The Moonshine Still on Limestone Hill

If you asked me where moonshine originated, I’d say the mountains of North Carolina. And truth be told, I have two jars of it in my freezer right now – gifts from two different people. But here’s a fun diversion from my Giorgio family research to share a story about moonshine.

When Rick and I met Dominic Renzi at his home in Brick, New Jersey in March 2016, I typed furiously as he recalled many stories of his time in Connellsville, PA. His family had a farm on Limestone Hill. Dominic and his brother Gene are connected to the George family because their father married Lena George on September 5th 1939, just four months after their mother died.

Dominic’s father Nick Renzi was born in Italy but came to Pennsylvania as a young boy. Nick’s father was already here when he sent for his wife and two children to join him in the early 1900s.

Nick’s father Dominic and his brother Joseph were stonemasons from Italy. In the Italian naming tradition, Nick’s first son was named after his father. Sadly, Nick’s father and uncle died in 1918, victims of the influenza epidemic. Here’s a picture of Nick as child with his father Dominic (on the left) and his uncle, Louis Renzi.

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So here’s a story – just as I typed it last March as Dominic shared what he knew about his grandfather Dominic.

The Renzi farm was in Dunbar Township on Limestone Hill. My grandfather was into moonshine, which he also had been in Italy when he lived in the northern section near Switzerland. The family was pretty well off. They built a smaller house near the farm house and there was a tunnel that ran between the two houses. When they first moved to Dunbar Township they had pigs on the farm. They built a slaughter house nearby, which would mask the smell of the moonshine operations.

Fast forward to this news from the Connellsville Courier in May 1929, a few months before Dominic was born.

stillonlimestonhill-1929In case you can’t read the names in the article, the two men arrested during the raid were Samuel Joseph and Carmello Strullia. The reason I think this might be the first Dominic Renzi’s still is because the article describes it as being unique because it was constructed entirely of wood. Here’s the continuation of the article.

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I love it when family recollections are borne out in the press. And have I mentioned that there’s nothing like reading old newspapers to get your  mind off the divisions that exist in our country today and the unending stream of political rants that seem to pervade every aspect of our lives?

So yes – it is bit of a diversion from Custode’s story but it is so much fun to get an idea of what life was like in the community and I couldn’t resist sharing an article that I think Dominic Renzi would really enjoy about what became of his grandfather’s still.

 

 

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Tuesday Tidbit

It’s hard to believe that a week ago Rick and I were at breakfast with Dominic Renzi and his friend Diana. After breakfast we went back to his apartment and he shared enough stories to inspire Tuesday and Thursday tidbits for a long, long time.

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Grandmother Renzi in front of the farmhouse on Limestone Hill

As a “self-taught” genealogist, one thing I’ve read over and over, is that you should  start with your oldest living relative and get his or her stories before it’s too late. Yes Dominic, by my calculation, you are the oldest living relative but thankfully I don’t think you’re going anywhere too soon. I hope that I will have half the energy (physical and mental) that you do when I’m your age.

Just to update anyone who isn’t familiar with the family tree, Dominic is part of the George family because Lena George was his step-mother. His mother Julia Giordano  died in May 1939 after what should have been a simple operation to remove a goiter. Apparently the surgeon did not properly suture the incision and she bled to death the night before she was supposed to come home. According to Dominic, the doctor responsible was never seen again, perhaps hurrying out of town because of the reputation of the Giordano brothers who were none too happy with the tragic death of their sister.

The Renzi family lived on a farm on Limestone Hill but Nick Renzi had a full time job on the railroad. Although his sisters took care of the boys immediately after Julia died, Nick needed a wife to be with the boys since he was often gone for days at a time. Dominic remembers that his father visited a few other ladies before he chose Lena as his wife. Although he didn’t come right out and say it,  I think one of the earlier candidates would have been Dominic’s choice (he even remembered her name!) Thankfully for us, we get the benefit of Dominic’s memory because, for whatever reason, his father chose Lena.

Carole Ann has mentioned the story of Dominic and his younger brother Gene sitting in the parlor while his father and Custode negotiated the terms of Nick’s marriage to Lena – in Italian. When the negotiations were over, Nick and the boys left and on the way home, he told them, “I think you just met your new mother.” This was only three months after Julia died.

A few things stand out from what Dominic told me about his father’s marriage to Lena. First of all, Lena did not participate in the negotiations. She was in the room but never said a word. She sat in silence and never expressed any affection or warmth when Nick and the boys left.

Secondly, even though Lena was an accomplished pianist, Custode refused to let her take the piano to the farm. Apparently this was out of spite because from what Dominic remembers, Custode did not play the piano, she just didn’t want Lena to have it. In her view, such a refined item had no place in a farm house.

Finally, and perhaps most shocking of all, (although at this point, nothing I hear about Custode surprises me) Custode insisted that  Nick and Lena take her grandson, Harold Galand on their honeymoon. Harold was 12 (just two years older than Dominic) when he got to visit Canada and the New York World’s Fair.  A great opportunity for Harold, but what a damper on any chance for romance between Lena and Nick.

Even though Lena was not a good mother to Dominic and Eugene, the combination of her brother Gene and Aunt Rosie made up for it. According to Dominic, Lena was mean to Aunt Rosie and often made her cry but Rosie did her best to shield the boys from Lena’s fury. Many times during our visit last week, Dominic shared a story of Uncle Gene’s kindness and generosity. Uncle Gene loved the farm and would often stop by to visit Aunt Rosie and to soak in the fresh smell of newly plowed earth. On leaving he would always admonish his sister to be good to the boys.

Nick Renzi died in 1949, ten years after he married Lena. Although he left the farm to Lena and the two boys in equal shares, Lena refused to leave and also refused to let the boys live there (not that they wanted to.) Eventually, Gene arranged for the boys to “buy out” Lena. He got Lena a job at the hospital in Connellsville and convinced her to move to an apartment there.

Dominic lived on the farm and was making repairs to the house which had fallen into disrepair while Lena lived there. On one visit when Gene saw that Dominic had converted the back seat of his car to carry loads of materials needed for the repairs, he commented that Dominic needed a pick-up truck.  A few days later, Gene called and asked Dominic to meet him in town.  When he got there Gene was parked near a truck and as the two men talked, Gene asked what Dominic thought about the truck. Dominic thought it was nice and Gene said – “Good – because it is yours.”When he asked what he owed him, Gene said nothing – it was a gift. Dominic needed a truck and Gene got it for him.

Just one example of Uncle Gene’s many acts of kindness, which are perhaps a big part of  why Dominic is not unhappy about his father’s choice of his replacement mother.

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Nick Renzi on a visit to Canada (probably before his honeymoon)

 

 

Tuesday Tidbit – Meeting Dominic Renzi

img023Rick and I spent today with Dominic Renzi at his apartment in Brick, New Jersey. He and his friend Diana picked us up at our hotel this morning at 9:30 and took us to breakfast. He brought us back to our hotel at about 9:00 pm tonight after dinner at a Chinese buffet. We spent the hours in between at his apartment learning more about life on Limestone Hill in Dunbar Township in the 1930s and 1940s while I scanned several of his photos using my newest “toy” – a portable scanner.

Dominic was ten when his mother Julia died after what should have been a simple surgical procedure to remove a goiter. When his father went to the hospital to bring her home the next morning, he learned that she had bled to death during the night after the surgery. Within four months, his father married Lena George and she moved out of Custode’s home in Dunbar to the Renzi farm on Limestone Hill. According to Dominic his father had visited at least two other women in his search for their next mother. Since his father worked on the B&O railroad and regularly traveled from Connellsville to Pittsburgh, he needed someone at home with the boys.

In many respects Lena fit the model of the evil stepmother. She was mean to the boys when they were young and once they started working she demanded part of their pay. Dominic does give her credit for teaching him and his brother table manners. Aunt Rosie lived on the farm with them and Dominic remembers his father and Aunt Rosie singing songs in Italian to records his father played on the Victrola. Aunt Rosie was loving and kind to the boys and shared in their misery, as Lena was also mean to her.

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Dominic and Kalen at Chinese Buffet for Dinner

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Rick and Dominic at his apartment

Dominic has nothing but praise for Uncle Gene (Lena’s older brother) who loved to spend time at the farm and was very close to both Dominic and his brother Eugene.  Dominic often turned to Uncle Gene for advice after his father died.

I have lots of stories for future posts, but its been a long day and I need to rest up for our three-day adventure in the big city that starts tomorrow. Rick is going to brave the NYC traffic to get to our hotel in mid-town Manhattan and Sarah and Will arrive very early on Thursday. We’ll have two full days with the kids before we drive home on Saturday.
I’ll close with a few photos from today and one or two of my favorites from the ones that line the walls of Dominic’s apartment.

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Dominic and his father, Nick Renzi

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Dominic Renzi circa 1930

January 27, 2016 -Where’d She Go Wednesday – Rosie Buzzelli

This is beloved Aunt Rosie at the Renzi Farm on Limestone Hill, PA. From Dominic Renzi’s notes on the back of the photo we know it was taken around 1947. I’ll add a bit more to what we know about Aunt Rosie later today. She is about 70 in this picture.

Most sources indicate that Rose Iacobucci Buzzelli was born in Italy in 1877. She is Custode’s older sister. She lived with Adriano and Custode George in Dunbar in 1910, but her marital status was not listed in the Census report.

She died in 1969 and is buried in Saint Rita’s Cemetery, Connellsville, PA.

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Thanks Very Much Dominic Renzi!

Dominic.marksmanshipcompetition.1957I didn’t win last week’s Powerball $1.6 billion prize but when I opened my mail today I knew I had hit the Jackpot! Dominic Renzi sent me pictures of the family – actual – original photos of Lena (his stepmother) and other photos from the Renzi farm on Limestone Hill, PA. Also some photos of Dominic and his family, Bill Galand and Dominic when they worked at Fayette Bank and various articles about our famous cousin – the Baron Galand and his election into the Chef’s hall of fame.  A true treasure trove – and I am deeply grateful.

I will scan the photos when I get home so I can share them here. I might not be able to wait until Friday’s Foto Feature because I have got a picture from Dominic of beloved Aunt Rosie. Dominic had already mentioned that Aunt Rosie helped take care of the boys and was somewhat of a buffer between them and Lena.

So as I continue my newspaper searches and try to save everything I find so that I can find it again later, it seems a good time to share this picture and article about Dominic – which is just one of many attesting to his marksmanship skills. As scans of these newspaper pictures go, this one is better than most. Hard to believe this was taken 59 years ago.

I am always happy to receive pictures and I promise they will be shared here unless you ask me not to. But I hope you will agree that sharing our family photos here is the best way to reunite our famiglia.

Here’s the text to accompany the picture: