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Interview with Frances Kuryla

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Kuryla, Frances ; O'Neil, Dan


Frances Kuryla relates the immigration of her father, Michael Gallo and her uncle Nichola Gallo from Italy. Kuryla's father and uncle believed that they would have a better opportunity to practice their trade as stonecutter, in the United States. Nichola Gallo arrived in 1887 and started as a stone cutter. He left this profession to charter the first Italian bank and was involved in assisting immigrants with his steamship travel agency and money exchange program. On his retirement he closed the bank. Kuryla's father immigrated later (1900) and also worked as a stonecutter. He then opened a wholesale grocery business and had his own line of food under the Gallo label. He later took over the steamship agency and money exchange program from his brother, Nichola. The two brothers often assisted Italian immigrants with financial and personal issues.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


33:42 Minutes ; 00:24 Seconds


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Mrs. Frances Kuryla

Interviewed by: Dan O’Neil

Date of interview: 13 January 1978

[This interview concerns Mrs Kuryla's father, Michele Gallo, and her Uncle, Nichola Gallo, hereafter referred to as Uncle Nick. The third voice in the interview on tape is Barbara Gallo, Mrs Kuryla’s sister.]

Dan: Frances, will you relate to me the immigration of your father and your uncle to this country and their life and experiences in the community, and start right there in Italy where they were born?

Frances: Well, they were born in a little town, Padula, in Salerno and my uncle, as an elderly brother, came to America first at the age of seventeen, ah.

Dan: That was your Uncle Nick?

Frances: My Uncle Nick.

Dan: OK.

Frances: And ah, the reason I suppose they did come was their trade, that they thought they would have more of an opportunity to practice their trade, which was stonecutters, and ah, my uncle came in 18—

Dan: —87.

Frances: 1887, and he settled, well, he settled in, ah, Glen Falls. I think it is very difficult—

Dan: When did he come to Binghamton?

Frances: Well, he came to Binghamton in 1897 on a job on the Courthouse. He was employed by Carlucci of Scranton, and he was foreman on this work on the Courthouse. In the meantime he met a young woman, widow woman, who had a business on Chenango Street in the Moon block, and they married and they started this business from then on.

Dan: Now, what business did they start, Frances?

Frances: Candy, candy business.

Dan: Canning?

Frances: Candy store.

Dan: Oh, candy store, OK.

Frances: And then he decided that, ah, to go into a bigger business—he opened up a wholesale grocery and, ah, then on he, ah, chartered his own private bank—the first Italian bank in the area and, ah—

Dan: Where was that located?

Frances: That was on 138 Henry Street.

Dan: 138 Henry Street.

Frances: And what I can remember of it, and it was there until 1926 when they liquidated it.

Dan: And when did you say he started?

Frances: In 1912 it was chartered, in 1914 actually licensed, and ah, I said he had a wholesale grocery, and he also was involved with the steamship agency and money exchange—that was all involved in his business. Then as far as my uncle, as I said, he kept that until he retired in 1926—he gave it all up and he retired to Italy, returned to Italy. He stayed there for a year and then came back to this country. He retired and he was fifty years old when he retired.

Dan: When did he come back?

Frances: In 1927.

Dan: Well, he only stayed in Italy two years, then, and then he came back here and retired.

Frances: He lived at 119 Henry Street.

Dan: So until, 1897 to 1926, let’s see, that’s only thirty years he retired.

Frances: Yeah—he was fifty years old.

Dan: Now you say that he worked on the Courthouse as a foreman?

Frances: Now I understand that he was a foreman, now, this was his trade. Whether he actually did the work there, I don't know.

Dan: Now what building do you know that he worked on?

Frances: Supposedly the Courthouse.

Dan: Another building?

Frances: No, what all I remember that my father and my other uncle worked on other buildings in the area.

Dan: Oh, I see, OK.

Frances: Then my father came in the 1900—he followed his brother here, and I, he, guess he landed in New York and stayed there a while with the family. Then also worked through Carlucci—they had this job to build the Press Building and my father came here as an employee of Carlucci contractors as a stonecutter. He did all the artwork on the doorway, the archway.

Dan: On the—

Frances: Of the Press Building—it took him months to do that. He also told me about the lion heads—there were six of them up on the top and he also told me that each lion had a tooth as long as your arm. I can remember these little things that he told me and how they had to make their own scaffolds—there was no rig, this carving, they also had to do their own scaffolding, you know, and I remember him telling me also, back in those days, in 1904, at that time as a stonecutter, he was making $7.00 a day, which was a big thing back then.

Dan: It was good money in those days.

Frances: In those days.

Dan: Right.

Frances: This is what he used to tell me about it. Then Dad, I guess he got what they call, almost like a miner's, you know, a spot on the lung.

Dan: Yeah, yeah, a lung disease.

Frances: Yes, so he had to give it up and he went back to Italy in 1909 or 1910—he went back to Italy, supposedly to get the cure or whatever it was. So when my Dad came back to America, which must have been about 1910—he was only there for about a year in 1910 and, ah, he gave it up and he went into business with my Uncle Angelo Sessani, they had, like a hotel. Then he met my mother and they decided that he would pull out of that and they got married, in 1915 he married my mother, and they opened up their own store on Fayette Street in the Serafini building. Then in 1921 my dad moved his little store to the building at 9 Fayette Street, you know, where they are now—where Mike was born in 1921. Then he went into the wholesale grocery business and dealt with all the Italian import business—he used to distribute to, like the Arlington and all that. Then when my Uncle retired in 1926, my dad took over the steamship agency and the money exchange—he expanded his business to that, and then Dad retired when—80 years old.

Dan: Until he was 80.

Frances: Yeah, he died in 1971.

Dan: Ah, did this bank, now, that your uncle established—-what was the reason for establishing that? Now, this was an Italian bank, right?

Frances: Yeah, it was a State of New York, but it dealt with the immigrants to be able to help them to speak English. They couldn't speak, you know.

Dan: And then, also—what was the steamship end of it?

Frances: Like the Broome County Travel.

Dan: Just like the Broome County Travel Agency.

Frances: Yeah, it was a travel agency by boat—there was no air.

Dan: That was started in what year?

Frances: I suppose along that time, too—I mean, I can't pin it down.

Dan: He got out of that in 1926 and it just closed.

Frances: He got out of that in 1926 and it just closed, the City Bank, the City Bank, what do you call it where they came in and checked up? And they closed up—you know, that’s when they liquidated his bank.

Dan: Yeah—now, when he established the bank, I mean, did he have to have so much assets? Do you know how much assets there were?

Frances: I don't know how much there were.

Dan: You know, I checked some directories dating back to 1880, 1890, over at Roberson Library, and they had quite a few banks listed and they boasted of capitals of $100,000. Which is—that was a lot of money, you know. Of course, today it’s peanuts.

Frances: Well my cousin Annie, Annie Sassani, I was talking to her yesterday—of course she worked for my uncle, you know, until they liquidated his bank—and she said that very day, that last day when the investigators or whatever came in, they checked it all out or whatever it was, and it came right to the penny—everything—you know, the license was removed as part of it. It had to be licensed.

Dan: Do you know what was the reason why it closed?

Frances: Because he retired.

Dan: Oh, just retired.

Frances: He didn't need to anymore—there was no other reason, he just retired. And then my cousin, she was over there, he took his daughter over there and she married over there.

Dan: And then he came back here.

Frances: And then he came back here.

Dan: And then he was just in retirement after he came back here.

Frances: Yeah.

Dan: But your dad carried on the wholesale grocery.

Frances: My dad—he did not start my father in the wholesale business, he had nothing to do with it. My dad only took from my uncle was the steamship agency and the money exchange, but as far as the business, the wholesale, that was my father’s establishment, not my uncle’s, see what I mean?

Dan: What was your father's? The steamship was your father’s.

Frances: The grocery store was my father’s.

Dan: The grocery store was your father's.

Frances: Yes, but when my uncle closed up all his business, my father took over his steamship agency and money exchange. The bank was not transferable—that was licensed. Uncle Nick had a grocery.

Dan: But you say the money exchange—this was for—?

Frances: Foreign exchange money orders, people who would send money over here.

Dan: Yeah, yeah.

Frances: Well, that’s about it, of course they were property owners, no doubt about that. 

Dan: Yeah, yeah, but your dad, outside of his affiliation with the bank there, was primarily in the grocery business, right?

Frances: Forty-some years.

Dan: You say he worked on the Kilmer Building?

Frances: The Press Building my father worked on.

Dan: The Press Building.

Frances: Of course there was a Kilmer building, too, but they, ah, they used to say the one up near the Arlington was actually the Kilmer building. They called that the Kilmer building—the Landers.

Dan: The Landers, yeah.

Frances: But the Press Building was actually a Kilmer building, he owned it and Dad actually worked on it, I know that for a fact. In fact to look is like, well, it will be there forever. I hate the thought of ever tearing it down.

Dan: In essence, though, Frances, the reason that your uncle came to Broome County was because the contractor down in Scranton had the job for him here, and ah, your dad—having the same trade, he came over too.

Frances: Yeah, you see, they were apprentices—my dad was, in Italy—to the trade. They actually came up from Pennsylvania, but when my dad landed in New York, he had a sister living in New York and he stayed with her for a while. Then he went to Scranton.

Dan: So he did have relatives in the States already.

Francis: Oh yeah, in New York—evidently they came before Dad, but Dad was younger. Eventually all the family resided in Binghamton.

Dan: Yeah, and how about the language barrier? How did they overcome that?

Frances: My uncle spoke fluently, English fluently. Dad still, he was, of course he was hard of hearing, so what—ah, when he first came, whatever he learned in the beginning, that sort of stood with him, so he still had the accent, but Dad read.

Dan: Did he have to attend any schools here at all?

Frances: No, but they were educated in Europe—they both had, like a high school education. Uncle Nick was more with the English speaking than Dad was—like, like he was a great friend of Harvey Hinman, the man who used to be the Chancellor of the State of New York, and Senator Clark. I've got pictures of my uncle with Senator Clark—they used to be buddy-buddies with Senator Clark in my day. You know the ones who had Senator Clark over on the old Vestal Highway, that had the farm there—well, ah, I have pictures of my uncle—he mingled more with the political element. He did quite a bit, like during the election time—took the Italian people to go out and vote—like a leader, like you know. People depended on him a lot for help in translations and stuff. He was like my mother. My mother did a lot of that—of course Mother was American-born. She was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but Mother did a lot of, for instance, my dad's trade or my dad's business. Dad didn't come in contact with the others in his earlier days, he dealt more with the immigrants. Like when they came, showing them the way to get around and handling a lot of stuff. Now my mother would do a lot of interpreting for these people who couldn't speak English, although she was American-born but she spoke fluent Italian. So this is what, their contribution toward, you know, the Italian community—helping the immigrant when they came, you know. They didn't know which way to turn and the store was there and they, it was like home to them—it was that area where the Italians all sort of settled.

Dan: Right—that was down—

Frances: —on Fayette Street.

Dan: Fayette Street.

Frances: I don't know whether my dad's store was actually the first store. I'm not sure.

Dan: Now, in that neighborhood, of course you had not only Italians’ nationalities, but you had Irish and you had Jewish.

Frances: Yeah, Irish, Jewish, and Italians, and that’s it.

Dan: In that particular area.

Frances: And there wasn't nothing else but that particular area where Dad’s store was, was of Italian extraction, almost everybody there. The only Italian church was there, most functions were right around, so—as I said, as far as my dad, Uncle Nick was more political, more social than my dad. My dad was more of the business element of Italian people, so he therefore spoke English, but it was broken, you know—he could write.

Dan: But of course the clientele he dealt with, I mean, probably couldn't speak anything but Italian.

Frances: Right.

Dan: And of course your mother was an interpreter.

Frances: Yeah, many of the new citizens.

Dan: And you say what year your Dad retired? How many years was he in business down there?

Frances: Ah—

Dan: Just approximately.

Frances: Wait a minute, when did Kennedy get shot?

Dan: About fifteen years ago.

Frances: That’s when Dad retired, so Dad would be 90, ah, he died in 1971. About 1966, he closed because he got sick.

Dan: 1966.

Frances: I think that’s when he quit. He opened his business in 1915.

Dan: Now this bank that your uncle established, ah, that was the only Italian bank—there hasn't been one since, has there?

Frances: I think there was, ah, I'm not quite sure. [To Barbara, her sister] Was Mr. Buono—? [Back to Dan] I don't think there was, actually. It might not have been licensed, actually, I couldn't say—Mr. Buono had something to do with savings or something like that, but Uncle Nick was actually a licensed, a private bank, you know, like First City. From 1912 to 1926.

Dan: But he was a very, very astute businessman. Must have been—you figure coming here in 1887, coming to Broome County in 1897, and going back to Italy in 1926 is only about 30 years and he's made, he's made his fortune.

Frances: He owned some property like my dad did, and buildings like that and investments, whatever they were. Like I say, he always said when he was 52 he was going to retire, and he did—actually, he was 50.

Dan: He was 50 years old when he retired.

Frances: And he lived to be what, about 82.

Dan: No Social Security in those days, either.

Frances: No, they did it all on their own. If they had anything, they worked hard for it and they saved for it.

Dan: Yeah they must have, working at $7.00 a week—a day, rather, $7.00 a day.

Frances: That was high pay, because I can remember my mother saying that she worked for $7.00 a week and my dad was getting $7.00 a day. 

Dan: $7.00 a day, so you figure that times five, that was pretty good money. Because EJ, I mean, they were $4.00. $3.50 or $4.00 a day or something like that.

Frances: In those days.

Dan: Well, that was back in the early part, well, you know in about 1935, something like that, ‘36, they were getting about $35.00 a week—that would be about $7.00 a day.

Frances: Mother said that she worked in a cigar factory for $7.00 a week.

Dan: Your mother did.

Frances: When she came from Pennsylvania.

Dan: Oh yeah, what factory did she work in?

Frances: It was down there near the old EJ factory there in Johnson City. Wasn't there one in Binghamton—a cigar factory?

Dan: This was at one time the cigar factory of the world.

Frances: Yeah, almost everybody worked there—she said they came up from Pennsylvania. They took the train down to Lestershire, they used to call it.

Dan: Yeah, that was the forerunner of Johnson City.

Frances: Yeah, I mean, you know, there's a lot of little details, like right now I could say—your mind is gone. We had one session before you started this and I went blank, really.

Dan: Now, this paper that Barbara has here goes into detail.

Frances: More in detail about my uncle.

Dan: Your uncle, how he was knighted, etc. If I could take or borrow that, Barbara, and have it Xeroxed and return it to you and that would be sort of a memorabilia that would go along with this transcription—?

Frances: Actually, my uncle was the head of the Italian community at that time. I mean like everybody has one person and he sort of was the overseer of a lot of Italian doings, like the Church—the beginning of St. Mary’s Church—my uncle was involved.

Dan: Was he one of the founders of the Church?

Frances: In fact, there was a lot to it that we don't go into details—the facts are, he was a trustee for a long, long time but he, ah, I think he had a lot to do with, actually, of the building of St. Mary’s Church and money raising, fundraising at that time, and being a man like you say, position, he had a lot of influence and social work like fundraising during World War I. See, Dan, I have this thing. This is, my mother had it all these years, ah, it was in the Binghamton Press. I kept it—I like to put it in a frame so it don't—

Dan: Oh, it’s your uncle. You might get that laminated, Frances.

Frances: I don't know the date that’s on it—19—what is it?

Dan: 1923.

Frances: He was knighted in ’22. Socially and politically, he was a very well-known man and I think he did great service.

Dan: But your dad, you know, worked on the Courthouse.

Frances: I know he worked on the Press Building, not sure of the Courthouse.

Dan: But your uncle—

Frances: Our uncle worked on the Courthouse.

Dan: You don't know where, I mean.

Frances: He was a foreman—he had men under him.

Dan: He had men under him when it was built.

Frances: Whether he actually worked on it, I don't know—whether that thing says anything. No, he was a foreman, now, whether he did actual, as he was engaged as a stonecutter on that building until its completion.

Dan: Well then he did—probably a working foreman.

Frances: Yeah, that’s probably what they had, more like, today you’re a foreman you don't do the—but I also remember my uncle saying that he worked on a house on Riverside Drive—supposedly over a doorway, and you know, to this day, I think I know the house but I never ventured up to look and see what kind of work is on that front door.

Dan: You know there is a house on Riverside Drive that’s made out of stone, completely out of stone, and that was the Pratt mansion.

Frances: Is it the lower part of Riverside Drive towards the bridge?

Dan: Right, right, right. It’s on the right hand side as you're going toward Johnson City and it’s on the right.

Frances: That might be it. He said he worked on, over the doorway of one of those houses and I never took the time.

Dan: That’s the only one there to my recollection, the only one there that’s all stone.

Frances: Does it have a porch on the right hand side?

Dan: On the right hand side I think there is a porch and there’s a breezeway on kind of, you know, on the left hand side.

Frances: I'll bet my dad—that seems to be the one, but he never showed me, he told me, so I can't really say that’s the one.

Dan: That’s your dad?

Frances: No, that’s my uncle.

Dan: Your uncle, your uncle did more of the stonemasonry than your dad did, didn't he?

Frances: No, I wouldn't say that. My dad was more of a tradesman.

Dan: I thought he was more in the grocery business.

Frances: No, no, my dad was more so, as I say, just working on that particular building, on the Kilmer, on the Press Building, was really the big thing because that took a number of years, 1904 to 1910—before 1904. Like he told me four months over the archway. No, I think my uncle was more of a businessman, rather, that was a trade and most of these, my father and his two brothers—that was a way of life in the area that they came from—it was something the whole people in that community, that they were all stonecutters—they were some of the best in southern Italy.

Dan: Now this is the homestead of your dad? Original homestead?

Frances: Well, we've been here for fifty-some years. You mean on Court Street? No, we used to live on Fayette Street.

Dan: Oh, did you?

Frances: Sure, when I went to St. Mary’s School, where did I go?

Dan: I don't remember.

Frances: Don't you remember the box of macaroni I used to have to bring to the main altar? Mother and Dad used to reside on Henry Street. The greatest part of our life was on Fayette Street and here. We've been here since 1928. So I would say that a good length of time. But Dad went into the grocery business, I guess, I mean his own grocery business, when he married Mother in 1915.

Dan: 1915.

Frances: And he built, saved his money and built that building in 1916 when we went into 9 Fayette Street, and that’s when really his business started to, you know, he went into big scale.

Dan: In wholesale he probably sold to a lot of stores around.

Frances: He sold Arlington, and he supplied a lot of restaurants around here with Italians and the Arlington. You see, Dad also had his own name brand—the Gallo Brand Macaroni, the Gallo Brand Olive Oil, tomatoes. So they used to come in big trucks and deliver macaroni like they do now and Dad used to go, like the Arlington Hotel—he used to be the salesman and my mother would take care of the store. Community Coffee Shop used to buy from him—remember that?

Dan: Sure.

Frances: But way back even, like I say, I don't know whether the Mohican, but oh, yes, I remember delivering, ah, one of my boyfriends at that time, we delivered some macaroni to the Mohican. They bought my dad's name brand, Gallo brand.

Dan: So what did he have, a jobber that processed this stuff for him?

Frances: He had his own seal on it—the rooster, which, that was the symbol. “Gallo” means a rooster.

Dan: I see.

Frances: So the sticker on it would show the rooster, a Gallo name brand, but Dad had his own wholesale. He was a good salesman and then, as I say, he always felt, he said he never wanted to work for anyone—he wanted to be an independent person and that’s what he did. After, you know, after years of wholesaling, of course his health didn't permit him to go on—he had that miner's lung, but that was his trade in Europe. They must have thought that Binghamton was the place for opportunity, because they remained here and all their ancestors came here.

Dan: Well, that’s fine.

Frances: I don't know how much we helped you on this.

Dan: Well, you helped a lot and as you say—

Frances: Well, I think my dad, more than my uncle, my dad's life was limited, I mean he was a businessman—he dealt in real estate. Dad had quite a bit of real estate.

Dan: Yeah, but the fact that he did have the wholesale part of the grocery trade and sold the different places which we are all familiar with.

Frances: Oh, they knew, my dad had, I have people in Endicott today, many with grocery stores, and they said, “Oh, I remember your dad, we used to buy from him,” because he had all the imports, see, like Italian cheese and that smelly dried-up—remember? You don't remember, I went to school smelling like crazy—but you know, that dried cod fish, you know, things like that, it was all import stuff and you couldn't get it anyplace else except from my father in those days. Now, maybe there was a man on Susquehanna Street. Milasi, now that was another businessman, really, but what they contributed, I don't know.

Dan: Yeah, but he came after your dad, ah, long after—your dad was probably the pioneer.

Frances: I guess they were, there were a few of them—you know, Danny, another thing, my Uncle Jerry Lombardi—when you think about it, he was even before my father, but God bless his soul, he's dead now but you know Susquehanna Street where they used to have the dog pound? They used to have a hotel there and they had a grocery store way back in those times. Mary must be seventy now, isn't she, and my uncle had this hotel, like a hotel and a grocery store and all that back in those days. Well, you could combine things—in those days you could do that, you know. But there were quite a few Italian people who contributed, you know, in the early days. I think my uncle was the one as an old-timer, and then there were a lot in the time of my father, you know, who contributed, and I said the only thing that my dad can stand out in my mind was, he was a good businessman but that’s all I can say.

Dan: That’s good, I appreciate you taking the time out and coming all the way from Endicott. I hope the weather is good going back.

Frances: Danny.

Date of Interview



O'Neil, Dan


Kuryla, Frances


33:42 Minutes ; 00:24 Seconds

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Kuryla, Frances -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Immigrants; Italians -- United States; Binghamton (N.Y.); Stone-cutters; Grocery trade

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