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Write what should not be forgotten - Isabel Allande

Category: Neighborhood stories

The Route

Family Tree Magazine is again running a writing challenge for the month of November and I am participating again this year. Here is my first piece.

Imagine a route your ancestor took frequently in his or her daily life. Describe that route in detail.

This one had to roll around in my head for a while before the lightbulb went off.  Once it did, I couldn’t wait to write about it.  It is always hard to choose just one ancestor to write about.  While I have been to many areas where ancestors came from, it would be hard to describe in much detail.  

Bank street is where I grew up, it is in the heart of my hometown Batavia, NY, right off of Main St.  The cool thing is that it was a very familiar route for my Grandfather’s as well.

My Grandpa Marshall moved from Brooklyn with his wife and young family to work as a tool and die maker in the 1920’s.  They lived at 234 Bank St in a house built on former farmland. It was built by the company he worked for, Doehler Jarvis. My mom talked about how when she was young (in the 1930’s) the house across the street had horses in a backyard barn.  He lived there until his death in 1965.  It is a solid 2 story house with an attic that doubled as an extra bedroom in the summer time. Most of the houses in the immediate area has the same floor plan. He and my grandmother raised 5 children in that house. Grandpa Marshall would have travelled south down Bank st to Main st and then on to Evans st where Doehler stood.  

Just a block on Norris Ave. away lived my paternal Grandparents, Norm and Maime McGee.  They moved to Batavia from Warsaw in the 1930’s. Norm took a job at the Genesee Trust Bank (which later became M&T Bank).  The bank was located at the corner of Bank and Main St.  Norm would have also made his way south down Bank St every day to go to work.  

At the North end of the street is a baseball stadium built in 1939. Today it houses the New York Penn League, Batavia Muckdogs.  Both of my Grandfather’s were baseball fans and likely enjoyed walking down to the stadium on a warm summer night in the 1940’s and 50’s just as much I did in the 1980’s-90’s. A warm summer night at a baseball game is not only uniquely American but it is timeless. There was a small grocery also at the north end of the block – that place could have an article of its own!

Both of my Grandfather’s would have passed the house where eventually my family would live. My parents were married in 1954 and they moved into an apartment on Bank St  They lived in the apartment for a couple of years before moving across the street to our family home at 134 Bank St.  

Our block of Bank st was mostly residential but includes some commercial property as you move toward Main St.  There were many large old homes on the street that I passed daily coming home from school – these are the same houses my grandfather’s saw on their way to and from work.  Over the years some of the houses remained intact but many more were broken into multi-family homes.  There was also more of a multi-cultural element at the south end of the street as well.  

The house next door to mine was owned by 2 sisters when I was born – their family had lived there for decades.  My Grandfather’s would have passed the stately gray house with its graceful front porch with large white pillars, the beautiful glass entrance way and the elegant interior that featured both a front staircase as a kitchen staircase.  The large two story barn in the back was was largely unchanged in both my grandfather’s time and my own.

Tucked away 3 doors down from 134 Bank is a small Jewish Temple that was established in 1939.  To this day many people in Batavia don’t even know it is there!  I grew up Catholic, went to a Catholic school, my entire family was Catholic, my mother worked at the Catholic hospital (on Bank St).  Almost everyone I knew was Catholic – you can imagine my fascination at the idea of a Jewish Temple just a few doors down!  I would have to think it had my Grandfather’s attention as they went by as well.  

Continuing south toward Main St is 123 Bank St. In 1883 an infamous murder occurred.  The owner of the house – who was a popular business owner, suspected his wife of being unfaithful.  He set a trap for his wife and when her lover arrived the man shot him to death.  He was later acquitted of the murder. It always gave me the chills to walk by that house.

The next block down featured one of the two hospitals in town – St. Jeromes. Established in 1917,  St Jerome was run by the Sisters of Mercy until it merged with the other hospital in Batavia in the 1990’s.  St Jerome’s was also a familiar part of the neighborhood for both my Grandfather’s and myself.  The hospital is located just a stone’s throw from the Genesee Trust Bank. My Grandma McGee was involved with the ladies guild, the hospital employed my mother and my Uncle Emil. Many members of both families were born and died there.  Today I am employed by the hospital and have occasion to visit the Jerome site often.  Even though it looks nothing like it once did – everytime I walk through the doors I can see all as it once was.

As a child I knew every bump and crack in the sidewalks on that street.  I could name practically every family that lived in every house along the way.  Many of the people that lived near Grandpa Marshall worked at Doehler and many had also moved from Brooklyn.  He would have known most of the people in the neighborhood also.  Grandpa McGee was the bank President and was also involved in the local community and would have known the neighborhood well.

I could probably write an entire book about this unusual street that was such an important part of  my life and my Grandfather’s lives.  Single family homes and older homes turned into apartments, the Temple. I can’t speak for my Grandfather’s time but in my childhood it was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone and looked out for each other.  There were 2 large group homes for disabled adults on the street and no one thought anything of it.  There were no protests or petitions,we just accepted them as part of our neighborhood.  We would often see the residents walking past the house on the way to small shop on the end of the block.

Bank St has seen better days and watching its slow decline makes me sad.  Both of my grandfather’s died before I was born. Even though I didn’t know them,  I am so proud to have this street in common with them. It is sort of comforting to think that that we shared this route as part of our daily lives.

Neighbors

Last year I posted a picture of the Pfundstein & Sons store, from the NYC tax rolls taken in 1940.  At the time it was one of my favorite finds…until this week!!  I am very happy to share a guest post from Michael Sheehy, he wrote about his great-grandfather’s dressmaker shop and included a photo.  The Bellafiore Dressmaker’s shop was located at 56-09 Myrtle Ave – the Pfundstein’s Tailor shop was located RIGHT NEXT DOOR at 56-07!!!

 

F. Bellafiore Parisien Dressmaker, Brooklyn, about 1912.

Francesco “Frank” Bellafiore, my great-grandfather, is on the left by the door. My great-grandmother, Vitina, is to the right of two unidentified seamstresses. In the carriage is their daughter, Anna, my grandmother’s older sister (1912-2010).

Frank came over from Italy with his mother in 1902 at 17 years old on SS Citta di Torino from Naples. Trained as a tailor’s apprentice, he spent his life in the garment industry. The years in which he ran this particular shop are not clear.

Later, he had an industrial shop in the Garment District, where he designed and produced house label fine ladies wear for stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s, probably under the trade name of F. Bellafiore (not verified as of yet). He also had a “plus-sized” label called Stylish Stout (You can’t make this up. Also not related to a similarly named corset brand in the early 1900’s). Finally, he ran a tailor/ dress shop in Pearl River, NY until his death in 1952.

A true immigrant success story. Though the family originally lived in Brooklyn, he wanted his children to be “in the country” so he purchased an old farm in Montvale, NJ. and kept a brownstone in Bushwick. Eventually, the wood frame farm house on the property was renovated into an Italian villa with stucco walls and a red tile roof.

The building’s current address is in Ridgewood, Queens at 56-09 Myrtle Avenue, after some borders were changed. It is now a deli.

Michael used an overlay to add the Dressmaker’s shop to the 1940 tax picture of the Tailor shop!

The shops in 2014, the Bellafiores shop is now the deli on the right.

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