Saturday, March 17, 2007

Italians & The Portland Water Works

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This photo was one of the many wonderful one shared with me by the Baldrica family. It shows Joseph Marco Parisi standing in front of one of the Portland reservoirs with some of his family in 1925. From left to right: Pietro Parisi (Uncle Pete), Henry (Hank), Joe Baldrica (Mary's husband), Mary Parisi Baldrica (Joseph's daughter), Marina (his wife) and Joseph Parisi. Notice how jaunty Mary looks in her jodphurs and boots (quite daring and modern in 1925).

The reservoirs and the Portland Water Works were a huge part of the Parisi family history, and Joseph Marco, along with countless other Italians, were a huge part of the early Water Works history. I wanted to explore some of that history in this blog entry.

Portland began construction of 24 miles of pipeline from Bull Run to the city in 1893. This was a HUGE public work project, made larger because the Water Committee also began constructing reservoirs at Mt. Tabor and City (Washington) Park, as well as expanding the water distribution system in the city. Keep in mind that the brush clearing, ditch digging, road building and everything else was done largely by hand. The modern machinery we are used to seeing on our public works projects had not yet been invented. The City of Portland needed labor, and they needed it quick.

At the same time, many events were occurring in Italy that caused the people there to think about looking elsewhere for a better place to live. I'll discuss these in a future blog soon when the topic will be immigration of the Parisi family. By the time these Italians arrived in America, the vast tracts of usable land had been or were being homesteaded. Even though they were farmers in the old country, most Italians did not move to the small farming communities because discrimination was high and they didn't want to be isolated or ignored. The Italians mostly moved into cities and became urbanized, providing the labor for jobs that no one else wanted. Because there were so many of them, discrimination against them was rampant and the wages poor.

I believe Constante Albertini was one of the first from Premione to immigrate to Portland, and secured employment with the Water Works. He probably wrote home about the opportunities he found and encouraged others to follow him. Joseph Marco was one that took him up on the offer, coming to Portland around 1890. According to Anthony Parisi, Joseph Marco's son, the Albertini's were relatives, although he wasn't sure how. My current research does not extend back far enough to show the link (but I'm working on it!). As shown in the previous blog entry, both Constante and Joseph would eventually become foremen leading the Italian crews on Water works projects.

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