Sauce simmering, pierogies boiling, cinnamon streusel baking
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This being Williamsport’s sesquicentennial year, Sesquicentennial Corner, a weekly Saturday series, will focus on the city’s history.)
Whether it was stomping grapes to make wine or baking bread, the city’s neighborhoods originally were a mixture of culture with foreign languages spoken and diversity among the workforce.
Germans, Polish, Italians and others who had came to the United States and settled in Williamsport shared their culture and cuisine, lifestyle and work ethic.
In the city blocks around Washington Boulevard, including Germania Street, which was named in honor of the Germans who had settled in the area, was a section that became known as “Dutch Hill.”
German students attending William Penn School, on Hughes and Penn streets, a building erected in 1891, often would speak the words “schule tagen,” which translated as “school days,” according to a history of the Williamsport Area School District.
Most in what today is the city’s East End were bilingual, speaking English during school hours and German at home, according to the annuals provided by alumni.
The school remained public for 48 years. Then, in 1939, it became St. Mary’s High School.
Eastern European and Polish pride continues to be felt in Jaysburg, a community west of Lycoming Creek and south of Newberry. All along Mosser Avenue, for example, are individuals with this enthnicity.
“My father, Paul ‘Catfish’ Zarzyczny was a city firefighter,” said Robert Zarzyczny at the Polish Club, a social and civic organization at 2009 Boyd St.
Zarzyczny recalled growing up in Jaysburg with the smell of pierogies and kielbasa — especially during Christmas Eve and Easter when these authentic Eastern European foods are served in abundance.
The club, he said, remains active with 150 male members and women, who are considered social, not active, members. Over the past 80 years, the private club has donated to many causes, but each time the money stays in the community.
A recent donation went to the South Williamsport Police K-9 Unit.
The club, he said, began in the early 1930s. Today, because it is bounded by an alley, it can’t expand any farther, Zarzycsny said.
Downtown’s Little Italy had two sections — one east and another west — stretching along Front Street, West Jefferson Street, William Street and Pine Street, according to Phillip A. Preziosi, a former police detective who became city mayor in 1992.
“All had gardens,” Preziosi said of Little Italy and Italian sections in Newberry.
He recalled his grandfather, Guiseppi Preziosi, coming from Italy in the late 1800s to live in Williamsport.
Eastern parts of Little Italy included Canal Street, Penn Street and up to Chatham Street, Preziosi said.
On any given spring or summer night, residents would sit on their small steps or stoops, especially during the heat of the summer. There weren’t many homes with large porches, according to Preziosi.
For those driving with their windows down or walking by on any given Sunday or early evening, the aroma of “red sauce” boiling in pots could not be missed, he said.
“I remember people sitting on porches, kids playing together and going swimming together,” said Salvatore Casale, retired police chief in Old Lycoming Township who was born on Jefferson Street in Little Italy.
He recalled the images of his upbringing.
“Older people getting grapes certain times of the year and the people would make wine,” he said. “The kids would help unload the grapes. Then, they’d have festivals with all Italian food.”
The smell of fresh-baked bread drifting out of Cimini’s Bakery on Jefferson street.
“It was 10 cents a loaf,” Casale said.
Most of us became civil servants, he said. Among them, Mike and Harry Marchese, who were longtime firefighters; Bob Marchese, a police sergeant; John Esposito, a fireman; Morris Long, a fire chief, and his brother, Joe Longo, police chief, Casale said.
There was a trust and sense of community, such as the credit given to customers at Sammy Ray’s Grocery Store on Jefferson Street, Casale said.
“He’d carry you on the book from week to week,” Casale said of Ray. “People would agree to pay him at the end of the week on payday.”