Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!
By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Historical Society Museum
“Early Millinocket laborers were ‘Healthy As You Please’ on a diet of spuds, beans, rice and macaroni.” This was the headline of an article published in the Bangor Daily News in August, 1951. The unnamed writer stated the information was from an old record dated June 2, 1900.
Of the nearly 1000 men working to construct the mill, 2/3 were working for the Mullen Construction Company and the rest were Italians under the control of Marco Lavogne (Lavonia), a labor contractor known as the “padrone.” The padrone would assist unskilled laborers to obtain jobs, took part of their pay and sold them groceries and necessities. This practice was common at that time.
However, the true head of the Italian community in Millinocket was Ferdinando “Fred” Peluso. McLeod’s history of GNP states Peluso “came as a clerk for the Italian crew on foundation work.
This work crew did not speak English and did not understand American money so Peluso helped with that. At first the men lived in primitive huts and cooked meals over open fires. Peluso was to receive two dollars for each laborer and $1.50 per day for room and board. Peluso became their administrator and advisor. He not only got them jobs, but provided food, wrote their letters and helped them start their homes. He became their Padrone – King of Little Italy.” (Laverty, Magic City of Maine’s Wilderness)
The Laverty book says: Peluso built a substantial home across the stream from the mill, added a store, a large barn and more around a cobble-stone square which became known as Peluso Square. The store was festooned with strings of sausages, garlands of onions, red peppers and garlic. There were cheeses, pastas and other Italian goods. A bakery in the basement provided tantalizing aromas. The museum has recently acquired a wooden hinged-top crate with black lettering on the front F. Peluso, Millinocket, ME. What did it hold?
Laverty’s 2nd book (So You Live in Millinocket) describes the Peluso buildings. The large 2-story rectangular house faced the stream near the footbridge to the mill. A small store was built on the north side facing the square. A large barn was built on the east side of the square to house potatoes which Peluso grew in fields near the stream (Granite St. School area). Some sources mention a “passageway” from the store to York Street might have held a wine press and large barrels.
Later, some workers paid off any debts and sent for their families. New houses were built near the square. Families grew, they had gardens and played bocce ball in the streets. Descendants of a number of these construction workers still reside in Millinocket’s Little Italy and all-over other areas of Millinocket.
Peluso remained in Millinocket after the work was completed, furnished labor to various contractors on other jobs, built a store on the east side of Millinocket Stream to serve the Italian population since many of the men remained to work in the mill.” Peluso acquired real estate, loaned money and became one of the leading citizens of the community. He was also a director of the Millinocket Trust Company and active in the Chamber of Commerce. He is buried in the Millinocket Cemetery.
Note: Both mentioned Laverty books are available to purchase at the museum!