Mass emigration from Italy coincided with the use of steamships for trade and transportation. There were earlier immigrants in and around Philadelphia who arrived on sailing vessels, but most came to our area in the late 1800s, usually out of a desire to improve their standard of living and possibly to escape the political corruption that existed in Italy at that time. Many arrived with little or no knowledge of English; limited educations; and no skills to qualify them for employment. Some may have arrived through the "padrone" system, for there was a United States law existent that permitted agents from various industries to recruit laborers in their native countries and bring them here for specific types of employment. It was repealed in 1885 but the practice is believed to have continued after that date. Only two people have discussed the English-speaking "agents" who met early immigrants when they disembarked in port and directed them to certain jobs, herding them into trucks and railroad cars. Some went to coal mining regions in eastern Pennsylvania in that way, and some quarries are known to have used this method of obtaining laborers. If the policy was widespread the facts regarding it are few, now.
Despite handicaps, there was a strong desire, strong backs, and hands willing to work, coupled with an intense desire to help kinsmen. Most of the very early families arrived under the sponsorship of another person with a specific job and a specific destination in mind, and "paesani" on hand to greet them. (A "Paesano" was someone from the same "paese" or village and meant kinsman. The term has been corrupted today and used to denote anyone of Italian descent.) Homes were shared by several families, or by several boarders. Men who had a definite job planned were indeed fortunate, for others have related the difficulty encountered when they sought work. They waited in long lines daily, only to be rejected when it was discovered that they spoke little English, or could not read or write. While many did read and write, others did not and only a very few could speak fluent English. It has been jokingly said that many surnames are spelled differently here than in Italy because a banker or official would spell it in such a way that was accepted for he, an educated man, should have known the proper way to write it! Most were really changed for convenience of spelling and pronunciation, however.
The rural setting of New Garden Township offered a better standard of living than did some towns and cities where immigrants were banished from certain areas and certain societies. Here, at least, they were able to operate small farms with a family cow and goats; pigs were raised for meat and the truck patch provided an endless supply of fresh vegetables that was canned and dried for winter use. They lived close to each other and provided a social life among themselves. Despite certain disadvantages, there were many occasions to celebrate, and many happy times. Visiting was frequent between families, and Sunday afternoons often found eight or ten families together with a slaughtered lamb or veal, a keg of beer, a little wine - a day for having fun. Each wedding and christening was a time of eating; and dancing. If there was a carpet, it was rolled away and dancers were accompanied by the accordion and tambourine. There was always plenty to eat including home-cured hams; goat cheese; and home-made wine. No one worried about having enough "equipment" because possessions were pooled to provide what was needed. Meals were prepared by friends when a family experienced a funeral, and the solemnity of the occasion was softened by their help and companionship.
A big day of celebration was St. Martin's day, November 10, for on that date the wine barrel was opened for sampling. To make sure everyone's was all right, each neighbor brought samples of his own for tasting, too, and it was all used to wash down cheese and the fried dough and cookies that the women prepared.
Women in the families experienced difficulties. Their days were spent cooking and caring for their growing families, making soap, tending farm animals, scrubbing clothes and tending the truck garden. Children were often born at home, sometimes without a doctor present for a midwife handled the job satisfactorily. Because of their limited contact with "outsiders" they frequently learned little English until their children attended school and then came home to teach it. A sense of rejection was felt by some who say they were not mistreated, but completely ignored. On the other hand, many speak of the fair way the Quaker families treated them. Children were said to have been taunted at time and fights ensued when they were away from home territory; it's also been said that they knocked the dickens out of those who came to their areas! As the kids said, "even-steven!"
Most Italian-American families in New Garden Township hailed from the Abruzzi region. Italy is divided into nineteen regions similar to our states, then further into provinces similar to our counties or townships. Many of the families are related. As they say, if they aren't blood relatives, or related through marriage, they are "Comari" and "Compari" to each other, a loose translation meaning Godmother and Godfather. Men usually came alone in the beginning and later sent for wives and children, or sweethearts, that were waiting at home. The 1ocal greenhouses and stone quarries - particularly at Baker's Station - provided early jobs. Many worked, too, for the railroads and for the trolley company as laborers until such time as they began working for themselves, usually operating greenhouses or mushroom plants.
For example, Rafael (Ralph) Schiubbeo came first to Baker's Station in 1895, returned to his home province of Chieti, Abruzzi, married Cristin (Christina) Marica and came back in 1900. He worked as a quarryman until injured in an explosion, then for Richards Brothers greenhouses until he began growing carnations and tomatoes in his own greenhouses. He moved to and remained in Toughkenamon Village until his death in the 1950s. His eight children were born in America, and it has been said that his son, Anthony, was the first child born to Italian-American parents in Chester County.
Oreste Catena arrived here after spending two or three years in Germany working in caves where mushrooms were grown. He left the province of Teramo, Abruzzi, at age fourteen. Letters from friends in America urged him here for "the money was good (50¢ a week)" and there was a great opportunity to improve one's lot. He worked first for Thompson's in their greenhouses and then for Sharpless, raising mushrooms in the old ice house (or maybe the o1d cave?) at the Creamery. His first mushroom house was completed in 1914, a day Mrs. Catena well remembers for it was her first son's birthday - "first son; first mushroom house." This may have been one of the first houses built in the Township specifically for growing mushrooms. Oreste and Elizabeth Fabiucci Catena built it themselves from boards obtained here, there, and elsewhere, and it took one year to finish. Most of the work in growing mushrooms was done by them alone with help from friends and relatives on big jobs like manure turning. Elizabeth Catena bore eight children, working up to a few hours before each birth, and says that she almost gave birth right in the mushroom house to their twins! As years passed and the industry grew, they opened a mushroom cannery in Avondale. Under the name of Superior Canning Company, it operated from 1930 or 1931 until September 1975. In later years, it was owned by the Catena daughter, Blanche, and her husband, Thomas DiCecco.
Angelo Fabiucci, Mrs. Catena's brother, came here when he was about eighteen years old and worked for 25 years or more at Thompson's greenhouses before going into the business of growing mushrooms and carnations. He and his wife, Domanica, sponsored many families that came here, and his job as Foreman enabled him to help them find employment. He was active for many years in local politics.
Vincenzo and Mary DiPasquale Cordivano were married when they arrived in the late 1800s. They, too, were from Teramo, Abruzzi, and lived in the Wayside area where he conducted a mushroom business. His sister, Serafina, married Attilio Ciorrocco at St. Patrick's Church and they shared a double house in those early years.
Attilio Ciorrocco, from the same province, later went into mushroom farming. His cousin, Achilles Ciarrocchi, lived with him when he arrived in New Garden about 1913. Achilles sent for his intended wife and they married here. Maria and Achilles Ciarrocchi still live in Toughkenamon Village and most of the children of both families live in the Township and grow mushrooms.
All of these families first settled in the Wayside area, along with many others including those of Guiseppi (Julius) DiJoseph, Flaviano (John) DiBartolomeo, and Dominick Dallas. There are probably many, many more that have been missed. The Abruzzi region from which most came is a rugged area of farm people and a semi-tropical climate located on the eastern coast of Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea. It begins about half-way down the "boot," and extends south about 100-120 miles, and inland about fifty or sixty miles. The coastal area is beach; inland are found foothills similar to our Piedmont, while the western edge of Abruzzi is a truly mountainous area.
Other early families hailed from the Calabria region in the southern part of Italy in the section that forms the toe of the "boot." Cococetti Bertrando left there when he was thirteen or fourteen years old for Germany. Arriving in America in the late 1800s, he first worked in the Baker's Station quarry, and later for the railroad. He returned to Italy in 1909, married Tomasina DiFilippo, and returned to America. Ten years later he purchased the big, red brick house in Toughkenamon that had belonged to Edward Yetter which included the site of the old race track. His son, William, lives in the house at this time. Cococetti Bertrando built mushroom houses there and also worked for the railroad at the same time. His mushrooms were tended at night. Two others sons, Angelo and James, also live in Toughkenamon and the three brothers carry on the family business among their other enterprises.
Mrs. Bertrando's brother, Eugene DiFilippo., left from the Abruzzi region. When he came here in 1912 he worked for the trolley company, then for the railroad, and has related many of the difficult experiences the men had on their jobs at that time. In 1921 he purchased the old Owens' Store in Toughkenamon and has operated at that site ever since. His store has become a landmark. He and his wife, the former Mary DiCecco, have three children, Eugene, Jr. who is a District Judge; Leonard who is in the family business; and Aida who resides with her husband in New York.
The Leo family is another that emigrated from Calabria. Many members came here and most were early growers of mushrooms. Their children are scattered throughout the Township and have contributed greatly to work in the community.
Salvatore Santucci worked as a mason for several years after leaving Teramo, Abruzzi in 1898. He moved into New Garden Township very early. Three of the sons of Salvatore and Michaeline were born in Italy and operated his mushroom business here while he maintained his job on the railroad. Several members of the family are, or have been, in business in New Garden.
Camillo Pedicone's early days after leaving Teramo followed much the same pattern as others - first to Baker's Station to work and live; then on to Thompson's greenhouses. After his marriage to Concetta DiStefano who had been born at Baker's Station, he began growing mushrooms and went on to raising tomatoes in his greenhouses. Carnations and roses followed later. Mrs. Pedicone makes her home in Toughkenamon with a son, Victor, who operates the greenhouses today with his wife, Gail.
Many additional families came here specifically to join friends or relatives when the big surge of interest hit the mushroom industry in the 1920s and early 1930s. Most had been in the United States, but lived elsewhere. Upon arriving here, they lived in or near Toughkenamon, usually, and seldom lived below Route 41. The exceptions were those few families who settled near Landenberg. It is said that you can spread word of a meeting or event in the southernmost part of the Township quickly if you call the "Penn Green Road Guys," and it works! So many of the families are interrelated that one can follow family growth and business expansion just by reading the new mailboxes and changes on business signs. They represent another remarkable example of family cooperation.
Michael Toto arrived with his wife, Benvenuta, (Beatrice) DiBenedetto Toto in 1926 when Penn Green Road was dirt and lined with dairy farms. After leaving Salla, Abruzzi, he first settled on Long Island and came here specifically to raise mushrooms. The family business has been at the same location for 51 years and is carried on today by their son, Louis, under the Penn Green Farms name and includes the aforementioned composting business. Mrs. Toto still lives on Penn Green Road, and other members of the Toto family are spread throughout the Township, for Michael Toto sponsored many others' trips to America.
Pantalone Lattanzio arrived on Starr Road in October 1928, with his wife, Lucy DiBenedetto Lattanzio and children. He first lived in New York, then West Chester, Pennsylvania where he operated a truck farm. His daughter, Assunta (Susie) married Guiseppi Versagli and they joined her father along with Pantalone DiBenedetto and his wife, Loretta. They built three single mushroom houses to begin their business. All were from the Abruzzi region, and parents and children alike still live in the same area, or very close by in other parts of the Township.
Samuel Ianni moved to near Landenberg from Rosedale near Kennett Square where he lived when he left Pittsburgh and coal mining. His wife, Eleanor De Michael Ianni, lives on Penn Green Road along with their two sons, Emedio and Arthur.
The Bertogli family came to New Garden Township in July 1930. They had already spent 22 years in Iowa where John worked as a soft coal miner after leaving Modena province in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. A family member had met some of the Leto family on shipboard while vacationing and decided to visit with them before returning to Iowa. Impressed with the area, and the opportunity to be self-dependent in the mushroom business, John Bertogli and his wife, Burasia Ori Bertogli, moved here sight unseen with two children, Eugene and Jennie. Another daughter who was four years old when her parents came to America had married Victor Guizzetti in Iowa. He was from the province of Bergamo in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, had studied photography in Illinois, and established a studio in Des Moines. He moved here and planned to open a studio in Kennett Square, but worked for Leto instead until he eventually went into business with his father-in-law. He died in 1933 and Mrs. Guizzetti continued the partnership until her son, Gildo, finished school and the firm of L. Guizzetti and Son was formed.
Another Bertogli daughter, Olympia, married Leone Pizzini in 1935. He was born near Pittsburgh, but returned to the Tyrol section of northern Italy at age two. He returned to New York in 1929, went to Wilmington for a month, and then to Kennett Square. When he was nineteen years old, he became self-employed at the same site on which he is located today. In addition to his mushroom business which includes growing, buying, and selling, he has operated many others, both in this area and in other states. The corporation, Ar-Ge-Nel, Inc. operates 58 mushroom houses and has recently purchased the old Superior Cannery in Avondale. His two sisters, Adalina Pesce, widow of Victor Pesce, and Guidita Pizzini, widow of Stefano Pizzini (unrelated) live nearby, along with a brother, Fedele, and a cousin, Ray Bazzoli.
A third daughter of John Bertogli married Archimedi Gioffredi who was born in Iowa and stayed there until 1948 when he visited here for two weeks, liked it and stayed for three; and returned permanently in May. He and Jennie Bertogli were married the following October. Gioffredi is part of Ar-Ge-Nel, Inc.
Eugene Bertogli carried on his father's business and has been involved in various mushroom operations ever since. He and his wife, Brunetta Brustolin Bertogli, live nearby. Several generations of the Bertogli family live in the area.
Giacomo (Jack) Ranalli didn't move into New Garden Township until 1933, but his feat of becoming the first Democrat elected to the position of Township Supervisor for 102 years can hardly go unnoticed! He lived first in Kennett Square after leaving Teramo province, and served as Supervisor here from 1958 to 1964. He built and operates the Ox Grove Bowling Lanes near Oxford at this time.
These families were selected, not for their achievements which are great, but to show the varied areas from which they came and the different sections of our Township in which they settled. An attempt was made to select the first families that arrived in each section, for neither time nor space will allow us to include all who came later. All have added greatly to our lives in little ways as well as big ones. Their varied ways of cooking enhance the daily meals of almost everyone as recipes are traded; the new vegetables they constantly grow and trade with others are a delight; their homemade wines are delicious; and where else can we attend a St. Patrick's Day Party that begins with an Irish Jig and "My Wild Irish Rose" and ends with "O Sole Mio" and a tarantella?