205 – St. Louis 1870s

We’ve visited the home village of our Pensa and Gardella families in Italy. We’ve investigated the mystery of Josephine Pensa’s birth.

Now we’re back in New Orleans. The S.S. Paganini arrived at the docks March 1, 1869, having left Genoa three or four weeks earlier. The Pensa and Gardella families were among the 85 passengers, all Italians.

The passengers were examined and questioned at the Customs House and recorded on immigration cards. When asked their destination, perhaps they gave the name and address of a previous immigrant or relative. They were sent on their way.

Like countless other immigrants, they couldn’t speak English. They had few possessions. But there was an Italian presence in New Orleans in neighborhoods around the custom house.

Between 1850 and 1870, New Orleans boasted the largest Italian-born population of any city in the United States. 

Italians in New Orleans – James Maselli and Domenic Candelaro – Images of America – 2004

There were about 900 Italians in New Orleans in 1869. But there weren’t any Pensas or Gardellas in the 1870 Census in New Orleans. We don’t know if our families stayed in New Orleans for a while.

But their ultimate destination was St. Louis. New Orleans was an ideal port of entry because there was cheap and convenient steamboat service to St. Louis.

New Orleans steamboats

St. Louis by steamboat

The steamboat trip to St. Louis took less than a week.

St. Louis was a boomtown in 1869. Its port handled traffic from Ohio River ports up and down the Mississippi River to westbound access on the Missouri River.

The population in 1870 was 310,000, doubled from 1860. St. Louis was the 4th largest city in the U.S.

What a difference from Roccatagliata.

Before the widespread availability of railroads, freight and passengers in the midwestern U.S. likely passed through St. Louis.

St. Louis – c 1870

A place to live and a job

The first citation we have for the Pensas in St. Louis is the US Census of 1870. It was enumerated in July 1870, just over a year after their arrival.

They were living in Ward 8, which was in the city center just west of the North Levee docks. Antonio was a laborer. Maybe he worked on the docks.

They lived at 422 North 3rd Street, near the corner of Locust and 3rd Street. The area was made up of warehouses, business buildings, public buildings, and tenements. Brick construction prevailed, with three or four story buildings.

Locust from 4th Street – looking west – 1870 – one block west of Pensa’s residence at Locust and 3rd Street

Today the location of the Pensa’s residence is in Gateway Arch National Park, in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch.

Gateway Arch National Park

Another child

Stephen Pensa was born to Antonio and Rosa Pensa in December 1871 and baptized at St. Bonaventure Church on December 24.

St. Bonaventure was newly organized in 1871, a church for the growing Italian community. It would serve as the church for the Pensas until 1883, when it was closed. It was located where Busch Stadium is today, just a few blocks from Pensa’s residence.

A fruit stand

St. Louis fruit stand – c. 1880

By 1872, the Pensas had their own business, a fruit stand. It was at 422 North 3rd Street, near the corner of Locust and 3rd Street.

The fruit stand was a ground floor shop in one of the large brick buildings. The Pensa family lived in the back of the shop.

The fruit stand would provide the family’s income in the years ahead. It was a family affair. Everyone worked.

Rosa Pensa died

Tragedy struck the family in June 1873. Rosa Pensa died.

Rosa Gardella Pensa, 38, of 3rd and Locust, died June 9, 1873, of cerebrospinal meningitis. E.N. Gregory, attending physician. Geo. N. Lynch, undertaker. Buried in Calvary Cemetery.

Death register – Rosa Gardella Pensa – St. Louis – June 9, 1873

Cerebrospinal meningitis

Sickness and Death in the Old South – A List of Medical Terms

Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions were often blamed for diseases that resulted in cerebromeningitis. I imagine these were the very conditions the Pensas encountered in the St. Louis immigrant tenement apartments.

What a difference from Roccatagliata.

Epidemic Cerebrospinal meningitis – Abraham Sophian M.D. – St. Louis – 1913

The mortality rate varied, but there was a good chance the patient would die.

Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis – Report to State Board – Henry B Baker – 1874

Calvary Cemetery

Rosa was buried June 10 in Calvary Cemetery, Public Lot X, Section 6, Row 27. I wasn’t able to find a headstone. There are very few headstones in Public Lot X.

Map of Calvary Cemetery, Section 6, Public Lot X

In 1849 a cholera epidemic struck St. Louis and claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people. This disaster prompted city officials to pass an ordinance banning the creation of new cemeteries within city limits.

Recognizing the need for a new rural cemetery, Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick purchased Senator Henry Clay’s “Old Orchard Farm” in 1853, located several miles northwest of St. Louis.

Calvary Cemetery opened for burials in 1854, with Archbishop Kenrick as its first president.

Wikipedia – Calvary Cemetery (St. Louis)

A single parent

Like so many of the ancestors we’ve researched, Antonio Pensa became a single parent when Rosa died in 1873. Unlike many, Antonio didn’t re-marry.

When Rosa died, there were six children:

  • Katherine “Kate” 15
  • John 12
  • Rosa 9
  • Andrew 7
  • Josie 5
  • Stephen 2

The older children worked in the fruit stand. In 1874, the fruit stand moved across the street to 233 Locust.

Kate Pensa married Andrew Gardella

On June 5, 1876, Katherine Pensa married Andrew Gardella at St. Bonaventure Church. Kate was age 17. Andy Gardella was age 28. Witnesses were John Paul Pensa and Teresa Lagomarzini.

Marriage – Andrew Gardella and Katherine Pensa – St. Bonaventure Church – June 5, 1876

Andrew’s parents were Antonio and Caterina Corsiglia Gardella. Yes, Andrew Gardella’s family was from Roccatagliata.

Kate and Andy Gardella were at home in Sedalia, Missouri, where Andy had opened a restaurant in 1875.

A move

After Kate’s marriage, Antonio and the other children moved to 211 Christy in 1876. It was a block north of the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi, which opened the same year. It was the only Mississippi River bridge between northern Illinois and New Orleans.

A change

By the late 1870s, John Pensa’s name was associated with the fruit stand in the City Directories instead of Antonio’s. The business had moved to the southeast corner of 4th and Washington, a better location.

East side of Fourth Street, north of Locust – c 1880. Pensa fruit stand was one block farther north.

Here’s a map of Pensa world in the 1870s.

In 1876, the citizens of St. Louis City voted to separate from St. Louis County to establish “home rule.” Today, St. Louis City is not a part of any county.

Most of the neighborhoods east of Fourth Street are gone today, but you can get a feel by visiting the Laclede’s Landing district where a few blocks of buildings remain.

Nibbles Extra Credit

The amazing 3-D perspective maps of St. Louis were hand-drawn in 1875. They show almost every block and building. They show people and wagons and boats. Many of the buildings are labeled in the legend. There are 115 plates that fit together, each showing a few blocks.

These beautiful maps are fun to explore. Here’s a link to the map at the Library of Congress. Click the link or the map below.

Pictorial St. Louis Map



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s