The golden age
It is 1891, 8:30am. Near the first residential buildings, across from the factory entrance, a broad stairway leads up to the door of a large building. Nearly one hundred children are standing outside. They are waiting for their teachers to bring them to their classrooms. Indeed, at Crespi a pre-school and school were built as the first families moved in.
The school went up to third grade and then, for those who wanted to continue, the company would pay for school at a professional institution in Bergamo. Tuition, books, materials and lunch were paid for by the company.
The teachers were hired and paid by the Crespi family and the principal lived in the upper floor of the school.
Taccani power station
Silvio realised hydraulic energy would no longer be able to support the increasing production volumes. Initially, he decided to replace the hydraulic wheels with steam, which had become possible with the availability of coal, but it still was not enough.
Therefore, in 1891, he requested authorisation to divert water from the Adda River near Trezzo Sull’Adda, a town not far from Crespi. He finally received authorisation five years later.
Silvio hired Gaetano Moretti to design the structure and Taccani to engineer the operations of a large hydroelectric power station. It became operational in 1906 and began distributing electricity to Crespi and the nearby towns.
A person in modern times observing one of the first telephones would find them strange, almost anthropomorphic shapes with an attachment on one side, but they radically changed our way of communicating.
Given that Silvio was often out of the office on business matters and, in 1882, Cristoforo began living in the mansion in Via Borgonuovo in Milan, ten years later the Crespi family requested and received authorisation for a private telephone line to connect the factory with Milan.
Silvio had a more complete vision of the business. In his view, the natural evolution of manufacturing would lead to full integration of production processes. Hence, he decided to build a weaving department.
In a short time, the new department doubled the surface area of the factory. The space was enormous and architecturally impressive, and in 1894, Queen Margherita attended the inauguration.
La Gazzetta Piemontese, the newspaper for the Piedmont region, reported the event with all of its particulars. The Queen journeyed by train and carriage, and was welcomed in the company town by residents in the midst of celebrations. She visited the church and the factory, accompanied by Silvio. She had lunch in the castle and then climbed to the tower overlook. In the middle of afternoon, she returned to Villa Reale in Monza.
Towers, battlements, a mighty structure in red brick – a perfect description of a castle. Actually, it is the Crespi home, a massive building with a 50-metre tower, situated not far from the factory.
Not far, just a couple of kilometres as the crow flies, is the keep of the medieval Visconti castle in Trezzo sull’Adda. For centuries, the river marked the border between two very different regions: Milan and Venice. For this reason, many defensive and territorial control fortifications were built along its banks.
When Crespi decided to build his home, he chose a model based on these fortifications while, at the same time, reflecting more recent industrial structures with an added flair.
The Crespis lived here in the summers and part of the autumn, between 1894 and 1930, and often hosted eminent guests from the national political scene.
As you open the church door to exit, you see the castle tower directly in front of you, perfectly aligned with the church. Whether this was planned or not, the Crespi family’s relationship with their faith was deep and solid.
When they decided to build a church in the village, they wanted a replica of the Renaissance chapel of Santa Maria di Piazza in Busto Arsizio, the family’s hometown. Construction was completed in 1893, offering one mass each day on weekdays and two on Sundays and holidays, until it closed in 1925.
Only one thing was missing to complete the textile production process that Silvio had envisioned for his factory – the dyeing department. Other types of processing were included in this department, such as mercerisation, bleaching and finishing.
Silvio believed it was important to diversify, to create higher quality markets that could compete in foreign markets.
Construction for the new department began in 1898 and within one year, it was fully operational. Silvio’s brother, Daniele, who held a degree in chemistry, was named department manager. The product quality was exceptional and the Benigno Crespi Company received numerous awards at Global Exhibitions.
A wagon bearing a coffin plods through the mud surrounded by the deceased’s loved ones, huddling together in their grief.
A funeral in Crespi meant not only a journey of spiritual suffering, but also of physical suffering. Initially, the village had no cemetery, and for ten years, funerals were conducted in the parish church of Capriate d’Adda. At the end of the mass, the funeral procession had to walk eight kilometres to the cemetery in Canonica d’Adda.
From 1888, the village’s inhabitants were buried in Capriate d’Adda, the town that Crespi had just formally annexed. However, Capriate’s cemetery was not large enough.
So in 1896, Crespi held a contest to build a mausoleum and cemetery, won by Gaetano Moretti. Work began in 1905 and concluded in 1908. On 3 December of that year, the inauguration mass was celebrated.
Doctor and priest
Life in the village began to become more complex. There were many details of daily life that needed to be managed, such as, for example, setting up a storage area where residents could keep their clothing and linens and organising an economical cafeteria, but, at the same time, there were also more pressing issues, such as the health of the inhabitants and workers. For this reason, Crespi built homes for a doctor and a priest.
Or, as the saying goes – the priest cures the soul, the doctor cures the body. A saying that was not far from the truth, particularly at that time. The two homes are located next to each other on the north-eastern border of the village and are essentially similar. They were built using the same techniques as the workers’ houses, but with more decorative details.
The scent of fresh bread began to waft through the village in 1895. The ability to have fresh bread every day was considered a luxury at that time, its cost putting it out of the reach of most families.
Hence, a modern bakery was installed that was able to produce between 300 and 500 kilos of bread per day.
A low sound emerges from the fog, an uninterrupted trampling, steps falling in unison, then, at the bottom of the hill, the haze thins out and in the clear air, men, but even more women, become visible. Almost all are wearing aprons and clogs, even in the dead of winter. They walk along the main road toward the factory and disappear into its various departments.
Some of the people in the throng arrive from the dormitory in Capriate. Built in 1899, it housed the workers from Crespi, so that they didn’t have to walk all their way back to their villages. It offered single women hot meals, and during their free time, courses in sewing and embroidery, as well as prayer services, under the guidance of Teresita Morali, the sister of the town’s mayor.
The doctor was an important figure for the town’s economy. The growing number of inhabitants and workers meant that the town required not only a doctor’s office, but also an area for more serious care.
In 1904, a small hospital was built to meet these needs. In a wise decision, it was located not far from the factory’s entrance and was equipped with the best medical equipment available at that time. The hospital handled minor surgeries, but for more serious cases, the Crespi family stipulated agreements with hospitals in Milan over the years.
Two outlines of red brick that appear both powerful and light, reaching 50 metres toward the sky, can be still seen still from several kilometres away and clearly must have dominated the landscape at the beginning of the 1900s.
Three chimneystacks were built between 1905 and 1906, two on the factory’s roof and one outside, for the heating plant. However, one of the factory’s stacks was struck by a lightning and, for safety reasons, was torn down.
In 1908, the train’s whistle arrived at Crespi. In fact, the company requested that the town be added to the Monza-Trezzo-Bergamo train line. The track arrived close the operations area of the factory, making it easier to receive shipments of raw materials.