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November 9, 2013

'Greetings from Pleasant Valley'

Photo exhibit focuses on Italian farms

METHUEN — Old photographs of Italian immigrants at their farms, family gatherings and dinners have been pulled out of drawers and albums and moved to the walls of Pizza King at the corner of Salem and Loring streets in Lawrence.

“Greetings from Pleasant Valley!” features pictures from the farms belonging to the Terranova and Avarino families taken in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Tom Grassi owner of Image Tech took the 3-by-5 inch photographs and enlarged them without losing any definition.

“I enjoy seeing happiness on people’s faces as they remember childhood visits to their Nonna’s farm in Methuen,” said Christine Lewis, exhibit curator. “My wish was to share those happy thoughts through this pop up exhibit.”

Lewis said she found it fascinating that Methuen’s Pleasant Valley area was transformed from Yankee farms to small weekend gardens by Italian immigrants.

“It reads like a classic American success story,” Lewis said. “Extended families banded together and with determination, ingenuity, optimism, and small down payments they realized their own version of the American dream.”

According to her research, more than 100 years ago mill workers in Lawrence leaped at the chance to buy small plots of fertile land on Pleasant Valley. In 1906 the Italian surnames begin to appear on this area’s land records. By 1909 journalists referred to Pleasant Valley as “Little Italy on the Merrimack.”

Lewis said the mill workers kept their day jobs and their city apartments and tended their gardens during their spare time. She said the weekend farmers only needed a shed, an arbor, an outhouse and a well to run their plot of land.

“For many families, land ownership was a dream come true,” Lewis said.

Members of the St. Alfio Society including John Terranova, Tom Zappala, Mike Lomazzo, Joe Bella and Ned Leone helped Lewis with her research.

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