Barsottis found the land of promise


Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society

Shown here standing from the left, circa 1910, are Ida Barsotti (Nicoletti), Jose Barsotti, and Evalina Barsotti (Alessini). 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 migrating to the United States by the thousands. Poverty, overpopulation, and natural disasters all spurred many Italians to leave their homes for the land of promise. One of these was Domenico Barsotti. He found such opportunity in the New World that he sent for his family to join him, and driven by a powerful work ethic, they changed the face of Madera forever.


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


He didn’t come to Madera right away. Those stories of Stockton that he had heard in Marlia drew him first to that city. After all what did he have to lose?


Upon arriving in Stockton, he found a job as a cook on one of the Delta Island farms. He had been working there for almost two years when a letter from his wife arrived stating 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 settled in with his dad as a kitchen helper.


Soon after Nello arrived, Domenico heard of a boarding house for sale in Firebaugh, Fresno County. He decided that this would be a good opportunity for him and his family, so he purchased the boarding house and sent for his wife and daughters. Father and son moved to Firebaugh to establish the boarding house for his family who would soon arrive. They took in borders, got started with the business, and waited for the rest of the family.


It was a long journey for Louisa and her three daughters, all ill with seasickness. 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 girls arrived in Los Banos not knowing how they would get to Firebaugh. An Italian man by the name of Toscano was called by the depot attendant to interpret, and Louisa was advised to stay overnight in Los Banos. Next day they traveled to Firebaugh in the caboose of a train; their long trip was over. Louisa often spoke of how frightened she and the children were. She gathered her young ones about her and prayed for safety. She remarked many times that they took turns staying awake throughout the night.


The family, finally reunited, joined forces to make the boarding house a success. The year was 1903, and there was always excitement when the paddle boat steamer came down the San Joaquin River from Stockton with supplies. This was quite an event for the Firebaugh people. Practically the entire population would gather around the river docks to meet the steamer. Teachers would even excuse the children to join the gala event.


Towards the end of 1903, Nello took a job as a kitchen helper with Miller & Lux, at the top pay of .65 cents a day. J.W. Schmitz, grandfather of the late Jack Schmitz, was the foreman at the time. Nello often talked about how much he liked Schmitz and how happy he was to shine his boots each day and help out with the branding whenever needed.


Meanwhile, the Barsotti family grew larger. In 1904, daughter Anne was born, and in 1906, daughter Freda made her appearance. In between those births, Salomena married Giorgio Pera of Dos Palos.


Early in 1906, the Barsottis began to hear rumors that Madera would be a good town in which to live. 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 Thurman Milling Company had a lot of employees with no place to stay. They were also told that Madera had some good doctors and churches. This convinced Louisa that they should make the move, as she always had to take the children by horse and buggy to Los Banos whenever they were ill. So, about a month or two before the San Francisco earthquake, the Barsotti family purchased the hotel in Madera on North F Street (now Gateway Drive).


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


Business was good, and the Vesuvius became too small for the many men who came from other parts of California to work for the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. The family purchased two more buildings further north (near where the Buggy Shower Car Wash is now located). A large room between the two buildings was added for a dining room, a kitchen, and a pool table and card room for the men to enjoy after their work at 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, livestock and milk cows. The right place was found, and a man was hired to help him work the ranch to supply food for the hotel. The ranch was located south of the old County Hospital.


In 1917, the Barsottis sold their hotel to Varnardi and Olivero from San Jose, and they decided to turn the six bedroom building that the Barsottis had built in the ally of the hotel into a bakery. Inside walls were removed, a brick oven added, and all the necessary equipment needed for establishing a bakery business. All the while, they continued running the hotel and bakery.


Then one night the hotel was demolished by fire, leaving only the bakery standing in the alley. The disheartened owners contacted the Barsottis and asked them if they would consider buying the bakery and the land on which the hotel had stood. By now the Barsotti ranch had been sold, and having some time on his hands, Domenico jumped at the opportunity of going back into business — even though he knew nothing about baking.


Once more the family was busy working together, along with two hired bakers, to make a success of their new business. Domenico and Nello took care of the baking, and Louisa and the children wrapped and packed the goods for delivery.


From that point, a Madera institution grew. The Barsottis ran the bakery until they sold it in 1946. Meanwhile the children of Domenico and Louisa Barsotti married, and each carried on the work ethic of their parents, making their own contributions to the community.


Domenico died in 1937, and Louisa passed away in 1959. They had left their native land to come to America. Here they did not sit idle; they worked. They taught their children what it meant to be Americans. They never forgot their Italian heritage, but they embraced their new home with gusto. Today, their descendants continue those traditions and have helped bring Madera into the 21st century.