America is a melting pot. It is a place where people of all faiths, religions, ethnicities and backgrounds can come and improve their lives and those of their families.
I really like the term “Crucible,” especially for our region, because most ethnic groups came here to work in our steel industry where the process of making steel involved melting raw ingredients together to form a finished product.
Looking at the various people who worked in our plants and factories, many were immigrants or first generation Americans who still had strong ties to their home country.
At the turn of the 20th century, millions of immigrants came from the old to the new world. In the old world, immigrants had to travel to the nearest seaport to board ships for their long journey to America. The ports that supplied the large number of immigrants to the United States between the years 1900-1920 were Hamburg, Germany; Liverpool, England; Bremen, Germany; and in Italy, Naples.
In 1907 alone, the Italian port welcomed more than 240,000 immigrants on their way to a new life in the United States. The reasons for immigration were manifold. Most people were fleeing poverty, military obligations, or simply to increase their chances of a better life.
Upon arriving in the United States, immigrants either stayed in cities like New York or Philadelphia looking for work, or if they were lucky they would already have a destination in mind. This was the case for many immigrants in our region.
Weirton and Steubenville were certainly a destination for those seeking employment. And as immigrants arrived, many sent letters home to the old world telling them about the opportunities here.
This was the case for the family of my grandfather Joseph Delli Carpini. He was one of five children in his immediate family, two of whom were born here in the United States and the others in Gallo Matese, in the Campania region of Italy. Like many immigrants, my great-grandfather was what was called a bird of passage, traveling to the United States to work and raise funds to send back to his wife and children in Italy. Finally, by 1922, he had saved enough to bring his family to the United States.
He was already there and my great-grandmother, Antoinetta Canzano Delli Carpini from Teano, Italy, and her grandchildren made the perilous boat trip alone to meet him. As far as I know, she never returned to Italy. But because the Weirton Mills provided good employment, many Gallo Matese residents ended up here. It, I am sure, was a comfort to her and to many in this region to have familiar names and faces in a foreign country. The city of Reggio Calabria, in southern Italy, also provided many immigrants to our region.
When immigrants arrived in our cities, they naturally chose to form communities based on their ethnicities. In Steubenville, the city’s Italian quarter was the South End consisting of Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Streets South, south of Adams Street. The community was centered on the churches. St. Anthony, located on South Seventh Street, was founded in 1906 and the church building was completed and dedicated on April 3, 1910.
According to an article in the Herald-Star of the time, the foundation stone was laid with the inscription, “Ecclesia Sancti, Antonii, Fundata, A.D. 1910.” The church was built to support and serve the many Italian-American families in this neighborhood. It was here in this neighborhood that Dino Crocetti, Dean Martin, was born in 1917 at 319 S. Sixth St. The Italian Quarter flourished with Italian-owned stores and businesses in the first half of the 20th century, but over time the old Italian neighborhood declined as the children and grandchildren of these Italian immigrants moved to the West End of Steubenville. In 2008, St. Anthony’s closed after nearly 100 years as an active parish.
The Italian neighborhood of Weirton was located in the North End around Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Streets in addition to Avenue A. It was the area where the first homes and businesses were erected in the area that would be the new community of Weirton.
Looking at the 1915 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of this area, one can see that the houses were exactly the same, typical of any company town. From the maps, one can see where the first residents lived and worked in the neighborhood. There were numerous barbers, two bakeries, several billiard halls, tailors and pharmacies. A movie house was located at the corner of Main Street and Avenue B. Between Avenues B and C on the mill side of Main Street, in 1923 there were nine “stacked houses” presumably for factory workers with a large communal latrine at the back of the buildings. It was on a street listed as “Greek.” I also saw it listed as Chios Street. Many immigrants lived in this area.
For Italian Americans in this neighborhood of Weirton, the center of life was family and community. The Garibaldi Hall on Avenue A was a focal point as well as the Catholic Church. Just down from Garibaldi Hall, past the intersection of Avenue A and Fourth Street, was an Italian Catholic church located at 198 Avenue A. The church was on the map in 1915, 1919, and 1923, but no other information could be found about the parish. St. Paul’s Parish was formed in 1911 and the Sacred Heart of Mary in 1915 to accommodate Catholics of Polish descent, all also in North Weirton. Perhaps the Italian parish joined one of them. In any case, their community was strong.
Over time, the Italian community flourished and those who lived in the old quarter sought new homes in the crowded area near the mill. Today, little remains of Weirton’s northern end, let alone its once thriving Italian Quarter.
Between 1880 and 1924, more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, and although they originally remained in close-knit communities, they persevered and assimilated into American life.
Coming full circle, in 2007 I visited Italy and during my visit to Naples I took a trip to the island of Capri. We set out from the port, and I thought of my great-grandmother Antonetta and my great-aunts and uncles who left Italy from that same port in 1922. As mainland Italy faded behind them, made up of their past joys and struggles plus everything they had ever known, they had only one choice to look to the future.
I wish I could ask them what they thought when they saw the Statue of Liberty in New York. She greeted them saying “Give me your weary, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe freely.”
(Zuros is executive director of Historic Fort Steuben.)