Tradition remembered

With traditional Italian music playing in the background, a new dedication plaque was unveiled honoring Burlington’s old “Little Italy” neighborhood on Oct. 8. At the intersection of Cherry Street and Battery Street, a group of about 50 people gathered for the ceremony. The plaque is dedicated to the community and families displaced from the former Italian neighborhood during a period of urban renewal in the 1960s. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Mayor Bob Kiss, historian Lola Aiken and novelist and UVM professor Philip Baruth joined the president of the Vermont Italian Club, Adele Dienno, in dedicating the plaque. Each gave speeches on why the recognition of this forgotten neighborhood is important to him or her. Leahy spoke emotionally about his family’s heritage and memories of his mother’s Italian influence on his childhood. “Little Italy” was located where the Hilton, Marriott and Burlington Shopping Center currently are. The area was a community inhabited by mostly Italians and where one could find Italian shops and markets, Leahy said. During the push for urban renewal in the 1960s, the families who lived in the area were displaced to make way for the mall and hotels, Kiss said While the efforts toward urban renewal were successful, the Little Italy community was lost in the effort. This dedication is an opportunity for acknowledging these sacrifices for the greater good, Kiss said. Burlington citizens who were not affiliated with the Vermont Italian Club also came out for the event. “I came because it’s a beautiful day, outdoors and I wanted to get out and get involved,” Cathy Messina said. “And I love being around Italians.” The Vermont Italian Club will be continuing their work toward remembrance and recognition with more projects. “This is not an end but a beginning of a process,” Dienno said. Over the next year, the Vermont Italian Club plans to bring further recognition to the old community by installing signs around the perimeter with pictures and stories from the past. After the ceremony, the crowd continued the celebration at Main Street Landing with homemade meatballs and cannoli, Italian wine, pasta-making demonstrations and a showing of the film, “Champlain Street Urban Renewal Project” by Patrick Farrington.