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A Nostalgic Trip Back To The North End's Old Neighborhood


July 19, 2009

Reading "Remembering The Old Neighborhood" was like taking a walk back into my family's past in Hartford's North End.

This compilation of memories and photos from more than 150 former and current North Hartford residents (including my mother, Sara "Sooky" Greenberg, and me) captures a time long gone and a place now greatly changed. Its recollections span life during the Great Depression, World War II and the post-war boom. Adversity and diversity strengthened this community, and while poverty was no stranger, there was a richness of spirit.

"People trusted one another. There wasn't any crime. The pace was slower," recalls Joseph Fleischman, now a resident of Glastonbury, in the book. "People knew each other, and if things got tough, people helped each other out."

A project of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, edited by Joan Walden of West Hartford and designed by Cheryl Dauphin of Wethersfield, the book focuses on the Jewish experience of that time and place. A glossary of Yiddish terms is included.

But it also offers reminiscences from Italian, Irish and African American residents of the North End. Among them is Patricia E. Lawson-Kelly, founder of the Ebony Horsewomen, whose lifelong love for the animals began when her neighbor, a Jewish grocer named Mr. Fisher, taught her to groom his horse and ride.

"There is a long history of blacks and Jews in the North End, a real great history," writes Lawson-Kelly, of Bloomfield. "The Jewish community dotted my life from early childhood to adulthood."

Many contributors write that despite occasional racial or religious animosity, people got along well, shared customs and made lifelong friendships. While their stories are specific to the North End, they will be familiar to anyone who lived in Hartford during those years.

It was like living in a small town within the city, a place where respect for parents and teachers was unquestioned and children played without supervision on streets that were safe. Synagogues and churches were abundant, and many recall religious training and the rabbis who imparted it, sometimes to kids who would rather have been elsewhere. Other tales deal with the poverty of the Depression and the blackout drills, rationing and fears during the war years.

The book is replete with stories of enjoyment. Keney Park, with "Lookout Mountain" for sledding and the duck pond for skating, was a shared playground. The Lenox movie theater, with its 10-cent admission, short subjects, newsreels, cliffhanger serials and double features, was a shared living room. The Crown Market, Platt's and Blue Hills delicatessens and Beinstein, Baggish, Mayron bakeries — to name just a few — sold kosher meats and ethnic treats that were not organic or low-calorie but were delicious.

Cars did not yet dominate our lives. Kids walked to school, and mothers walked to markets. Buses took us downtown, where department stores, such as G. Fox & Co. and Sage-Allen flourished.

The main thoroughfares were Albany and Blue Hills avenues, and many families made the journey from cramped tenement apartments in the Depression and World War II years to more spacious two-family rentals to single-family homes as the economy improved. Prosperity would soon take them farther west and north to home ownership in West Hartford and Bloomfield.

The riots bred of rage and frustration following the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. hastened the exodus, which was largely completed by the early 1970s.

The stories are sweetly nostalgic, often amusing and sometimes sad, reflecting a can-do spirit that helped people withstand bad economic times and war. Above all, they show being part of such a close-knit community was a privilege.

"If I had it to do over again, I'd do the same," writes Charlotte Ticotsky Brick, now of West Hartford, about living there. "The North End was a way of life."

•REMEMBERING THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD is available from the Jewish Historical Society, 333 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, which is open Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Information: 860-727-6171.

It is also carried at Bookworm, 968 Farmington Ave., West Hartford. Information: 860- 233-2653.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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