Travel Tuesday: Connecting Hurricane Island, Maine to the San Donato Val di Comino Diaspora

Loreto Salvucci, a granite stonecutter from San Donato Val di Comino, Italy, left his home in the Comino Valley – and his usually pregnant wife Carmela (DiBona) four times to come to the U.S. to work in American quarries in 1899, 1904, 1905, and 1909. In 1906, his younger half-brother, Gaetano Salvucci, had moved permanently to the U.S., settling in Quincy, Massachusetts where he worked as a granite polisher. Additionally, Loreto’s mother-in-law Carmela (Paglia) DiBona, and several DiBona in-laws were also living and working in the granite industry Quincy, Mass. by 1900 – along with numerous extended friends and family members from San Donato Val di Comino who also settled in Quincy.

According to the family, Loreto’s wife Carmela and their four children Luigi (b. 1898), Lucio (b. 1903), Raffaele (b. 1906) and baby Eda (b. 1910) immigrated from Italy to Boston to permanently join Loreto and reunite the family. Their next child, Eva, was born at Quincy in 1912. All their remaining children were born in Quincy, and during the ten years after being reunited, Loreto saved his earnings to afford a home of his own in Quincy, having rented several apartments during that time.

With all these details, it seemed natural to assume that the family reunited in Quincy in 1910 and immediately began to settle in to home and work there. I had previously been unable to locate Loreto, either as a solitary granite worker, or with his reunited family in the 1910 Census. However, I knew that Carmela and the kids arrived in Boston in April of 1910, right around the time of the census, so guessed that perhaps they had not yet arrived and Loreto was simply lost in the shuffle or somehow mistranscribed in the census.

But a family photo pointed to a clue:

Lucio “Lou”, Raffaele “Ralph”, Luigi “Gig”, and Eda Salvucci, Hurricane Island, Maine, 1910

The back of the photograph was labeled:

Photograph Label for the Salvucci Children, Hurricane Island, Maine, 1910

Never assume!! I searched for Knox County, Maine, and located a family whose head of household was transcribed on Ancestry as “Lauis Salwrisi”. This actually showed the family of “Louis” and Carmela Salvucci – both listed as unable to speak English, only Italian. Enumerated 7 May 1910, just a week after Carmela and the Salvucci children arrived in the port of Boston on 28 April 1910 aboard the S.S. Canopic, the language barrier most likely was the cause of numerous errors that the census taker recorded for the family:

Louis [sic, Loreto] Salvucci, 38, married for 12 years, b. Italy, immigrated 1899, alien, a granite stonecutter, rents home

His wife Carmela, 35, mother of 4 living children, b. Italy, immigrated 1900 [sic, 1910]

His son Lugi [sic, Lucio] 6, b. Maine [sic Italy]

His son Raphael, 4, b. Maine [sic, Italy]

His son [sic, daughter!!] “Eighty” [sic, Eda, likely a phonetic spelling of nickname “Edy”], 6 months, b. Maine [sic, Italy]

His son Louis, 11, b. Maine [sic, Italy]

The family also lived with domestic Italian servant Mary Luxbring (21) and boarder Charles McCarthy, a crane car engineer.

They lived in the same dwelling house with two other families – likely it was a three family granite company tenement house.

In 1910, Hurricane Island was essentially a granite town, run by Booth Brothers & Hurricane Island Granite Company, which had been a thriving business until 1900 when demand began to wane and other quarries in New England offered easier access to the granite than an island off the coast of Maine. Hurricane Island granite was known for its pink-gray stone. The last shipment of granite from the island was in 1914, and by 1916 the island had been completely deserted, becoming a ghost town.

But in 1910, the granite company changed management, in an effort to try to revitalize the company, and likely Loreto Salvucci heard of their new job openings through the San Donato network, and hoped, along with the Hurricane Island Granite Company, for a new direction for both his job and newly arrived family. Numerous San Donato granite workers were located in both Quincy and Hurricane Island, passing word of jobs and connections through a wide network of family and friends. According to the history of Hurricane Island, workers earned $1.75-$2.50 per week, which went directly into an account at the company store.

Company houses at Hurricane Island, Maine, early 1900s, where the Salvucci family resided in 1910-1911, Courtesy of
Eastern End of the Hurricane Island Quarry

But the granite company struggled, and Loreto must have soon realized the stress of the struggling business was not worth the security of his family, so they returned to Quincy by 1912, where they had a larger support network of friends and family, and easier access to both necessities and comforts than they had found on the tiny island on the ocean off the coast of Maine. Choosing to leave Hurricane Island of their own accord, Loreto Salvucci unknowingly saved the family from the company’s final collapse: Hurricane Island Granite company’s final shipment was a barge of giant granite blocks en route to Rockport, which got caught in a storm on Nov. 8, 1914 and sank to the bottom of Penobscot Bay. That was the final straw for the company which ruined their finances. Management came to the island and announced the closing of the company and town immediately. Tools were left where they dropped.  The workers and families quickly gathered their possessions and got on the boat to the mainland.  All possible equipment was sold, and some still sits on the island abandoned. Several families remained for a few years, gathering abandoned possessions from the company housing tenements, and taking apart the buildings to sell for wood. At least the Salvucci family left on their own terms two years before this situation developed, and went on to prosper in the Quincy community.

[References: History of Hurricane Island; Booth Brothers and Hurricane Island Granite Company Manuscript Collection]

One thought on “Travel Tuesday: Connecting Hurricane Island, Maine to the San Donato Val di Comino Diaspora

  1. Love the story and I was hoping their would be a genealogy connection but my ancestor Vincenzo Salvucci, 1876 to 1945, from Quincy, Massachusetts, and was also a granite cutter does not have any DiBona’s in his lineage. He was an only child and was born in San Donato, Val di Comino. So many similarities…..

Leave a Reply