view of Salandra, Matera, Basilicata, Italy by Antonio DiPersia

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

South Mildred Street, Philadelphia

A typical narrow alley street in Philadelphia's Little Italy circa 1900
South Milred Street, Philadelphia today
According to the US Census, in 1900, South Mildred Street was crowded with immigrants from southern Italy.   The census also showed that one house in particular was crowded with Ambruso’s.  Francesco (Frank) Ambruso and his wife Giovanna (Jannie); Francesco’s son Michael and his wife Caterina (Kate) and their 3 month old baby, Frank, named after his grandfather; and Francesco’s second son, Leonardo with his new wife Mary, all lived in the tiny house at 712 South Mildred Street.   Just a few years later, Michael and his growing family moved next door to 710 S. Mildred.  Leonardo and Mary also moved next door, but in the other direction, to 714 S. Mildred.  And in 1912, a widow by the name of Angelina Ambruso (possibly Frank’s sister) was living at 713 S. Mildred Street.
South Mildred Street was designed before the automobile.  It was only wide enough for one cart to pass, with a small sidewalk on each side.  Today it is not wide enough to drive a vehicle through without having one wheel up on the pavement (see photo above).  It is called a street, but it is little more than an alley.  The houses haven’t changed much the last 130 years.  They are all constructed of brick, three stories with a basement, and are very narrow (only 18 to 20 feet wide) with a common wall between them.  It turns out South Mildred Street was typical of side streets in that section of Philadelphia in the late 1800’s.  Several other streets in the vicinity such as Schell St., Kenilworth, Kater and Bradford Alley all had, and still have a similar appearance.  The historic photo above could be any one of these streets.  They were all home to southern Italians who converged on Philadelphia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
During the Ellis Island years, when passengers boarded the ship for their journey to America, they had to give the name and address of the person they were going to in the United States.  Giuseppe Ambruso and his two sons listed Francesco at 712 Mildred Street Philadelphia.  Nephews such as Michele Ambruso, who eventually settled in Hartford, CT and Domenico Daria, Ana Maria’s son, and probably several others, yet to be identified nephews, also used their Uncle Francesco’s address in Philadelphia as their official destination in America.  Tiny street…tiny house…important destination.
Around 1914, Michael and Kate bought the building at the corner of South Mildred and Bainbridge, about 100 feet up the street, and opened a grocery store.  After Michael died, Kate moved back to 712 S. Mildred St. after she had it renovated.  After Kate died, her daughter’s family moved in.  They lived there until 1996.  There were Ambruso’s living at 712 South Mildred Street in Philadelphia for 100 years.


  1. Hi - this is Dave. I love the idea of Ambruso's living at the same address for 100 years. Feel's ... solid... good... strong...

  2. Dave,
    Actually, I just found out that the Bonelli house at 139 Harrison Ave. in Garfield, NJ, that I wrote about in earlier articles as the destination for our branch of the family, is also still owned by an Ambruso descendant. Tommy Melfi presently owns it. His grandmother was Mary Ambruso Bonelli. That house was built around 1909. That’s 104 years!