Bristow Street in Saugus, MA runs parallel to Lincoln Ave. and Eastern Ave., nestled in a fairly secluded area that used to be called Little Italy by its residents. Nowadays, Bristow Street may no longer be considered Little Italy as the Italians have moved out and other families from Latin and South America have moved in. However, the neighborhood still feels the presence of the old Italian heritage as Bristow Street is bookended by Bucchiere Park on the Northwest and the Saugus Italian American Club to the Southeast.
The Italians that literally created this neighborhood were from Sicily and Southern Italy mostly. The 2nd husband of my 2x great grandmother (Rosa Ledda) built his house at 63 Bristow Street with his bare hands. Francesco Forti and Rosa (Ledda Barresi) Forti lived on Bristow Street for nearly 45 years raising children and grandchildren in the house he built. The house still stands today.
In this house, the Barresi, Forti, and Congliano children and grandchildren played. I know most of this because I connected with the grandson and great grandson of Francesco Forti and Rosa Ledda. Frank Forti is now 93 and his son Joe is retired and living in North Carolina. I had the privilege to meet them and talk about our shared family. Frank is my 1st cousin 2x removed and Joe is 2nd cousin 1x removed.
Father and son have many great memories of Sunday dinners at the little house on Bristow Street. They said that even if you weren’t going to stay for dinner, everyone in the family would go by the house every Sunday to pay respect to their grandparents.
After meeting with Frank and Joe, I did some more research and found that in 1910 John and Cora Beatrice lived across the street from the Fortis. So I called my grandmother, whose mother was a Beatrice. She said that yes, her family lived on Bristow Street but she didn’t know John and Cora. That made sense because I was looking at the 1910 US Census and my grandmother wasn’t born until 1926. She said her great aunt Antonia married a Graziano and they lived on Bristow Street. I called her back and said that John and Cora was her 2nd great aunt and uncle, as John was Giovanni Beatrice and he was Antonia’s uncle.
By 1920, John and Cora were no longer on Bristow Street, but their niece Antonia Beatrice Graziano was living at 57 Bristow Street, nearly next door to Francesco Forti and Roa Ledda. In 1920, Antonio Graziano and Antonia (Beatrice) were living with their 11 children, a nephew, and a boarder, and likely making a racket out of the entire neighborhood
A couple doors down, the Forti residence was home to the extended Forti and Barresi family. Francesco and Rosa lived with their sons Francis and Andrew, as well as their daughter Mary, and her husband Michael Lopalito. Renting an apartment from Francesco Forti was his son Joseph Forti and his wife Mary (Cogliano) and a brother-in-law, Ciciro Barressi.
At 58 Bristow Street, Salvatore Barressi (the son of Rosa Ledda and her first husband Arcangelo Barresi, my 2nd great grandfather) lived with his wife Mary (Festa) and their 6 children. This Salvatore Barressi (notice the spelling,) was my 2nd great uncle.
My grandmother remembers spending time on Bristow Street with her parents visiting her great aunt and uncle and playing with her cousins. She also remembers playing with the Forti grandchildren as well. She said she likely even went in their house a few times in the early 1930s. She likely met my grandfather’s grandmother and she didn’t even know it until a couple of weeks ago!
This is complicated to say the least, but this was only the one single page I was reviewing in the 1920 US Census. On the next page I found more Beatrices, Losanos, and Tordigliones, all who are related to me one way or another, yet not related to the Fortis…that I can gather at least.
I find this Little Italy neighborhood fascinating for their close knit community. They knew each other and liked each other enough to intermarry quite a bit and continue to live in the same neighborhood for decades. Unlike nowadays when many of us fail to speak to our neighbors or build a community of our own.
It didn’t matter that the Fortis and Barresis were from Italy or that the Beatrices and Grazianos were from Campania. What mattered was that they shared a culture and community.