History Notes is a biweekly entry in the Sun Rise that features a passage from the Johnston Historical Society. This week’s story comes from July 2012.
What follows is based on or quoted from a series of articles that Adam Macari wrote for the “Italia USA” newspaper in 1995 on the section of Thornton known as “Frog City.” Mr. Macari described the area as bounded by: Plainfield Pike, Mill Street, Victoria Mount, and Zanfanga Street, including John Street, Joy Street, Baker Street, Pleasant Street, Pezzullo Street and Umberto Primo Street.
His description of the history of the textile activity there has not been included here because it was taken directly from other secondary sources and can be readily found elsewhere.
Adam Macari relates that around the turn of the 20th century, news reached Italy that there was a great demand for workers on the farms of Simmonsville and in the new textile mills of Thornton. Soon, people began migrating to Johnston from villages and towns of the old country. He says that most came from Prata, Capriata, Caserta, Foggia, Calabria, Rocco da Vandra, Castel Nuovo, Sicily and other places.
The first settlers came to Simmonsville and later to Thornton in the Frog City area, where ready employment could be found in the British Hosiery Mill and the Victoria Mill or the Pocasset Mill, which was just a half mile away, down Plainfield Street. Mr. Macari tells us that the Cooper Mill (British Hosiery) on Mill Street, owned by Robert W. Cooper, was referred to by Italians as “la Machina de Goopa.”
We have often wondered how Frog City got its name. Mr. Macari tells an interesting story about the name, which seems quite believable. Cedar Swamp Brook flows downhill from the Simmonsville Ponds and empties into the Pocasset River. The swampy area around Mill Street is where the Victoria Mill and the British Hosiery Mill are located.
The Italian people of the village called the area Pandanella, which means “little swamp.” Mr. Macari said that anyone who lived in the village knew of the frog croaking that started at dusk and continued until dawn. He called it the Frog Symphony and directly relates the swamp with the name Frog City.
Adam also tells how most families in Frog City were in the poultry business, that is, almost every backyard had a chicken coop and fenced-in area. It was customary that whenever a woman was having a baby, friends and neighbors would visit her and bring a live chicken to make chicken broth.
We are told in the same article that there were 11 stores in Frog City selling everything from kerosene to meat. It is not known if they were all running at the same time. The stores were run by the following people: Giovanni Ricci, Mamie Iannuccilli, Mike Ricci and Woostino Landi; and these stores were known only by last names: Riccitelli, Micalitos, Iannuccilli, Scungio, Cimaglia, Iannuccilli and Caruolo, and Minigone.
Mr. Macari tells us that families in the village that had the space and facilities owned a cow or goat for their milk supply. Others had milk delivered to their doorstep. Charlie Stone, owner of Fenner Brook Dairy, was one of the milkmen, as was his son, Dud Stone, who also delivered ice. Adam also tells us that 16 people in Frog City owned horses.
In the early 1930s the Victoria Mill sold all its houses, in which many of the families of the village lived. Most of the houses were purchased by Italian American families, and by the end of 1932 Italo-Americans owned by 95 percent of the land and homes in the village. Some non-Italian family homeowners were: the Tingles, the Stones, the Brooks, the Carrols, the Peppers, the Reynolds and the Smiths. (It is not surprising that many English names appear because in the 1880s the whole village was English.)
Adam tells me of an interesting club called the “Rinky Dinks,” which first met in an underground tunnel below a road behind Rainone’s hose. The tunnel caved in when Mike Patrick’s horse and wagon drove over it. After that, the club members decided to build above ground.
The members had a rinky dink building fund drive, raising enough money to buy the material needed to build a 24-feet-by-50-feet club house. All the labor for the project was supplied by club members, and the land was given by a group of Frog City residents.
Summer time leisure activities for the young people were described by Mr. Macari. He writes that the Victoria Mill Top Pond provided a place for sunning and swimming for the teenagers in Frog City. He says that the name Top Pond came from the fact that it was the upper pond that provided water for power at the mill. The teenagers could diver into the crystal clear body of water, he tells us.
Then, they could set up their mechanically operated record player and dance for hours on the roof of the old mill degra plant. After all this strenuous activity, they would often stop by Nicky Cerra’s Sugar Bowl at 1416 Plainfield St. at the corner of Mill Street. There they could partake of a large ice cream soda or a jumbo banana split.
Mr. Macari ends the series by relating that the generation of the 1920s and early 1930s was responsible for planning and arranging the Frog City reunions that brought back “Frog Citizens” from as far away as California.
(In one of the articles, Mr. Macari lists 62 families in the village who lived in 102 houses which included 175 tenements and which he says make up the original village of Frog City. The families in total had a combined 468 children. He lists the father and mother in each household as well as the number of children in each family. In another article, Adam listed another four families with 27 children in total. He also lists the members of the Rinky Dink Club, nicknames used in the village and people who were involved in the reunions.)