak English but made the adjustment.


Food was simple, the staple being spaghetti, ravioli, and gnocchi. Taiolini, pasta e faccioli, verze e faccioli along with dandelions and rabbi, which were picked wild in early spring, provided a hardy meal for the family. Chickens and rabbits were raised in the backyard. Each family had its garden which supplied tomatoes for sauce, peppers, beans, zucchini and lettuce. Many even had fig trees and grape vines. Some sold the produce from their garden thus providing another source of income.

There were three Italians who sold their produce and should be noted here. They were Enrico Marinelli and Antonio Gotto who were noted for their tomatoes, peppers, beans and beets. Carlo Marcozzi was widely known for his celery. For many years, even after his retirement from the Railroad, he peddled his celery from door to door. This celery grown between boards to bleach it white and burried in trenches until Thanksgiving and Christmas, to give it a special crispness, was widely sought during the holidays.

In the fall, wine was made from grapes shipped from California. There were muscatel, alegante and zinfindel grapes. Those who could not afford to buy the grapes, picked wild cherries and elderberry which was then in abundance. Those who owned a crusher and press would lend it to those who did not own the equipment. With the arrival of the feast of San Martino all would meet at a designated place and sample each others wine and compare one against the other to see who made the best wine. There was much merriment on this occasion.

In early December the men would buy pigs from the nearby farms and on the appointed day kill the pigs, clean them and each would bring his pig home to turn it into sausages, prosciutto, loma or capicolla, and lard. Some of the lard was used for cooking, some for making soap.

At Christmas and Easter time squid, smelts and other fish goodies were in abundance. Easter bread, pizzelle and cagianitti made up the pastries and mazzarella (lamb liver wrapped in lettuce), baccala (dried salted cod) and blessed eggs completed the menu.

Since many of the immigrants were illiterate, education was an important goal for each family. Each child was given an education commensurate with the time--8th grade, high schoo1 and later for some college.

The following descendents of the Italian immigrants graduated from college--- Angelo Baldini was the first male to graduate from college---U.of D. 1945; Loretta Ianni was the first female to graduate from college---Notre Dame of Baltimore 1953 and she received her Masters in 1956. Edward Ianni was the first to acquire a Ph D---U. of Illinois, 1970. Francis Ianni was the first to graduate from West Point, 1954, and acquired two Master Degrees, 1964 and 1966 respectively. Reverend J. Thomas Cini was the first to be ordained a priest. Several others, although not first, graduated from College---Alexander J. Alvini, Anthony Coccia---Ph D in Philosophy; Andrew Marinelli, Galileo Leon De Ascanis, and Francis De Ascanis, Jr. From these children came businesmen, school administrators, executives, military commanders, firemen, policemen, councilmen, Trustees of New Castle Common, and tradesmen.

The Church drew the Italian community together providing spirtual comfort. St. Peter's parish in New Castle served their needs in baptism, marriage, and death. A natural outgrowth of this love of church was the formation of St. Anthony's Society. Since travel was difficult and an Italian priest was not readily available, the Society filled the gap. The Society did provide an Italian priest two times a year---Christmas and Easter. All the men and women would confess and receive communion in a body, after which breakfast was served. At first all brought something, later a nominal fee was charged for breakfast. - Coffee royal was a specialty for the men.

Upon the illness of a member flowers were sent and a visit by his fellow members was the order of the day. Upon the death of a member flowers and mass cards were sent as well as a visitation to the family of the deceased offering condolences and a helping hand. The viewing was at that time held in the home, and on the night of the viewing the men would gather and recite the rosary and the following day accompany their deceased friend to the grave.

The St. Anthony's Society was founded by Vincent Coccia, Guido De Ascanis, Pierino Pierantozzi, and Lugi Marcozzi with the help of Fr. Edward Lienhouser

Carnevale, the night before Ash Wednesday was usually celebrated by individual families or in groups of families. The feast of St. Joseph, March 19th, a group of men and women would go from house to house, block to block singing songs and dancing. The families along the way would offer wine, sausages, and cheese.


The Italian community was served at first by Dr. Francis P. Rovitti and later by Dr. Charles B. Leone, both coming from Wilmington; both very self- sacrificing men.

Although Drs. Rovitti and Leone delivered some babies in the community, the delivering of children was left in the hands of a midwife. Maria Calvarese Baldini studied midwifery in Italy. When a woman was about to give birth, Comara Maria, as she was affectionately called, would move into the home several days before delivery and literally took over the running of the household. She would clean the house, wash the clothes and cook the meals for the family. After the birth of the child she would remain until the mother was able to get around. For this she received her keep since none could afford money. Comara Maria was credited with delivering 90% of the children up to 1939. About 1940 or 1941 hospitals came into wider use.


Whenever a son or daughter married, the Van Dyke Armory was rented for the reception. Every Italian family was invited. Italian sandwiches, pastries, cumbitti, wine, beer and whiskey were plentiful. An Italian band provided entertainment. They would dance the waltz and the tarantella along with other favorite Italian dances.

Several customs were observed in the Italian Community which should be noted here. In November, on the feast of St. Martin, friends would come together for the tasting of the new wine made in September. Roasted chestnuts and various Italian pastries were traditional menu items. The evening before Ash Wednesday - Carnevale - was celebrated family style where certain prescribed foods were eaten and songs sung before beginning the Lenten fast. Midway through Lent, the feast of St. Joseph was celebrated. In the evening the men would form a grouop and would visit all the homes in the neighborhood. The group would be accompanied by several musicians - one plaving the accordian, another playing the zimbele, one would carry a basket which was soon filled with donations of food stuffs to be given to the poor. Religious songs were sung in honor of St. Joseph. Relaxation of the lenten fast for an evening was permitted. As lent drew to a close, the family would be busy making Easter bread and boiled eggs, the traditional lamb too was being prepared for Easter. On Holy Saturday, the homes were wide ready to receive the priest who would bless the homes. The final celebration in the calendar of events was the feast of St. Anthony, patron Saint of Italy - June 13th.


The earliest known event carried out by the Italian Community was the celebration of Columbus Day. It was organized by Giovanni Lalli. It was celebrated on October 12 in the evening, after everyone had returned from work. This event took place from 1913 to 1918.

The Pestatore Band from Philadelphia supplied the music. The men would assemble in the West End and march through the streets and moved down Delaware Street to the wharf. Fireworks would be lined up along the wharf and the general population be treated to a splendid fireworks display.

Mr. Lalli would lead the parade riding a white stallion. His children would carry a picture of Christopher Columbus and the men would follow.