MICHAEL JOHNSON/Livingston County News
Geneseo Mayor Richard Hatheway (top row) with the historians and committee charged with compiling the Geneseo history of its Italian community, mid-row from left: Livingston County Historian Amie Alden, Margaret Mangalio, David W. Parish, Margaret Merlino McCaughey, John LaGeorge, Peter Bondi, and (seated) John Maniscalco.
‘Court Street Community’ spotlights Geneseo’s Italians
The names today are those of established and long contributing members of the Geneseo community: D’Aprile, Chiara, Bondi, Orlando, Redesi, Batagglia, Bardo, Badami, Disparti, Lanable, Least and a number of others.
Yet, read any history of Geneseo compiled up through the first half of the 20th Century and they are conspicuously absent. Persons of Italian descent were excluded from the documented record of Geneseo — certainly not because they were playing no role in Geneseo’s growth and advancement — once but purely out of prejudice on the part of the only slightly longer established northern European nationalities.
Indeed, as late as the 1960s, Italian men were refused membership as volunteers in the Geneseo Fire Department.
Very recently, under the direction of Geneseo Historian David W. Parish and Livingston County Historian Amie Alden, a committee of individuals with living memories of that earlier era of Italians in Geneseo was assembled to make belated amends and attempt as best it could to balance the perspective of the historic record.
Members included John LaGeorge, John Maniscalco, Peter Bondi, Margaret Merlino McCaughey, Madeline Peri, and Margaret Mangalio, who also served as archivist.
The group has gathered personal memories of themselves and their families and neighbors along with surviving paper documents and distilled them into ‘The Court Street Community,’ a study of the Italian-Americans in Geneseo from the 1880s to the 1960s.
The booklet has now been published and is available for purchase at the Geneseo village office. Cost is $8.
Among those remembered are Batasario Villarle, better known by his nickname of ‘Barney Google’ derived from the namesake comic strip character. ‘Barney’ lived on Orchard Street and was a common sight peddling his home-grown vegetables and fruits from a horse-drawn wagon.
There is discussion which contributes to the endless speculation relating to the origins and purpose of the underground tunnel which parallels Court Street, and descriptions of the old businesses, including Battaglia’s M & B Grill, today better known as The Statesmen.
As David Parish said, “It may not be perfect,” but it is a respectable first effort at telling the story of an indispensable piece of Geneseo’s cultural fabric.