PAWTUCKET – Marilyn Kelley says she couldn’t believe it when a friend showed her a Jan. 25 Breeze story about a bungalow-style home at 214 Beverage Hill Ave. being added into Pawtucket’s historic district.
That simple house, says Kelley, who was the state’s 2019 School Nurse Teacher of the Year before retiring from North Smithfield Elementary School, is full of childhood dreams, a place where she spent many long hours. It was the focal point of their entire family during a mostly idyllic childhood, she said.
Kelley said she was so happy to read that the current owners of the home plan to keep so many of the features of her childhood and restore it to what it was.
The story of Kelley’s childhood at her grandparents’ home ties in with all sorts of Rhode Island history, from the construction of I-95 through Pawtucket to the start of Ann & Hope, from the lives of one of Pawtucket’s most famous property owners and his “richest woman in Rhode Island” wife, to the roots of Breyer’s Ice Cream.
But for Kelley, it was all about the joy of living daily life in this home with her grandparents, Enrico “Henry” Barsanti and Rose (Arrighi) Barsanti, who built the house in 1928.
“It was the heart of the family,” she said. “That house lives in my heart and my memory forever. I remember every nook and cranny.”
She fondly recalls everything from the delicious ravioli made in the kitchen to the wine-making process in the basement. Less fondly, she remembers being sent to the corner for being naughty, and how she would be even more mischievous by then slowly picking off the wallpaper.
When her grandfather died in the 1960s, Kelley stayed with her grandmother every night. The house was eventually left to her mother, and she was only 17 at the time.
“I couldn’t bear to see it sold. If I was older, I would have bought that house in a New York minute,” she said. “I still dream about this house, I would have given anything to have it myself.”
The home was small, she said, but could somehow fit 25-30 people for dinner.
The home was such a part of who she was, she said, that she and her husband Paul purchased a 1928 bungalow-style home in Providence, which they’ve lived in for 43 years, raising two boys along the way.
“I have fabulous memories of the house, every inch of it,” she said. “I loved it so much that I bought a bungalow, built in the same year, in Providence.”
While they restored a lot of the original elements on the inside, she said, their home today does have replacement windows and vinyl siding, so it hasn’t been preserved to anywhere near what the owners of 214 Beverage Hill Ave. are looking to do.
Kelley’s mother, Florence, was the Barsantis’ only child. Her grandfather came from Borgo a Mazzano in Italy at 16 and settled in Pawtucket. His sponsor was the well known Nicholas Bertozzi, who owned Fro-joy Ice Cream, located in a building that’s still there on Prospect Street.
Henry and Rose likely met while working at Fro-joy, said Kelley. Fro-joy would later become Sealtest Dairy, which would eventually become Breyer’s.
Bertozzi was also the owner of What Cheer Airport, later known as Narragansett Race Track, and numerous other properties in Pawtucket, many in the downtown.
Bertozzi would become Kelley’s grandfather’s brother-in-law, marrying Rose Barsanti’s sister, Ada. They owned a mansion on Quality Hill in Pawtucket, which would be leveled to make way for Route 95.
There’s a newspaper picture somewhere of Ada, who was known as the “richest woman in Rhode Island,” holding a gun and defending her home against it being taken to make way for the highway, said Kelley. That was after Ada’s husband, known as a tough character in his day, had died on a train in Italy.
Grandmother Rose and her sister, Lena, had both worked in Bertozzi’s ice cream shop in downtown Pawtucket.
Kelley’s father, Lincoln Francis Moro, met her mother Florence at the ice cream shop. He ended up being the funeral director at the nearby Manning-Heffern Funeral Home for 62 years.
Her grandfather Henry was so proud to become a U.S. citizen, said Kelley, and he would go out to raise and lower the flag every day in the morning and at dusk. She found that flagpole still in the yard, she said.
So many memories flooded back as she looked at pictures from the home after reading The Breeze story, said Kelley, including of the old beautiful magnolia tree that she loved so much before it was cut down. There was also a fabulous fir tree back in the day, she said, and it was great to hide under when it was dark.
Kelley and her three siblings grew up in the Day Street home her parents built in 1956, located just up the road from 214 Beverage Hill Ave. Their parents lived there until 2005. She recalls on race days at the Narragansett Race Track that her mother would tell them to stay in the yard because of the “unsavory characters” lined up in their cars.
Her grandfather, Alex Moro, was the first millwright for Ann & Hope in Cumberland, she said, first building tables to display sweaters and jackets, then an office for the owner, and then building just about everything else within the landmark store.
There were so many little details in the house that seemed larger than life to a little girl, said Kelley, including the wine press in the basement that she was absolutely terrified of.
“I always wondered what happened to it,” she said.
She laughs as she recalls one story where Henry was found to have fallen asleep on his little stool at the wine press and wine was pouring all over the cellar. Her grandfather called her father to help clean up the mess, she said, and never made his own wine again.
Kelley says she’s the only one in the family who really does a lot around ancestry and wanting to know the stories around their roots. She has a number of items from the home, including a Singer sewing machine, a Martha Washington sewing chest, a door chest that was kept in the spare room, and a Spinnet desk. Her father Linc, who was well known around Pawtucket, was an incredible carpenter, she said.
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