PITTSFIELD -- Much like the train tracks that he helped put down across the United States, Battista Allessio, an Italian immigrant who came to a new land sometime around 1880, had one simple mission in his life: Keep moving forward.
Heralded as the first Italian immigrant to settle in Pittsfield, Allessio's hard work -- and the subsequent devotion to duty displayed by his son, Michael, and three of his sons, Eugene, Michael (Mickey) and Ferdinand (Buck, Nando) -- kept the Allessio Brothers Dairy Farm a viable part of the community for almost 70 years.
Age and economics were the principal reasons the three brothers sold the property to the city in July 1969. It's now known as Brattle Brook Park, but for a number of generations, the green and fertile pastures were synonymous with the Allessio clan. It's a tale of family and a dedication to a sunup-to-sunset life that required passion and discipline seven days a week.
This is the Allessio story.
The trio of brothers worked in three-part harmony after taking over farm duties from their father, Michael, in 1948. Michael and his wife, Delfina, brought 15 children into the world, 13 living into adulthood. If it's said that the three brothers ran the farm from 1948 until its sale, know that they also were involved with the day-to-day farm duties since they were children.
It was a clear mandate that the younger male members of the family help work the fields, while the women and their daughters would wash milk bottles, mend clothes and do the cooking. You were in or you were out -- there was no in between.
"There was much family participation," said Ferdinand's daughter, Christine, who delighted in the farm work. "There were animals in the barn to feed, crops to bring in, vegetables to pick and canning to be done."
Eugene was the oldest and served primarily as the mechanic and fields master of the farm. He kept tractors and other machinery running in an environment where time was money. He took welding classes at night at the former Pittsfield High School vocational Quonset huts located across from the school on Appleton Avenue.
Mickey was up early -- even earlier than his brothers -- and delivered the glass-bottled milk to doorsteps on his city delivery route. It was a good fit, because Mickey liked people and people liked him. An outgoing sort, he would whistle as he bounded up porch steps to deliver the milk and take away the empty bottles. The whistle was part of his pleasant personality, but perhaps also the signal to a family that the milk had been delivered and was ready to be refrigerated.
Ferdinand, meanwhile, was the herdsman. It may have been a dairy farm, but there was other livestock to watch over. The trio shared those duties and the planting and harvesting of the green corn that would feed the cows.
Among the 15 children parented by Michael and Delfina was Henry, who had a son, Henry, and a daughter, Claire, who remembers her time as a young teen visiting her uncles at the farm.
"Mickey was the most outgoing, he was always happy," said Claire (Velyvis), who lives now in North Adams. "Mickey was the type that would grab you by the arms and spin you around.
"We lived on the other side of Goodrich Pond," Claire added, "and I often walked over to the farm. I admired my uncles and I wanted so much to emulate them. I joined the 4-H Club because of them."
Claire's brother, Henry, said it was Battista's son, Michael, who was able to maintain the family work ethic and expand both the size of the farm and the overall profit margin. The perception that farmers are nothing but "oafs" is very far from the truth, he said.
"All the brothers were very educated in farming skills," said Henry, who lives in Hopkinton. "And their father, Michael, was willing to accept new theories and technology to help make the farm more profitable."
Mickey attended the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at Massachusetts State College, which is now known as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. It was a very significant agricultural school in those days.
"Battista initially ran the farm like a Marine drill sergeant," Henry added. "But that's how it had to be. No one was going to give you anything. There was no such thing as job stimulus money. His son Michael, though, was a bit more calm. He was able to stretch the family legacy by accepting new ideas, many from his sons."
Michael passed the farm over to his three boys in 1948 and died in 1953. But he left the farm in good hands.
So, who was Battista Allessio?
He could have been the poster boy for hard-working immigrants. He and his wife, also named Delfina (Quirico), lived in the Asti area of Italy and had five children, four of whom emigrated to the United States. Battista was what was known as a tenant farmer working for a "padrone." That meant he was given land but had to share 50 percent of both the profit and crops to the landowner. The system was stacked against the farmer, who at 50 percent could only expect to break even and never change the outcome of the loop and get financially ahead.
Battista, an honest man and a family man, did the unthinkable. He sold a team of oxen that wasn't his in order to pay for his voyage to the United States sometime around 1880. That raised eyebrows, and so did the fact he left with his family still behind. But Battista, who was 40 when he arrived stateside, had a vision -- one that he needed to carry out or die trying.
Upon arriving, he initially made money by helping to lay railroad tracks down across the United States. His first order of business was to pay back the owner of the oxen. He returned to Pittsfield and washed dishes at the former Wendell Hotel in the shadows of Park Square. He was the only Italian living and working in the city.
He finally saved enough money to buy his first farm on East Street (then known as Beaver Street) and bring his family from Italy to Pittsfield. Everyone in the family had to work on the farm, located just before Newell Street, where the former gas company used to be. Income soon began to come slowly but steadily, and Battista complemented that income in a business agreement in which he was part of a group that bought multi-family dwellings and rented those places to new Italian immigrants.
That financial boost allowed Battista the opportunity around 1914 to purchase a new tract of land east of Newell and Elm streets at the southern end of Goodrich Pond. It would blossom to about 180 acres of land and the property at the end of Longview Terrace would become known citywide as the Allessio Brothers Dairy Farm.
The New England Green Pastures program has honored the top dairy farm in New England since 1947, when the governor of New Hampshire challenged the other New England states to produce better dairy farms than those in the Granite State. The Allesio brothers won this competition in 1955.
The Green Pastures program served then, as it does now, as a conduit of agricultural information while setting a blueprint for dairy farm success. But the Allessio brothers proved to be a step ahead of this organization in the early 1950s when they collectively decided that it would be much more fruitful to bring the pasture to the cows rather than set the cows loose in the pasture.
It was farm tradition to let dairy cows graze in the better weather before bringing them into the barn during the harsh winter season. But the Allessios chose to leave the cows in the barn all the time and bring the forage to them.
This allowed the brothers to increase productivity from the cows and helped them reclaim 30 acres of swamp on the property. It allowed for more grass cutting during the summer and an increase of hay and an extra planting of corn. The Green Pastures judges proclaimed the Allessio farm to be the best in New England.
The official ceremony took place in Springfield at the Big E agricultural exposition show. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the campaign trail for a second term in office, presented the brothers with a sterling silver tray.
Eisenhower had been the supreme allied commander near the end of World War II. Ferdinand had served in the U.S. Marine Corps and accepted the tray from the president while his two brothers stood proudly at his shoulder.
The sale of the farm to the city in 1969 was due to a confluence of events, but as stated, age and economics were the primary reasons. Eugene was in his mid-50s and his two brothers were a handful of years behind. The respective spouses were concerned for the health of their bread-winners.
The sale, said Henry Allessio, was a mind-bending time for the immediate and extended Allessio family.
"I remember when the public auction was held and things like milk bottles, stools and farm equipment were up for sale. For the family, it was an emotional event."
Added Henry's sister, Claire, "I think the boys were relieved that in the end the property wasn't going to be portioned off and developed. They insisted on that."
Pittsfield, however, was changing fast and so was the world around the Allessio brothers. Larger dairy farms were squeezing the smaller farms out of the picture and supermarket chains were choking off the smaller neighborhood markets. That meant you could buy a gallon plastic jug of milk at a bigger store and possibly for a cheaper price. It was a far cry from the days when the Allessio milk was delivered in bottles by horse and buggy.
"I don't remember any big family meeting prior to the sale," said Christine, who lives on Longview Terrace. "But I think it was obvious that my father and his two brothers were tired. They had worked 24-7 for a lot of years."
The brothers all segued into other careers and did well. But the sounds of dairy farming at the end of Longview Terrace were silenced. They had milked it for all that it was worth. Mickey's whistle was gone with the wind.
Brian Sulllivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.