1906-1917: The Del Negro brothers’ shoe parlor careers

Sepia Saturday 586. Twelfth in a photo blog series on my maternal Italian ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

In these days of low-priced, mass produced shoes — often made with synthetic components — it’s hard to imagine how important cobbler shops and shoe parlors were during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

However, in the 1800s and early 1900s, occupations like cobbler, shoemaker, shoe shiner and bootblack were significant, long-lasting careers that were integral to the creation, repair and maintenance of leather footwear — especially in the era of dusty, unpaved streets.

Hurlbut & Preston’s Boot and Shoe Parlor, Heuvelton, St. Lawrence County, N.Y. (1890-1900). This shoe parlor was typical of many that existed in upstate New York, including Gloversville, during the heyday of leather footwear. Photo: northcountryatwork.org/Huevelton Historical Society.

Nowhere was this truer than in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. — the U.S. home of my maternal Italian ancestors, many of whom were employed in tanning, glove making and other leather trades.

Which explains how the brothers of my second grand-grandmother Antoinette (Del Negro) Curcio — Michael and Vincenzo “Jimmy” Del Negro — were able to earn a living working as bootblacks in various Gloversville locations.

A decade of shoe parlor work

To investigate where my second great-granduncles Mike and Jimmy lived and worked, I turned to previous research in the Gloversville and Johnstown Business Directories from 1906-1917 — both on microfilm at the NYS Archives and online. The table below summarizes what I found.

Michael and Jimmy DelNegro in Gloversville and Johnstown Business Directories – 1906-1917; Sources: NYS Archives & Ancestry
Year Name Residence Workplace Occupation
1906 Michael Del Negro h. 128 E. Fulton St. 12 N. Main St. Bootblack
1906 James Del Negro r. 128 E. Fulton St. 2 S. Main St. Bootblack
1909 Michael Del Negro h. 72 1/2 E. Fulton St. Mike’s Shoe Shining Parlor at 12 N. Main St. Bootblack
1909 James Del Negro 41 Church St. The Hotel Kingsborough & 10 S. Main Bootblack
1910 & 1911 Michael Del Negro h. 72 1/2 E. Fulton St. 12 N. Main St. Bootblack
1910 & 1911 James Del Negro 41 Church St. The Hotel Kingsborough Bootblack
1914 – 1916 Michael Del Negro h. 72 1/2 E. Fulton St. 12 N. Main St. Bootblack
1914- 1917 James Del Negro h. 72 1/2 E. Fulton St. Bootblack
1917 Michael Del Negro h. 72 1/2 E. Fulton St. 7 S. Main St. Bootblack

A bustling glove manufacturing town

Detail from a 1912 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing Michael Del Negro’s two-story home at 72 1/2 E. Fulton Street toward the back of the property. Source: Library of Congress

Gloversville was a bustling glove manufacturing town when the Del Negro brothers were pursuing their service careers.

Hundreds of glove factories all over town — and in neighboring Johnstown — brought prosperity, as evidenced by the stately buildings that remain from that period.

There were busy hotels for visiting glove buyers, department stores with all manner of goods, cultural venues like the Kasson Opera House and a splendid Carnegie Free Library, which is still open and active.

In this environment, a shoe shine parlor could prosper. And my second great-granduncles Mike and Jimmy appear to have done well in their occupations.

The city directories show that Mike had his own parlor by 1909 — and he also bought a house at 72 1/2 E. Fulton St. (see map and photo).

His home was located down the street from his sister Antoinette (Del Negro) Curcio and her family at 128 E. Fulton St. And their brother Jimmy eventually came to live with Mike and his family.

Former home of Michael Del Negro and family (2019). This is the house at 72 1/2 E. Fulton St in Gloversville, N.Y., as it looked in 2019 — one of the few homes of my maternal Italian relatives that remains standing today. Source: Google maps/street view

This made me curious about the Del Negro brothers’ various work locations. So I turned once more to Sanborn Fire  Insurance Maps for the next phase of their story.

Up next: Mapping the Del Negro Brothers Gloversville, N.Y., workplaces. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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6 thoughts on “1906-1917: The Del Negro brothers’ shoe parlor careers”

  1. I love your family stories; you’re very creative in how you display your family history/genealogy in a way to make people want to read about your family and learn more. Once again, you’ve made fantastic use of those Sanborn maps, something I’ll have to start looking into when I have time…whenever I can find the time to work on my own genealogy again one day! 😉

    1. Thanks, Diane. Now that the Sanborn maps have been digitized, they are an excellent resource. When ancestral homes and workplace buildings no longer exist, they are the closest we can get to walking down the street where our ancestors lived.

  2. In my workshop is an odd twisted iron tool which I inherited from my uncle. It’s a shoe anvil with three shaped prongs to hold different sized shoes as the heels or soles are mended. My uncle probably acquired it in the 1930s from a mail-order company that offered a correspondence course on shoe repair. During the depression he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and later worked at a small town hardware store where he learned everything about mechanical things and how to fix them.

    Reading about the Del Negro brothers makes me think about how these early immigrant generations developed our so-called American “can do” entrepreneurial spirit. Part of it came from their old-world traditions of family and craftsmanship, but a lot must have come from the many opportunities in America for adapting and expanding new ideas and industries.

    1. Excellent points, Mike. I admire my second great-granduncles Mike and Jimmy for turning a trade they may have brought from Italy into a successful career by seeing a need and filling it. My siblings and I are often referred to as “handy” for our ability to turn our hands to all sorts of tasks — and learning my ancestral family members did the same is inspiring.

  3. Cobbler shops are still around but you really have to look to find them! They were easier to find in the 1960s and I made good use of one in the local shopping center back then. I had always bought less expensive shoes in places like Leed’s and Gallen Kamps, etc. until a friend introduced me to shopping at Joseph Magnin’s. Their shoes were expensive normally. But when they had a sale, they had a SALE and their shoes were then just barely within my budget – and they had really cute shoes, too! What I discovered later was that they were made so well I could have them resoled at a cobbler shop – not just once, but several times making their overall price as inexpensive or even cheaper in the long-run than what I paid for shoes at the less expensive stores – plus I could keep my favorite shoes longer! So yay for cobbler shops! They fix purses too!

    1. Your story illustrates the value of cobbler shops and shoe shine parlors — which was particularly true when everyone wore leather shoes/boots. We still have many such shops and parlors in NYC, where leather footwear and walking remain popular.

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