206 – St. Louis 1880s

In 1880, the Pensas and Gardellas had been in St. Louis for ten years. The population was 350,000, up from 310,000 in 1870. Irish and Eastern Europeans were the largest immigrant communities. The number of Italians had grown to thousands, and would increase dramatically in the next 20 years.

Here’s an amazing fact. In 1880, our Pensas, all the way from Roccatagliata, were the only Pensas in the United States.

Pensa surname – Ancestry.com


The 1880 Census is loaded with information about the Pensa family.

Pensa family – 1880 United States Census
  • The family has moved to 812 Broadway
  • Antonio is age 57
  • John, 20, is a bartender, a foretelling of his later career
  • Andrew, 16, is a porter
  • Rose, 18, is working at a cracker shop
  • Stephen, 9, and Josephine, 11, are at school

Kate Pensa Gardella

Kate Pensa isn’t listed because she had married Andy Gardella in 1876. They lived in Sedalia, Missouri where Andrew was a restaurateur. Sedalia will become an important place in our family’s history, but we have more to learn in St. Louis first.

Another move

In 1883, the Pensa family moved to 407 Franklin, where they would live for several years.

These look like townhouses instead of tenement apartment buildings. Maybe the Pensas were coming up in the world.

John P Pensa 1885

Gould’s St. Louis City Directory – 1885

By 1885, John Pensa had been responsible for the fruit stand for several years. The business was now called Ghio and Pensa. John had taken a partner, because he was going to devote his energies to the saloon business.

John Pensa and Augusta Solari married December 10, 1884, at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in St. Louis, G. Boyce, officiant. Witnesses were Rosa Pensa and T. Solari.

Marriage register – John Pensa and Augusta Solari – St. Francis Xavier Church – December 10, 1885

Back to Italy 1888

In 1888, Antonio Pensa returned to Italy. His wife Rosa had died, and his children were grown.

Antonio had left Italy in 1869 when he was 44. Now, at age 63, he returned. He probably stayed in the homes of relatives, perhaps siblings. He would remain in Italy for eight years, returning to St. Louis in 1896.

Josie Pensa

The 1880 Census listed 11-year-old Josephine “at school.” I couldn’t find where she attended school, or how long.

By the mid-1880’s, Josie was probably working at the fruit stand, or perhaps at the cracker shop where her older sister Rose worked.

When Antonio left for Italy in 1888, Josie was age 20. She was living at home at 407 Franklin with Rose, Andrew, and Stephen.

John and Kate

John and Augusta Pensa were living next door at 405 Franklin. They had a son Charles; another child died in infancy.

Kate and Andy Gardella were living in Sedalia. They had two children; three others died in infancy.

Sedalia, and Will Riley

After her father left for Italy, Josie spent a lot of time in her sister Kate’s household in Sedalia, Missouri. Perhaps she lived there for a while. In Sedalia Josie met handsome, dapper, man-about-town Will Riley.

Nibbles Extra Credit – Pensa’s St. Louis

Here’s an interactive map of Pensa’s St. Louis. You can see the location of the Pensa’s residences, businesses, churches, etc.

Click on the upper left arrow block to see the menu. Click on the upper right border block to view full screen. Click on a pin to see some photos and details.


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