The Swiss from Del Norte County

From Mark Lesina, United States

In response to Ms Amy Bisi-Lacy.

Mark LesinaDel Norte County is in the extreme northern part of California on the coast.  It is kind of interesting that for being such a remote area as it was at the turn of the last century, that so may Ticinese ended up immigrating there.  During these early years one would usually take a steamer ship from San Francisco to Del Norte, along the rough coastline to arrive in Crescent City.


The County of Del Norte is shown in red.

These immigrants either went permanently to Del Norte County where they established themselves and started a family, as did the Robert Sarina, Charlie Rossini, Santino Pozzi, Elvezio Lesina (see article From the village of Giumaglio, Val Maggia) for example.  Or they worked for a period of time on a dairy ranch or in other fields of occupation and then either moved elsewhere within the States (See the book of letters by Mr. Cheda, written between Crescent City and Ticino) or returned to Switzerland, as did Carlo Martini, Venanzio Franscioni, Silvio DeBernardi (see article Silvio DeBernardi (1873-1954): From Valmaggia to California by Natasha DeBernardi) for example.

If one were to read the names of the immigrants, from Ticino in Del Norte from 1880 forward, it would read something like a Ticinese phonebook!  Here is a good sampling of Ticinese names found in the census and draft records from Del Norte County during these early years.  (Villages of origin are listed when known);  Bravo, Pozzi (Giumaglio), Del Ponte (Bignasco), Giacomini, Laffranchi (Contone), Lesina (Giumaglio), Martinelli (Ghirone), Morsoli, Rossi, Rossini (Linesceo), Sarina (St Antonio), Tosio, Buzzini, DeBernardi (Lodano), Dodini, Franscioni (Lodano), Garzoli (Maggia), DeMartin, Martini (St Antonio), Pala, Regoni, Pedrioli (Gorduno), Peini (Biasco), Deneri (Cevio), Bassi, Bolla (Linesceo), Cadra (Mergoscia), Magistretti (Torricella), Tamagni (St Antonio), Caretti (Isogna), Molo (Bellinzona), Domenighini (Gordola), Buzzi Togni and not to be forgotten the maiden names of their wives Piezzi (Giumaglio), Tunzi (Lodano), Andriatti,  Mossi, Gianocca and the others.  How many people from Ticino actually came to Del Norte we would never know, as they many came in the between years of the census, worked on the dairies and moved on to settle else where.

In reviewing the census from Del Norte, it appears the first Ticinese arrived in the county prior to 1880, as by the census of that year there are several families.  These first families more than likely first lived in the area of California just north of San Francisco and as the area became known, moved there.  Once one or two of the families had established themselves, and then more than likely wrote letters back to Ticino to tell of the area and opportunities.  As the news circulated amongst the villages and valleys more people set Del Norte as their destination.

In response to Amy’s question about the two family names, I did check the census for some information and this is what I found.  Neither family is related to mine, but were friends in the Del Norte County.  The Buzzini family they had probably met there in Del Norte, while Amelia Togni was possibly known by my grandfather, Elvezio, back in Valley Maggia.


Front Street in Crescent City, circa 1909


Dominique (Dominico) Buzzini was one these Swiss that stayed in the Del Norte area.  (They are not related to my family, but were friends that had met there in Del Norte as they shared a common homeland.)  The name as you stated is usually from Valle Verzasca, where your family of Buzzini is from and the village of Brione.


 The above photo was taken at the 1915 Worlds Fair in San Francisco.  The photo is a “photo booth” using a backdrop of the worlds fair and a car.  The “driver” is Elvezio Lesina and the “passenger” Dominique Buzzini.

In another photo from Crescent City – taken of the patrons of the Blue Front Saloon operated by the Lesina family – Dominique Buzzini is possibly the third person from the left.

In the 1900 US census Dominique Buzzini is listed as working on a diary ranch in Smith River, as a border / farm laborer, for a Eugene Buzzini.  Here Dominique is listed as being born July 1865 and having immigrated to the States in 1885.


The town of Smith River circa 1908

Eugene Buzzini, the ranch owner, was born February 1863 in Switzerland and having immigrated in 1882.  Eugene is listed as single.

Also listed as farm laborers, working on the ranch, were a Charles Cattiori (born February 1874 in Switzerland having immigrated in 1893), Antonio Amato (an Italian), Angel Lafranchi (born March 1878 in Switzerland and immigrated in 1894) and the last worker is also Swiss, but the name is unclear.  (Note the name Lafranchi – Coglio)

Ten years later, in the 1910 US census for Del Norte County, Dominique Buzzini is listed as living on a diary ranch in Smith River.  He was born about 1868 in Ticino, Switzerland (current age of 42) and the husband of Minnie (maiden name Cooley – age 40, born in Oregon, with both of her parents having been born in Missouri).  Dominique is listed as a naturalized citizen of the US having listed the year of immigration as 1883.

Their children, were Mary (age 5), Mathilda (age 5) Coy (age 3) Melvin (age 11 months)

Working for Dominique on the ranch is a Lillie Tolman (19) has a servant/cook and ranch hands, Benjamin Pedrotti, (age 53 born Ticino and immigrated in 1875) a butter maker, Henry Guerra, (age 40 born Ticino and immigrated in 1902) laborer, Romildo Bellassi, (age 25 born Ticino and immigrated in 1908) a laborer, and a Harold Morrison (age 17) laborer. (Note the name Pedrotti – Giumaglio)


Smith River circa 1909

Note in 1910 Eugene Buzzini (born about 1865), that man Dominique worked for ten years prior was now living on the Chetco in Curry County Oregon (across the California / Oregon boarder – north of Smith River / south of Brookings).  Eugene is now married to a woman named Mary (age 31, having been born in Oregon to parents who were born in Iowa and Missouri).  They had two sons, Howard (age 4) and Herbert (age 3).

Ten more years have now passed and the census for 1920 list, Dominique and his family as living in the Lake Earl district, (this is south of Smith River and north of Crescent City) – he is listed as being born about 1868, with the year of immigration as1883 and the year of naturalization as 1890.  At this time the children are Mary (age14), Matilda (age 14), Coy (age 14), Melvin (age 10) and Ivan (age 9)

Note in 1920 Eugene Buzzini’s family is listed as living at “Battle Ground” now Vancouver, Clark county, Washington – Mary is listed as a widow and as head of household, with both Herbert and Howard living there.

And finally, in the 1930 US Census – Dominique (born about 1868 and having immigrated in 1883) and Minnie (born about 1871) are listed as living in Crescent City and at this time their son Melvin (born about 1910) is still at home.

Ivan is now married to a Hazel and has a child named Nadine, they are now listed as a separate record on the census.  As for Coy, he is listed in Crescent City as a lodger and working as a farm laborer.

Note in 1930 Eugene Buzzini’s family is listed as living at “Fourth Plain” now Vancouver, Clark county, Washington – Herbert is married and Howard is living with his mother, each next door to the other.

(Please note for the year of birth and immigration for Dominique the date changes throughout the years – 3, 5 and 8 are all numbers when written, look like the other and can be hard to read.  The official record for Crescent City lists him as born July 4th, 1867 and a death date of February 22nd, 1947)


The patrons of the Blue Front Saloon, owned and operated by the Lesina Family.

Left to right:  ? – Probably Dominique Buzzini – Standing behind probably Santino Lesina – ? – Elvezio Lesina – Probably Golia DeBernardi – Standing behind him, Pacifico Lesina – ? – Carlo Martini – Caesar Martini – Robert Sarina – Charlie Rossini – front row right end ? – ?

 Please Note:  There is a strong possibility Frank Togni is one of the un-identified men, as the saloon was next door to his boarding house.


In the US census for Del Norte in the year 1900, Frank Togni (born September 1853 in Switzerland and immigrated 1874) is listed as the head of household and his wife, Amelia (born April 1873 in California*).  It records them as having been married 5 years (about 1895). The census also lists them has having two children Walter F (June 1896) and Manillia (May 1898).  Franks profession is listed as Saloon Keeper, while Amelia ran a boarding house, called the “Swiss Hotel” and during the years she rented too many Swiss boarders and others. I must note at the time the census was taken in 1900, one of her boarders was one Santino Lesina (brother of my grandfather, Elvezio Lesina).

* What is interesting is Amelia is listed as being born in California in the 1900 census, but all following census as being born in Switzerland.  Also to note Amelia’s maiden name was DeBernardi.


Painting the Water Tower at the Swiss Hotel in Crescent City located at Front and F Streets are Ed Hughes and Gus Kramer.  Frank Togni owned the hotel and the picture take in 1907.  The windmill pulled the water into a tank in the tower.

In the 1910 census the family is listed as Frank, Amelia, and children: William, Michelle (Manillia), Melton, William, Chester, Niece whose name is unclear, and seven boarders.

Note the business that was located next door to the Swiss Hotel is the Blue Front Saloon – which was operated by my grandfather Elvezio Lesina and the entry is one line prior in the census.  The families are not related, but their lives often intertwined.  Another item to note occurring at the Swiss Hotel is that in 1914 – my father, Eddie Lesina, was born at the Swiss Hotel, which was operated by Amelia.


The Togni Family Plot, St Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, Crescent City, California

In 1920 census Amelia Togni is now listed as a widow (she is listed as having immigrated in 1880 and became a naturalized citizen in 1885).  Living with her, were her two sons William (18) and Chester (15) as well as her two nieces Matilda and Helen (both age 12).  Since Amelia’s residency was the Swiss Hotel, which she owned and operated, the census also listed the boarders.  The most noteworthy to mention at this point would be a John Luckman, who was a widower born about 1878 in Finland of a Norwegian Father and a Finnish mother, and he had immigrated in 1895.  Later he would become Amelia’s second husband.  John Luckman was one of the lighthouse keepers that were the current boarders at the hotel, and worked at the Battery Point lighthouse.  Both Frank Togni and John Luckman’s first wife died in 1919.


Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, where John Luckman worked

Note the nieces’ last names were Ceresa from their father, but their mother was born a DeBernardi.


Frank Togni

By the 1930 census Amelia had married John Luckman; however she is listed as head of house, the same children are residing with her as in 1920, with the addition of a granddaughter Norma – the hotel looks to be extremely successful and busy as there were 29 boarders listed in the census.



A visit to the Lesina Ranch in Elk Valley 

? – Erminia Martini-Lesina – John Luckman – Amelia DeBernardi-Togni-Luckman

– Romilda Sarinia-Rossini – Joe Regoni – Elvezio Lesina

 Amelia DeBernardi – Togni – Luckman 04/27/1873 – 05/27/1959

(Her mother’s maiden name was Molinari)

Frank Togni 09/15/1853 – 06/07/1919


Amelia DeBernardi-Togni-Luckman

3 thoughts on “The Swiss from Del Norte County

  1. Amelia’s granddaughter sent me a note with a couple corrections as there was some incorrect information listed on the census from Del Norte and on an article written somewhere else on the web.

    She (Amelia DeBernardi-Togni-Luckman) was not born in California (but in Switzerland)!!! Her twin nieces were Ceresa, their mother a DeBernardi. One census lists them as Togni. Chester, Milton, William, Walter & Manila were her (Amelia’s) children. She raised her sister’s twin girls, Matilda & Helen Ceresa.

    John Luckman was at Pt. St. George Lighthouse. After he retired they married in 1921. She (Amelia) is buried between her 2 husbands in the Togni plot in Catholic Cemetery (Crescent City, California). Their marriage license lists her as Emily!

  2. I am the great grand daughter of Domenico Buzzini. I have several letters written from family members in Vergeletto, Ticino, Switzerland to those who immigrated to California. Does anyone know of someone that can translate these letters?
    Eugene Buzzini and Domenico Buzzini were married to sisters Mary Cooley and Minnie Cooley.
    I am currently looking at a microfilm of the Vergeletto birth, marriage, and death records along with a census.

  3. Hello Regina,

    Thank you for your reply. You may wish to examine the photo of the Blue Front Saloon, within my article – as noted we believe the one man is Domenico Buzzini, this is from comparing this photo to the one of him and my grandfather (Elvezio Lesina) taken at the San Francisco World Fair. Maybe you can confirm that is Domenico or not. You may also want to see if you can recognize one of the other men as possibly Eugene Buzzini. I believe your grandmother still volunteers at the museum in Del Norte County, the museum does have hard copies of both of these photos as well as being posted here on the SwissInfo page.

    In regards to your translation needs, I cannot assist you, but can suggest a great translator that you may wish to contact – Natasha Debernardi. She also has posted articles here on the SwissInfo web site called “Silvio Debernardi (1873-1954): From Valmaggia to California”. This is the story of her Great Grandfather, Silvio Debernardi, who left Valley Maggia and immigrated to California (including Crescent City), along with some of his siblings, however Silvio returned to Switzerland. Natasha works as a translator and would be a good resource for your translation needs, as she knows the histories of the immigrant Swiss (Ticino and California). She can be contacted for a translation estimate if you like at.

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