by Jim Venner
View of Genoa
|From the top of St Charles Bluff||
View of Genoa
The south side of Genoa with the bluff
The lock and dam just south of Genoa
|A typical Mississippi towboat with barges||
Fred Pedretti's organic farm, near Genoa
from Jim Venner's book)
Our ancestors starting in the 1850's choose to leave their familiar homeland in Italy to migrate to the frontiers of the United States. They choose as their new home Western Wisconsin a forested hilly area along the Mississippi River. It is one of the more picturesque areas of Wisconsin with steep slopes and majestic ridges that through the ages remained untouched by the glaciers. Along the river bluffs there is breathtaking beauty. The tops and bottoms of the bluffs are covered with a canopy of trees.
Wisconsin for hundreds of years had been home to the Indians. Until the white man forced the Indians to the west side of the Mississippi River they hunted, fished, and farmed in harmony with nature leaving little evidence of their existence. Just a few miles south of Genoa, in 1832, Black Hawk chief of the Sauk Indian Tribe fought the last major Indian War east of the Mississippi at the point of the intersection of the Bad Axe and the Mississippi Rivers. Some of the officers involved in this war later became famous in American History. Among them were two future Presidents, Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln, and the President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis.
Wisconsin joined the Union as the thirtieth state in 1848. Vernon County was chartered in 1851 with the name of Bad Axe, County. Genoa Township was organized in Nov. 12, 1861, and taking the name of Bad Axe Township. Genoa was the last Township chartered in Vernon County. Both named Bad Axe after the river that flows through Genoa Township and the infamous Indian Battle that took place in the southern part of Genoa Township. In 1868 Genoa and Vernon County discarded their Bad Axe names and took their present names as the inhabitants felt that Bad Axe had an unsavory sound.
Many of the early settlers of Genoa came from the area of northern Italy around Campodolcino, called Valchiavenna. It is an area in the northernmost part of Italy in the Alps north of Milan and Lake Como. As Margaret Gilardi Venner, who came to the states at the age of 14, told her granddaughter Janice the Genoa hills are nothing as compared to the mountains in the Valchiavenna area. Today Campodolcino has a population of just over 1100 people. Its alpine climate differs greatly from sunny Southern Italy. Winters tend to be cold, with heavy snowfall, and much fog and rain.
The Valchiavenna area is rich in culture and history. Since Roman times the road through the valley and over Spluga Pass to the rest of Europe was the areas primary economic driver. Crusaders, traders, armies, pilgrims, and merchants with their goods all utilized the route. Some of our ancestors worked in administrating this commerce. But, once the Swiss completed the railroad tunnel at St Gothard in 1882 the major flow of traffic bypassed the Spluga Pass route and the area was no longer an important route of commerce.
History through the years indicates that it has been difficult to produce enough goods and services in Valchiavenna to provide for the inhabitants much less provide any excess for trade. Its people have been forced, by over population, by the limited amount of tillable soil the need to exploit every single bit of land between the towering mountains. Historically, it was necessary for the men to go to the cities to work during the winter to provide for their families.
Numerous families from the Valchiavenna Valley watched as their sons and daughters migrated to western Wisconsin. Some of the Genoa families include: Bariloni, Beffa, Berra, Buzzetti, Corti, Curti, Fanetti, Francoli, Gadola, Garvalia, (Garavaglia), Gianoli, Gilardi, Ghelfi, Guanella, Guscetti, Levi, Lupi, Moltrasio, Paggi, Pedretti, Penchi, Starlochi (Sterlocchi) Trussoni, Venner (Vener), and Zabolio (Zaboglio). The number of immigrants coming to Genoa is remarkable because the main Italian immigration reached its peak in the years 1890 to 1914. The majority of our ancestors were settled in America by 1890, many by 1870. By 1860 the entire Italian population in the US was approximately 10,000.
The pioneers of the family did not leave much written history but they made history by developing the area. Only grave marker and records of land ownership were recorded. The first census listing the pioneers of Genoa is the 1860 census. They are listed with the citizens of Wheatland Township. However, be prepared for a challenge as our Italian speaking ancestors speaking to a English speaking Census taker didn't get many of the names spelled correctly.References
Jim Venner, From Campodolcino To Genoa. The Descendents of Francesco Zaboglio
Nancy K. Jambois, Genoa History
From "La Crosse Tribune", July 20, 1930
Village of Genoa
Picturesque Town In Which First Settlers Were Natives Of Italian Alps
Residents All Italians Until Recent Years
The hill towns of the Alpine lake region of northern Italy are famed in song and story and doubtless are known and loved by many Wisconsin people who have had the good fortune to visit Italy.
How many Wisconsin residents know that right within the border of the state in an Italian hill town, Italian in name, Italian in people, Italian in many of his costumes, and of a picturesqueness rivalling that of the foothills of the Alps?
Genoa, Vernon county, it is, named for the Italian city which gave Christopher Columbus to Maerica. The gravelled highway west from Viroqua to the Mississippi leads you to the village, or you may motor over 35 from Prairie du Chien to la Crosse. Just north where 35 crosses the Bad Axe river on a shining new whiete bridge which is the pride of the Genoese , the hills retreat a tritle from the Missisippi giving room for the town; then the timbered slopes rise precipitously to rocky peaks. It is a setting unexcelled in natural beauty by any town on the entire course of the Upper Mississippi.
Were All Italians
Until recent years, when a few German families moved in, every soul in Genoa and on the hill farms back of the village, was a native Italian or a son or a daughter or a grandson or a granddaughter of a native Italians. It is still about 90 per cent Italian and almost as fully "Dolciusan", as almost all of the original families came from the village of Campo Dolcius near the world-renowned Lake Como. In the church on the hill at Genoa where Father A.P. Kramer has been the beloved pastor for 30 years, hangs a valuable painting brought from Italy, a portrait of St. Charles, patron saint of Campo Dolcius. The vestments used in the church were a gift from Pope Pius IX.
The first Italians to settle at Genoa came from the lead mines at Galena, Illinois, about 80 years ago. Times were dull at the mines and the report that there was winter work up-river cutting wood for the steamers was haled as welcome news by six Italian families who had shortly before arrived at Galena from Italy. They took boat north and wintered on the site of Genoa. Finding the hills good for farming and open to homestead , they staked out claims and sent money back to Campo ddolcius for their relatives to come. In time, about 80 families had settled there.
Never Learned English
Some of the old people who came over as children never have learned to speak English. Hidden away in the attics of a number of homes are the natives costumes which they brought across the Atlantic with them.
Among the oldest residents are Mrs. Tressori (Trussoni?), Mrs. Ghelfi, and Mrs. Gilardi. Mrs. Gilardi lives in a stone house built by one of the irst settlers after the pattern of the houses he had left in Italy. There are several other stone buildings in the village of old world architecture. The store on the corner is run by the Zaboldi (Zaboglio?) family, the lumber yard by Thomas Penchi, the hotel is the Monti hotel, and so on down the little Main street almost every business place has an Italian name.
In front of the village a bywater of the Mississippi goes by the name "Bay of Genoa", instead of "slough", as such shore waters are called elsewhere along the upper river.
Next to farming, fishing is the chief pursuit of the people of Genoa, just as it was in thei Alpine home in the northern lake country of Italy. A litle fleet of fishing boats is kept in the bay and around on the shore are the big reels with fishermen's nets drying on them.