In regard to Jeff E. Woodard’s (director of Marketing & Community Relations for the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington, Ill.) letter to the editor titled “Thanks to organizers of southwest side Community Fair” (May 18-24 issue), Mr. Woodard is slightly remiss in some of the statements he made regarding the history of migration in that part of the city. While it is true that the southwest side of Rockford was first settled by Germanicus Kent and Thatcher Blake, both of whom I believe were New Englanders and whose ancestry I am not sure of, the majority of the immigrant population Mr. Woodard mentioned (Irish, Germans and Swedes) in fact settled on the east side of the Rock River. Mr. Woodard failed to mention the group of immigrants that I believe had the greatest influence on the southwest side of Rockford during the turn of and throughout most of the last century; that group being the Italians.
The Italian immigrants, most of which were from southern Italy and Sicily, who settled in southwest Rockford are not only an integral part of that area of the city, but Rockford as a whole. From the mid-1920s until well into the mid-1950s, my estimation is that upward of 85 percent of the population in southwest Rockford was of Italian descent. My grandfather, Jasper St. Angel, was the first Italian-American elected Ward 5 alderman; a position subsequently held by Italian-Americans all the way up to the mid-1970s, when an African-American won the seat. My grandfather also constructed the Montague Branch Library in the 1920s to cater to the burgeoning Italian-American population in that area. Scandroli Construction Company oversaw the construction of St. Anthony of Padua Church, which was built primarily by Italian laborers, to serve the needs of the area’s large Catholic Italian-American population. It should be noted as well that my great uncle, the Rev. Anthony Marchesano (a major thoroughfare in southwest Rockford is named after him), was the first pastor of St. Anthony’s Church. The South Main business corridor south of Cedar Street was built up mainly by Italian-American businessmen, and was a much larger and more active commercial area than it is today.
How could one mention other migratory groups without mentioning this great body of people?
This newspaper could be filled front page to back chronicling the history of the Italian immigrants’ influence on southwest Rockford. It is possible that Mr. Woodard was unaware of this great influence, but it is something that is impossible to ignore; most importantly, it is something that all of the residents of Rockford should appreciate and never forget.
Mike St. Angel
From the May 25-31, 2011 issue