Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pioneer of us All: The Story of Pasquale DeMarco



Photo of Pasquale DeMarco from 1899 taken from the Grems-Doolittle Library family files.
Between 1890 and 1930 immigration from Italy to Schenectady was booming. According to Robert Pascucci’s book Electric City Immigrants: Italians and Poles of Schenectady, N.Y., 1880-1930, the number of Italian immigrants in Schenectady increased from 221 in 1890 to 5,910 in 1930, and made up 29.3% of Schenectady’s population. Many of these immigrants came to America to escape the rural poverty they had known in Italy and to try and make a living in Schenectady. There was an increase in demand for laborers in Schenectady during this time due to the expansion of General Electric and the American Locomotive Company. These jobs were a big draw for a variety of immigrant groups, including Italians. Italian Immigrants arriving in Schenectady would face a variety of challenges. Schenectady’s Pasquale DeMarco knew those challenges all too well and set out to help his fellow countrymen with the transition.
Born in Alvignano, Italy on September 9, 1862, Pasquale De Marco immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old. He bounced around New York State, living in New York City, Albany, and Ballston Spa before becoming one of the first permanent Italian residents of Schenectady. DeMarco would go on to open a barber shop on 109 Jay Street in 1895. In addition to cutting hair, DeMarco would assist other Italian immigrants in a number of other ways. He would translate for them, act as liaison with their jobs, and send letters to their families. He also began to go to the bank and exchange the immigrant’s dollars for lira to be sent to their families in Italy. Eventually, DeMarco expanded into the banking business, as he was able to buy Italian currency when the rates were low and offer better exchange rates to his fellow countrymen.



The caption on this photo of DeMarco's business reads: "Located at 106-108 Jay Street is the attractive and well equipped office and store of Pasquale DeMarco, who has been established in business ten years,  and during this period has done a large and increasing business and earned for himself an enviable reputation in commercial circles." - Taken from the Grems-Doolittle Library family files
The services DeMarco offered went above and beyond any regular bank. He would often go to New York City to meet Italian immigrants that were coming to Schenectady, help them get through immigration and bring them to Schenectady by train. He also assisted new immigrants with finding lodging and jobs if they didn’t have anything lined up. DeMarco also played a large part in founding the first St. Anthony’s Church. Up until 1902, there was no church for the growing Italian population of Schenectady. DeMarco brought Father Bencivenga from Italy to Schenectady in order to start a church where Italian was spoken. The original church was built on the corner of Nott Street and Park Place, int was


Location of St. Anthony's marked as "Italian Ch." on Nott Street and Park Place from the 1905 Atlas of Schenectady, New York.  
Demarco’s wife, Julia Mackay DeMarco also helped with DeMarco’s business.  Julia was instrumental in helping Pasquale with the Italian immigrant women. She went back to school to learn Italian, and acted as a translator and English teacher for Italian immigrants. In addition to their 7 children, Julia and Pasquale were so respected in the community that many Italian parents named them as godparents to their children.
Pasquale DeMarco was recognized for his accomplishments by local, federal, and even the Italian government. In 1902, he received a medal for his work from the Italian government for his work with Italian immigrants. Also in 1902, DeMarco and other prominent Italian residents  petitioned  Schenectady's Common Council to donate a piece of land in Crescent Park (now Veteran's Park) for a bust of recently deceased President William McKinley. The bust was a gift from the Italian residents to Schenectady and was "intended to show the high regard in which that illustrious statesman is held by the people of Italian birth and also to attest the love and admiration they cherish for the land of their adoption." De Marco also received a commendation and medal from the U.S. Treasury Department for running Liberty Loan drives during World War I.

De Marco died on August 26, 1930 of a ruptured appendix and was buried in St. John’s Cemetery after a funeral at St. Anthony's. Respectfully referred to as the “pioneer of us all”, Pasquale DeMarco was held in high regard by many in Schenectady. He knew about the struggles of immigrating to a new place because he worked through those struggles, and decided to help others in a similar position.

5 comments:

  1. Hi! I'm Pasquale's great-great-granddaughter, through his son, Marc, and grandson, Anthony. I've been trying to research my family history, and stumbled across this blog post! I think that's the first photo I've seen of Pasquale, and am rather amazed at how much he looks like my grandfather. Do you have any more information or photos relating to Pasquale and our family? (In fact, if you know what Pasquale's parents' names are, I will send you a virtual hi-five, because I simply can't find them.)

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    1. Hi Caitlin, sorry for the late response. We have a family file on the DeMarco family with some genealogical info on them, but I haven't been able to find out who his parents were. A good source of information are naturalization records and there is a Pasquale DeMarco who was naturalized in 1887. This record may list his parents, but I'm not positive it will.

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    2. Not a problem, I'm a librarian myself and know how crazy things can get!

      Can I ask where I can find the naturalization record you mentioned, and is available online? I found one for the Oct 1886 naturalization of a barber, Pasugale DiMarco, who lived at 33 Crosby St. (which I don't think is in Schenectady, or at least not anymore) Given that 'Pasugale' is no name I've ever come across I figured it might be a misspelling. However, an 1887 naturalization fits better with other records I've found.

      Thanks for your help!

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    3. I don't think the record is online, although it may be on Ancestry.com. We have microfilmed copies of naturalization records that I could check. Would you be able to send me an email with the request at librarian@schenectadyhistorical.org. Just so you know, we do charge a small fee for this type of lookup.

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