Pamphlet issued in 1975 for the Italian Festival
Something About the Italians in Jamestown
Rosella M. Agostine
This history was written from material given through personal and telephone interviews with many Italians and Italian-Americans and from my own experiences in a very traditional home.
The work of getting the information was very interesting and frustrating, too, because I had to leave out so many deserving good people. My sincere apologies to them.
I hope to make up in part for this by engaging in a project of writing individual family “trees” on separate sheets, arranging these alphabetically in loose-leaf notebooks, and placing them in the Fenton Mansion Library for reference by descendants or others in years to come when memories have dimmed or been completely lost. It will take time, but it will be pursued as a hobby through the cooperation of people who will be willing to give me the information.
My apologies also to the reader as I was under terrific pressure of time to get it done and published by Festival time, so that it was impossible to edit the material more effectively. Also, the work as secretary and member of the Italian Festival Steering Committee has kept me busy.
All apologies notwithstanding, I sincerely hope that the history, as part of the Festival, will prove as enjoyable to Jamestowners.
Rosella M. Agostine
SOMETHING ABOUT THE ITALIANS IN JAMESTOWN
By Rosella M. Agostine
It is Italian Festival time, and the Steering Committee thought it proper to include along with the many activities during the week of June 16-21, a history of the Italian segment of Jamestown during the last 88 years, with emphasis on the contribution of the Italians and the Italian-Americans to the economic and cultural development of the city.
The Industrial Revolution hit the United States after the Civil War, requiring cheap labor to build roads, schools, public buildings, streets, railways, subways, and to manufacture iron and steel and goods of all kinds. Many ships were provided by various enterprises for transportation here from Europe at the immigrants’ cost. Immigrations began to trickle to the United States so that by 1905, 4,700,000 had entered the country.
Although Italians had begun to come during Colonial days, they numbered only 3,645 by 1850. By 1880, the number had risen to 44,230; over 20,000 in New York City by 1881. These were mostly from northern Italy where more progressive conditions made them more aware of the world around them. Those of southern Italy began to come generally after 1900. Between 1910 and 1920, there was a very large influx of Italians; and insofar as Jamestown is concerned, most of the Italians came from Sicily, particularly Tortorici, Valledolmo, Vallelunga, Marianopoli, Catania, and Termini-Immerese, in that order.
Quick to see the advantage of migration in early 17th century, some Italians took part in the exploration and discovery from its inception as missionaries and soldiers in the service of Spain and England. It is not surprising, then, that soon after the establishment of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, Italians began making their way into the emerging British colonies. Artists, musicians, courtiers, writers, teachers, merchants, skilled workers, and physicians, to name the most common, were accustomed to migrating into northern
Europe in search of a better life. The more venturesome among them were not reluctant to try their fortunes in the struggling new colonies across the Atlantic1.
Some men in public life, notable among them Thomas Jefferson, were very enthusiastic in people and things Italian, even learning the language. The Italians were numerous by the 1850s, particularly in Florida, Louisiana, and California. The first Italian immigrants to come to Jamestown were two brothers, Louis and Antonio Bottini, in 1887. Louis went back to Italy and returned in 1892. Al Bottini, born December 8,1892, was the first child of Italian parents born in this city. His father had a grocery store in Brooklyn Square for many years. One of his early account books, dating back to 1892, shows purchases made on credit, including onions and bananas at 5 cents a pound.
Two other early settlers were Joe Meli, who had a barbershop later in the same building on Main Street where Dr. Caccamise, dentist, had his office, and Miceli. The three–Bottini, Meli, and Miceli–would meet on Sundays to talk together as there were no others with whom to share their experiences. Mr. Meli acquired the habit of talking to his barber chair, the steps, anything to carry on a conversation during the week, even if one-sided.
Other immigrants came after 1890, but most of these went first to Buffalo, some worked their way to Dunkirk and/or Fredonia where they found work in the harvest of fruits and vegetables and in the canning factory. The word spread slowly at first of work available in Jamestown for women as well as for men. This brought migrants in increasing number from Buffalo and its environs, Fredonia, and the coal mines, where the Italians were greatly disillusioned at the “better” living found there. About 1900, however, the immigrants came directly to Jamestown, where
friends or relatives had preceded them.
The Italians came here, as did everyone else, to find an easier way to earn a living; however, conditions were somewhat different from many other parts of Europe. They were poor in that they had no money to buy those necessities they did not produce themselves, but they did have an abundance of fruits, nuts, and a long growing season for vegetables. They had an ideal climate which made them happy in spirit, expressive in song in whatever chore they performed.
In order to earn money, the men worked for as little as 2 to 10 cents a day. They came alone first to look the situation over, then earned enough to send for the family. When they came to Jamestown, they found the winters harsh and cold. Fruit had to be bought, unless they were lucky to have an apple or pear or cherry tree; but even so fruits at that time were available in a limited season. It was a closed atmosphere in every direction in relation to their past.
Some of the Italians had been artisans in their country; shoemakers, cabinetmakers, dressmakers, tailors, experts in construction work, wood carvers, men trained in horticulture, barbers, etc., and also musicians. The work available to them here was generally of the outdoor type. The majority worked at one time or other in the Broadhead brickyard, the Fairmount Rose Gardens, the Erie railroad, and for the city’s public works department, paving many of the city’s streets with bricks. A well-known outstanding bricklayer was Tony Foti; Sapienza was a close second. Some men were fortunate in getting work in the Maddox Table Company and other furniture factories, while the women and girls as young as 13 years of age worked in the Smith Cotton Mill, situated back of the Crescent Tool Co. foundry on Foote Avenue, the Ansonia or Goodwill Worsted Mills in Falconer or at Hall’s, the Empire Worsted, or the Broadhead Worsted Mills in Jamestown.
The women worked nine and three-fourths hours a day, fifty-five hours a week, for $7. They couldn’t take any breaks while working, could not even wash
their hands. At closing time the whistle would blow, and the machines had to be cleaned rapidly for the next shift. After numerous accidents of dismembered fingers and hands, the women were given five minutes to clean the machines. It is interesting to note that when at times the women would miss their streetcar to go to the Falconer mills, they would walk along the railroad tracks to get there sooner – joking, laughing, and sharing their experiences as they went along.
Referring to the Smith Cotton Mill, mention should be made that J. K. Smith needed cheap labor, so he brought a large group of Italians from Avon in 1904. He provided a place for them to stay, so they worked for very low wages.
The Maddox Table Company was and has continued for years to be very friendly and helpful to the Italian immigrant, always ready to hire him if a place was available. One of these immigrants, Frank Tantillo, was the oldest employee when he retired in 1944 after 42 years with the firm. He went to Buffalo in 1900, didn’t like it, and migrated, in 1902, to Jamestown, where he was married to Theresa Papa by Father Coyle at SS Peter & Paul Church.
A few of the men worked at furniture shops as skilled workmen. One of these was Mario G. Bocchino, father-in-law of Dr. Marion Panzarella who taught at JHS and later at the Jamestown Community College, from which he is now retired. Mr. Bocchino was a wood carver from northern Italy. He attended the Salisian Catholic College in Torino four years. Here arts and crafts were taught. Then he married in 1909 and came to the United States with his wife on their honeymoon to Port Allegany, Pa., where he intended to remain only several years.
One day, in 1911, an old man came by to sharpen shears and knives and admired Mr. Bocchino’s carved picture frames. He was impressed. He gave the address of a person in Jamestown who took Mr. Bocchino to the Marvelle Furniture Factory on Allen Street. He was given a position immediately. Needless to say, he was happy to leave the tannery where he had found work. He continued as employee for Marvelle for 20 years, until it was demolished. Then he worked for
the Empire furniture Company, also no longer existing. He designed and carved furniture for both factories in the evenings, often working till midnight. Others too have worked at such skilled labor in the various furniture factories.
Most of the immigrants had no training. They came here as men who had tilled a small piece of land near their home, raising vegetables, tending the proper growth of fruit and nut or olive trees, maintaining small vineyards, some tending sheep, cutting stone for the highways, or working in construction.
Still others, however, came with a trade they had learned as apprentices: shoemakers (actually making and repairing shoes), tailors, barbers, cabinetmakers, and stonemasons. Stonemasons are highly skilled artisans. Houses in Italy are all made of stone about 18 inches thick, except in rare instances, as are public buildings, bridges, etc.; consequently, in order to last centuries, the builder must know his work well. All these artisans had a great advantage over the unskilled laborer since they could set up shop and provide much needed services to the public. In some instances, however, the artisan had to work alongside the unskilled laborer until the opportunity presented itself to utilize his specialty. Some of the cabinetmakers were absorbed in the furniture and other factories, performing simple tasks, since no work was available in their line of custom-made furniture. One of the outstanding cabinetmakers in Jamestown today, working on his own, is Anthony Galbier, who combines skill and artistic expression.
Although the immigrants were paid very little and lived in a climate and environment very different from that to which they were accustomed, they maintained their sense of humor, their enthusiasm for living. They helped each other, and also received many a kind helping hand from non-Italians. In many instances, the men came alone first to look the situation over. They lived in homes where they paid little for their room and board. One man paid 25 cents a week to his host in order to save enough to bring the rest of the family here. He earned only $2.50 a week at his work. The prevalent wages for unskilled labor was $4.50 a week.
Help came to the immigrant in other ways too. Giuseppe Saeli went to Fredonia in 1902, and came to Jamestown in 1903. His father had been a successful merchant in Valledolmo, Sicily. He owned extensive land. Giuseppe had been educated in the elementary and intermediate Schools, and later at a seminary in Cefalu’. Therefore, it was natural that after employment with the Chautauqua Traction Co. — later known as the Jamestown Street Railway Co. – till 1907, he should enter the business field with a general merchandise store on Harrison Street. This gradually developed into one of the largest steamship agencies in western New York, as well as into an extensive foreign exchange business.
Among Mr. Saeli’s activities on behalf of the Italian people here was the organization in 1908 of the Christopher Columbus Society, incorporated in 1911. He was its first president. Mr. Saeli was married in Valledolmo in 1890, and he and his wife had nine children. Among them was Anthony Russell, attorney, former counsel to the mayor, and county supervisor.
Another person that helped the Italians a great deal was the Reverend James Carra, who had been sent to Jamestown by Bishop Charles H. Colton in June, 1910, to care for the approximate 2000 parishioners. The Italians had been attending SS Peter & Paul Church. Their own first church was a frame building, housing also the rectory, on Victoria Avenue. The steady growth of the population made it necessary to build a new church at the corner of Victoria and Institute Streets in 1914, with six classrooms on the first floor. St. James School has operated continuously since then, growing to the new school at the foot of Prospect Street in 1953. The present St. James Church was built in 1968. The early one had the distinction of being the only one in Jamestown. whose bells were cast upon its premises. Nicola Salva, a skilled founder from Tortorici, Sicily, performed this difficult operation.
Father Carra was indeed a “father,” finding jobs in the various factories for members of the parish, appearing on their behalf in court when there were problems as a result of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc., and tending to their religious and ceremonial needs. If a mortgage couldn’t be met, he would intercede to
extend the time. He was very friendly and worked together with the judge, Police Chief Johnson, and Mayor Samuel Carlson in helping the growing ItalianAmerican population.
Carmelo S. Cala took over some of the ways in which Father Carra helped the people when the latter was transferred to Lockport in 1927. Mr. Cala’s family was the first to come to the United States from Tortorici, Sicily. The family went to Mineto, a suburb of Oswego, where he worked for Columbia Mills, the largest shade mill in the United States. He came to Jamestown in 1919, when he established a grocery. business. At the rear of the store, he had a branch United States Post Office, Station No.2, which was operated for 50 years till 1974. In 1932, the family started a restaurant that has been in continuous operation, except for a period of about six months recently when it was closed for reasons of health of Mrs. Cala. It has reopened.
Although Mr. Gala never ran for office, he was active in the community. He was appointed on the Board of Public Welfare by the late Mayor Lars A. Larson in 1929. He organized the Italian-American League with chapters in Dunkirk, Fredonia, and Westfield. He was one of the organizers of. the Sons of Italy. Mr. Cala, as well as many others of the Italian community, was generous in giving his time, money, and effort to help his friends.
These organizations and others organized mainly in the first quarter of the twentieth century aided in bringing the Italian immigrants together, thus sharing their hopes, ideas, know-how, ambitions. Some continue to exist, but their function has become one of sociability only.
One of Mr. Cala’s sons, Charles, was with Bausch & Lomb for more than thirty years as an engineer and was responsible for many advancements in the field of precision optical glass. Since 1962, much of his effort has been to modernize glass plants with that firm and with others here and abroad, including Baccarat in France, some plants in Germany, Fostoria, and so on, through his own firm of Charles F. Cala Associates, in Rochester. Mr. Cala recently received the Golden Knight Distinguished Service Award from
Clarkson College for outstanding service to the college as an alumnus through the Alumni Association.
Among the early Italians who helped their countrymen was Salvatore Paterniti. He was born in Tortorici and came to America in 1896, at 11 years of age, making his home for two years in California.
Mr. Paterniti came to Jamestown in 1898. He married Antoinette Paterniti in 1908. For 35 years he had a grocery store where he dealt in imported foods. Mr. Paterniti was a highly respected resident, frequently called upon to interpret for Italians in court and in various legal matters. The family today is very extensive.
Another source of assistance to the early immigrant was provided by Anthony Agostine. As a child of 8 he was allowed by his father to be a companion and helper to a bachelor district judge at Cefalu’ only, however, on the promise that the boy’s education would not be neglected. The judge bade him tutored in all subjects by college professor friends until he was twenty-five, when he returned to Tortorici to marry Mary Rose Germaná. In his spare time, Mr. Agostine read many of the judge’s law books over the years, thus acquiring a thorough knowledge of Roman Law.
This knowledge was of no help to him when he first came to the United States in 1907. However, he was helpful to many of the Italians who had any legal property or other problems in Italy. He not only knew the law, but was thoroughly acquainted with the various departments, bureaus, etc. so as to reach the proper office for solutions to the problems. Also, he read and wrote their correspondence as most were illiterate. He even taught some to read. He did this gladly and generously.
After having been here a year, Mr. Agostine decided to return to Italy as he was disenchanted with America because of the poor jobs available, unpaved streets, and cold weather. However, after a year in Tortorici, he had occasion to sue a man who had taken advantage of his absence by encroaching on his land. Somehow, the presiding judge rendered his decision that he knew from his own knowledge of
the law was not correct. He therefore decided to come back to America, taking his wife and two children with him this time (1909). Mrs. Agostine was with child, so she was held back on Ellis Island one week, with efforts being made to have her return to Italy because of her condition. She kept refusing, and finally she was allowed to enter. By this time, someone else had claimed their trunks at the wharf, so they came to Jamestown with what they had in a small suitcase.
One of his sons, Thomas A. Augustine, was a professor at St. Bonaventure University for twenty-six years in the fields of sociology and political science. He was department head some years before his death in 1973. Professor Augustine translated his name when he was twelve because, he said, he was tired of spelling it whenever he gave his name.
One daughter, Rosella, was the first ItalianAmerican Jamestown High School teacher. She was hired in 1937 by Superintendent George A. Persell. With the support of Miss Emma Barber, language department head, Italian was introduced in the Jamestown High School curriculum in 1964 through the efforts of Miss Agostine. In preparation for teaching Italian, Miss Agostioe attended the summer sessions of the Universities of Bologna and Milano, Italy. Italian and Swedish are alternated annually.
As was the case with many others, Mr. Agostine worked for the Erie Railroad as a fireman until he had double pneumonia, then for Broadhead at the brickyard and the Fairmount Rose Gardens, then for the city, helping to pave many of the streets.
Speaking of the rose gardens, on Sundays all of the drivers, who were Italian laborers, went there to clean the stables and brush the horses. Among them was the father of Carl Reale, who came here alone in 1905. His wife and four-year old son Carl came in 1907. The father drove a team of horses and wagon for Mr. Broadhead.
In 1914, the father returned to Italy with his two sons, where he fought in World War I for four years. Many other also returned to fight for Italy. While there, Carl attended school and afterwards
learned the shoemaker’s trade. This he plied on his return to Jamestown in 1920 at Beeler’s Store on Third Street. There were no machines at that time, so all repair work was done by hand. Later he worked for various furniture factories, ending with the Jamestown Veneer & Plywood Co. where he worked for 37 years, retiring in 1970 as a foreman of the core department.
Mr. Reale started early to call square dances (the Quadrillion) at Italian weddings, band programs, benefit dances, and at any parties where he was asked. He has excelled in his ability to lead groups in dancing fun for many years, all free of charge. He still continues to do so.
The Imperial Band was a very important group to the immigrant, especially in the early part of the century. It was started by a group of men who were musicians desirous of playing with others for the fun of it. It was loosely organized by Philip Crucilla in 1910. From 1913 to 1917, the personnel consisted of Joseph Triscari, director, Joshua Joy (father of Vincent Joy, a teacher well known in athletics), Joe Desimone, Sam Raimondo (of Gold Star Grocery), Frank Fadale, Fred Panebianco, John LaJohn, Sam Mancari, Tony Paterniti, Philip Crucilla, Paul Giunta, Joe Triscari, Sebastiano Civa, Anthony Giglia, Angelo Locastro, James Valenti, and Achille Paladino (father of John, Samuel, and Louis). Mr. A. Paladino was an accomplished clarinetist.
Mr. Paladino’s son John came up through the ranks with steady promotion, beginning as a policeman in 1941 to Police Chief of Jamestown, a position he held for 17 years with distinction. He was the first Italian-American policeman on the force. He was a special FBI agent during World War II. Not many know that John Paladino is also a musician. Previous to his appointment as a policeman, he was high school orchestra and band leader in the Youngsville High School of Youngsville, Pa. He was first conductor of the First Lutheran Band, which with other bands became the Jamestown Concert Band.
From 1918 to 1940, when it disbanded, the Imperial Band consisted of Joshua Joy, director, Charles
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Pollina, Vincent Joy, Carmelo Paterniti, Ned Conti, John D’Angelo, Frank Paterniti (father of Joseph, principal of Washington Junior High), C. Triscari, Joseph Mazzone, Bennie Pronto, Charles Fasciana, Sam Mancari, Silvio DiPietro, Frank Raffa, Joe Brady, Charles Agate, Joe Triscari, Sebastiano Civa, Joe Afonico, Anthony Trippi, Gaetano Triscari, and Frank Giunta.
Frank Giunta was another well-known musician. His father, Liborio, came to the United States in 1905 from Marianopoli, Sicily, going first to Soldier, Pa., and working for two years in the mines at Weshaw, then moving to Jamestown. Numerous Italians went first to Pennsylvania to work in the mines; however, many left as they heard of jobs available for both men and women in Jamestown.
Son Frank attended the Dana Musical Institute of Warren, Ohio, graduating in 1925 with an Associate in the Art of Music degree. In 1937, he received the Master in the Art of Music degree. He studied in New York City with the famous clarinet teacher Gostav Longless, and at the same time played at the symphony theater at Broadway and 85th, then to the 59th and Madison Placer Theater.
When the talkies emerged in the thirties, Mr. Giunta was laid off, so he returned to Jamestown where he played at the Shea’s Theater until the talkies hit here too. He taught a while at the Thorstenberg Conservatory in the Wellman Building. There followed many musical engagements with various bands, including the Municipal Band.
When the Goranson Band shell at Allen Park was completed and dedicated in 1967, Mr. Giunta, who had composed a march in Arthur Goranson’s honor, presented a concert at the band shell, including Mr. Goranson’s March as well as other of his compositions–and some arranged by him. Although his life has been filled with music, that has not been his sole occupation. He learned barbering in 1914, and at 80 still goes to his shop at Winsor and Second. He was one time manager and pitcher of the baseball team, the Italian Stars. He has compiled many scrapbooks of famous people and presented them to them, including Lucille Ball.
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No mention of musicians among the old-timers would be complete without bringing in Joshua Joy, who at 13 came to America with his mother in 1909. Ida Valenti, an aunt, had come to Jamestown in 1906 from Pennsylvania. The Joys came from Marianopoli. Joshua attended school one year, then worked in the Broadhead. Worsted Mills, sold papers, and shined shoes.
In 1912, he learned the barber trade by apprenticing with John DeMarco who had a barbershop in the basement of what is now Grant’s Store. He married Lucy Palermo. Mr. Joy’s interest in music began back in his hometown, which had a band. The director, paid by the town, conducted classes in music for children to prepare them for this band. He learned to play the trumpet, as well as learning the fundamentals of music.
Some of the Italian men here got together and started to play, first with Philip Crucilla, then with Mr. Tartaglia, then with Mr. Letta. Later, Mr. Cipolla played for short periods until 1913 when Joseph Triscari took over as stated above.
From 1913, the Imperial Band gave concerts at Allen Park, Fenton Park, at saints’ feast days (each town in Italy has a patron saint), street dances (usually on Water Street in honor of St. Prospero), funerals, various church celebrations, Decoration Day Parades, Celoron Park, on Chautauqua Lake steamers, and also at nearby communities; Warren, South Dayton, Farnham, etc.. In the early days the band concentrated on Italian music only, but later branched out.
Thinking of St. Prospero, Carmelo Restivo founded the St. Prospero Society in 1925. St. Prospero is the patron saint of Marianopoli, Sicily. His son, Samuel, has been superintendent of the Panama School District since 1965.
At the family celebrations – baptisms, weddings, and others – only three or four musicians would get together to play. Though money was scarce, the Italian community enjoyed a great deal of happiness through their closeness, their mutual experiences, their love of music and song, and the simple joy of living.
Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzo diGiovanni left Vallalunga, Sicily, for Donaldsonville, Louisiana, in 1897. Their son John was born shortly afterwards. The
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family migrated north to Buffalo, then went to Frewsburg where they had heard there was a canning factory. The mother was hired, but not the father, so they settled in Falconer – the first Italian settlers in the village.
Mr. diGiovanni (LaJohn) encouraged others in Louisiana to come north. The LaJohns had a 3-room house which bulged with migrants who lived there briefly until they could find a house or apartment of their own.
Son John married Rosalie Spadaro in 1925, and they moved to Jamestown. He had been a member of the Imperial Band of Jamestown from its inception in 1913. He found work as a presser and continued as such with Landy Bros. and Anderson’s until 1959, when he left this work to devote his full time to teaching music.
Mr. LaJohn has been giving clarinet, saxophone, and piano lessons ever since then at his studio on Falconer Street. His most famous pupil was John Parrette who is today playing with the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra. His first pupil, Charles Salvo, is presently teaching music at Marysville High School in Michigan. His band was chosen to play at the Michigan State Fair at Detroit in 1953.
Mr. LaJohn, Achille Paladino (who incidentally still plays for the Senior Citizens), and Frank Fadale joined the Corona Band (Swedish), which played at Celoron after the Imperial Band ceased playing there. About 1927, the Corona, Eagle, and Lutheran Church bands formed the Jamestown Concert Band, which included musicians from all of the bands. Some of the Imperial Band members joined also, including LaJohn, Mazzone, Paladino, and Louis Rotondo.
During the twenties, the Imperial Band put on dances at St. James Hall on Sundays. These were closely chaperoned by such gracious ladies as Mrs. Joseph Saeli and Mrs. Nazzaro. The young ladies prepared lunch boxes which were auctioned to the young men to pay the musicians. With the successful bid went the privilege of eating with the young lady whose lunch box it was. This is certainly reminiscent of the old rural American custom as portrayed in Oklahoma.
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Carl Messina was still another musician of note. He set up a studio for the teaching of the accordion about 1938 – first on Second Street and later on North Main.
He taught many, many young people to play the accordion; among them was Connie Basile. When she was ten, Mr. Messina encouraged Connie to go on to more advanced music as she had a natural talent. She studied with his son Russell, an outstanding accordionist and jazz pianist living in Buffalo. (He has authored a music-theory book with a doctor friend from Toronto.)
Connie continued music by attending four years at the Academy of Arts in Akron, Ohio, followed by instruction in the accordion from Pietro Derio and Joseph Biviano of New York City.
After teaching one year at the Hagstrom Accordion Studio, (now Mrs. Spano since 1950), Mrs. Spano opened her own studio – Jamestown Music Center – in 1958. Here twenty-six teachers give instructions on the piano, organ, and all instruments. These instruments and acoustical systems are also available for purchase there.
One of Mrs. Spano’s top students, Francis Benson, is now a recording, television, and nightclub star in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a jazz pianist. Mrs. Spano herself has played at many and varied functions over the years in Jamestown and surrounding cities.
Since a great many Italian immigrants in Jamestown came from Tortorici, the city’s patron saint’s day – January 20 – was properly and enthusiastically celebrated with a Mass in honor of St. Sebastian. Then the St. Sebastian Society, dressed in white, would lead a procession with the statue on a “vara” or platform on two poles, taking him down the St. James Church steps and around the front and side of the church on Victoria Avenue.
Some people would pin money on a cloth as a votive offering. Also, the Society members visited all the Italian homes afterwards to distribute St. Sebastian rolls made by special recipe in honor of the saint’s day.
On Good Friday, mothers would bake bread and wreaths made by rolling the bread dough and braiding it,
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forming nests where raw eggs would be placed. The wreaths had one, two, three, or more eggs. Some women used biscotti (special Italian cookie) dough for this. These would be baked. On Easter Sunday, everyone attended Mass, took Holy Communion, and on their return home the children kissed the mother’s hand and asked for her blessing. She would give it, then present the child with a wreath – the older the child, the larger the wreath.
Another custom followed annually at this time was that of taking pots of early wheat seedlings to the church altar on Good Friday to be blessed by the priest during one of the ceremonies. Also on Good Friday, all mirrors in the house were covered and the house was not cleaned in mourning for the death of Christ.
When babies were baptized, it was an event to be celebrated by all! In the early days there were no cars (Mr. Sheldon and Mr. Jones brought the first automobiles to Jamestown in 1900.) to speak of, so a shiny, black carriage with handsome chestnut horses would be hired to take the father, baby, and Godparents to church and back. After the ceremony, the Godfather usually threw a handful or two of pennies outside the church, and the youngsters eagerly scrambled for them.
At the house, everyone came – no invitations were issued. There would often be a long table laden with peanuts in their shells and Jordan almonds alongside. There were quantities of biscotti, giammellotti, and other Italian cookies, depending on the money available. Also, there would be plenty of soft drinks for the children and home-prepared liqueurs made with alcohol and various flavors, such as anise, peppermint and so forth, plus wine all these, of course, for the adults.
A small group of three or four musicians were usually a part of the scene to provide music for dancing. Everyone celebrated the event!
There were sad times too. As some readers will remember, when a person died, his wake would take place usually in the parlor. The furniture would be removed or moved to the side and the casket would take its place of honor, with chairs for the
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grieving family, relatives, and friends.
The entire routine of the immediate family would thus be upset – and it was often a very difficult time for the family, with no relief whatever during the entire wake. However, as homes became filled with more furniture and often more compact, the family turned to funeral homes for the wake of a beloved one. It became easier this way to coordinate the activities with the Mass on the burial day.
In 1923, Frank G. Costanzo was the first Italian-American to be licensed in Jamestown as a funeral director and embalmer. He worked out of the Boyd Funeral Home when wakes were still in the home. In 1929, he bought the Wilson house at the corner of South Main and Allen; and he and his wife converted it into a funeral home with the hope that wakes could take place there. However, it wasn’t until the thirties that the people began to take advantage of a funeral home. Gradually the practice spread because of its convenience and occasion for the family’s relaxation at such a difficult time. Today only rarely is a wake in the home.
Mr. Costanzo was on the Board of Public Welfare under four mayors. He translated many official documents from the Italian for many years, helping also to set up the process of having families join one of their members here through official channels.
Because of Mr. Costanzo’s failing health, his son Thomas took over in 1950. He was appointed County Coroner in 1969 – the first Italian-American holding this position. Later, he was elected to the post. He has also been a member and chairman of the Municipal Laboratory and a member of the Jamestown General Hospital Board.
Many of the Italians came from rural areas, thus very familiar with the raising of fruits and vegetables. Among those that tried to find themselves a way of life compatible with their experiences were Joseph and Sam Trass (Jamestown Fruit Company), Frank Donato, brothers Agostine and Tony Comella (father of the present Joseph)
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G. T. Battle, and Tom Conti. Today, Frank Donato, Inc. is the only continuing produce business in the group.
Generally, these men started peddling fruits and vegetables up and down the streets of Jamestown before 1920, then procured trucks to meet expanded demands and also to enable them to go to the Buffalo market to buy their produce in the very early hours of the morning. Later, the large quantities demanded enabled them to have the produce shipped here in carload lots via the Erie and the JW and NW Railroads. On its arrival, they divided the produce and stored it, each in his or their own wholesale house for sale to retailers instead of to individuals as before. (in the very early days, a Mr. Miceli had a fruit stand on the northeast corner of Third and Main St. He also sold roasted peanuts.)
These men provided fresh produce to the people of Jamestown for many years – a very important service. Another service developed over the years was that of dry cleaning.
One of the foremost families in this area is that of Valone. Dr. James F. Valone’s mother came to America in 1893, going directly to Fredonia from Valledolmo with her sons because she had relatives there. Here she helped in the harvest of fruits and vegetables in the summer and fall, along with the older children. They understood farming as they had left their homeland as owners of land replete with fruit and fava beans.
They all worked hard, succeeding to get their brother James through Fredonia Normal, then the University of Buffalo about 1914 with a medical degree. He was the first doctor of the Italian community in Jamestown where he came to set up practice.
Dr. Valone’s brother John, who started out as a barber, became a wine salesman, which position took him to the mining areas of Pennsylvania. His job ended with Prohibition, so he began selling real estate. His youngest son Samuel is still in that business.
Anthony, another brother, interested and Samuel in the dry cleaning business Dunkirk, where they had two operations. Samuel
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was a philosophic man who was appreciated and loved through the years for his gentle nature and charisma.
The brothers migrated to Bradford, Pa. where Anthony bought an established dye house. The brothers started a dry cleaning business along with the dye house. However, with the cut-off of German dyes because of World War I, they limited their activity to dry cleaning.
As it was difficult for four families to make a living from one establishment, they came to Jamestown where their mother had moved, Dr. James was practicing medicine, and Samuel was in real estate. They established themselves at Prendergast and Crossman where Morrison had a business. At the same time, Ross purchased the Lakeshore Laundry Company, owned by the Noceros, and functioned until 1920, when several brothers decided to forego the laundry and dry cleaning business. Samuel remained, with Ross as an employee.
The dry cleaning business was moved to 208 E. Second; and in 1926, it was moved to the present location. Samuel’s son Joseph joined his father in 1925. In 1972, the operation was sold to John Barger, while Joseph continues part-time as a consultant because the service requires a great deal of know-how. Joseph served on the city council from 1944 -1951. Also, he has been on the Jamestown General Hospital Board of Trustees since 1955.
Another dry cleaning service was offered by Fabio Landy, who started the business at East Second Street in 1915. He went into partnership with his brother Fred in 1925 as Landy Bros. They moved to Hopkins Avenue in 1927 and became the Landy Bros., Inc., in 1934 – as cleaners, dyers, and furriers.
The following year, the brothers opened a fur shop at 36 North Main Street to retail furs. In 1925, Mr. Baney had entered the dry cleaning business as an employee. In 1945, Mr. Baney – a member of the family bought Fred Landy’s interest in dry cleaning, while Mr. Landy bought his brother Fabio’s interest in the Landy Fur Company and continued business with his wife Sarah until 1972. Unfortunately, both died within forty days of each other in 1972.
Fred Landy served as city supervisor; also as city democratic chairman from the early thirties. He was
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actively interested, and both he and his wife were very much liked and respected by everyone. Joseph Albano came to Jamestown directly from Tortorici in 1910. He was 17, and later married Josephine Caprino. He set up a grocery store in 1915 on Harrison Street at the end of the bridge spanning the. Chadakoin River. Later a liquor store was opened next door. The grocery was a beehive of activity for the Italians coming in to shop.
The parents of Dr. George F. Caccamise came to Buffalo from Valledolmo on their honeymoon. They left Buffalo for Farnham, then for Fredonia a short time later. Dr. George was born in Buffalo in 1896 before the family migrated.
The parents worked hard at various jobs, including work at the French Cannery (now Welch) and the United States Canning Company. Later, they purchased a small grape farm which the father worked on the side. He also worked with his horse for a nursery outfit. He earned 50 cents extra because of the horse. In the evening he would bring home sacks of string beans to be snapped. He would set them on the table, and the family went to it, earning one cent a pound snapped. With nine children, there was plenty of help!
For two summers, the parents went to Irving to work in the canning factory. Too, they picked strawberries and beans with the boys. By long and hard work, George was financed through the University of Buffalo, graduating with the degree of medical surgery. After graduation, Dr. Caccamise, being the oldest, assumed the responsibility of the major effort of putting three through college: Dr. Joseph, medical surgery; Dr. James, dentist; Charles, pharmacist. His brother Frank attended one year of college and decided it was not for him.
Dr. George Caccamise came to Jamestown in 1921. No doctor has given so freely of his services to so many people in the area. The Italian-American Club of Falconer members paid $2 a year per family, and that gave them all services available, including births, house calls, operations, etc. Dr. Caccamise, as a member of the club, gave these services for 20 years, after which they tapered off because of the
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improved financial condition of the families. However, the doctor’s services were not limited to club members.
During the depression, Dr. Caccamise served most patients without pay. He almost lost his home because his office rent was $700 in arrears. Foreclosure proceedings were started but an official of one of the banks came to his rescue with a loan – and that saved the house! After the depression, all bills were cancelled. He never sent a bill till after World War II. His office on Allen Street was always full, the people waiting their turn patiently. He had a tremendous professional compassion for his patients. His was a service to the entire community.
From 1933 to 1951, Dr. Caccamise was a member of the Jamestown General Hospital Board and Welfare. In 1951, the two were separated into the Jamestown Health and Hospital Board and the Welfare Board. About 1957, the county formed the County Health Board, of which Dr. Caccamise was a member till he resigned in 1974 because of health. He has retired also from the practice of medicine.
Dr. Nathaniel L. Barone was another early doctor, who was in general practice of medicine for 52 years. He was physician for the City of Jamestown from 1924 to 1936. Dr. Barone was born in Buffalo in 1893. He graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1917, interned at the now Millard Fillmore Hospital, then moved to Jamestown in 1922.
Dr. Barone was a member of both the WCA and Jamestown General Hospital Boards. He founded the Italian-American Society, and was president and founder of the Cosima Realty, Inc. Also, he was a charter member of the Gracchian Society. Jamestown is fortunate in having one of his sons, Dr. Anthony Barone, carry on in his service to the people.
Dr. Vincent Castile came to Buffalo from Italy in 1909. After graduation from the University of Buffalo Dental School in 1918, Dr. Castile came to practice dentistry in Jamestown. He opened an office in the Brooklyn Square Rogers Building where he continued till his death in 1964. His kindness and generosity were a byword in many households.
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Among the early Italians in Jamestown were Frank Lombardo and his wife, Rose Agro. He first went to Buffalo alone in 1893 or 1894 from Marianopoli for a few months, then went to Big Soldier, Pennsylvania. He remained there till 1907, when he came to Jamestown. Here he operated a grocery and meat market on the corner of Winsor and Chandler Streets.
One son, Michael, born in Pennsylvania in 1895, was the first Italian-American to graduate from the Jamestown High School (1915). He attended the Albany Law School from which he graduated in 1919. He set up practice here. Mr. Lombardo became well known as a trial lawyer, and has done a great deal of civil work. He served four terms as a county supervisor. Three of his sisters became school teachers and taught in Jamestown till retirement; one of these is still teaching. Saint Lombardo Malta was the first Italian-American elementary schoolteacher in Jamestown. She was hired in 1930 to teach at the R. R. Rogers School.
Antonino Alessi sold his property in Valledolmo and came to the United States in 1906 with his family. However, an infected eye caused all to be returned to Sicily where he had a doctor heal the eye. He returned to America, this time alone. He settled on a farm in Brant, New York, and shortly sent a cable to his wife to come over immediately with their five children, still in 1906.
From the farm, the family moved to Buffalo, working at numerous jobs while the children attended school. Enough money was earned to send Samuel to Syracuse University, then the University of Buffalo Law School. He was admitted to the Bar in 1922. He came to practice law in Jamestown because he decided he wanted to grow with a small community.
Mr. Alessi practiced with D. Lawrence Carlson whose wife’s sister Ethel Olson and Samuel fell in love. Mr. Olson, the father, was a very conservative Swede; and when he discovered they were dating each other, he disowned her because Samuel was one of those “Italians.”
When plans were made to be married, Samuel decided
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to see Mr. Olson as he wanted everyone to be friends. He said to him: “We are planning to be married and want your blessing. You know, she’s not marrying all of East Second Street, nor am I marrying all of Swede Hill.” That turned the tide; and from then on, they were the best of friends. This was the first intermarriage, followed slowly by others and increasing over the years until it has been an ordinary, accepted way of life.
Mr. Alessi was an Assistant Corporation Counsel and later, Corporation Counsel for twelve years under the administrations of Leon Roberts and Samuel Stroth. He served also as county supervisor for a term. He retired in 1968 for health reasons. Mr. Alessi, Mr. Lombardo, and Tuby Scarpino were depended upon by the Italian families to untangle problems because they could speak their language. Of course, their practice of law was not thus confined.
Samuel and Ethel Alessi’s two boys followed his career. Samuel, Junior, attended Cornell, then the Albany Law School. He was admitted to the Bar in 1961. Civically, he has rendered extensive service. He was Justice of the Peace (1962 -1970); County Supervisor (1970); changed to County Legislature (1971-1973); chairman of the Municipal Airport Commission (1966 -1970); chairman of the Chautauqua Airport Commission (1972 -1973); and City Court Judge (1974 – and continuing).
Robert Alessi attended Syracuse University and the University of Buffalo, being admitted to the Bar in 1963. He was an instructor of business law at the Jamestown Community College (1964 -1967); attorney for the Jamestown Department of Social Services (1968 -1970); Corporation Counsel (1970 1973); and has served on various boards and commissions as has his brother.
Numerous men of the Italian-American group have served as councilmen, beginning with Charles Brunacini who now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mr. Brunacini was elected Councilman-at-Large in 1925 and reelected in 1927. Mr. Brunacini has been active in the civic and political life of New Mexico. He was State Director of the Works
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Progress Administration of New Mexico from 1935 through 1940.
Mr. Brunacini was the first county manager of Bernalillo County and the first Internal Revenue Officer of the State in 1963. He was campaign manager for Governor Dempsey and Senator Chavez of New Mexico.
Frank Franco was a councilman for some years, then became the City Council’s first president of Italian extraction.
Santo Nalbone came from the Province of Caltanisetta to the United States in 1905 to join a relative who had a job for him in the coal mines in Elinora, Pennsylvania. Payment was made to the miners according to the tonnage mined.
Mr. Nalbone’s son Fred was three years old at the time. From Pennsylvania, the two moved to Jamestown in 1924 where Fred found work at the Gurney Ball Bearing Plant (now Marlin-Rockwell Corporation) at 38 cents an hour. He returned to Pennsylvania in 1925, married Helen Mattay, and brought his wife to Jamestown. He worked at various jobs for short periods, then was a grinder and later supervisor in 1937 at Dahlstrom’s, where he continued till 1970 at retirement.
Sam Nalbone, Fred’s son, was appointed to the position of Ombudsman for the city in 1970 by Mayor Stanley Lundine who created the position here. His appointment was confirmed by the City Council.
Mr. Lundine was told by an uncle of this type of position prevalent in Sweden. He thought there was need for such a position in Jamestown. Since then, other cities and states have adopted the position, which has proved a successful endeavor in the city government. It provides the public recourse to the services of the government whenever anyone has a problem to be aired and solved, if possible.
Before becoming Ombudsman, Mr. Nalbone was a fulltime Machinist Union representative. Prior to that, he had worked at Dahlstrom’s as a layout man for 15 yeas. He was married at 19 to Allene Jacobson in 1945.
Mr. Nalbone has been active at the Jamestown
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Boy’s Club. He became a Board member, then its president. He has served on the Red Cross Board, United Fund Executive Board, and as manager of the Babe Ruth team.
The John Cusimano family was an extensive one. He went to Avon with one daughter in 1900, followed by his wife and four children in 1903 when enough money had been earned for their passage. He had been a gardener in the St. Benedict Seminary and Monastery near Palermo, Sicily.
They all worked at farming, helped harvest peas and beans, and worked in the bean mill, There were no lights in the mill, so the day started and ended with the sun. The father worked hard at paving streets, construction, etc; and later in the 1920’s he worked for the Maddox Table Company for the rest of his life. He was the first to cultivate the mucklands on Jones and Gifford Avenue.
The Cusimanos, along with several others in Avon, came to Jamestown in 1904. They had heard of available jobs everywhere. They all found work at indoor or outdoor jobs; and although the children attended school, only one of the eight finished high school. However, Sarah, one of the girls, taught herself to read and write. Son James learned the printing trade. He became a plant foreman for Martin Merz & Son, Printers and Bookbinders, where he continued for 30 years. Mr. Cusimano served in World War I. He joined Ira Lou Spring Post 149. He was elected Post Commander in 1938, and Chautauqua County Commander in 1953. He was awarded life membership.
Another son, Joseph, worked with Veneer & Plywood at an early age, earning his way to vice president.
During World War II, Joseph Cusimano was on the President’s Council for Wood Supplies. He traveled throughout the United States and Canada to find walnut wood to be used for rifle butts. He traveled also to Japan to study veneer making in that country. He married Louise Valone in 1922.
The Cusimano family has given quite a few
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university graduates and learned citizens, including the Reverend Francis Cusimano, S.J., professor at Buffalo, and James, superintendent of schools in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Winemaking was a custom of the Italian families. Each would make one, two, or three barrels of 60 gallons each a year. The grapes, usually Concords, would be purchased and delivered in boxes about 20 inches square and 7 or 8 inches high, stacked in front of the house. The children would gather around and invariably get nibbles. The wine presses were few, so these would be loaned from one family to another.
The wine was used at lunch and dinnertime, but usually only by the head of the family or the young men in the group. Also, it was offered to guests, much as one offers coffee or tea today. With it would be served biscotti (tasty cookies), or other goodies. Sometimes canned peaches would be served in wine. Wine was used in moderation. A great deal of pride went with the sparkle, color, and taste of one’s wine, causing long discussions of comparisons at times!
Early generations began to make popular in Jamestown such Italian foods as spaghetti and meat balls, ravioli, chicken cacciatore, manicotti, lasagne, pizza, green salads, cannoli, a great variety of cookies, and many other items. Pizza by the way, started in Italy many years ago as a simple novelty for the husband working out in the fields and for the children who wanted something to munch on.
When the housewife made bread, she took some dough, stretched it out to a circular form, and layered it with olive oil, fresh tomato, diced onion, oregano, cheese, and, when she had some, pieces of anchovy for that special tang; then she would bake it in her large, domed, corner built-in oven made of bricks and mortar. With this as a base, the Italian housewives here and in Italy began to pile on, according to imagination and availability, such items as mushrooms, green peppers, pepperoni, and, yes, even raisins! At any rate,
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it is very much enjoyed by many.
Italian cuisine is known for its extensive variety and very tasty preparations of vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses, and cookies. The Italians in Jamestown influenced its popularity among the non-Italians, although at first it was confined to spaghetti and meat balls. The pizza, ravioli, and lasagne became almost as popular through Italian restaurants and recipe swapping.
Fish sauces are a delight. Basil is almost invariably used with tomato in sauces. Various cheeses are used to embellish a macaroni dish Romano, mozzarella (if genuine, buffalo’s milk and molded by hand), pecorino (goat’s milk), parmigiano (parmesan), ricotta, and others.
Macaroni, as described in the Larouse Gastronomique,2 is A farinaceous food, originally from Italy (some authorities give Naples as its place of origin), where it has been eaten for centuries. Macaroni, like all other pasta is extremely nourishing;”
The Romans made pasta. By the way, the Italian housewife even to ay, if she wants to prepare a special treat, will make her own rather than buy macaroni or noodles. She uses a lot of eggs, and the dough is fairly hard. After kneading it sufficiently, she rolls a ball in her hands, places it on a board, and starts rolling outward from the ball towards left and right away from center. Soon she has two strands going, and she keeps rolling until the ball is down to a single strand. Then she hangs this on a pole several times or lays it on a sheet to dry. There is now imported equipment for home use.
To make noodles, a soft pasta is achieved by making a dough not quite so hard and rolling it in a circular form as for pie crust. Then the housewife places it on a sheet to dry a bit, folds
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it over several times, and cuts noodles to width desired.
Pasta is used with a variety of sauces. Each cook becomes so much a “creator” that rarely is her sauce exactly the same from one time to another! Only possibly in a restaurant or in the case of a beginner is a recipe used for exact proportions.
Macaroni in its various forms is used a great deal with legumes – ceci (chick peas), peas, beans, fava beans, lentils – or with some greens in a tasty, semi-thick soup with salt, pepper, and oil added.
Legend tells how the name macaroni came about. Neapolitans say that when one of the cardinals was first served pasta in the form of macaroni, he exclaimed joyfully, “Ma caroni!!” (the little dears) and the name stuck.3
Surely some readers are acquainted with the epithet macaroni as applied to a dandy. It seems that at the end of the 18th century some young men from London visited Italy; and on their return organized the Macaroni Club, wanting to introduce the new dish to Londoners. They were later nicknamed macaronis as a sort of derogatory term to denote a foppish man.4
Naples began making macaroni by use of simple equipment in the 15th century. This, of course, is different from the sheet or ribbon pasta made from back in Roman times and continued through the years. For one thing, the dough must be hard.
Abruzzi, one of the Italian states, situated about the center of the eastern coast, is noted for the quality of its macaroni and spaghetti which use the pure water of the mountain springs. Their most important factory was founded in 1887.5
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Home devices for the making of macaroni were brought here by some of the immigrants. It wasn’t long before it began to be made commercially to satisfy the ever-growing needs of the immigrants; and as its popularity grew among the non-Italians, the macaroni factories began to produce a great many varieties of macaroni and noodles, especially during the last ten years or so.
Macaroni was made in Jamestown on East Second Street by the Dominici and Gugino families as the Chautauqua Macaroni Company, started in 1913. It is interesting to note that at that time macaroni was sold in 20 pound cases. The Dominicis had learned in Sicily how to make macaroni as a vocation. Their business here terminated in the late thirties.
Another enterprise of interest is the making of No-Boil, a bleach. Joseph Cammarata, who lived on Water Street, discovered the process of its manufacture. He had little capital, so he started a modest plant on Crescent Street about 1925.
He took in a Mr. Gagliano as a partner to keep going financially. The business did grow, but Mr. Cammarata continued having financial difficulties with it during the depression. He left the business to Mr. Gagliano, whose son also entered the operation, and went to Buffalo where he became a salesman for a macaroni company. The business was discontinued by the Gaglianos in the late sixties.
Writing a “history” of any group is a frustrating experience, since one has to limit references to most people, touching only on a “drop in a bucket of water.” This does not in any way mean that these were the only ones outstanding. Hundreds of others have also contributed to the building and the cultural development of Jamestown by hard work, eagerness to please, enthusiasm, and ingenuity. The immigrants had help and encouragement from each other and from such men as the Broadheads, Maddoxes, Mayor Samuel Carlson, the Kents, Bailey, Doubleday, and others. The Italians proved to be good, independent workers – a valuable work force
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in the community.
The hardworking first generation saved, even with the low wages of the time. Many saw to it that their children went to school and on to college to enter the various professions: doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, nurses, engineers, etc. The next generation widened its scope to include technicians, plumbers, electricians, architects, builders, and so on. They have merged in the stream of life in Jamestown, no longer confining their homes to specific areas.
From Italians, they became Italian-Americans; but with the third and fourth generations, Italian-American is really a misnomer, since the young people think of Italy if at all no more than a location on the map of Europe. Italy is as remote as France or Spain or any other country.
In the process of Americanization, they gave a great deal and received as much in turn from the community. It is up to this present generation in every ethnic group to maintain the respect for each other in the brotherhood of mankind and to fight for that spirit of democracy which underlies brotherhood, along with the love of God.
Iorizzo, Luciano J., Mondelle, Salvatore, The Italian-Americans. Cecyle S. Neidlfre, Ed. Twayne Publishers, Inc. New York. 1971.
Montagne, Prosper, The World Authority Larouse Gastromique. The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine, and Cookery. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York. 1961.
Root, Waverly, The Food of Italy. Atheneum. New York 1971
Simon, Andre L., Howe, Robin, Dictionary of Gastronomy. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York 1962
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