Stone house

MICHAEL GROSSO, stonemason, was born near Rome, Italy, and migrated to the United States about 1867. He came to Rocky Mount around 1890 with his family to assist in the masonry work during construction of the Roanoke and Southern Railroad (now the Winston-Salem Division of N&W). In the late nineties he moved to Roanoke and lived here until his death.

After the city's anti-cow ordinance was adopted about 1903, residents had no further use for the fences which surrounded every yard to discourage depredation by wandering cows. Many fences were demolished, including some beautiful iron work.

The more affluent residents built blue stone walls to replace fences, particularly where a retaining wall was necessary. (There were a number of retaining walls on S. Jefferson St., constructed of a cheaper quality of stone, but "blue stone" was the most expensive and symbolically conferred a "status" on the owner.)

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Michael Grosso and his son, Joseph Phillip Grosso, found plenty of work, for both were accomplished masons.

Around 1911 Michael Grosso and his son built the big, all-stone house on 13th St. S.W., opposite the eastern foot of the iron "Woodrum Bridge," which connected the city with Roanoke Development Lands (now Virginia Heights) west of the river.

At this time there was only one all-stone house in Roanoke, built by William Welch back in the 1890's on W. Campbell Ave., next to the original Calvary Baptist Church. This house was long the residence of Dr. Henry Vinson Grey, M.D.

Michael Grosso died many years ago and his son, Joseph P. Grosso, about 1944-45. Joe was known to everyone. He amused me very much with his complaint that home manufacturers of wine during the early days of prohibition annoyed him with requests for advice on how to make palatable wine. Joe complained, "A lot of fool people think that because I am of Italian descent I can make wine. I don't even know how to begin!"

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For many years the iron cantilever bridge had been unsatisfactory and pronounced dangerous. Until 1919 one half of the bridge lay in Roanoke and the other side in the county. There was always a squabble over which local government should contribute toward the greater portion of the upkeep.

After World War I automobiles increased in numbers. Virginia Heights and Raleigh Court were popular suburbs. Traffic over the bridge became formidable and the abrupt curve in front of Mike Grosso's house was a hazard.

The City Manager form of government was inaugurated in late 1918. One of City Manager W.P. Hunter's first acts was to advise annexation of several heavily populated suburbs and to replace the rickety old "Woodrum Bridge." (One of my notes states that a complainant appeared before Council to declare 13th St. S.W. at this time was so full of pot holes that his "store teeth" bounced out of his mouth.)

A new concrete structure was built a little north of the iron bridge which continued in use until the new span opened for traffic Feb. 27, 1926. The formal dedication of the memorial bridge was held May 6 following. This ceremony was boycotted by many veterans who alleged that despite the bronze plaques which adorned the new span and were inscribed with tributes to soldiers, the bridge was simply not a memorial but simply a necessity.

Few Roanokers today know what the inscriptions say.

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