Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

Italian Stonemasons of Del Rio Texas

G.B. Cassinelli and John Taini

Late in the 1880s, Italian immigrants came to Del Rio. The old families include the Frankis, Garonis, Gerolas, Marinis, and Qualias. Enough of them arrived that the town became home to its “Italian Colony.” Most of the immigrants started farms and grape orchards. A few of the immigrants, in addition to farming, were stonemasons who built many of the oldest and most distinctive buildings in Del Rio.

G.B. Cassinelli (born 1840) and John Taini (born 1854) emigrated from Milan to the United States in 1880. A contractor paid their way in exchange for building homes in New York City. When the contractor went out of business, the men worked for railroad companies bringing them west. Both worked in nearby Fort Clark constructing buildings at the military post before settling in Del Rio about 1885.

In Del Rio, the county seat of the new Val Verde County, they quickly put their construction skills to work. One of their first big projects was the stone work for the Val Verde County Courthouse, completed 1888. Many of their smaller projects—homes, stores, and buildings not made of stone—have been forgotten, but much of their stone work remains standing and in use today. Both men had city streets named for them. They together (and later Taini singly) did business on both sides of San Felipe Creek: Anglo and Hispanic.

In addition to the construction business, Cassinelli operated a general store and sold hay, lime, and bricks. The Cassinelli Gin House (with its historical marker) stands on the corner of Pecan and Academy Streets.

Taini also owned some acreage on which he grew grapes intercropped with corn, carrots and other vegetables. In season, the family loaded picked vegetables on a mule-drawn wagon, and sold them to Burdett’s Grocery, on the 100 block of Main Street. The Tainis made and bottled grape juice and wine for family use and for the Catholic parish in Brackettville.

John Taini.
John Taini.

The bridges over San Felipe Creek and City water system built by Taini have long been paved over, but many more of Taini’s projects remain. Taini also built two dams across San Felipe Creek putting the ample streamflow to work for the community.

The Cassinelli Gin house.
The Cassinelli Gin is one of Del Rio’s landmark buildings.

Still, Taini is best known in Del Rio for his buildings-residential, commercial, theological and governmental. His earliest work is residential, but very quickly he moved into the other fields. The list of his work includes many of Del Rio’s oldest, most distinctive buildings.

Many other Cassinelli and Taini-built Del Rio buildings have been lost. Stone construction was often razed in favor of modern steel and brick construction in the early and mid-1900s. One of those lost buildings is the Old Masonic Hall, shown below, which once stood across from the Courthouse.

Old Masonic Hall.

The numbers here correspond to the numbers on the map.

1.Two homes built for Southern Pacific Railroad (at 112 & 114 East Martin)-1885; 114 is shown below.
 

The house at 114 East Martin.

2.Dietart Home (208 East Martin)-1885.
3.Val Verde County Courthouse-1888 (with Historical Markers on the grounds).
4.Joseph Hyman Building (444 South Main)-1889.
5.Oasis Café Building (at Andrade and Guillen)-ca. 1890, shown below. It is one of the few buildings in the original San Felipe neighborhood to survive the Flood of 1998.
 

The Oasis Cafe.

6.Sacred Heart Catholic Church (at Mill and Losoya Streets)-1894 (with Historical Marker and with John Taini Historical Marker).
7.Club Café Building (101 South Main)-circa 1900.
8.Ortiz Law Office (310 North Main)-ca. 1900.
9.Daniel Chastang Home (108 East Second Street)-ca. 1900.
10.Old Methodist Church (across from the Courthouse)-1904, shown below.
 

Methodist Church.

11.Second Taini Home (1100 South Main)-1889.
12.Lacrosse Home (109 East Second Street)-ca. 1905.
13.Warner Building (534 South Main)-1905 (Look for Taini’s signature carved above doorway of an old side-entrance).
14.John Doak Home (313 Pecan)-1909.
15.Santos Garza Residence (500 West Garza)-1906 (which is now home to the San Felipe Exes [alumni] Museum).

Val Verde County Courthouse 1888.

The Val Verde County Courthouse was completed in 1888 by Cassinelli and Taini. This line drawing of the original building is part of the logo of the Val Verde County Historical Commission.

 

Map of downtown Del Rio.

Map of downtown Del Rio.

 

Courtesy of the

Val Verde County Historical Commission