Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1999 Volume 37 Number 4, Pages 131–136

A Brief History of the Toroni Family of Berwyn

Anne E. Murdock

Page 131

When the leaves are raked in the fall and Thanksgiving Day has come and gone, the newspapers start to display a front page box counting off the number of days to Christmas. Then we think about buying a proper tree to decorate the house for the holidays. A favored spot to find one is a small lot near where Lakeside Avenue north of Lancaster meets the traffic on Old Lancaster as it exits the underpass at the railroad in the east end of Berwyn.

If you look to the left carefully as you emerge from the underpass headed south you will see a sign "Toroni's Flowers" almost obscured behind a growing yew bush. There, in a fenced off area to the southeast, next to the Meineke Muffler Shop, is a parking lot, a grassy knoll and small shed where in the spring and early summer you can find flats of flowers and bedding plants. In December, Christmas evergreens, cut locally, are for sale.

Ask the gentleman in charge a question about how this location came to be tucked away into such an obscure corner of Berwyn, and you will learn much history of this village. His name is Henry Peter Toroni and he has lived in Berwyn for 65 years.

Page 132

The history of the immigrants of the Toroni family in Berwyn spans almost the entire twentieth century. It begins with the coming of Henry Toroni in 1912. He had resided in Philadelphia for three years prior to moving to Berwyn. Eleven years later his youngest brother Fernando joined him.

Henry was born in 1886 and Fernando in 1899 in the town of Anagni, an ancient village a short distance south of Rome, to Joseph and Anna Toroni. Six sons and two daughters were born into this family. The paths of two sons, Henry and Fernando, were to lead them to Berwyn, Pennsylvania -USA.

Immigration to the United States during this period was not unusual for strong, healthy, ambitious young men who looked to America as a land of wonder and opportunity. Seven other young townsmen and friends arrived with them, but subsequently settled in Mystic and Groton, Connecticut, and South Philadelphia. They kept in close contact throughout their lives. Berwyn became home for the Toroni brothers.

In June of 1916, Henry, his wife Assunta (Susan), and his wife's brother Frank Garzia, purchased a house and three contiguous lots on the west side of Central avenue (today's extension of Highland avenue) in the old Glassley section of Berwyn - in all about an acre of land which became the Toroni homestead. (Frank Garzia, after purchasing property in Malvern, PA, deeded his interest in the Berwyn property to Henry Toroni in 1921.)

Henry's family numbered eight children. Robert and William were born before the move from Philadelphia to Berwyn. John was the first born in Berwyn, followed by Anne (married Dominic Dettore), Margaret (married Robert French), and Wallace. Son Henry died in a tragic bicycle accident near his home at age 17 and another son, named Henry R., was the last born.

They were widely known for their musical talent. Robert and John were violinists. William and Anne sang in the choir and accompanied at the organ at Trinity Presbyterian Church for many years. Wallace was a cellist in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Margaret played the piano, organ, and

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banjo-mandolin, and Anne played the piano. John, Anne, Margaret and Wallace taught music lessons. Friends still remember a memorable performance by the family trio: Robert (violin), Wallace (cello), and Margaret (piano) playing at the funeral of their sister Anne in 1994.

Perhaps what attracted Henry to Berwyn was the American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation (located at the present site of the Bronze Building) where he could practice his expertise in metals. The airplane was becoming a significant part of the American scene following the successful flight of the Wright Brothers in a powered flying machine in 1903. The manufacturing of airplane parts had become an industry and was the mission of the American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation. Many men from Berwyn and its surrounds were hired by this organization.

The company buildings included a foundry, machine shop, and adminstration wing. Henry's responsibility at the plant was to oversee his department which was comprised of foundrymen and machinists. Workers in the foundry poured metal castings which would be shaped and refined into airplane engine parts by the machinists. He was the liaison between factory and administration.

Henry's position in the company paved the way for his youngest brother Fernando, who had apprenticed with the village smithy in shodding horses while in Anagni. His young and adventurous mind convinced him that he was qualified to work with metals in any form. He had also served in the Engineering Corps of the Italian Army during World War I. Fortunately, his strong desire to learn proved to be the correct path to success.

When Fernando arrived he was unmarried, and under the guidance of Henry was introduced to his friends, neighbors, working acquaintances, T/E High School (where he attended classes at night to earn a certificate) and his church which was the Trinity Presbyterian Church on Main and Berwyn Avenues. He loved his job as a machine operator, and absorbed all the knowledge he could from his brother and co-workers in order to enhance his understanding of the industry.

Page 134

Fernando became an integral part of the community and, in 1923, returned to Anagni, married his fiance Elena Felice, and returned with her to Berwyn where they settled down in a tiny apartment behind the present location of Berwyn Tailors on Route 30. As their family of three sons, Robert F., Joseph R., and Henry P., and one daughter, Anne E., grew, they moved to larger quarters on Route 30 to accommodate their need for space. Their last move in 1942 was to 401 Old Lancaster and Littlebrook Roads where Elena, the last surviving member of the immigrant group, resided until her death at age 97 on January 16,1997.

During the twenties and thirties Fernando grew in his profession. From 1921 to 1938 he was an employee of the American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation. In 1938 he founded the Berwyn Bearing Bronze Company, which also specialized in the production of valve guides, valve seats and bushings for all aircraft engines. The country was still in the post-depression era and his decision to go off on his own was not without risk. He ran his company during the day and worked at nights at the Philadelphia Naval Yard in order to supplement his income and fund his company. Henry remained with the American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation but gave his brother his help and blessings on his new venture.

The first location of the Berwyn Bearing Bronze Company was a garage which was one of many that bordered the west end of the Berwyn Ice Plant property. Fernando was the only full time employee, in addition to two part time employees. His very young sons Robert and Joseph supported him when they accompanied him to the garage, and helped as best they could. His office was an old oak desk in the family living room, and his office equipment was a Royal typewriter and Webster's dictionary.

He typed his bids to companies such as Pratt & Whitney, Wright Aeronautical Corporation, Hughes Aeronautical, Piasecki and others in the industry. Fortunately their responses were positive and as his staff grew, the need for larger quarters followed. The companies who accepted his bids had begun sending many crates of castings to be finished as valve guides and bushings to specification. It was at this point that Fernando purchased the parcel of land on Route 30 in Berwyn across from today's Acme Shopping

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Center from the estate of William A. Doyle, where he erected a building to accommodate his growing staff and volume of production. His architect was Samuel Piombino.

The threat of war and the ultimate onset of World War II placed furthur demands on the company. Day and night shifts were put into action to meet deadlines. Patriotism became an important motivating force in the lives of Americans as the "war effort" dominated their thinking. Factory workers took pride in the quality and quantity of production and the safety precautions they followed to ensure a safe working environment. The Berwyn Bearing Bronze Company was awarded a Certificate of Honor from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry in recognition of a perfect safety record.

At Berwyn Bearing Bronze, the company met its quota when employees joined in the program to purchase United States Savings Bonds. A Minuteman flag, awarded by the United States Treasury Department and placed directly under the American flag waving atop the building, proudly demonstrated the success of their efforts.

Henry and Fernando worked tirelessly on the home front to supply the airplanes with the much needed parts. On the war front, two of Henry's sons served - John in the US Army and Wallace in the US Navy. Fernando's son Robert also served in the US Army.

At the conclusion of World War II in 1945 the volume of contracts necessary to supply aircraft parts naturally declined, and with the arrival of the 1950s, the factories had fashioned their buildings for other commercial uses, and diverse enterprises have occupied the buildings through the years.

Among the varied businesses the American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation's buildings have housed are a warehouse for clothing, antiques shop, arts and crafts store, communications company, oriental furniture outlet and die casting company. The present site accommodates Trail and Dock Shoppe, Auto Parts Company, Keystone Auto Tag, Main Line Martial Arts Academy, Allstate Insurance Company, Aera Cleaners and the Bagel Factory to name a few enterprises.

Page 136

Among the businesses that occupied the Berwyn Bearing Bronze buildings were: AAmco Mufflers, rental supplies, gardening supply company, automobile agency, produce outlet, paint, bridal, and furniture stores. Today, the present tenants are: Meineke Mufflers, Old Friends, Inc., Healing Hands Massage, Toroni's Flowers, and two private apartment dwellings.

Many first generation Toroni offspring have remained in the area. Wallace and Henry Toroni, children of Henry, reside with their families in Timonium, Maryland and Blackwood, New Jersey, respectively.

Joseph and Henry Toroni and Anne Toroni Murdock, children of Fernando, reside in Berwyn and Devon with their spouses. They have raised their children on the Main Line and have taken advantage of the excellent schools in the area.

Today the homestead of Henry Toroni on Highland Avenue is the residence of his grandson Robert French, son of Margaret, who is minister and pastor of his congregation at the Baptist Church of Lower Providence. Directly behind his garage is another building which Henry utilized after his retirement. He joined his son-in-law Dominic Dettore in the business of creating art objects out of metal. Selecting a variety of metals they cast animals, automobiles, airplanes, boats, masks and all forms of nature to become attractive household statues in the form of book ends, door stops or free standing works of art. Henry was able to use his talents in working in metals throughout his entire life.

Henry and Fernando Toroni were fortunate to have chosen a country and town that offered them the opportunity to live the American dream. With the help of God, family, friends, and business acquaintances they were able to accomplish and live meaningful lives in the adopted country they loved.


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