By Judith Marvin 2012
The one place that stayed constant through mining and agriculture at Albany Flat was the store of Andrew Lee & Co., now known as the Romaggi Building. The lore and legends surrounding the Romaggi house and store are many and varied, including stories of visits by Joaquin Murietta (who was beheaded before the building was erected), use as a Mexican Fandango house (never owned by Mexicans), built in 1851-52 (no stone buildings were erected in Calaveras County before 1854), and built by James Romaggi (he didn’t immigrate until 1858). The following account is based upon documentary evidence, oral histories by family members, and a genealogy by a descendant of Columba Romaggi who visited Italy and contacted family relatives.
By 1854 the rear section of the Romaggi building had been constructed, and was assessed to John Lee (sic Letora), with improvements valued at $200 and personal property at $1800, suggesting a store. John Lee purchased land in Washington Flat in 1857 (Deed Book E:224), and evidently turned the store over to his brother. Thereafter for many years the property was assessed to Andrew Lee (Lertora) until it was sold to Girolomo (Geralomo/Jerome/Gerome/James) Romaggi in 1878.
Lee had evidently taken Romaggi as a partner in his commercial enterprise about 1858, shortly after he first arrived from Italy. Both Romaggi and his brother-in-law Augustus (Agostino) Foppiano were naturalized in Amador County District Court on September 10, 1860, and registered to vote in Albany Flat on May 14, 1867 (Amador County Naturalization Record, Calaveras County Great Register of Voters 1866-1887).
In later years the Romaggi family stated that Girolomo came from Romaggi, in Genoa, located in the mountains not far from his wife Louisa’s home in Chiavari on the Ligurian Coast, so it is unknown why he emigrated from Sardinia, as did his relative Bartolomeo Romaggi Prince (Great Register of Voters 1866-1887, 1888). The family recalled that he first made his money by panning for gold in Mud Gulch, adjoining the property, and made $30,000 in a mine in Robinson’s Ferry. Girolomo could neither read nor write, but was very astute at arithmetic, placing hatchmarks on the wall to note how much each purchaser owed (Sacramento Bee, July 19, 1940).
Girolomo was a native of Sardinia, and Louisa Foppiano was from Chiavari, Parrocchia de Cicagni, Genoa. As Geralomo and Louisa both emigrated from Italy in 1858, they probably married the same year, when she was 15 and he was much older (Costa 1980). Family lore said that Girolomo went back to Italy to marry Louisa, but as her parents, Peter and Angela Chigliosola Foppiano, took up land in Albany Flat in early days, they may have been married locally.
The Romaggis were recalled as very popular people, very affectionate and liked by everyone (Romaggi 1980), and that Mrs. Romaggi was a “very fine and highly thought of old woman” (Costa 1980).
In 1858 Andrew Lee & Co. was assessed for a house and lot with improvements located on the west side of the main road in Albany Flat, valued at $1000. He was also assessed for a house and lot in Carsons, probably another merchandise store. By 1860, however, Girolomo Romaggi had become a partner in the Albany Flat enterprise, as the census enumerator that year noted James Raemache (sic Romaggi), aged 34, as residing on the property with his wife Louisa, aged 18, and son Andrew, born in March of 1859 (although the census noted his age as two months old in July of 1860). Romaggi listed himself as a merchant, with real estate valued at $500, and personal estate at $1000 (undoubtedly merchandise), although he was a stonemason by trade (Costa 1980). At that time most of the men in the area, including several Italians, listed themselves as miners and were undoubtedly patrons of Romaggi and Lee’s “Italian Store.”
The amount of land and value of improvements owned by Andrew Lee & Co. varied over the years: in 1860 for a 35-acre ranch, enclosed, with improvements; and personal property at $2025; in 1863 he was assessed for 50 acres and improvements valued at $240, with personal property at $1160; in 1864 it included 160 acres and improvements valued at $1000, with $2000 in personal property; by 1866 the value of his property was still at $1000, but personal property had dropped to $500, suggesting that the store was no longer so successful.
Sometime prior to 1860, the partners had constructed the “Italian Ditch,” an 8-mile long ditch which took water from the Union Water Company Ditch at No Nothing Reservoir near Vallecito and conveyed it to Albany Flat and vicinity. It was valued at $200 in 1860; $750 in 1866, but had dropped to $100 in 1871. Winifred Romaggi recalled that in 1898 her husband James was paid 50 cents by his grandfather Girolomo to clean out the ditch between the ranch and Melones. She noted that it was probably the ditch between Vallecito and Carson Hill where Stevenot got his water (Romaggi 1980). When it was listed in Andrew’s probate, it was noted as connecting with the Union Ditch between Vallecito and Douglas Flat and conveying water to Albany Flat and Carson Hill.
In May of 1868 Girolomo and Louisa (both signed with an X) deeded the property to her relative Agostine (Agostino) Foppiano, owner of the adjacent Marble Spring Ranch, for $3500. This was probably a mortgage, as no other deed was located, and the property continued to be assessed to Andrew Lee & Co. The deed noted that it was for a parcel of land with a garden, vineyard, stone building, and outside buildings in the Village of Albany Flat, enclosed by a fence, and known as the “House or Store of A. Lee & Co.” The deed also included a right to the quartz claim known as the Specimen Hill near Sawmill Gulch in the Albany Flat Mining District, known as the Antonio Mirendo & Co., Claim; two horses with harness, one wagon, one buggy, and one-half of the goods in the store and the water ditch (Deed Book Q:413).
Although the family’s primary residence was at Albany Flat, they returned many times to Italy to visit (Costa 1980). On one of those trips Girolomo and Louisa returned from Italy via Liverpool, England, and Queenstown, Ireland, arriving back in New York on August 20, 1869, with their infant child (Ships Passenger Lists, Ancestry.com). Their daughter Carmelina Marie was born in July of 1876 in Genoa, near Portofino, Italy, on another visit (Libby 1984). The other children were born in the home in Albany Flat. The six children were: Andrew Antone, born 1859 or 1860; Mary Angels, born 1861 Jane Angela, born 1864; John Peter, born 1867; Columba Maggie, born 1870; and Carmelina Marie, born 1876.
By 1870, James and Louisa were residing in the home with two children: John, three-years old, and a female infant (Columba Maggie) born in April of that year. Also residing in the household was Andrew Lee, the partner, aged 32; and M. Montana, a 22-year old female working in the family. The value of Romaggi and Lee’s real estate was $250 each, with personal estate at $400 each; both men noted their occupations as “retail merchant.” A “vineyard” was depicted at the location of the stone house on the 1870 General Land Office plat, so the partners had evidently planted grapes and were making wine. Although some of the Albany Flat residents were still mining, much of the acreage had been taken up by farmers, most of them from Genoa, Italy. The following year A. Lee & Co. was assessed for property at Albany Flat, with real estate valued at $600, the ditch at $100, and improvements at $100.
The exact relationship between Andrew Lee and Girolomo Romaggi is unknown, but evidently Lee (Letora) was the first to settle on the property, constructing the oldest portion of the stone building (the rear one-story section with stone sills and lentils). It appears likely that the two-story front portion of the building was erected by Romaggi sometime shortly after his arrival and marriage in 1858. Romaggi family members in Italy recalled that on one of his trips to Italy he had to quickly return to America because his “partner” was cheating him out of his income (Libby 1984).
Andrew Lee was never noted in the Great Register of Voters or in any but the 1870 census, but Agostino Lertora & Co. was assessed for a house on the ranch of Peter Foppiano at Albany Flat in 1860. The connection between Agostino and Andrew is unknown, but they appear to have been related, and also to be connected to Louisa Foppiano’s family.
No deed, land claim, or homestead was ever recorded for the property until 1875, when Andrew Lertora filed a mining claim for the Albany Flat Placer Mine, including 20 acres on which the stone building was situated. The claim was filed on July 29, 1875, at the request of Andrew Lee (evidently changing names again) (Mining Claim Book D:273). Lee’s assessment for that year included 40 acres of land with a house, barn, and fence valued at $400, solvent debts, wagon, horse, 12 sheep, watch, fixtures, two guns, and 400 gallons of wine.
On June 7, 1878, Andrew Lertora deeded the property to Girolomo Romaggi for $1800, stating that it included his right, title, interest, and estate to the following property: mineral land in Albany Flat Mining District, located July 29, 1875. It included 20 acres in the N ½ of the NW ¼ of the SW ¼ of Section 11,.T2N, R13E, and known as the Andrew Lee Place, with all improvements (Deed book 1:484, filed June 22, 1878). Two years later, in July of 1880, William M. Crew deeded one-half of the quartz claim formerly known as the Andrew Lee & Co. Old Quartz Mining Claim, 1500 feet on the lode, 600 feet wide, commencing at a stake in Mud Gulch, to Andrew Lee (Deed Book 4:12). By this time the Romaggi family was in full control of the stone building and surrounding quartz claims.
In 1880 the census enumerator listed James, now occupied as a “rancher,” Louisa, Andrew, working as a laborer, daughters Mary and Jane keeping house with their mother, and Columba and Carmella with no occupation. Romaggi was assessed for a house, barn, fence, fruit trees, vines, and 80 acres of land, with real estate valued at $100, improvements at $480, and the ditch at $100.
By this time, a few miners were still residing in the area, but more of the land had been taken up by farmers. Romaggi’s assessment that year noted his property as located on the road to Carsons, with a house, barn, fence, trees, vines, etc., with real estate valued at $80, improvements at $480, and the Italian Ditch at $100. Romaggi had evidently turned to ranching when the gold was depleted and the miners moved on to richer strikes.
Girolomo evidently also continued mining sporadically when the patrons moved away, as in February of 1884 he located the Romaggi Family Quartz Mine, containing 18.52 acres, had it surveyed in November and submitted to the Surveyor General on December 31st. According to the field notes of the surveyor, improvements on the claim were valued at not less than $500 and included shafts, cuts, water ditch, etc. This was apparently the same mine claimed by Andrew Lertora in 1875 and sold to Romaggi in 1878. Depicted on the plat of the mine were the G. Romaggi dwelling house, barn, a cut and excavation, and the country road from Angels to Carson’s. Immediately adjoining the claim to the southwest was the Romaggi & Costa Quartz Mine, with the A. Romaggi Quartz Claim southeast of that (Beauvais 1884). When visited by the state mineralogist in the early 1960s, the mine was noted as developed by a shallow shaft and long idle (Clark 1962:177).
Romaggi’s assessment in 1887 was for 20 acres of land, a stone house, vines, etc., with real estate valued at $25, improvements at $500, and personal property at $50, including furniture, a plow, two wagons, harness and horse, four cows, two calves, poultry, a dog, and 200 gallons of wine. Informants recalled vineyards and orchards above (behind) and alongside the house, and the water pump and vegetable garden across the road. No buildings or structures were located on that side, however (Costa 1980, Romaggi 1980). When he registered to vote in 1888, Romaggi was listed as a farmer, under the name Jerome, having turned to that occupation, although evidently still mining sporadically. His son Antone was also noted as a farmer.
Evidently to prove up ownership on land they occupied, or was abandoned by others, in June of 1890 Andrew Romaggi patented the adjoining 160-acres of land to the east (NW ¼ of NE ¼, SE ¼ of NW ¼ and S ½ of NE ½ of Section 11,T2N.R13E) (Calaveras County Land Patent Maps). In 1891 he was assessed for the 120 acres, valued at $480, with a house and improvements valued at $120.
In 1896, when all three Romaggi men registered to vote, Girolomo was described as aged 71, 5 foot, 1 ½ inches, tall; Andrew as 37, 5 foot, 7 inches tall, a miner; and John, 27, a farmer, and 5 foot, 5 ½ inches tall; all three men were described as having dark complexions, with brown eyes and black hair. A photograph of Louisa, son John Peter, and granddaughter Eva Gazzola showed the diminutive size of the two older generations when taken in the early 1900s.
In 1900 the census enumerator listed the two Romaggi brothers residing in separate households at Albany Flat. John, his wife Annie, and daughters Mary and Grace in one; while John was noted as a quartz miner, probably working in the family mine, as well as at the Utica Mine in Angels Camp. Andrew was residing next door with his wife Amelia and children James, Eva, John, Romie, and Amelia, with Andrew listed as a farmer. Girolomo was listed as a quartz miner, evidently working the mines on his property.
Girolomo Romaggi died in January of 1905 and was buried in the Altaville Catholic Cemetery. In 1910 Andrew Romaggi was residing in the family home in Albany Flat with his sons Romeo (Romie) and John. Andrew was working as a gold miner, while the sons were working as odd job laborers. His nephew James had moved to Angels Camp where he was employed as an agent for an insurance company. In 1906 John Peter, his brother Andrew, and Andrew’s son John all registered to vote as miners.
During this period the family had acquired several mines adjacent to the home place, including the Three Brothers Mine (John, James, and Romeo, sons of Andrew), northeast of the Romaggi Family Mine, the Gold Hill Mine, southeast of the Romaggi & Costa Mine, and the Temperance Mine. This renewed interest in mining was probably occasioned by the resurgence of the Utica, Gold Cliff, Specimen, Stickles, and others at Angels Camp and the Carson Hill Mine near Melones, beginning in the late 1880s and continuing unabated until shut down by World War I.
In April of 1914 Andrew and John built another ditch to their land, each taking 200 inches of water under 4-inch pressure from Carson Creek, for “agricultural and domestic purposes.” Water was to be diverted at a point on the right bank one mile from the head of the creek on John Airola’s land, down the right bank of the stream westerly about one mile to the Andrew Romaggi home and ranch. The ditch was to be 3000 feet long, the iron pipe 1000 feet long, and by lateral ditches on the Romaggi Ranch. It was 2-foot wide at the top, 1 ½ feet wide at bottom, and ½ foot deep (Water Right Book A:546).
Louisa Romaggi died intestate in Albany Flat in April of 1917, and was buried beside her husband in the Altaville Catholic Cemetery. Her estate at that time consisted of the Romaggi Family Quartz Mine, with the stone building, valued at $1000; one-half of the adjoining Romaggi & Costa Quartz Mine valued at $250; the water ditch, valued at $75, the Temperance Quartz Mine valued at $1100; household furniture valued at $150; 10 tons of hay in the barn at Albany Flat valued at $100, and $199 on deposit. Heirs were her children John Peter of Angels Camp, Andrew of Albany Flat, Columba De Martini of Albany Flat, Janie Gazzola of San Francisco, May Gazzola of Angels Camp, and Cammie Perirano of Quartz Mountain in Tuolumne County. Louisa had been ill for some time, with numerous visits from Dr. Weirich and Dr. Cooper, as well as long accounts at the City Drug Store and Goodloe and Barden Drug Store (Louisa Romaggi Probate, Record Storage Box 53).
In 1918 Louisa’s estate was assessed for the Quartz Claim, valued at $500, with a house, barn, and fence valued at $350; the ditch, the Temperance Mine, and personal property. Andrew’s assessment included a house and barn on the S ½ of the NW ¼, with 160 acres, the Three Brothers Mine, and 14.5 acres purchased from John Airola adjoining the Romaggi land in the north.
Her son, Andrew, who had been farming the family property, died intestate in 1919. His probate listed 160 acres valued at $1200, and a house, barn, and sheds at $225. He was also assessed for the Romaggi Family Quartz lode, with the stone building, valued at $84, and the house, barn, and fence at $71. In addition, he owned one-half of the Romaggi & Costa Quartz Mine, valued at $42; land deeded from John Airola in 1898, valued at $225; the Three Brothers Quartz Mine; one-half of the Frederick & Costa Quartz Mine; 7.86 acres purchased in July on 1908; the Temperance Quartz Claim, valued at $20; one-fourth of the Gold Hill Lode Mining Claim, the water ditch, valued at $20; and lots in Brooklyn Township, Alameda County. Personal property consisted of drills, picks, powder, fuse, mining tools, graphophone and records, dishes, kettles, kitchen utensils, stove, household furniture, a Liberty Bond, War Savings Certificate, and a gold nugget valued at $45 (Andrew A. Romaggi Probate, Record Storage Box 53).
By 1920, John Peter was residing with his family on Main Street in Angels Camp and working as a gold miner, while Andrew’s son James was also living on Main Street with his family and still working as an insurance agent. Later that year the family moved to San Francisco, where John Peter worked as an engineer. He died of tuberculosis in November of 1931.
At some time in the 1890s, Cammie Romaggi and her husband Paul De Martini had moved to the Romaggi property where they built a house and fence valued at $250 in 1894. In December of 1920 the other siblings sold a 107 x 112-foot parcel of land known as the Paul De Martini House, to Cammie. The deed noted that it was a fractional portion of the quartz claim with buildings, but excepted the mineral rights (Deed Book 70:165). The following year Cammie sold it to Joseph De Martini (Deed Book 70:514).
By the late 1920s, the Romaggi family had moved from the Albany Flat property and the home built by their grandfather in the 1850s and abandoned it to renters. In 1928, however, a move was afoot to develop the property, noting that the mine contained valuable pockets of ore that were never developed and appeared to be unusually promising (Calaveras Californian, February 2, 1928).
Although the mine was evidently never developed, in 1929 the assessment for Louisa’s estate noted it as valued at $1000, a big jump. The assessment included the house, barn, and fence valued at $150, the Three Brothers Quartz Mine, one-half of the Romaggi & Costa Quartz Mine, and the ditch valued at $50, less the De Martini parcel. Five years later the assessor still valued the property at $1000, but the improvements included only a fence, valued at $50. The house was now derelict and had no value. The assessment was in the name of J.R. Romaggi, residing in San Francisco.
Having been abandoned by the family, during the Depression many out of work men and travelers (tramps) stayed in the house. They tore up the fences, floors, walls, stairways, etc. to get wood to stay warm. The stone floor in the basement of the house was torn up and removed by Winifred and James Romaggi for a patio for their home, as the “stones were so large and perfect.” They also removed the large counter in the eating room, made of one large thick slab of wood, to make a patio table for their home in Altaville (Winifred Romaggi 1980). The last people who rented the house did the final destruction of all the remaining wood, using it for fire wood (Bertha Rolleri 1980). When the house was recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1934, it was already in a deteriorated condition, with a good roof only over the two-story section. The exterior plaster on the stone walls, however, was extant.
In 1948 the property was purchased by California historian Ernest A Wilstsee of San Francisco, who planned to restore the building. Wiltsee died in 1947, and his plans never came to fruition. The property was then left to a trust administered by the Bank of America (Sacramento Bee, July 19, 1940; Romaggi File, Calaveras Historical Society).
In 1940 the main chamber in the building was recalled by Andrew’s son Romeo as having a small bar and a meager stock of groceries and miners supplies, as well as a card room. The house was surrounded by fruit trees, vineyards, and vegetable gardens (Sacramento Bee, July 19, 1940).
As noted in 1948, the building had several rooms and was two stories high in the front, with walls of selected coursed slabs of amphibilite schist. The author noted “Few buildings in the entire Mother Lode can match this for size, excellence of construction, and elaborateness” (Heizer and Fenenga, in Jenkins 1948:114).
Over the ensuing years the house has endured vandalism, including the fairly recent removal of a lintel, creating a large hole in the south wall, and the vicissitudes of time and weather, so that it is now in imminent danger of collapsing.
Description of Romaggi Building
The building was described as being much larger than it was in 1980 when it was recorded by Caltrans, with a wooden addition built to the north along the stone terrace. The addition was very large, and was used as storage, fruit drying sheds, for travelers, etc. (Winifred Romaggi 1980). A descendent recalled that the wooden addition was also used as a bedroom, kitchen, and living room. Attached to it was a large trellised room that was the outdoor kitchen where Louisa would sleep during the summer (Bertha Rolleri 1980).
A plan of the building as described by Grace Romaggi (daughter of John Peter and born in 1898) noted its interior. The existing main room of the two-story stone building had a bar or counter against the rear wall, a card table in one corner and groceries in the other. A wooden stairway in the front middle of the room accessed the second story, where there were three bedrooms and a parlor. The walls of the rear original stone building had been raised with board and batten sides, with a root cellar below and dry storage above. The stone addition to the south had two levels, with the lower level a cellar, and connected to the upper level with a floor about three feet higher than the main house, but not connected to it. The entry was located on the west rear. The northern frame addition (no longer extant) had a parlor and bedroom in the front, with a dining room and kitchen in the rear, and a porch and arbor on its north side. Fruit trees extended from the house on both sides of the gully, watered from a well across the road and slightly to the south.
Based on early photographs of the building taken in the 1870s, the two-story section had a hipped roof, covered with wood shingles, while the rear extension and south addition had gable roofs. The windows were 6/6 light, double-hung, in the two-story section, with a central doorway. The house was situated directly on the road, with a picket fence separating the road from the yard. A large rosebush was attached to the south elevation, while fruit trees and vines filled the yard on both sides of the road. A pipe carried water from the reservoir on the east side of the road to the small reservoir behind the house.
When surveyed in 2007, the house was in an advanced state of deterioration, but enough elements remained to ascertain some of its architectural history. It is a two-story stone building constructed of coursed amphibolite schist, with the original rear one-story extension and two-story stone addition to the south. The original portion, a one-story gable roofed structure, is located to the southwest rear of the two story section. It featured stone lintels and sills on the doors and windows, stone walls affixed with mud mortar, and a full cellar. The joists were cut with a circular saw. At some later date, a second story with board and batten siding was added, but removed after the 1940s.
The two-story stone section has three bays, and a hip roof. It appears to have been constructed in the late 1850s or early 1860s, after Romaggi was married and became a partner in the enterprise. The stone on this section was affixed with lime mortar, and it has a full basement. Primary entry to this section was through a central front frame door on the northeast façade. The door was flanked by 6/6 light frame sash, double-hung, with wood lintels and narrow muntins, but no longer extant. There were two like windows on the front upper story, and one over the other on the south elevation. The window frames are affixed with cut nails, and the hinges for shutters are extant. Flooring consisted of 6-inch wide boards, supported by 3 x 10-inch dimensional lumber, and also affixed with cut nails.
The newest section, but probably completed in the 1860s, is attached to the southeastern wall of the two-story building. It is two-stories high, with a gable roof. As its only entries were from the rear of the building, and it never had any windows, it was presumably always used for storage. All of the sections now have corrugated metal roofs, some over the original hand-split shakes, and some of the original mortar has been repointed with concrete. Patches of wall plaster remain on the interior, while the original whitewash-stucco on the exterior walls has almost completely disappeared, as has the wood frame addition to the northwest.
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