We were introduced to the Botto House story by a tour of Paterson’s Industrial Landscape given by the Historic Preservation Commission of Paterson several years ago. Ever since, we’ve wanted to visit and just recently finally took the short ride to Haledon to visit the American Labor Museum at the Botto House. The house, a National Historic Landmark, was owned by factory workers Pietro and Maria Botto who allowed their house to be used as a meeting place for striking Paterson silk mill workers in 1913. Labor union organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) addressed as many as 20,000 silk mill workers who were on strike for an eight-hour workday. The last family member to live in the house turned it into the American Labor Museum in 1983.
The house is dedicated to telling the stories of the Botto family as well as stories of the work and workers behind the labor movement in the early 1900s. They also have an exhibit space upstairs where temporary installations speak to different aspects of the labor movement. The downstairs houses a library of labor movement and union history books along with a general history of the strike and what the workers were fighting for.
The rest of the first floor is set up to show how the family lived in the time period when the house was used as a rallying point for striking workers.
As we walked in we were greeted by Education Director Evelyn Hershey and volunteer Andrew Nordyke. Evelyn gave us a tour of the house while Andrew stayed at the front door waiting for other visitors. Here Evelyn is showing us a period vacuum cleaner that seemed only a little more helpful than taking the rugs outside and beating them like families had previously done.
The house was perfectly located right off a trolley line from Paterson and had a large upstairs balcony for speakers to address crowds of workers who would come across the border into Haledon to rest and rally for a union and for better working conditions. I took a turn speaking from the balcony since finding out that one of my favorite authors and rabble-rousers, Upton Sinclair, spoke from that very spot!
Currently the exhibit space upstairs has artwork entitled “Heroines: Living Women Making a Difference in Our World” by artist Judith Lepore-Schreiber. It’s there through April 22nd and the pieces are amazing. They are very large mixed-media paintings which have the feeling of tiled murals. There are 21 total works and they are all depictions of women who have made substantial contributions to their communities and world. It was fascinating to see them all and read about them in the museum’s literature. Several of them I’d heard of but many of the women were new to me.
I love browsing museum gift shops and the Botto House had a great one. It has a very thoughtful collection of books, posters, shirts and other memorabilia. We went home with the red IWW poster on the right side of the wall.
The grounds of the house show how industrious the family was. They raised chickens, rabbits and pigeons. They had several garden areas. There is a beautiful grape arbor and even a bocce ball court next to the house. They also had a root cellar which is open for museum guests to see.
Check out the rest of the pictures from our visit to the American Labor Museum at the Botto House in Haledon. It’s a great museum with lots of very interesting New Jersey history. They have a big May Day celebration every year and 2017 is no exception. We’ll see you there on May 1, 2017!
The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1:00PM – 4:00PM and all other times
by appointment. They are also open every Labor Day. It’s free to get in but a donation is suggested. They are located at 83 Norwood Street, Haledon and their phone number is 973-595-7953.
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