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Conn. taps into European Immigration and the Industrial Revolutions past to promote tourism

HARTFORD, Conn. — More than a century after waves of Europe’s working class left for jobs in New England mills and other prospects in the U.S., their homes, communities and traditions are providing fresh opportunities to promote tourism in Connecticut.
Connecticut’s population history is by no means unique; nevertheless it is startling to note the changes which have occurred in the make-up of the state’s citizenry in a century and a half. In the early nineteenth century, most of the state’s residents were of English birth or descent and were overwhelmingly Protestant. By 1910, nearly thirty percent of the population was foreign-born, and of that group, roughly fifty-five percent were from Southern and Eastern Europe. Seventeen percent alone were born in Italy. In 1980, 1,259,873 of Connecticut’s residents claimed ancestry from one of fifteen European nationalities. Persons of English and Scotch descent combined accounted for only 17.9 percent of the group. Nearly 1,700,000 more inhabitants claim descent from one of six mixed-European nationality groups. In addition, over 124,000 persons of Spanish origin and almost 19,000 residents of Asian and Pacific Island background live in Connecticut. Such a profound demographic transformation is of crucial significance for Connecticut’s teachers. Their students are the descendants of this diverse population growth.
The homogeneity and stability of Connecticut’s population in the Colonial and Early National Periods can be exaggerated. Connecticut’s population constantly received new immigrant infusions from England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And ethnic homogeneity did not preclude religious diversity. By 1770, the state’s Protestant churches included Congregational. Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran congregations. Most Protestant dissenting sects were excused from attendance at Congregational services. But the dominance of the legendary Yankee of English stock is no myth. It has been estimated that at the time of the American Revolution over ninety-six percent of Connecticut’s population was either English-born or of English descent.
Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, French Canadian, Polish and other immigrants labored in factories that made silk in Manchester, thread in Willimantic, hats in Danbury and numerous other Connecticut mill towns in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Economic development officials now want to tell the immigrants’ stories to draw tourists.

Irish and German Immigration

Anti-Irish sentiment permeated the United States during the Industrial Revolution. The prejudice exhibited in advertisements like this one sometimes led to violent outbursts.
In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of IRELAND emigrated to the United States. So did an equal number of GERMANS. Most of them came because of civil unrest, severe unemployment or almost inconceivable hardships at home. This wave of immigration affected almost every city and almost every person in America. From 1820 to 1870, over seven and a half million immigrants came to the United States —
In Ireland almost half of the population lived on farms that produced little income. Because of their poverty, most Irish people depended on potatoes for food. When this crop failed three years in succession, it led to a great FAMINE with horrendous consequences. Over 750,000 people starved to death.
Initially costing $100,000, the project stems from an emerging marketing strategy known as cultural or ethnic tourism. With more than 100 heritage or cultural organizations, Connecticut has a strong base of support to launch a cultural tourism initiative, said Kip Bergstrom, deputy economic development commissioner.
Bergstrom said other Northeast states can similarly boast a history of ethnic and national groups, but Connecticut’s small size gives visitors the chance to see much in a compact state.
“We have the whole world represented in Connecticut,” he said
As states compete fiercely for tourist dollars, marketing officials are looking for any angle to promote their communities. In Connecticut, tourism generates about $11.5 billion in spending, $1.15 billion in state and local tax revenue and employs nearly 111,000 workers, according to 2011 statistics, the most recent.
Two phases are planned for Connecticut’s project. The first, which will extend through mid-June 2013, will document the historical links between people of various ethnic communities and their neighborhoods, buildings, shops and other sites.
The second phase will use the stories that have been developed to market communities in materials ranging from brochures to smartphone apps.
Mary Donohue, executive director of the Manchester Historical Society, said historic preservationists in Connecticut have worked with scholars to identify African-American historic sites and partnered with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford to identify historic synagogues, provide tours and highlight Jewish-owned farms and resorts. more from CBS


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