Road to the Past: Mary Street

Every block in Utica has its own story — about people, about relationships and about change. The story of the 700 block of Mary Street begins in the early 19th century, when Utica’s founders began to carve blocks out of farmland. Time has shaped the block, changed it physically. But its welcoming tradition has endured. Italians, Irish, African-Americans, Bosnian refugees and others who have put down roots on Mary Street contribute to the street’s continuing story.

The four corners

The 34 houses on the 700 block of Mary Street are framed by commercial activity and gathering places. Here’s a look at each corner:

Sportelli’s/Longo’s
614 Kossuth Ave.

At first glance, you’d never guess that three different mom-and-pop grocery stores occupied the apartment building on the corner of Mary Street and Kossuth Avenue.

Catherine and Anthony Longo owned and operated Longo’s for more than 30 years until the early 1980s. This boded well for at least one student. Thalia DeSantis, who attended St. Agnes grammar school across the street, recalls buying penny candy, ice cream and Hostess cupcakes from Longo’s. ”What I remember so vividly was waiting for lunch hour ... and sneaking across the street without getting caught from the nuns,” she says.

Before Longo’s, Anthony Marica ran a grocery during the late 1940s. Sportelli’s, owned by Frank Sportelli, occupied the space from 1926 to 1943.

1 Stop Market / Pecorello’s
625 Albany St.

If persistence paid off, Hasim Ferkic would be a millionaire.

But after playing the lotto twice a week for seven years, the Mary Street resident has only netted $15.

He always plays the same numbers at 1 Stop Market, which sits on the northwest corner of Mary and Albany streets.

His lucky (or not so lucky) numbers are 09-14-16-21-25-39. Their significance? Family birthdays, his age and the month when the Bosnian resettled in Utica.

The market is a popular stop for neighborhood residents and has a long history.

Before 1998, it was Pecorello Bros. Market. Brothers Ed and Jerry Jr. opened in the mid-1940s, selling staples such as milk and meat.

But Jodi Meeker of 713 Albany St. remembers the friendliness of the two brothers more than the groceries she bought there.

“They knew your name,” Meeker says. “I can still picture Jerry teasing the heck out of me.”

Mangano’s / Pescatore’s / Medino’s
705 Albany St.

Most remember the building on the southwest corner of Albany and Mary streets as Pescatore’s, a popular Italian restaurant that opened in the early ’60s.

Steak sandwiches were the specialty of the house, says Mary Teresa Mercurio of Mary Street. She should know. Her husband Frank worked as a cook there.

Today, the building houses Europa Foods, a popular Bosnian restaurant. Before Europa, however, it was a nightclub and another Italian restaurant called Medino’s.

Mary Street resident Gerald Talerico remembers it as Mangano’s, a confectionary store where he once made a nickel taking out the ashes from the coal-burning fires that heated the building, he says.

Not bad, considering candy only cost a penny back then.

St. Agnes Church and rectory
700 Kossuth Ave.

St. Agnes Church, on the corner of Blandina Street and Kossuth Avenue, has withstood more than a century of time, witnessed a changing neighborhood and survived a fire that threatened its very existence.

The brick and stone Romanesque-style church, built 116 years ago, served Utica’s Irish Roman Catholic families who lived east of Mohawk Street. A rectory, parochial school and convent soon followed.

As the neighborhood changed from Irish to Italian, many of St. Agnes’s parishioners changed, too. While most Italians attended St. Mary of Mount Carmel on Jay Street, Marie DelGado, who grew up at 766 Mary St., went to the church down the block. She received communion and was confirmed and married at St. Agnes.

DelGado remembers the cold morning of Feb. 24, 1947, when a fire broke out in the church. Her uncle, up at 5 a.m. for his job at the railroad, woke the family. ”We went down to the corner and watched it burn,” DelGado says of the three-alarm fire that injured seven firemen and claimed the church’s wooden roof and 155-foot steeple. “I’ll never forget the stench. It stayed with us for months.”

The rebuilt church, complete with a new rose medallion stained glass window, was dedicated October 3, 1948.

– Profiles written by Lindsay Beller

Mary Street timeline

Early 1800s: Utica landowner Rutger Bleecker names
Mary Street after his daughter, Mary Morris.

Mid 1800s: Most of East Utica was farmland owned by Thomas E. Clark, a prominent lawyer in Utica. His daughter, Harriet C. Wood, inherited the land after his death in 1857.

1887: Harriet C. Wood re-allotted the farm and began to sell off the lots.

1887: St. Agnes Church is built.

1890s: Irish families move to Mary Street.

1910 through 1930s: More than two dozen Italian families move to Mary Street.

1914: Adresses change to current numbering system.

Around 1920: Most current homes are built.

February 1947: Fire breaks out at St. Agnes Church.

1980s and 1990s: Many homes sold. East Utica begins to decline from absentee landlords, drugs and crime.

1997: First two Bosnian families move to Mary Street.

2003: Ten Bosnian families own homes on Mary Street.