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1900 - ITALIAN JERSEY FARMERS - THE PROSPEROUS COLONIES NEAR VINELAND.

The tenement house district which includes Mulberry Street has often been referred to as "New Italy," and visitors to New-York who are interested in the foreign population question go there to study the habits, conditions and peculiarities of the Italian Americans. The investigation usually results in convincing the visitor that the Italian, with his pushcart, his organ and his monkey, is an undesirable citizen, and that his habitation is not of a character to fill the lover of cleanliness and order with envy. But there is another "New Italy" which should be visited before the investigator makes his final report, where the immigrant Italian has demonstrated that he is capable of keeping pace with his American neighbor and that he has qualities of thrift and industry, and so much knowledge of certain branches of agriculture, that he can make many blades of grass grow where none ever grew before.

The place where these characteristics of the Italian have come to light is the settlement near Vineland, N.J., about 34 miles south of Philadelphia. Vineland is a place where one may look for the unexpected. It was founded about 30 years ago, and because of its superior climatic conditions it became the Mecca for many people in poor health. As one of the residents of the place said: "All sorts of people came to the new town. Bloomer women, Spiritualists, Christian Scientists and 'lungers' came along with the people in search of pleasant homes, and they have left their mark on the place."

The first Italian came to Vineland in 1872. He brought his wife with him, was pleased with the place, bought a farm, and sent for the rest of his family. A year later the owners of the land advertised, and, with the help of Italian agents, succeeded in selling several tracts of land to Italians who had been farmers in the Genoa district, and who found the Vineland soil in many respects like that of their native homes. The newcomers were for the most part men who had lived in New York, where they put up with cramped quarters, and they looked upon the change, although the land was covered for the most part with wood and brush, as a pleasant one.

The land would have been worthless to most Americans,” said an old inhabitant of the place, “but the Italian farmers made money out of it from the start.” They raised poultry and berries while they cleared the land; every member of the family contributed toward the necessary labor; their requirements were few, and in a short time the Italian farmers became regular contributors to the market products which were shipped from the place, and little bank accounts were started by the dusky settlers. They were temperate in their habits, their moral and domestic qualities were all that could be desired, and one could see that they were working to acquire a home and that they appreciated the atmosphere of freedom by which they were surrounded. From the pioneer families of 1872 the colony has grown until it numbers now about two hundred and sixty families. They are good and prosperous farmers, but not one in a hundred can read or write, and although they come from the parts of Italy where there has always been sectional jealousy, they live in perfect harmony. The districts of Milan, Naples, Genoa, Tuscany, Sicily, Calabria and the Abruzzi are represented in the agricultural settlement, but wrangles and fights are unknown, and if the Genoese think themselves superior they do not show it here as they do elsewhere.

When one speaks of settlements in the country one usually has in mind a central village, with stores, shops and the various village accessories. Schools, churches, meeting houses and similar institutions are naturally embraced in the calculation, and a fringe of farms completes the picture. The visitor to "New Italy" who expects to find that kind of a settlement will be disappointed, for there are no stores, shops or factories in the place and the settlement is made up entirely of farms. Here the Italians live in Arcadian simplicity, but that term carries with it disappointment also, because there is nothing artistic about the simplicity. Instead of bringing with them to their new homes the decorative instincts of their native land, they brought the squalor of their first American habitations.

While the farms were in their first stages the plainness of the houses and the lack of decoration did not attract attention, but when the places grew older and the farmer became more prosperous and the homes still retained their primitive characteristics the fact became remarkable. The methods of thrift amid economy remained after the mortgage day had passed, and the Italian did not reach out after fancy barns and fine houses. The old ones would do, and Mrs. Macaroni wanted no plush covered furniture nor albums; she did not aspire to a parlor organ nor to pictures, except an occasional saint at low price. The boys did not acquire the habits and tendencies that come with high school and college life, and the girls wore calico gowns and poke bonnets, or bandannas, and never worried about the styles nor envied their neighbors their new bonnets nor their city gowns. The surplus money went into more land or into a lot in the village near by, or was loaned but at interest to some less fortunate neighbor.

The consequence is that the houses in the Italian settlement are neither beautiful nor artistic, and, measured by the New-England standard, they are for the most part far from clean. But the owners of these houses have bank accounts, and their farms, although they are located on white sand, bring them regular revenue which grows larger each year. The inhabitants of the colony are busy, but they find time to attend the meetings of several social organizations which are in a prosperous condition; they support a neat Roman Catholic Church and school, and they follow the custom of their native land by making christenings, weddings and funerals occasions for much display. They enjoy the good things of life as far as their table is concerned, and raise much of the wine which they drink. Men, women and children drink the homemade article, and drink much of it, but the people of Vineland say that one rarely sees an intoxicated Italian, and such a thing as a fight or a row in the colony is never heard of. The colony is divided into several sections. New Italy, with 157 families, is situated about six miles east of Vineland; Wheat Road, with 57 families, is five miles northeast, and Garden Road, which has 47 families, is four miles northwest of the village. The farmers in these various settlements have imported from their native country seeds of all kinds, and one of the successful farmers, who has evidently had time to cultivate the English language as well as the sandy soil, has written an interesting letter on the progress of the settlement, in the course of which he says:

The Italian farmer has imported the seed of the most estimated sort from their native country, and by sowing it in the soil which is very carefully prepared they gathered beets and turnips most certainly not inferior to the best quality of those raised in the most fertile fields of Lombardy. Onions and garlic of Vineland rival with those of Italy, and we have seldom seen sweet potatoes of larger size, nor have we ever tasted any better flavored. Cabbages of the Italian kitchen gardens are of gigantic size, and so are the cauliflower, and we have no doubt that no equal can be obtained to our celery and cardous, the latter being till now unknown in America.

Grand is the variety of the French beans which grows white, red, black and spotted: admirable is the Japanese bean, which is grown successfully in this country, but there are yet missing some nice Italian varieties called fave, ceci, which would be a novelty in this country.

The Italian farmers have also devoted time to the culture of figs, plums, white Malvasia grapes, finocchio, a sort of celery, pepper and Italian chestnuts, which have been grafted into the native tree. The wheat and rye are also praised by the Italian farm historian, who speaks highly of the various varieties that have been transplanted from Italy to the New-Jersey colony. About ten varieties of grapes are grown in the Italian Vineland settlements, and that product, as well as the strawberries and blackberries, usually brings good prices in the market.

The priest who has charge of the little church, Father Poggi, said: "These people have brought the habits of industry and sobriety to this country, and they are prosperous and happy in their new homes. They are good, quiet, law abiding citizens, and by their lives show that people may drink wine as freely as they would water and still be temperate and good."

 

SOURCE:

New York Tribune, June 03, 1900