Boston Flat Ranch
The ranch established at the gold-rush location known as Boston Flat was first recorded by a series of Yankees before being deeded to a succession of Italian families: Ratto, Lagomarsino, Guiffra, and Moresco.
Bostonians. The Boston Flat Ranch was first noted in the archival record when it was located and recorded by Albert W. Hatch July 20, 1853. In 1854 it was assessed to Joseph Glass, the ranch manager, and in 1859 to Thomas P. Brown, when it was noted as containing 80 acres, 20 under fence, with a barn and dwelling house valued at $300. Assessed were wagons and vehicles, two horses, five neat stock, and $50 in personal property valued at $550 (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls). In 1860 the ranch was deeded to Bartolomeo Ratto by George and Josephine Hymen for $200 (Deed Book E:318). Thus began the long ownership by Italian families from Genoa, Italy, although it was always referred to in deeds, assessments, and local reference as the Boston Flat Ranch.
Ratto. In 1849, Bartolomeo (Bartholow/Bartholomew) Ratto, born in 1833 in Pian dei Ratti, Liguria, Genoa, Italy, came to the United States. For a short time he lived in New York and Philadelphia, finally making the trip to California in 1852. He traveled by muleback through the Isthmus of Panama and up the Pacific Coast by steamer. He settled in Jesus Maria where he did some mining and built a stone store on the south side of Main Street (stone walls extant in 2015) with his partner Giovanni Batista (George) Lagomarsino. By 1858 the partnership in the Italian Store was under the name of B. Ratto & Co., a partnership that continued until Ratto moved to San Francisco in the late 1860s. Here he opened a bakery downtown, and later in North Beach, manufacturing crackers (Ancestry.com, Calaveras County Assessment Rolls, (Ratto and Ratto, n.d.).
Ratto and Lagomarsino alsobecame partners in the Boston Flat Ranch, turning some of their energy to farming and mining. The census enumerator in 1860 listed B. Ratto as a farmer, and brothers George and Charles Lagomarsino as miners, all residing together at the ranch. Ratto’s real estate was valued at $1000, and personal property at $1000. As late as 1869, J.B. Ratto, G. Ratto, J. Lagomarsino and G. Lagomarsino were assessed for the Ratto Mining Company claim, 1000 feet long on Jesus Maria Creek, alongside the village.
Bartolomeo had three brothers, Guiseppe (Joseph ), Gaetano (Frank), and Giobatta (John ) Baptiste, and a sister Jane, all born in Italy. Jane married another Joseph Ratto, a miner in Sheep Ranch, and they had four daughters and two sons. John married Giovanna Cuneo in Jesus Maria in 1861, and the couple had three children; after his death in 1872, the family moved to San Francisco. Bartolomeo married Giovanna’s sister Maria (Mary) Cuneo in November 25, 1867, and moved to San Francisco shortly thereafter. One son, Scipio Galileo, was born to Bartolomeo and Mary in April 1869. The marriage was of short duration, however: following a divorce Mary married a man named Carbone and Bartolomeo a “French woman” (Bonfiglio n.d.).
In 1870 Bartolomeo was working as a bookbinder in San Francisco, and in the 1880s and 1890s lived in the Old Montgomery Block Building, as manager and an insurance agent. He also served as bookkeeper for the San Francisco Mint. A self-educated man, he spoke Italian, French, English, and Spanish. He acted as court interpreter for foreigners, first in the Calaveras County Superior Court, and then in San Francisco. Bartolomeo died in San Francisco in 1912 and was buried in the Italian Cemetery in Colma (Ancestry.com, Bonfiglio n.d., Ratto and Ratto n.d.).
Bartolomeo’s brothers, however, remained in Calaveras County for a time. Iin 1873, John Baptiste Ratto, 29; Joseph Ratto, 24; and Frank Ratto, 34; were all listed on the Great Register as residing in Jesus Maria and working as miners. John Baptiste, born in Soglio, Italy in 1837, died in Jesus Maria in 1872, and is buried in Jesus Maria Cemetery. With the exception of one brother who returned to Italy all the Ratto brothers died in California (Bonfiglio n.d.).
Bartholomew and Mary’s son Scipio married Angelina Antoni in San Francisco and moved to Sausalito where he operated a small grocery store. Two daughters were born to the couple, Pauline in 1909 and Vivian in 1911. Scipio died in 1951 and Angelina in 1941. The daughters never married and lived in Sausalito for many years.
Lagomarsino. Bartolomeo Ratto’s partner, Giovanni Batista (George) Lagomarsino, was born in San Colombano, Certonoli, Liguria, Genoa, Italy, in July 1834, and immigrated to New Orleans in 1849. He was naturalized in Philadelphia in 1855, so possibly became acquainted with Bartolomeo Ratto there (or knew him in Liguria) and came to California with him. George had 11 siblings, some of whom also came to California and resided in Calaveras and Amador Counties. George never married and resided in Jesus Maria until he was committed to the Stockton Hospital for the Insane in 1881, at the request of John Gnecco and his brother Agostino Lagomarsino. George died there in March 1901 and was buried in San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery his body was later removed and reinterred in the Jesus Maria Cemetery (Kathan, n.d.). George was recalled by his nephew as a character. He was also a violinist and pianist of noted ability and much in demand as a musician all over the country. George was also an expert at making beautiful carved cabinets as well as fine brace wagons (Bonfiglio n.d.).
George’s brother, Agostino Lagomarsino, born December 26, 1837, married Angela Cuneo (b. 1832 in Pian dei Cuneo, Liguria, Genoa) in Camposasco, Liguria on January 11, 1858. After spending a short time in Philadelphia, in the fall of 1859 the couple followed George to Jesus Maria by way of Panama. Here their seven children were born: Celestina in 1861, Adelina in 1864 (d. 1867), Louisa in 1866, Clorinda in 1868, Louis in 1869, Adelina in 1873 (the earlier child with this name had died), and Irene in 1877. Louis died in April 1884 and was buried in Jesus Maria; only the daughters survived to adulthood. Except for Adelina who never married (not unusually for the time) they all married local men. Celestina married Nicholas Bonfiglio in 1877, had a son, and after divorcing him married Antonio Giuffra in 1892. Soon a widow, it was Celestina who would inherit and run the Boston Flat ranch. Louisa married Giovanni Gnecco in 1881 and resided in Jesus Maria. Clorinda married David Faccini about 1890, had four children and, after a divorce, married Frank Burleson in 1910, had two more children, and resided locally. Adelia/Addie married Whiskey Slide resident Thomas Moffitt in 1893, and Irene married Charles Louis Ratto in 1902.
By 1870, Bartolomeo Ratto had moved to San Francisco, and (George) Lagomarsino & Co. was assessed for the ranch, known as Boston Flat, bounded on all sides by vacant land, 40 acres, with improvements valued at $500. By 1873-4, the ranch had been enlarged to 160 acres, valued at $200 (SE4 of NW4 and NW4 of SW4 of Section 14, and SE4 of NE4 and NE4 of SE4 of Section 15, T5N.R12E). Improvements included a house, barn, sheds, fences, orchard, and vineyard valued at $300. Personal property included a wagon, harness, horses, cows, calves, wine, brandy, and firearms valued at $407.
By 1875-6 the ranch was assessed to Agostino Lagomarsino (George evidently deteriorating mentally and finally being committed in 1881), with a house, barn, orchard, vineyard, and fences; wagon, harness, horses, cattle, hogs, 1400 gallons of wine, and 25 gallons of brandy. The assessment remained much the same through 1890. In 1880, the census enumerator noted Agostino as a farmer, Angela keeping house, Celestina helping her mother and with her son Tony Bonfiglio; Louisa, Clorinda, Louis, and Adelina in school, Irene at home, ), and brother George Lagomarsino in the household, along with miner John Cometti, boarding.
Over the next 12 years, all but one of the daughters married and moved away. Celestina, however, was to remain and manage the ranch for the rest of her life. On November 27, 1877, the 16-year old Celestina married Nicholas Bonfiglio and had one child with him. Son Anthony (Tony) Bonfigilo was born September 29, 1878, in a small four-room clapboard house built by the Yankees on the Boston Flat Ranch. By 1880, however, the couple had separated and Celestina was residing with her family and son Tony.
Guiffra. After divorcing Bonfiglio, in August 1892, Celestina married Antonio Guiffra, a native of Italy who had been working as a miner in Calaveras County since at least 1873, first at Lower Rich Gulch and then in Mokelumne Hill (Ancestry.com). The couple had two sons August Chester, born in 1893, and Alvin A., born in 1895. Unfortunately, Celestina was to be a wife for only a few years, as Antonio died at Jesus Maria in March 1898, at 45 years of age, having been ill for three years. He was buried at Jesus Maria under the auspices of the Mokelumne Hill Lodge of I.O.O. F., recalled as industrious, honest, and upright with a multitude of friends (Calaveras Prospect. April 9, 1898).
Angela Lagomarsino died on September 20, 1893, at home after a long illness, leaving her husband and five daughters to mourn her. She was buried in Jesus Maria Cemetery beside her only son, Louis (Calaveras Prospect, October 21, 1893).
In 1900, the widowed Celestina Giuffra (age 39) was listed as the head of the household on the Boston Flat Ranch with the occupation farmer. Residing there with her were her three sons Anthony (Tony) Bonfiglio (age 21) identified as a farm laborer, along with August Chester (aged 7), and Alvin (aged 5) both attending school. Also on the ranch was Celestina’s widowed father Agostino (age 62) and her sister Irene (age 24) . In June 1902 Irene married Charles Louis Ratto at her sister’s home -- the Boston Flat Ranch -- which was “beautifully decorated” for the event” (Calaveras Weekly Prospect, June 28, 1902).
Agostino died November 20, 1905, at age 72 and was buried in Jesus Maria, noted as an “old and highly respected member of the community. “ His obituary observed that he “first engaged in mining, but after following this occupation with indifferent success for several years, he changed his vocation and farming occupied his attention until his retirement” (Calaveras Prospect, November 25, 1905). The following year Celestina purchased the 80-acre Orrin Plumb Ranch, which adjoined her property to the west, as well as three-quarters of the Wet Gulch Ditch to Boston Flat (Deed Book 48:478).
Celestina began teaching at Negro Gulch School near Whiskey Slide in 1888, a post she held until she retired in 1913 when the school closed for lack of pupils. She was crippled and rode a donkey to school each day, because she could not make the long walk (Kathan n.d.; Calaveras County Historical Society 1986:67). In 1910 she was still residing at the ranch with all three sons: Tony working in a gravel mine, Chester on the farm, and Alvin with no occupation. Tony then moved to Grass Valley where he worked in a gold mine. In January 1919, while at work at his mother’s home, 24-year old Chester Giuffra died from a burst blood vessel in his brain, leaving behind his mother and brother Alvin to mourn him (Calaveras Prospect, January 18, 1919). The following year Celestina and Alvin were listed as farmers on their home farm, again in 1930, and in 1940 Alvin was listed as a cattle raiser.
Celestina died May 29, 1949, aged 87, in the County Hospital in San Andreas where she had been a patient since 1947. She was interred in Casa Bonita, Stockton (Calaveras Chronicle, June 9, 1949). Alvin then lived alone in the house until his death in Stockton in 1988, and was buried in Jesus Maria Cemetery.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Bonfiglio, who had never had contact with his son after the divorce, was dying in Southern California. He sent for Tony, who learned after Nicholas’ death that his father was very wealthy and that Tony was the sole heir to Bonfiglio’s estate of $7,000,000. While in Southern California, Tony met his father’s secretary, Ruth, and married her. They moved back to Calaveras County, purchasing the stone Late House in Valley Springs, as well as land in present “Fly-in-Acres” near Arnold, and engaged in the cattle business. They had one daughter, Pat, who attended Bret Harte High School and married Fred Lombardi and lived in Mokelumne Hill (Betty Snyder n.d.). Tony died in San Joaquin County in 1968 (Ancestry.com).
Although it is unknown exactly when the two-story stone residence was built at Boston Flat, it appears likely that it was erected over a succession of years, as in 1860, B. Ratto & Co., was assessed for a ranch 40 acres enclosed, valued at $400, in 1861, at $500, in 1863 at $800, in 1864 at $1000, and in 1865 at $1200, a continuous increase and probably the year it was completed. In 1870 Lagomarsino was assessed for a vineyard, and in 1875 for wine, as well as farming utensils, horses, cattle, furniture, etc., and by 1880 for an orchard as well. The old Boston Flat frame residence was still extant in 1878 when Tony Bonfiglio was born there, however, and was probably the one-story frame building with a steeply gabled roof that was located behind the stone residence at least as late as 1921.
Other buildings that may have survived from the earliest occupation are the adobe-brick room (Ctx 404) (which later held the olive press) and the adjacent stone cellar which served as the basement to a frame structure. The adobe bricks are similar to those used in construction of the Paulo Molle Store (later Gnecco winery; BF-4, Ctx 207) in Jesus Maria as early as 1854, suggesting a connection to both builder and time period.
Family members recalled that before the Rattos and Lagomarsinos purchased the ranch, “the place was partly ruined by early day miners seeking gold.” Through the efforts of the Lagomarsinos, the valley was partly reclaimed, as they built a series of stone walls and filled in the small dams with silt that was sent downstream by the miners working in the upper reaches of Wet Gulch. The silt came through a ditch built in 1852 by Mr. Neinian, Patrick Moffitt, and Orrin Plumb, who had acquired the water rights in Wet Gulch at the head of the ditch. It was noted as being more than four miles long and built over a very rough terrain (Bonfiglio n.d.). The ditch was also known as the Ratto & Co. Ditch and the Boston Flat Ditch over the ensuing years, and owned by the Lagomarsino/Giuffra families.
Olive orchards were planted around the house, and later on the hillside above and below the barn. An olive press was installed in the adobe building behind the residence (Ctx 404), where oil was processed. Fruit trees were also planted, and a few pear trees survived until the 2015 Butte Fire (Kathan n.d.). The terraced ravine in the creek below the olive orchard was planted to alfalfa (Tiscornia n.d.). The 1898 assessment for the ranch listed 160 acres, with a house, barn, and fence valued at $625, as well as a water right to the Boston Flat Ditch.
Moresco. The ranch was purchased by Ray and Joanne Moresco in 1983 and they began restoring the residence (Ctx 400), removing the stucco coating on the stone walls, sandblasting the exterior, building two-story porches around the building, and adding a modern wood frame kitchen to the rear elevation. The adobe building (Ctx 404) was restored, the adjacent stone cellar stabilized (Ctx. 403), and the old pole barn replicated with the large garage/storage building (Ctx. 401). Moresco also built retaining walls, terraces, and walkways with stone quarried on the ranch (David Moresco 2015). In 1987 the Morescos received an architectural award for their efforts from the Calaveras County Historical Society (Las Calaveras 1987). The house, adobe, stone cellar, and barn were burned in the Butte Fire in 2015, as were most of the orchards. Only the walls of the old home and adobe, remained standing. The ranch was purchased in 2017 by John and Evelyn Fletcher.
By Judith Marvin, 2016
Article Source: Rabellino, Kyle, Julia Costello, and Judith Marvin, 2016. Recordation of Historic Properties Destroyed in the 2015 Butte Fire, Calaveras County, California. Prepared for CALFIRE by Anthropological Study Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA.