Former residents recall Portsmouth's North End
On Deer Street in Portsmouth, Delmira Pirini Morse describes how the street was lined with well-kept family homes and family-run businesses in the Italian North End of Portsmouth before the neighborhood was claimed for urban renewal. (GRETYL MACALASTER PHOTO)
In this photo from the Portsmouth Athanaeum’s North End Neighborhood Collection, members of the Bizzocchi family pose outside their Hill Street home, circa 1925. Former residents of the largely Italian-American neighborhood and descendants of former residents have joined together to keep memories of the old North End alive. COURTESY PORTSMOUTH ATHANAEUM
Through her stories and those of others, the Italian North End neighborhood of Portsmouth once again comes to life — its busy streets with family homes, barber shops, markets, candy stores and schools, the smell of cooking wafting out of windows and the risks involved with causing any trouble in the few blocks where everyone knows everyone else.
Pirini remembers watching her mother's house sit vacant for 10 years after the city took it and about 200 other buildings in the areas of Russell, Deer and Green streets for urban renewal in the 1950s.
Former residents said the worst part of the situation was how everyone was forced to scatter to different neighborhoods and often different towns.
Then, in July, descendants of the North Enders got together to form the Italian-American Heritage Association in an effort to preserve and share the city's Italian history with future generations. By the start of October, national Italian-American Heritage Month, the group had sold all 152 tickets to its first public event. Attendees were treated to authentic Italian cooking, music and entertainment at the Rye Congregational Church.
A big part of that is having fun, she added.
"A lot of associations don't provide a venue for socialization," Koloshey said.
The association made another plea during the dinner event for even more photos.
Six decades after the old North End neighborhood began to disappear, it is now the site of three massive hotels, with another on the way.
"They put the (wrecking) ball through that one in the '60s," she said.
North End reunions have been held for many years, originally organized by Al DeStefano, Ciotti said.
Dick Fusegni said if the North End had been saved, it would be another tourist attraction for the many visitors who come to Portsmouth for its history, small boutique shops, and local restaurants.
"It really destroyed a lot of people when they destroyed the buildings," Morse said. "We of this generation decided we want to preserve the North End and work on preserving what are now memories of the North End."
The Italian American Association meets the second Wednesday of each month at the Portsmouth Public Library, with a social hour from 6 to 7 p.m. followed by a business meeting at 7 p.m.
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