Short History of Boston’s North End

The Italian immigrants flocked into the North End after the Irish and at the end of Jewish settlements, found a neighborhood in which was rundown, an overcrowded slum of deteriorating tenement buildings. The first Italian immigrants came to the north end in the  1860s from Genoa. The Genoese immigrated first, were then followed by the Campanians, lastly followed by the Sicilians, the Avellinese, the Neapolitans, and the Abruzzesians. Each group of Italian settlers settled in their area within the North End. Settlement House Movement swept through Boston’s North End; some settlement houses were established to assist immigrants in adjusting to life in America. 


The North End Union provided food and aid to multiple generations of Italian immigrants. By the year 1900, the Italian population in the North End was 14,000. Over the next twenty years, it would more than double to 37,000. In the peak of the North End in 1930, 44,000 Italians were packed into an area less than a mile in size. At that time, the neighborhood had become 100% Italian. The North End began to grow, with twenty-eight Italian physicians, six Italian dentists, eight funeral homes, and five barbershops. Many North End businesses were of the “Ma and Pa” variety – small grocery stores, butcher shops, and bakeries, dressmakers, and shoe stores. 


Eventually, the city began to get negative public feelings towards Italian immigrants over subsequent decades. The North End began to have an infamous criminal reputation. Crime  eventually became “organized” inside the North End under a variety of “Mafia”, “Cosa Nostra,” and “The Mob.” Gaspare Messina started the first “Boston family” crime organization in 1916. Federal authorities in Boston believe they pretty much closed the book on organized crime in the area. The North End today retains the  “Old World” feel.


 Today the North End revolves around tourism. However, the old neighborhood grocery stores, fruit vendors, butcher shops, bakeries, and shoe stores have disappeared to be replaced by delicious restaurants. The first schools have been subdivided and converted to condominium apartments. Times have changed significantly in Boston’s North End. In 2019, Italian-Americans still comprise more than 41% of the resident population. Italian remains the language spoken throughout the North End. Old customs and traditions are still celebrated throughout the neighborhood. The Italian community in the North End has gotten smaller in recent years with a consistent increase in property values that have forced many longterm residents to move out of the North End. 


The North End still has its original narrow streets and brick buildings, and a sense of community. Although Italians currently make up less than half of the population of the North End, its traditional Italian customs are preserved through the neighborhood’s language, music, cuisine, and traditions.


On your next trip to the historic North End, stay with us Bricco Suites. Enjoy a front-row seat to an authentic Italian experience in Boston’s North End.


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