Barsottis found the promised land


Courtesy of Madera County Historical Society

Ida Barsotti (Nicoletti), Jose Barsotti and Evalina Barsotti (Alessini) are pictured here standing from the left, circa 1910. On the donkey are Freda Barsotti (Cappelluti), Anne Barsotti (Grattone) and Albert Barsotti. The men are boarders at the Barsotti hotel.

At the turn of the 20th century, Italians were emigrating by the thousands to the United States. Poverty, overpopulation and natural disasters have all caused many Italians to leave their homes for the Promised Land. One of them was Domenico Barsotti. He found such an opportunity in the New World that he sent his family to join him, and driven by a powerful work ethic, they changed Madera’s face forever.

Barsotti left his hometown of Marlia, in the province of Lucca, Italy, in 1900 to come to America. Back then, he couldn’t have imagined the imprint he and his descendants would one day leave on Madera. All he knew for sure was that he had heard success stories in California. This is why he left his wife Louisa, his son Nello and his daughters Salomena, Ida and Evelina in Italy, telling them that as soon as he had enough money accumulated, he would send them to look for them.

He didn’t come to Madera right away. These stories of Stockton which he had heard in Marlia first attracted him to this town. After all, what did he have to lose?

Upon arriving in Stockton, he found a job as a cook on one of the farms on Delta Island. He had been working there for almost two years when a letter from his wife arrived indicating that there was an opportunity for their son Nello to travel to Stockton with an Italian couple from their village. A few months later, in 1902, twelve-year-old Nello moved in with his father as a cook’s helper.

Shortly after Nello’s arrival, Domenico heard of a boarding house for sale in Firebaugh, Fresno County. He decided it would be a good opportunity for him and his family, so he bought the boarding house and sent for his wife and daughters. Father and son moved to Firebaugh to establish his family’s boarding house which was soon to arrive. They crossed borders, got into the business, and waited for the rest of the family.

It was a long journey for Louisa and her three daughters, all seasick. They arrived in New York from Italy and from there they traveled six long days by train to Los Banos.

Not speaking a word of English, Louisa and her daughters arrived in Los Banos not knowing how they were going to get to Firebaugh. An Italian named Toscano was called in by the depot attendant to interpret, and Louisa was advised to spend the night in Los Banos. The next day they drove to Firebaugh in the caboose of a train; their long journey was over. Louisa has often said how scared she and the children are. She gathered her young people around her and prayed for safety. She noticed several times that they took turns staying awake all night.

The family, finally reunited, joins forces to make the pension a success. It was 1903, and there was still excitement as the paddle steamer sailed down the San Joaquin River from Stockton with supplies. It was quite an event for the people of Firebaugh. Most of the population gathered around the river docks to meet the steamboat. The teachers would even excuse the children from joining the gala.

Towards the end of 1903, Nello accepted a job as a kitchen helper with Miller & Lux, earning a maximum wage of 0.65 cents per day. JW Schmitz, grandfather of the late Jack Schmitz, was the foreman at the time. Nello has often said how much he loved Schmitz and how happy he was to polish his boots every day and help build the brand whenever needed.

Meanwhile, the Barsotti family is growing. In 1904 his daughter Anne was born and in 1906 his daughter Freda appeared. Between these births, Salomena married Giorgio Pera de Dos Palos.

In early 1906, the Barsotti began to hear rumors that Madera was a good town to live in. There was an opportunity for them to buy a small hotel, which was already in operation. They were told not to lose this chance, as the Madera Sugar Pine Mill and the Thurman Milling Company had a lot of employees with no place to stay. They were also told that Madera had good doctors and churches. This convinced Louisa that they should make the trip, as she always had to take the children on horseback and buggy to Los Banos whenever they were sick. So, about a month or two before the San Francisco earthquake, the Barsotti family bought the hotel in Madera on North F Street (now Gateway Drive).

A few months after purchasing the hotel, a dining room, kitchen and several other bedrooms were added, and the hotel was named “Le Vesuvius”.

Business was going well, and Vesuvius became too small for the many men who had come from other parts of California to work for the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. The family bought two more buildings further north (near where the Buggy Shower car wash is now). A large room between the two buildings has been added for a dining room, kitchen and pool table and card room for the men to enjoy after their work in the mills. The hotel at this new location was named “The Barsotti Hotel”.

Soon Domenico thought it would be to their advantage to buy a ranch where they could grow vegetables, have chickens, cattle, and cash cows. The right place was found and a man was hired to help her work on the ranch to provide food for the hotel. The ranch was located south of the old county hospital.

In 1917, the Barsotti sold their hotel to Varnardi and Olivero of San José, and they decided to turn the six-bedroom building that the Barsotti had built in the hotel’s ally into a bakery. Interior walls were removed, a brick oven was added, and all the equipment needed to start a bakery business. All the while, they continued to run the hotel and the bakery.

Then, one night, the hotel was destroyed by fire, leaving only the bakery standing in the alley. The disheartened owners contacted the Barsotti and asked them if they were considering buying the bakery and the land on which the hotel was located. By now the Barsotti ranch had been sold and, having some free time, Domenico jumped at the chance to resume his activities – even though he knew nothing about baking.

Once again, the family was busy working together, with two hired bakers, to make their new business thrive. Domenico and Nello took care of the cooking, and Louisa and the children wrapped and wrapped the goods for delivery.

From that moment an institution of Madera developed. The Barsotti ran the bakery until they sold it in 1946. During this time, the children of Domenico and Louisa Barsotti got married and each continued the work ethic of their parents, making their own contribution to the community.

Domenico died in 1937 and Louisa in 1959. They had left their native land to come to America. Here they did not remain inactive; they worked. They taught their children what it meant to be American. They never forgot their Italian heritage, but they embraced their new home with enthusiasm. Today, their descendants carry on these traditions and have helped bring Madera into the 21st century.

About Juana Jackson

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