Go back in time to the formative days of Greenwich, say the first hundred years or so, and you'll note that the names of the town's founding families had a certain Anglican ring to them: Feake, Ferris, Husted, Mead, Finch, Fitch, Lockwood and Peck. Those families, who traced their roots back to England, were the bedrock on which the town was built, and their history is well-documented.
Now, fast forward some 200 years to about 1880, and you'll see that another generation of families began to trickle into town, making a home in Greenwich. Their names, however, lacked the Anglican origins of those that preceded them -- names like Siciliano, Capoccia, Bonvenuto and Palumbo. They were Italian immigrants and they, too, helped build Greenwich into what it is today -- literally.
By 1890, the trickle of these Italian immigrants into Greenwich had become a steady flow.
"There were many stone masons and ironmongers," says Bea Crumbine, a volunteer at the Greenwich Historical Society, of the early Italian immigrants. "They came through Ellis Island. Some brought their tools to clear the land for the Merritt Parkway."
These immigrants, Crumbine says, came mostly from two villages in Italy -- Rose and Morra De Sanctis -- and settled in two particular neighborhoods in the town, Chickahominy and Cos Cob.
"Those who came to Cos Cob came from Rose, in Calabria," says Crumbine. "Those in Chickahominy came from Morra De Sanctis in Campania."
The history of these immigrants and their impact on Greenwich, however, has never been thoughtfully documented, and their stories, in large part, have remained untold.
That is until now.
The Greenwich Historical Society is putting together an exhibition for March of next year, "From Italy to America," that will examine the Italian immigrant experience in Greenwich.
"We want to document neighborhood history," says Debra Mecky, executive director of the Society.
And Mecky is looking to the Greenwich community to help with the undertaking.
The Society is urging those residents of Italian heritage to bring forward everything from personal letters and emigration documents to recipes, household objects, vintage clothing, posters, postcards, scrapbooks, photographs and film clips of family and community events as possible additions to the forthcoming exhibit.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for these families," said Mecky, "to introduce them to the Historical Society archives as a repository for community collections, for what the families have retained."
Helping Mecky and the Society with the project is Crumbine, who serves as the official Ambassador-at-Large for the town of Greenwich (courtesy of an appointment by First Selectman Peter Tesei). She lived with her husband, former Selectman Peter Crumbine, in Genoa and Rome for more than three years and speaks Italian.
"Bea's love of Italy was the reason we started our examination of neighborhood histories with Italian immigrants," Mecky says.
And Crumbine expects the Greenwich community to get involved.
"They understand that this documenting is a real honor," she said. "We're recognizing their ancestors, the skills they brought with them.
"They are proud of the heritage of their parents and grandparents," Crumbine added. "They want to teach those values of hardship and courage to their children. They've lived in the houses of their grandparents. They're pleased to have their heritage recognized. They're going to share stories of their fathers and grandfathers. It's all so empowering."
Crumbine emphasized that items used in the forthcoming exhibition would be returned, and copies of photographs and documents might be requested. Donations of family memorabilia to the permanent archival collections of the Greenwich Historical Society are also welcome.
The Historical Society will hold two Discovery Days, where video histories of Greenwich residents will be collected for the exhibition: one, "From Italy to America: Greenwich Stories," at the St. Lawrence Society from 7-9 p.m. on Sept. 21; and another at the Morrese Society, St. Roch's Church in Chickahominy on October 30, from 7 to 9 p.m.
On site on both Discovery Days will be the TimeStories filming team to record brief recollections and personal stories for a video tribute feature in the March exhibit, said Crumbine. Those wishing to participate, she said, should bring along photographs to add to their recollections. With space limited for the recording sessions Crumbine urged interested parties to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Those wishing to make a phone appointment may contact Christopher Shields, archivist, Greenwich Historical Society at 203-869-6899, ext. 23 or email email@example.com. Bea Crumbine, Ambassador-at-Large for the Town of Greenwich, can be reached at 203-629-1687 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.