Tontitown families worked hard and played hard. Their festivities always
included music. Father Bandini led the Tontitown Band, which became
well-known. The St. Joseph’s Church was busy and supported the opening
of St. Mary’s School and Convent in 1906, first under direction of
Ursuline Sisters and two periods by the Sisters of Mercy. May 16, 1905
was a day of honor as the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Baron
Edmondo Mayor des Planches visited Tontitown. Both Italians and
Americans greeted him. Ambassador Mayor des Planches was overwhelmed
with the abundance of fruit and other crops, and how well accepted his
people were now in this part of America. “It was a day of celebration,”
his Excellency wrote to Italy, “that here at last were Americans who had
recognized the value of my people, such as it really is, and to love
it. I could not restrain my tears, but they were tears of joy. They
celebrated with a banquet, with both rare and abundant
fruits,home-cooked Italian dishes and wine made by Italian methods.
Everything that was served at the table was made in Tontitown. The next
two decades saw much growth in Tontitown. On June 28,1906, the citizens
of Tontitown published a souvenir newspaper called L’AVVENIRE, which
sold for ten cents a copy. It included ads for the following
Tontitownbusinesses: • (Felix and Peter) Ardemagni Brothers Winery •
John Bash - Miller • Eustacchio Cortiana - Shoemaker • Domenico Danzero -
Tontitown Wine & Fruit Distilling Company • Joe Fiori - Cooperative
for dairy and lime kiln • Adriano Morsani - Mason • Emilio Morsani -
Builder and contractor • Memo Morsani - Agent of several nurseries •
James Neale - Hotel • Peter Pianalto - Mechanic, blacksmith, mason and
carpenter • Pozza E. Maestri - General merchandise • Mrs. Josephine
Maestri and Miss Rose Bastianelli - Millinery Store • Giuseppe Taldo -
Fine vineyards and wine.
1909 - Father Bandini Elected Mayor
Tontitown was incorporated in 1909 and Father Bandini elected mayor. By that time, Italian holdings had increased to over 1400 acres. The Kansas City and Memphis Line ran a spur through Tontitown with the depot completed in 1912. The Golden Lion Hotel, Frank Baudino’s store and cafe, and the Strabala Blacksmith Shop opened. Leo Maestri’s store was now the new post office, Josephine Maestri was the new postmistress. Parcel Post was added in 1913, and the Bank of Tontitown was founded, then moved to Elm Springs a year later.
Tragedy struck in December 1916, when Father Bandini had a stroke. Although it was thought that he was improving, he died on January 2, 1917, and was buried in Tontitown. He was missed both in the Tontitown people’s homes and church lives, as well as their business councils. As an earlier colonist once wrote, “He had ruled us with a double glove, through which we felt the iron finger.”
A Spaghetti Dinner, Basement of St. Josephs School. l-r; Olivia Taldo Roso, Julia Ceola Brunetti, Shortie Fuqua Cortiana, Norina Mantegani Stoffi, Vivian Haney Morsani, Violet Haney Ardemagni, Albina Mantegani Gasparotto, Annie Sabatini Collins.
Photo courtesy Shiloh Museum of Ozark History
1944 - New Church Dedication
St. Joseph's was dedicated October 27, 1944 while Rev. L.H. Schaefer was pastor. Tontitown was blessed again with prosperity as new gas wells were discovered and other businesses established. Father Schaefer opened a mission in Siloam Springs and in 1948, a new rectory was completed. Bountiful grape harvests made the annual Grape Festival a true Thanksgiving celebration. Grapes were even flown to President Truman in 1947. For the 1942 Festival, the practice of selecting a queen and court was revived. The means of selection varied over the years, but usually votes by selling tickets all over the area to offer a grand prize. The young ladies worked hard for the honor of representing the Tontitown Grape Festival. The St. Joseph Society had been busy during the last several years, By 1940, they had erected a beautiful outdoor crucifixion group, statue and altar over the grave of Father Bandini and in 1949, installed iron gates at the cemetery. Eleven years later, the monument to him was rebuilt, and on August 24, 1953 it was dedicated by Bishop Albert L. Fletcher.
1950 - Tontitown Mercantile and Post Office Bring Notoriety Late in 1950, a new, modern fully air-conditioned building was completed that housed Tontitown Mercantile and the post office. At that time, the Tontitown Post Office had the distinction of being the only air-conditioned and international unit in the state. A special act of Congress set up this office as one of the few in the nation authorized to handle international money orders. Another distinction of this post office is that during its existence, only eight people held the position of postmaster - the last of Italian descent being Jettie Franco, postmaster from January 1968 to October 1992. For years in the community, there was a baseball team and Bocci court. In 1951-52, the love of sports produced the Tontitown Midget Grapers - a grade school football team under the direction of Father Thomas Stauder, Assistant Pastor. The spotlight was again on Tontitown, when on June 24, 1956, a second ambassador from Italy, Manilo Brasio, arrived here to visit with the residents of this oldest Italian settlement in America. The Ambassador was greeted in Tontitown by Mayor Harry Sbanotto and Reverend Jesse C. Chaney. As all who visit the community, he was favorably impressed with the outstanding vineyards, the industrious people, and the fine meals.
St. Joseph's Today
Tontitown Fire Department
Soon after, another blow to the community was the closing of Welch’s. Although there had been a decrease in grape production in the area as sons and daughters chose from the wide range of careers available, many farmers still depended on the grapes as their main source of income. They were again forced to use their Italian ingenuity and perseverance. Some found newmarkets to ship their grapes while others started new businesses. Well known restaurants, Mary Maestri’s and Venesian Inn, were thriving. Other businesses included: construction companies, carpet, tile, marble, trucking service, and auto repair stations. An industrial park had started on the south side of Hwy. 412.1979 - Tontitown Area Fire Department Formed
Tontitown is a thriving community with a richheritage and strong spirit. The St. Joseph’s parishioners built a new, larger church dedicated in October 1994. The Italian Immigrant, a bronze staue honoring our Italian ancestors and Father Bandini, was placed in front of City Hall and dedicated in 1998.An addition to City Hall, which was first built in l974, was dedicated in 2001. It now has a beautiful city park includingan improved ball field. playground equipment, and, to preserve their Italian Heritage, a Bocci court. Around the outer edge of the park, Father Joe Correnti’s 1/3 Mile Walking Trail was dedicated in 2004 to honor our beloved priest and friend. Businesses continue to prosper on the north and south sides of Hwy 412. And, in 2004, growth and annexation doubled the size of Tontitown. The Italian Americans of this small city are very proud of their 106-year heritage. They know they have the respect of people both here and in their mother country. They have always overcome adversity with integrity, intelligence and hope for a greater future. They are sure to grow and prosper during the next 100 years.