By EMMA BARTLETT The roots of Italian heritage run deep in Knightsville, and Maria Manzi is one of many whose ancestors migrated to the area from Itri, Italy. Trying to escape economic turmoil, many Itranis left Italy just before the twentieth century
The roots of Italian heritage run deep in Knightsville, and Maria Manzi is one of many whose ancestors migrated to the area from Itri, Italy. Trying to escape economic turmoil, many Itranis left Italy just before the twentieth century and settled in this small pocket of Cranston, Rhode Island. In earlier years, Knightsville’s Itriani population reached 90 percent. Today, more than half of those in the community are of Itrani ancestry.
Due to these strong ties, Knightsville and Itri share a unique relationship. In 2000, the two formed an official sister city relationship, and in 2018, the Mayor Antonio Fargiorgio of Itri visited Cranston. The City now plans to revitalize the area and replicate its pocket park, sidewalks and street lighting after Itri to honor the local Itranis’ heritage.
“I think that people are excited for it, and it means a lot to the community,” said Manzi, whose grandparents made the trek from Itri. “The whole neighborhood is deeply rooted in tradition and family and very faith-oriented with the whole blessed mother and the apparition.”
Manzi referenced one of the culture’s most important traditions: St. Mary’s Feast, which started with an apparition of the Madonna Della Civita on Mount Civita. The Madonna had performed miracles, and the people of Itri wished to have the Pope recognize the antiquity and claims of her miracles. Pope Pius VI coronated her sacred image on July 21, 1777. Afterward, the Itranis held a weeklong celebration starting with a feast on July 21. From that point on, the first coronation became a permanent day of veneration for Itranis.
Manzi is the president of the Ladies Auxiliary at the St. Mary’s Feast Society, a group that honors their roots while sprouting new shoots. Her father was previously the president of the St. Mary’s Feast Society and wrote a book about Madonna Della Civita and her importance to Itranis. The Knightsville Public Park has been a central point for feast day festivities and includes a monument dedicated in 1969, which recognizes Itri’s early immigrants.
Cornerstone to revitalization
Today, the pocket park will be the cornerstone of the revitalization for the Knightsville neighborhood and will be expanded using the land from where the former highway garage stood. The City plans to remove the gazebo and hill and install a brand new gazebo near the middle of the park. The hill will be relocated to the back of the property so people can sit on the grass with their blankets and watch concerts during the summer; a pergola, bocce courts and walkways will also be included within the park.
Mayor Hopkins believes that after Covid, people will want to get outside; this park gives individuals the opportunity to take their kids on walks and listen to outdoor music at the gazebo. The Mayor acknowledged Garden City’s outdoor summer concerts draw in huge crowds and thinks the same will occur with Knightsville. The latest price for the park is roughly $1.2 million.
Like Manzi, Ryan Nardolillo – the Vice President of St. Mary’s Feast Society – has family roots which run deep in Knightsville. His great-grandfather was an honorary president of the St. Mary’s Feast Society in 1971, and Nardolillo is a fourth-generation Italian whose family established the B. Nardolillo Funeral Home, Inc., in 1906. Looking at the revitalization of Knightsville, Nardolillo believes the idea is quite wonderful.
“It’s honoring all the Itranis and heritage of the area,” Nardolillo said. “It’s about culture, heritage, acknowledgement and pride – all the families are going to take so much more pride.”
As a member of the feast society, Nardolillo focuses on giving back to the local community and greater Providence area. Between hosting shoe drives, toy drives and small events, they are looking to work with the City on using the park for certain events.
Nardolillo explained that right now, it’s as if the restaurants, churches, hairdressers, barbershops and other businesses are all scattered around. With the revitalization efforts, the different places will feel more connected.
“This park is going to bring all these places and people together,” Nardolillo said. “It’s another step forward to honoring our heritage and ancestors.”
In addition to the park, the administration wants to revitalize Knightsville as the city’s restaurant district for economic development. To accomplish this, the plan calls for new sidewalks, roads and lighting. The current brickwork, which was installed thirty to forty years ago, has buckled from the trees’ roots and makes the sidewalks dangerous for pedestrians; also, the trees along the sidewalks are dying. Pressed concrete will replace the bricks and look like stonework from Itri. Additionally, new lampposts are to be installed and hold the same lanterns as those in Itri. The City has plans to hang flowers or wreaths from the poles to spruce up the area and decorate them with Christmas lights during the holidays.
“We’re going to design it to look as much like Itri as possible,” said Mayor Hopkins.
As for construction, the City will start with the streets, sidewalks and lighting. The park will be the last and ultimately easiest aspect to complete. The project will begin by Iannuccilli Restaurant and progress down to Randall Street. Branching out, the construction will go down to Marchetti’s Restaurant (in the other direction) down to Blue Moon Pub and 39 West Restaurant and Lounge.
“Our goal is to have people out there next July,” the Mayor said.
City Councilman Christopher Paplauskas, who oversees Ward 5, has played a major role in putting a resolution forward for this project and said people in Knightsville can see workers surveying the property and laying out what the future plans of the area will entail. Paplauskas is also working with the City Council grant writer to seek grants to help fund the project.
“Working with the Mayor and his staff has been an absolute pleasure,” said Paplauskas.
The entire Knightsville project is projected to be between $2 million and $2.5 million. Cranston is waiting to see if it will receive federal money for the project. The Senate passed the request and the town now waits for the House of Representatives to vote; Senator Reed and Congressman Langevin have been helpful in this funding process. If that money comes in, Cranston will receive roughly $1.2 million. The Mayor mentioned the City has ARPA funds and community development funds that can be used. Overall, Mayor Hopkins said that the City has a good handle on paying for the renovations.
The City also owns two properties in Knightsville, which are huge assets. One area will be used to extend the pocket park and the other will be used to create a parking lot that will allow for more visitors.
Currently, the administration is in the preliminary phases of this project with working on the informal behind the scenes stuff such as engineering and landscape architecture; the contractors for this endeavor will go through a bidding process, which has a target date of March.
While the park will be the anchor of this development, the City is hoping to make the area a restaurant district.
Most of the restaurants are already there and the administration just wants to clean up the area to make it more attractive. They also want to keep the buildings as the independent mom and pop, small business, family-owned restaurants.
“They’re more traditional and there’s a lot of culture in that area,” the Mayor said.
Nardolillo also spoke of the multigenerational restaurants in Knightsville that are flourishing side by side.
“It’s so unique to everywhere else. We have private businesses supporting private businesses,” Nardolillo said. “I appreciate the small businesses and support of the community helping one another. That’s why I like giving back. I love to be able to leave here [funeral home] and bring joy.”
The goal is to create something similar to Federal Hill where you can eat from the local, independent restaurants and listen to outdoor music. The idea is not just to attract people from Cranston but from other parts of Rhode Island.
“If you want to go out to dinner, there’s no need to go to Providence, no need to go to Johnston. We want to make a restaurant district – which is there already – but what we want to do is beautify it and make it attractive,” Mayor Hopkins said.
The City spoke with the restaurants in the area and plans to create bump outs, which will allow restaurants to put tables on the sidewalks for outdoor seating. The Mayor would also like to close sections of streets on a Friday night.
“I think we have a hidden gem right here in Knightsville,” Mayor Hopkins said.
Even Manzi and Paplauskas talked about the food available.
“You don’t have to go to Federal Hill because there are so many great restaurants in Knightsville,” Manzi said.
“Knightsville has what I believe to be the best restaurants in the state,” Paplauskas said.
Moretti said the redoing the streets and pocket park offer fantastic opportunities for the restaurants to expand their businesses. The renovations through the City’s end will create a number of jobs with construction, electrical work and building of the park.
The revitalization of Knightsville is phase two of the Mayor’s four-phase renovation plan to different areas across Cranston. Rolfe Square was phase one of the project, and the Mayor has talked with Rolfe Square’s business owners who say business is up and they are getting people to come who they have never seen before. The future of Knightsville may be looking bright.
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