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The Store My Grandfather Built

October 12, 2016


The Store My Grandfather Built


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



On the ship La Touraine, sailing from Le Havre, France, to New York, what dream did my maternal grandfather carry in his valise?  Born on October 6, 1876, in Levone, Italy, Martino Lanzone, at age twenty, left his homeland with one of his brothers for an adventure to America.  From Ellis Island, he made his way to Pennsylvania before settling in Vermillion County, Indiana.  After about six years of working at a store and bakery in Clinton, Indiana, my grandfather returned to Italy to marry Domenica Allice, also from Levone (in Northern Italy).  Once again on the ship La Touraine, from Le Havre, my grandfather sailed to the United States–but this time, with his wife.  With eighty dollars, the young couple arrived in New York on August 28, 1903.  Perhaps, by this time, my grandfather already had a dream to share with his bride:  probably, he had recently purchased the land for his store building in the rural town of Blanford.


The large, two-story building on the road that was eventually US Highway 71, in Blanford, Indiana, became the grocery store and bakery which must have been the culmination of a dream of my maternal grandfather. Always painted white, the wooden building sported a black wroth iron fire-escape on the north side.  Around 1904, the business venture was established as Lanzone’s Grocery Store.  (During my most recent trip to Indiana in 2014, my sister, Leader Dog Zoe, and I went to the Vermillion County Courthouse, at Newport.  Despite perusing numerous huge volumes, we could not find the record of the year in which my grandfather purchased the property in Blanford.  Nevertheless, examining and taking photographs with these old tomes provided a great way to spend a rainy day.)


By March of 1914, my grandfather was making crusty Italian bread and breadsticks in the brick oven.  A cousin Dale Martin Lanzone recalled that his father, Carlo (brother of Martin/Martino), rode his bicycle approximately seven miles from Clinton to Blanford to pick up some of the fresh loaves of bread and “peddle” the delicious bread to other communities in the surrounding area.  Additionally, Carlo helped with stoking the wood-fired brick oven in the bakery.  Moving to Greencastle in 1935, Carlo (Charles) Lanzone established his own grocery store in this Indiana community.  Keeping with this family tradition, Carlo and Martino’s sister Marianna Lanzone Pomatto and her husband Simon Pomatto began their first Italian grocery store in 1920, at Livingston, Illinois (near St. Louis).  The three sons of the Pomattos continued operating the stores in Livingston and Wilsonville until 1983.


The year 1914 was not only important for the establishment of the bakery, but also for the birth of my grandparents’ sixth child–my mother–on November 25.Earlier in this notable year, my grandfather had built a house for rental purposes:  this house in Blanford was the home of my parents for fifty years and the beloved home where my sister and I grew up.


Not only my uncle (born in 1910), but also the three daughters of my grandparents had their work to do for the family business.  At a relatively young age, my Aunt Zita (the eldest daughter, born in 1908) delivered the bread to nearby towns.  My Aunt Lydia (the middle daughter, born in 1912) helped with making breadsticks.  The only sibling to be graduated from high school and business college, my mother was the bookkeeper and tax preparer until the store permanently closed (in addition to being a full-time postmaster of our small town for 28 years).


From my grandfather’s Certificate of Naturalization, dated April 18, 1923, I learned that my grandfather had gray eyes and that he was only 5’6″ tall.  His height was surprising because his four children who lived into adulthood were on the taller side for their generation.  Of my four grandparents, only Martino died before I was born: he passed away two years after my mother was graduated from Clinton High School.  His graduation gift to my mother was an Underwood typewriter, on which I first typed and which my sister still has for a keepsake at her home.  As was customary in the year 1935, according to my mother, she, her two sisters, and their mother wore black for one full year of mourning.


After 1935, my Uncle Pete carried on with the bakery until 1942, when my grandmother and uncle continued only with the grocery side of the business.


In our small town, our family’s business had two major competitors.  Gisolo’s Grocery Store was located on the Blanford Cut-off Road (originally called “Grand Avenue”)–directly across the field and one country road to the west of our Blanford home.  The other competitor, Perona’s Grocery Store, was, a large, two-story brick building (with a dance hall on the second floor) and was located south of US Highway 163 and across the street from the Blanford Post Office.  Neither of these businesses, to my knowledge, ever had a bakery.


While I, on a rare occasion, went to one of the competing stores to purchase some candy, I believe my “Grandma Store” (as we called her) never set a foot in either Gisolo’s nor Perona’s although all competitors were respectfully friendly when encountering each other at other places.


As the decades progressed, the lower prices and variety of goods in nearby supermarkets brought the demise of all three of these grocery stores.  Even after our family’s store had closed permanently in 1982, my mother rarely went to a nearby supermarket in Clinton, Terre Haute, or Paris (Illinois):  fortunately, my dad enjoyed doing the grocery shopping since he had already retired.


The store which my maternal grandfather built was an important part of my young life and was a place where my cousin Carole and I played for thousands of hours.  The distance from my home to the store was a short bicycle ride or pleasant walk west on the Cut-off Road and then one right turn at my Aunt Zita’s restaurant.  After walking a few more yards and crossing Highway 71, I would be in front of Lanzone’s Grocery Store.  For more description of the outside of the store building and details about the inside of the two-story building, please return to this Wordwalk blog on October 26–two weeks from today because my next blog post on October 19 will celebrate somebody’s tail-wagging birthday.


Some of my relatives have already contributed recollections for my October 26 blog post, and I thank them for sharing their memories.



Hoping your memories are as beautiful as a Hoosier autumn,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


October 12, 2016, Wednesday



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  1. Alice, I so look forward to your posts. Your recollections of your family’s past is so impressive. So many stories, and names, and places. It’s like a wonderful trip through a cultural documentary. Thank you again for sharing your world with us. dp

    • Deon–Just as the sun first rises in the state of Maine, I look forward to the first comment on my blog post being from my loyal Maine reader.

      Many thanks for each of your comments–Alice and Willow

  2. Sue McKendry permalink

    Amen to all that DP Lyons wrote. How lucky your family is to have a historian!

    • Sue–Your words are too kind. As I try to weave together the pieces of family history, I am constantly reminded of how I should have asked more questions of my parents, grandparents, and other relatives.

      Always glad to read your comment! Have a good weekend–Alice and Willow

  3. Fran Rayce permalink

    How familiar all of the names are although I don’t think I ever visited any of these places. Much as your world stayed in Blanford/Jacksonville, mine stayed in Universal! However, the stories of immigration by our brave grandparents from those small, northern Italy mountain towns are much the same, as is the story of their lives after their arrival in Indiana. Although we had no merchants in our family, other immigrant families in Universal played the same role. How they made those long journeys and kept their dreams alive is such a testament to their strength and perseverance. How fortunate we are to have such wonderful legacies.

    Keep on remembering and sharing. I love your recollections with so many familiar details.
    Fondly, Fran

    • Fran–How true your comment is that our world stayed in only our own little town! Even though the Jacksonville students and I attended Universal Grade School for one year, I really did not become familiar with the town of Universal–just some of its fine people, like your two brothers who were enrolled at Universal Grade School the year I was a student of the three-story school in 1961-62.

      As I ponder another move to a new place, I think of the courage of our immigrant ancestors who made such enormous moves across the ocean. Oh, yes, they had such faith and courage!

      Thanks for your insightful comments–Alice

  4. Dear Alice,
    Thank you again for recording this valuable information for our family and for others to enjoy. Our grandparents were certainly courageous in their pursuit of happiness in a new country. Although they were not highly educated, they had strong values and made wise decisions. I think they must have been a very interesting couple for the early 1900s with Grandma being the dedicated business woman while Grandpa (according to our mother) was the gentle, nurturing parent. The photo we have of Grandpa standing behind the counter in the store with our mother (probably age 12) in the background is a family treasure. Your detailed descriptions of the store and its family are treasures as well.
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–I do treasure having the eight-by-ten photo of our maternal grandfather with our mother at the store, circa 1926. Having this photo of sepia tones on the wall beside my grandfather clock always seems appropriate to me.

      Thanks for your comment–A & W

  5. MARK POMATTO permalink


    As I was searching for information on my grandparents’ citizenship documents, I came across your story about your grandfather’s store. Imagine my surprise when I read about your grandfather’s sister Marianna. Marianna Lanzone, my grandmother! It appears that we are related. My father, Mario Pomatto, was one of the 3 sons you mentioned carrying on Marianna and Simon’s store in Wilsonville. My father’s store, too, was an important part of my childhood as well as a place where I spent countless hours, playing and exploring. As I was born quite late in my father’s life, I never had the chance to know my grandmother as she passed when I was one year old. I have always wished that I knew more about the Lanzone and Pomatto family history and would enjoy the opportunity to correspond with you to learn more about our family if you feel so inclined. Thank you for the story of your grandfather…or should I say…my great-uncle!

    Mark Pomatto

  6. Hi Alice. I’m the great granddaughter of Martin Pomatto. I spent many hours at the grocery store in Wilsonville, IL before it closed it 1983. I was only 3 at the time but I have memories of being there. The store stood for many years before Grandma and Grandpa had it torn down and they added a living room to the front of the house where the store once stood. I stumbled upon this blog and I’m so happy I did. Thanks for sharing! Would love to hear more.

    • Easter Greetings! How lovely to hear from a distant cousin as a result of this blog post. I am unusually busy during April; however, please send me an e-mail in May or later:
      Thanks and best wishes–Alice

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