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.
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.
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.
The numbers here correspond to the numbers on the map.
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.
Courtesy of the