Paul Russo Memorial Park

September 25, 2020

This week we’re looking at an often overlooked, tiny plot of land in the center of Wooster Square that’s better known as the home of the weekend Wooster Square farmer’s market. A small park that’s named for Paulo “Paul” Russo, who was arguably the most influential Italian immigrant in New Haven’s history.

Paulo “Paul” Russo was born on April 19, 1859 in Viggiano, in the province of Basilicato, Italy. At the age of 10 he immigrated to New York City with his family. 3 years later in 1872 the family moved to New Haven. Paul’s father was a popular violinist, and Paul played as well. He would busk in the streets of the Hill and began to work in the local fresh produce markets. This led to Paul opening his own small market, at the corner of Congress Ave. and Oak St., which was the first Italian owned business in the state of Connecticut.

As a young business owner he was fully integrated into American practices while retaining Italian customs and traditions. Due to his already prominent position in the growing minority community, he became the go-to as a translator, trusted by both English and Italian speakers in New Haven and eventually the entire state. His translation skills became very useful in public courts and over a course of 10 years he studied and absorbed the practice of law, becoming the first Italian graduate of the Yale School of Law in 1893.

During this time he also taught English as a second language in night school. He helped to found the Frattellanza Society and St. Michael’s Church in its current location overlooking Wooster Square. Paul was instrumental in the funding and dedication of the Christopher Columbus Monument in 1892, while in the same year he founded the first Italian-American daily newspaper in Connecticut, La Stella d’Italia.

In 1897, Paul was appointed the general Italian Consul for the whole state. In 1903, after 10 years of practicing law, Paul retired to focus on real estate and his private banking business that he had been running in various forms since 1882. Along with this work he continued his philanthropic and political activities focused on the betterment of local Italian-Americans. He ran his bank and real estate company out of his home at the corner of Chapel St. and Wooster Place.

In 1911, Paul purchased 3,500 lots in the far flung woods of Foxon Park. In one of his most successful real estate ventures he mortgaged and sold the lots for anyone that could afford 50 cents a week all the while charging no interest on the loans.

On May 6, 1944 Paulo “Paul” Russo passed away at home at the age of 83. In 1937, at the height of the Great Depression the old Forbes house at the corner of Chapel and Brewery Streets, across from the Columbus Monument, was torn down. As the neighborhood of Wooster Square was redlined and fell into squalor, the empty plot eventually became a used car lot and remained that way until the urban renewal of the 1960s and ‘70s transformed the neighborhood once again through demolition, preservation and new construction.

In the early 2000s, CitySeed was initially founded as a local farmer’s market to serve Wooster Square. The former used car lot at the corner of Chapel and DePalma Court was now a small park quietly dedicated to the memory of Paul Russo. Soon it became home to the weekly markets. In 2020, the farmer’s market moved to Conte/West Hills Middle School, now leaving the small strip of land and abandoned bike share to a new future in the center of the neighborhood that its namesake had once helped shape.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo Archives

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