Once upon a time, the West Side was made up of several neighborhoods, each with its own character and ethnic base. There was not one West Side; there were many.
One of the many neighborhoods, the lower West Side, at the time this picture was taken, was made up ethnically of a large Jewish population — the Jennis, Crumb, Fox, Swatzburg and Hankin families — and a large Italian population, and most of them from Tusca, Sicily. There were the Grillos, DeNovellises, Maioranos, Tusias, Macionis, DeSios, Christinas, Longos and the Culottas.
There were others, to be sure; the Hazams and the Haddads. Greek names included the Nickolas, Pappas, George and John families. There were numerous black families, prominent among them the Scotts, Ruleys, DeBarros and Brewers. There were a few Irish — the Caulfields, Falkners, and Ryans — and the Polish neighbors included the Tribensky, Straub, Buckowicz and Suplicki families along Spring Street, High Street and Summit Street.
The West Side was a closely knit and friendly community, all eager to help one another in times of need. People of all nationalities, faiths and races lived together, worked together and struggled together to provide for their families.
If there was one outstanding quality about the lower West Side, it was how everyone helped each other and the pride they had in their homes and in their neighborhoods. Perhaps the unity came because so many had labored to learn the language and the customs and overcome the prejudices of the new world.
Thames Square was the center of their world, with Julius Cooper’s Drug Store, Segal’s Dry Goods and Bokoff’s. Saul and Izzy Budnick ran the fish market, Miller’s, and Weiner’s Grocery stores were located on the corners of High and West Main streets, as was Hertz’s Meat Market.
Werman’s Shoe Factory provided a great deal of the employment, as did several mills in the area. Two of the largest automobile agencies in town were Lou Goldberg’s Blue Ribbon Pontiac and Jacob’s West Side Garage, which sold, I believe, DeSotos and Plymouths. Then, of course, there was Cip’s Grinders, DiMaggio’s Shoe Repair, Milbouer’s Community Bakery, DePinto’s Grinders and Grocery, and many others.
Around Thames Square, which doesn’t exist today, there was a city within a city. There was a Kosher meat market just over the bridge, next to West End Hardware. And while many — if not most — of the residents from the lower West Side had come to America as immigrants, they struggled and worked, and, by the time I took this photo, they owned their own homes, and their children were going to college.
A Closer Look
Today, many of Norwich’s most prominent, successful and valuable citizens grew up on the West Side.
The West Side story is a composite of so many activities that we will, in the weeks and months ahead, tell the stories individually with photos taken throughout the neighborhoods.
As old timers look at this picture today, they will acknowledge the heart of the West Side hasn’t just changed — it is gone completely. The entire center of this photo that housed hundreds of families and was part of Norwich’s history has yielded to a new highway and redevelopment.
Once upon a time, there was a lower West Side that was the golden gate of opportunity to many immigrants. It is now a part of history that must be committed only to memory.