SHREWSBURY – With all the recent news stories regarding immigrants, it is interesting to look back at the story of one local resident who came to this country at the beginning of the 20th century. Nicholas Perna, this columnist’s grandfather, came to the United States from the town of Vica, Italy, around 1901. Like many others, he came alone, leaving his wife Maria in the “old country” while he looked for a place to settle and find work.
He ended up in Worcester and found work as a laborer. He later sent for his wife, and by 1912, their first child, Antoinette, was born, They moved to Shrewsbury, living in a two-family house at 14 Edgewater Avenue. Although neither Nicholas nor Maria spoke English, they did well enough that they were able to purchase a brand-new home just down the road at 48 Edgewater Avenue. This was one of many houses being built in the neighborhood at the time, with the cellar holes being dug by teams of horses pulling plows. They also bought most of the land south of their house down to Jordan Pond. Their new home had an upstairs apartment too.
Soon, more children followed: Margaret in 1916, Michael in 1918, Josephine in 1920 and Rose in 1925. The children attended Shrewsbury schools and spoke English at school, but Italian at home. With the Depression, work was scarce and so the adjoining house lots were sold off, but the family was able to keep their house. After Nicholas and his wife passed away, the house stayed in the family and remains so today, with many of the fifth generation of the family still living in Shrewsbury.