Monday, August 15, 2016

Botto House

Now there is a title that makes you wonder "what the heck is a Botto House? A BottLE House I get. A Lotto House I get. But a BOTTO house?"

The full name of the Botto House in Haledon, NJ (Haledon is pronounced with two syllables, the first one rhyming with ale) is the American Labor Museum: Botto House National Landmark. It was built in 1908.

We made a stop at the Botto House with my Aunt Barbara during our tour of Hamilton sites. People who know even the slightest bit of US History can already figure out that Alexander Hamilton was long dead by 1908, and they would be correct. The Botto House has absolutely nothing to do with Alexander Hamilton.

Instead it was a side tour requested by my aunt who has wanted to go to this museum for years. As she was the chauffeur, and the description in her NJ sightseeing book sounded interesting, and it was near Alexander Hamilton's statue in Paterson, we went.

As soon as we walked in the front door Aunt Barbara greeted her son's second grade teacher who was on her way out. I don't think I would remember what Ashley's second grade teacher looked like. Oh, yes I would since that was me. ;) All kidding aside they had a nice reunion which I did not interrupt to photograph (but wished I had).

By 1910 there were over 300 mills in Paterson. Oh the Hamilton connection -- Hamilton founded Paterson and in the 1790s declared the Great Falls would be ideal for harnessing energy.

Back to the Bottos. Pietro Botto along with his wife and baby daughter moved to America in 1892 from Italy. One reason was because he did not want to be drafted into the Italian army (which had recently quadrupled to help acquire African countries). First they settled in West Hoboken (curren day: Union City). After working hard for 15 years in the silk factory, they moved to the 'burbs of Haledon, a stop on the trolley line from Paterson in 1908 (side note: house cost $4,600 to build, bet the taxes are much more than that in the neighborhood now). They house was built without electricity or heat. By now they had four daughters. The daughters also worked in the mills. To them North Haledon reminded them of the foothills of Italy where they were from. They even grew grapes on their property and made wine.

The mills housed many skilled weavers, about 20,000 employees at its hey day, 70% of whom were foreign born from nine different countries. In 1913 the Paterson Silk Strike broke out. The strike started because one of the owners bought fancy new looms. That part sounds good. The bad part was they felt each weaver could operate FOUR looms at a time, instead of two. Doing the math, that meant they needed only half as many weavers, and the weavers they kept were completely overworked. The strike began in January 1913 -- a very cold time of year. 

The workers wanted a safe place to meet. The mayor of Haledon was a socialist and sympathetic to their cause. They offered their home for rallies. It sat on a large piece of property a block away from the trolley line. Speeches were made from the front balcony (where we are standing). The strike ended on August 3, 1913 (about 103 years to the day before our visit).

The workers rally cry:
8 hours for work
8 hours for rest
8 hours for what we will

At the time Pietro and his daughters were working 10-12 hour days 5 1/2 days a week. The eldest daughter (Albina) started working when she was 11, the youngest (Olga) at age 13. Meanwhile his wife (Maria) ran a boarding house. All six of them lived on the first floor, keeping the parlor free for visitors, and the boarders lived upstairs in two different apartments with a hallway in between. Maria died in 1915 at the age of 45. We don't appreciate how good we have it now. 

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