West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival

Clarksburg Telegram
August 31, 1979

First Italian Immigrants Here Being Honored During Festival

Some 80 years ago, the first of hundreds of Italian immigrants from an impoverished section of their homeland began arriving in the Clarksburg area, lured by "big money jobs" in the coal mines.

Those early immigrants, many of them with little education, have mostly gotten out of the coal mines and helped build a flourishing, look-ahead community that is Clarksburg and Harrison County today.

That's what the First Annual West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival, now underway, is all about, says Frank Iaquinta, owner and operator of Julio's Restaurant and other business interests.

"We want to pay homage to our parents for coming here and staying and bringing us into the world here," said the soft-spoken, Baltimore Avenue restauranteur. "We honor them for teaching us the love of God and country, and impressing upon us that we must get an education."

Iaquinta, his white hair contrasting his tanned complexion, said Italian residents here, comprising almost 25 percent of Clarksburg's population, want to tell the community how grateful they are for the opportunities made available to them, that "we love Clarksburg and the mountains of West Virginia which are ours.

"Just like the 'Pilgrim Fathers' who fled religious oppression in England," said Iaquinta, "our fathers fled economic oppression in their homeland.

"We want to say and show how we love and respect our homeland; not the homeland of our fathers, which we revere, but this, our homeland, Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia, all of it.

"In a word, that's what the Italian Festival is all about," Iaquinta said with feeling.

The Clarksburg native spoke as he sat in his restaurant during the busy noon-hour rush on a recent day.

"All this festival business started last November when I received a letter from the Clarksburg Library asking if we'd be interested in participating in an Italian observance," Iaquinta stated.

"Actually, some of us had been talking about some kind of 'day' or other, marking our heritage," he added. "I had drawn up a chart showing what might be done, so went on from there."

Joining Iaquinta on the board of directors of this non-profit festival organization are: James LaRosa, financial officer; Bernard Folio, Frank Merandi, Sam Bonasso, Louis Spatafore, Samuel D'Annunzio, John Machin, Sam Paletta, Victor Gabriel, Anthony Fratto, Louis Petitto, Merle Moore and Tom Kupec.

Iaquinta said most Clarksburg area residents of Italian descent can trace their ancestry to one section of Italy - Colabaria - at the southern end of the peninsula, "from the ankle to the tip of the boot."

"It was an impoverished area," he said, "and Harrison County coal companies recruited our fathers to come here to good paying jobs in the mines between 1890 and 1910. It was mines and railroad work in the early days. Even 11 and 12-year-old boys worked in the mines."

Iaquinta added that while many Italians stayed in mine works, others became businessmen in produce, goroceries [sic], shoe shops, restaurants and the like.

"It was the good influence of our parents that made us move ahead," he said. "We learned the value of an education and now we're in all fields of endeavor."

Iaquinta said it was the hope of the festival organizers that "those persons of Italian heritage who have left this area to rise to the heights elsewhere," would come back to Clarksburg for the celebration.

"Generally, we get together only at weddings and funerals," he said. "This time, we want to make it something different, something better."

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