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LIVINGSTON, NJ — As of this week, the last of the Bottones living on the family’s Livingston-based farmland will be gone, as Betsy Bottone is selling the home and moving out of state.
It will be goodbye to the house that the family built and goodbye to the trees, beautiful flower and vegetable gardens that hold memories of a lifestyle that has faded; but in some way, the spirit of the Bottone family will live on in the soil that they farmed for many years along Beaufort Avenue and Eisenhower Parkway.
May the Bottone Farm never be forgotten as part of Livingston’s history…
Part I: The Story of the Bottone Family Farm as told by Mildred Bottone Manganelli to Gail Bottone in the 1980s
To begin the story, I’d like to tell you that I first met Aunt Mil in 1968 when her nephew Pat took me to the farm to meet his family at Christmas. As any Italian can tell you, holidays are full of family, friends and food, and the Bottone Farm was no different. I got introduced to all the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, and to do this, we had to visit three homes that were all on Beaufort Avenue. It was an experience!
Pat and I were later married in 1972, and Aunt Mil became an important person in my life. Everyone loved Aunt Mil. She was warm, loving and funny. Everyone was invited into her kitchen where she would make you a cup of tea and feed you shortbread cookies, or on Sundays, you would be invited to a full Italian Sunday dinner with pasta and meatballs, an eye round roast, fresh vegetables, and salad. On one of those days, I was inspired to ask Aunt Mil about the family history, and I took notes.)
This is her story:
The Bottones were farmers in Italy. They grew up and worked in Avellino, near Naples. My father, Patsy, came to the United States with his father in about 1900. They went to work in the coal mines in Pennsylvania. When they had made some money, they came back to Italy. My dad wanted to come back to the United States, but his father did not, so my father came back on his own and worked as a gardener at the Alexander Graham Bell Estate in Tuxedo Park, New York. He was about 20 years old at the time.
After making some money, he sent for my mother, Carmela. She was 16 at the time and was sponsored by a family friend, Mike Stoppiello’s mother-in-law, whose last name was Rullo. Mom and Pop stayed in Tuxedo Park, and your husband’s father, Aggie, and I were born in New York. I was the oldest child.
My parents eventually came to Livingston, and Pop worked at the West Orange Country Club. They were looking to buy land to farm. My Uncle Sam, Pop’s brother, knew the Matarazzos, who had a farm in Livingston. At the time, the Matarazzos wanted to sell it to move to North Caldwell. So Mom and Pop bought the land, and the Matarazzo’s moved and farmed in North Caldwell.
Our greenhouse came from an estate in Short Hills, the Schiff estate. It was dismantled at Short Hills and was trucked to Livingston. Pop knew someone who worked at the estate. That’s how he found out the greenhouse was available.
Five of my siblings were born here in Livingston. First was Chic (Carl), Fannie, who died young from pneumonia, Rose, Francis, and Frank. Francis was hit by a car right in front of our house on Beaufort Avenue. He was born on Christmas Eve. When he was about four, he was hit by a car on Good Friday, and he died on Holy Saturday. After Francis died, my parents bought this house at 272 Beaufort Avenue. Frank was born in this house. Before this, we all lived in small house near the road.
My mother’s maiden name was Spanguli. Her mom died during child birth, and the baby boy was nursed by another woman. Her father re-married, and her step-mother was mean, so she was happy to come to America when she was asked. In Italy she worked as a peasant girl carrying baskets on her head.
Her brother wanted to come to the United States after World War II but couldn’t come because of the quotas that were set. He died before he was able to come. However, another relative, Marie Cecere was able to get to Canada.
During the depression, the Bottones lost the farm. The mortgage was switched from the Matarazzos to the Penellas. Then the Penellas lost everything too. The state took over the farm. Four or five years later, the property was up for sale.
Mrs. Matarazzo bought the farm back because her son, Joe, was born there, and the property had meaning to her. She would give the Bottones a mortgage, but if they couldn’t pay, the deal was that Joe Matarazzo would get the farm. The law said the original owners could not buy their house back after a foreclosure, so the Stoppiellos were the go between, and that’s how the Bottones were able to get their land back.
That’s the end of Aunt Mil’s story. Sadly, Aunt Mil passed in 1995, and
Frank Bottone, Sr., the last Bottone from that era, passed in November 2017. He died at age 86 after a long career as teacher and head football coach at New Providence High School.
Part II: The following are the memories of the Bottone Farm from Lynda Bottone Pepe, Frank Bottone, Sr.’s, daughter.
My memories of the farm always begin with Sunday’s around my grandparent’s kitchen table. Always at noon time, always macaroni and a huge plate of meatballs, sausage,and other meats. It was the ending of a work week and the beginning of a new week.
The discussions were always what field needed to be tended to or what crop needed to be picked, and what vegetables were low at the farm stand, usually with the Yankee game in the background on a transistor radio.
As an adult, I feel blessed that I was raised on a farm and learned to appreciate nature and to observe nature’s signs. I can see my grandmother in early spring in the fields holding her apron like a bowl filled with vegetable seeds and dropping the seeds in the freshly plowed rows. I would walk behind her and cover the seeds with the soil.
Months later, we would return to those same fields to pick whatever the vegetable was, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. I was never as fast as my grandmother, and she never let me win. She was always there to challenge me.
My grandmother, Carmela Spagnuolo Bottone, was my first role model. She came to America from Avellino, Italy to start a new life with my grandfather, Pasquale (Patsy) Bottone. She was an amazing leader in the fields, salesperson at the stand and was able to run an entire household. She was the modern woman long before her time.
June through October was a busy time on the farm. Many of our family members, my dad, Frank Bottone, my cousin, Pat Bottone and Uncle Chic Bottone, all had full time jobs, but everyone always worked the farm as well.
My morning alarm was usually the sound of a tractor starting up and heading down to the fields. My dad would plow as my brother, Frank, and I ran behind the tractor just playing, picking up big rocks and getting water for my dad. In the winter after a snow storm, my dad would pull our sleds through the fields behind the tractor. Who needed hills?
My cousin, Pat, would drive the old truck, and my brother, Frank, and I would sit on the back tailgate and pick up all the bushels of tomatoes and vegetables that my grandparents had picked earlier that day. The back of the truck would be loaded with beautiful colors of all the vegetables. Pat always tried to hit all the bumps so one of us would fall off and have to run to catch the truck, which always seemed to speed up once one of us fell off.
Once the bushels were unloaded at the stand, my Aunt Mil and grandmother would dump and wash the vegetables in an old porcelain bathtub. They would then dry the vegetables with their aprons (I love those aprons!) and then put the vegetables back into the bushels to be sold. That tub is now in my backyard, the prize of my garden. Every spring I plant tomatoes and flowers and cherish my childhood memories.
At the stand I was also responsible for keeping the bushels full, husking the corn for the customers and carrying their bags to their cars.
We also had greenhouses and sold flower and vegetable plants. In February, as soon as I got off the school bus (Yes, I was blessed to live across the street from my grandparents).
I would go to the greenhouses and find my grandmother sitting on a wooden bench planting seeds and seedlings that were either vegetable plants to be sold at the stand or planted in the fields, or they were annual flower plants to be sold. I would sit at my grandmother’s side, and as she finished, I would carry the planted flat to a designated area for that type of plant. I would also plant and transplant the flats, but just like the fields, she was so fast, I could never keep up or beat her. I know she was secretly smiling at my effort.
My grandfather was always nearby watering and tending to the flats and young plants.
Then almost like a magic garden fairy had appeared at night, I would walk into the greenhouses, and they would burst with colors from the geraniums. I can still see the magic of what my grandmother had created. Greenhouses and Sundays hold very special memories and emotions for me.
As I sit now as a woman who has raised my own family and now a grandmother myself, I see that my grandmother, the young girl from Italy, had achieved more than a new life for herself; she created a family and family business. She was and still is my first teacher and role model. My love of family, food, cooking, teaching and nature are all from the farm and Sundays around the table.
Part III: Pat Bottone’s Story
Mildred’s nephew and my husband, Pat Bottone, grew up on the farm under unfortunate circumstances. His father, Aggie, died when Pat was only eight months old, and his mother, Yolanda Benacquista Bottone, found herself having to go back to work. Pat’s grandparents graciously took Pat to live with them on the farm.
Pat tells stories on how he would have to get up at 5:30 in the mornings when his Uncle Chic would come to work on the farm. Pat’s job was to collect the eggs, clean the barn and help milk the cows. His grandparents would sell the eggs and milk to a vendor who then would sell them at the farmers’ market. After chores, there would be breakfast, and then Pat would have to go to school.
After school, he would help in the greenhouse mixing dirt and transplanting seedlings. When he got older, he was able to help in the fields. He always likes to say that he started driving when he was nine years old. Things were different back in the 1950s, and he was allowed to drive the old truck, and eventually, he was allowed to drive the tractors, plowing the fields in spring, discing, planting, cultivating and spraying the fields with insecticides.
For fun, he would go into the fields with a bat and endlessly hit rocks right-handed and left-handed so he would be like his idol, Mickey Mantle. He also had a lot of fun hunting with his uncles.
Pat also remembers that his grandfather would never eat chicken because he said the chickens and the selling of their eggs kept the family going throughout the depression. Pat also remembers his grandfather reading the entire newspaper every night while drinking his homemade wine. He kept up with politics and took seriously his right to vote. On one election day, a candidate handed Pat’s grandfather a cigar, and even though he was planning on voting for him, because of that cigar, thought of as a bribe, he voted for someone else.
Down the road on Beaufort Avenue, behind iron gates, lived Richie the Boot Boiardo, a well-known mobster. At one point, the farm was threatened. When Boiardo found out, he told Pat’s grandfather not to worry. He wouldn’t let anything bad happen to the farm, and it never did.
In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers condemned part of the Bottone property near the Passaic River so that the county could take the land and develop a park, which never happened. But because the land was condemned, the county bought it for a ridiculously low price.
Other land was taken from the family by the state, which is now Eisenhower Parkway. This split the farm in half, but luckily for the Bottones, PSE&G let the family rent their land adjacent to the power lines. On this land, the Bottones were able to grow tomatoes, corn, eggplant, peppers, string beans, lettuce, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower and much more.
The produce was sold at the Newark farmers’ market and at the farm stand, that was located next to their home and in front of the greenhouses. In the greenhouses, the family grew their vegetable plants, geraniums, impatiens, begonias and many other flowers.
One of the many funny stories Pat tells is the day a family friend was eating cherries from a tree out in the pasture. Pat’s grandfather warned him not to go there because the bull was out. The friend did not listen and the bull did charge. Up the tree he went until Pat’s grandfather lured the bull away with a bucket of feed.
On another occasion, his Aunt Grace Benacquista Zalenti got too close to the same bull that was tied up near the barn. The bull became annoyed and appeared dangerous. Aunt Grace tried to fend him off with her pocketbook, and we have the photo to prove it. Please look for it in the photos of this story.
The Bottone family sold the property behind their home on Beaufort Avenue in the 1960s because the property taxes became too expensive. The homes that are now on Hillside Avenue today were built on that land that was the farm’s pasture for their cows and their other farm animals.
The farm was worked by the family for many years, even after Pat’s grandparents died. But eventually, in the 1990s, it became too much for everyone, and the farming stopped, but Frank Bottone, Jr. tried to keep the stand open. He also planted fruit trees in hopes of someday selling fruit, but it never worked out, and sadly Frankie passed away in 2009 at the age of 54, and the Bottone farm closed for good.
On a Side Note:
After the death of a relative, one finds oneself with old photos and documents to sort through. After Aunt Mil’s death, an old birth certificate surfaced, showing Aunt Mil was not Mildred but Carmela.
The family was quite surprised at this. She had been known as Mil, Millie, Mildred and Matilda, but never Carmela. Pat’s father, who was called Aggie, Auggie, and Augustino, was really Mostino. Uncle Chic was known as Carl and Carmine.
My husband Pat is known also as Patsy, Pasquale and Patrick. (This was a nightmare after 9/11 when drivers’ licenses had to be renewed.)
Things are a lot different now, and I doubt if there are so many different names for one person. However, I have to admit that my daughter’s name officially is Patricia Ann, but she goes by Patty, Patty Ann and Patricia, so we didn’t do any better. Maybe it’s an Italian thing.
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