Street Name is Clue to Reliez Valley History

Just off Reliez Valley Road, a small cul-de-sac leaves a big clue about local neighborhood history. That clue is in its name: Rossi Street.

We used that clue to find the typed transcript of Serafino Rossi’s 1973 oral history in the file cabinet at the Lafayette Historical Society.

Serafino Rossi — From italy to Lafayette

Picture of Rossi - Historic Lafayette

Photo Curtesy of Lafayette Historical Society

Reading Rossi’s oral history transcript feels a little like we’re sitting on the front porch after Sunday supper, listening as the adults — interviewers Dorothy Helmick and Angela Broadhead — chat about long ago days with Rossi.

“When I first started to plant,” says Rossi during the interview, “I planted pears and then peaches on this side of the road. I sold all the produce in Oakland and went to Oakland by way of the old tunnel. Before the tunnel was built, we went by way of Fish Ranch Road, which was very steep. It would take 5 hours to go to the Oakland market where there was a wholesale market.”

Reliez Valley Family History

Serafino Rossi’s tale is the story of an Italian teenager who follows his older brother to the East Bay in 1907, finds a job with the Ghiglione family in Lafayette, then moves to Reliez Valley and makes good as a landowner-farmer. The early days are wild-west kind of days where you carry a gun to protect against wild animals like coyotes and big cats.

Rossi Brothers - Furniture - Historic Lafayette

Photo Courtesy of Lafayette Historical Society

Serafino brings his bride from Italy in 1916. The farm grows to 150 acres as he buys several acres at a time as his rancher neighbor wants to sell, including 28 acres bought at $35/acre during the Depression. Serafino ultimately raises cows, grows grapes and has orchards but his main business is vegetables – corn, tomatoes, and potatoes. Things that grow with little water. Food he can sell in the Oakland markets.

Serafino is a witness to local growth and services we take for granted, including the opening of the tunnel, the arrival of electricity and running water.

Together, Mary and Serafino raise three sons who ultimately become respected local furniture makers.  If you drive a little bit further along Reliez Valley, you’ll find a clue for that, too: Angelo Street.

At the time of the 1973 oral history, Serafino (then 82 years old) and his wife Mary (78 years old) lived in a house they built almost a quarter of century earlier, just around the corner from the current Rossi Street. By then Serafino Rossi had sold off most of his land for subdivision.

Finding Your Lafayette Neighborhood History

The story of Serafino Rossi is not extra-ordinary for its time, but its part of our local history, and for those who live on land he once owned, it’s personal history, too. History that’s fun to know.

What clues do you have about the history of your neighborhood or street? We’d love to hear your stories, so please consider posting them here.

While the Historical Society volunteers are working hard to bring these oral histories online, for now – many are not. If you’re looking for the history of your street or neighborhood, consider walking into the Historical Society’s headquarters at the Lafayette Library & Learning Center and see what’s available in their archives.

Thanks to the Lafayette Historical Society

A special thanks to the Lafayette Historical Society for sharing the Rossi oral history and for allowing us to post the two pictures.


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