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A Homeless Downingtown Family

The night of Monday, April 26, 1948 was routine for Downingtown policeman Chris Scrafford – until the Malone family walked into the station at 9:30 pm.


Antonio (Tony) Malone was born in Italy in 1906 and emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1910.  The family settled in Chicago.  In 1930, Tony married Jessie Bonicontro and they welcomed their first child, a daughter named Palma Marie (nicknamed Dolly), the following year.  In 1934, with jobs scarce in Chicago due to the Depression, the family moved east and settled in Downingtown where Tony had relatives.  He took a job with the Downingtown Paper Company and the family rented the small home at 164 East Church Street.

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Angelina, Palma, Anthony, and Michael Malone are seen by the stoop of their home at 164 East Church Street, circa 1940.  Courtesy of Karen Anderson.

By 1948 the family grew to include seven children.  Tony was still employed with the Downingtown Paper Company and was working as a beaterman in one of the company’s mills.  Also by this time the Malones had moved from their home on East Church Street and were renting the home at 17 Viaduct Avenue from Tony’s cousins the DiAntonio’s.  But in April of that year, the DiAntonio’s evicted the Malones – their own relatives – from the home so they could rent it to other family members.

The Malones hired a moving company and their belongings were packed and moved to a Coatesville storage facility.  At the invitation of neighbor Mrs. Walter Glauner, the large Malone family moved in with her until they could find another home.  But Mrs. Glauner’s landlord threatened her with eviction if the Malone’s did not move out.  The Malone’s ended up on the street, living out of their suitcases.  At least one night was spent sleeping on the benches in Kerr Park.  Desperate, they eventually went to the police station for help.

As the Malone’s were discussing their plight with Officer Scrafford, their five-year-old daughter Virginia (Ginny) fell asleep on a bench in the station.  The sympathetic Scrafford called Ray Greenleaf, a member of Downingtown’s Family Agency Committee, who in turn called Alice Dashiell, who headed the agency in Chester County.  Blankets and cots were brought in from nearby homes and Borough Council chambers were transformed into an impromptu dormitory where the Malone’s spent the night.

Right, the Malone family of nine lived in this house at 17 Viaduct Avenue in Downingtown in 1948.  They were evicted and became homeless when the home was rented to others.

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This photograph of Jessie Malone and two of the Malone children sleeping in Downingtown’s Borough Council chambers appeared in the May 6, 1948 issue of the Downingtown Archive.

The following night the Malone’s returned to the Downingtown police station, but before the family settled in for the night, Ralph Emery, the principal of West Ward School and his wife Elizabeth took in two of the Malone boys in their Stuart Avenue home.  Elizabeth McIlvaine and Jane Baker housed the other five children in their home at 517 East Lancaster Avenue.  After this the children spent several nights at a juvenile home in West Chester and were taken back and forth to school in Downingtown by Downingtown Police Sergeant Joe Newlin.  The oldest child Palma (Dolly) eventually stayed with the owners of the restaurant where she was working.  The second oldest child Angelina (Angela) was able to stay with a friend.  Perhaps showing some sympathy for their relatives, the DiAntonio’s allowed Tony, Jessie, and several of the children who were not already housed to stay in their barn in the Johnsontown section of Downingtown.  After this the Borough's jail was used to house the family for a few nights.

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Above, Angelina, Ginny, Anthony, Michael, and Emilio Malone pose for a picture in Kerr Park circa 1944.  Courtesy of Karen Anderson.

But the family couldn’t find a permanent home.  Though the area was booming as a result of a strong post World War II economy, the number of available homes hadn't caught up to the area's burgeoning employment.  Plus, some landlords simply didn't want to rent to a family with that many children.  “My wife and I hunted everywhere for a place to live, but couldn’t find any place where they’d take a family with seven children,” Tony Malone said.  Even Huston McIlvaine, President of the Downingtown Paper Company where Malone was employed, tried to assist the family in purchasing a piece of land in order to build a home, but unfortunately this didn’t work out.

The family eventually gave up and decided to move back to Chicago where they rented a home on Madison Street.  Unable to afford the travel costs for the entire family, Jessie and three of the children returned first.  Tony and two of the children eventually followed.  Angela stayed in Pennsylvania with her friend and worked for a year before returning to Chicago.  Dolly stayed in Pennsylvania, got married, and had four children.  Tony Malone died in 1962 at age 55.  Jessie died in 1999.  She was 87.

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Left, Tony and Jessie Malone and daughter Palma (Dolly) in 1933.  Right, Anthony, Michael and Emilio Malone in an image taken ca. 1945.  This photograph was probably taken in Kerr Park or the open land that became Johnsontown Park.

We are very grateful to Karen Anderson, daughter of Angelina and granddaughter of Tony and Jessie Malone, who provided pictures of the family as well as filled in a lot of missing pieces to this story.  Thank you Karen!!

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