If one could say, “Backward, turn backward, oh Time in thy flight,” and could glean a knowledge of events of a half century ago, in this picture of bygone days one would find a little Italian lad of about nine years playing a violin on the streets of the city and thus earning little sums that contributed to his support. Today the little violinist is prominently known as a leading banker, real estate dealer and capitalist of New Haven. Such is the history of Paul Russo, who was born in Viggiano, in the province of Basilicata, Italy, April 19, 1859, his parents being Michael Angelo and Annie Rosa (Marisicano) Russo, who were also natives of the same province and in 1869 crossed the Atlantic to America. For three years they remained residents of New York city and then came to New Haven in 1872. The father, who was a well known violinist, died in 1881, while his widow survived until 1912, passing away in New Haven at the age of seventy-nine years. They were parents of the following children: Josephine De Lia, the widow of Joseph De Lia, of New Haven; Paul; Ralph, a leading merchant and influential citizen of Wallingford; Mrs. Mary De Vita, of New Haven; and Anthony, of New Haven.
In early boyhood Paul Russo assisted his father in the support of the family. He was a street violinist at the age of nine and afterward earned a livelihood by selling peanuts and devoted his evening hours to study when his work for the day was over. He never attended school, securing whatever education he could by home study. In the meantime he had established quite a profitable trade as a little merchant on the corner of Congress avenue and Oak street in New Haven, his being the first Italian store not only in New Haven, but in Connecticut. He was recognized as an exceedingly bright boy and was ofttimes called into court to act as interpreter for Italians who could not speak the English language. His reputation as an intelligent translator soon spread and his services were in constant demand in this connection in all parts of the state. He was even called to New York city to act in that capacity and for ten years he devoted his attention to work as an interpreter. His connection with the courts aroused his interest in the practice of law and he determined to become a member of the bar. During the decade mentioned he utilized every available opportunity to acquaint himself with legal principles through private reading and study and at length he entered the Yale Law School, from which he was graduated in 1893, being the first Italian to receive a diploma from Yale Law School. He at once entered upon active practice and for ten years ranked with the most successful attorneys of New Haven, at the end of which period he abandoned the profession to concentrate his efforts upon other lines, for, in the meantime, he had become interested in real estate investments which gradually monopolized his time, his activities in the real estate field passing beyond his most cherished expectations. He soon became one of the most widely known real estate operators and also one of the wealthiest Italian residents of New Haven. He then further extended the scope of his interests by establishing a banking business. This was as early as 1882, when he had begun to do a banking business on a small scale and which he has continued through all his operations. He was led to this step by the fact that many of his countrymen whom he had induced to come to America entrusted him with their savings, both for investment and for safe keeping. From the beginning the new enterprise proved successful and he is now conducting a very large general banking business. He has been at the head of many diversified business projects, all of which have been profitably conducted. In 1892 he established the first Italian newspaper in Connecticut, “La Stella D’Italia,” a weekly publication, which he continued to publish until 1912.
It is incorrect in a measure to emphasize Mr. Russo’s nationality save that it indicates how admirably he has adapted himself to American ways and customs, for he is truly American in spirit and interests. In the year in which he attained his majority he took out his citizenship papers and is most loyal to everything that stands for the highest ideals of the nation. In voting he maintains an independent course and he has no political ambition, although many offices have been tendered him. It was Mr. Russo who founded the first Italian Roman Catholic church in the state, calling a meeting in St. Patrick’s school house on Wall street in 1884. He contributed a large sum for the building of St. Michael’s church. He was also the founder of the first Italian mutual aid society of New Haven or in Connecticut and he is one of the directors of St. Francis Orphan Asylum, and to many other benevolent societies and organizations, giving freely of his time and means to further those projects.
On the 23rd of May, 1889, in New York at St. Anthony’s church, Mr. Russo was united in marriage to Miss Lucy Francolini, of New York city, a daughter of Dr. Biagio Francolini, a well known physician and surgeon there and a sister of Commendato Joseph Francolini, the president of the Italian Savings Bank of New York. Mr. and Mrs. Russo have a daughter and two sons. Anna Rosina, a graduate of the Santa Maria high school and the New Rochelle (N. Y.) Academy, is now the wife of Genesis Corelli, of New Haven, and they have one child, John Corelli, born July 10, 1915. Michaelangelo P. and Biagio A., who are graduates of the Hopkins grammar school, are in business with their father.
A most inspiring record is the life history of Mr. Russo, showing
what may be accomplished through individual effort directed by ambition
and intelligence. He is one of the most widely known real estate operators
in New Haven and is the sole owner of the extensive subdivision known as
Foxon Park, one of the largest land holdings in this section. He likewise
owns much valuable property in the city, all acquired through his determined
purpose and wise investments. He enjoys popularity and high respect wherever
he is known, for his salient characteristics have ever been such as awaken
confidence and regard. While he has won notable success, he has at the
same time maintained a public-spirited devotion to the general good and
has displayed a kindly charity that has been manifest in generous support
of needy individuals and worthy benevolences.
Modern History of
New York – Chicago
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