154 East Henri De Tonti Boulevard
Springdale AR 72770
Tontitown was first settled by a group of Italian immigrants who had
first settled at Sunnyside Plantation in Chicot County, near Lake
Village in southeastern Arkansas. Austin Corbin was owner of Sunnyside
Plantation and brought the people from Italy to work on the plantation.
They were farmers and it was assumed could adapt to growing of cotton
in the Arkansas Delta. However the climate and unfamiliarity with the
plantation operation brought on unhappiness and eventually a decision
to move for many but not all.
Father Pietro Bandini had been assigned to America to study and help
the Italians who had immigrated here. He organized the St Raphael
Society to help the immigrants and worked on their behalf with the US
Immigration Service. While in New York he met some of the Italians
who were heading to Arkansas to work on Sunnyside. Upon learning of
the troubles these immigrants were experiencing there, Father
Bandini went to Chicot County to do what he could to improve their
situation. He spent the rest of his life with them and was instrumental
in getting them moved to northwestern Arkansas. He died in 1917
and is buried in Tontitown Cemetery along with many of his parishoners.
The first group came to Tontitown after Father Bandini bought a farm
being abandoned because the owner could not make a living on the poor
rocky soil. There were 40 families in this first group, far more than
could be supported on the farm Bandini had bought. So after locals
raised the price of land from 8 to 15 dollars per acre, more land was
bought and divided among the 40 families at 10 acres per family. The
men at first worked wherever they could and constructed the best
houses they could. The first winter they experienced was one of the
coldest in years. Survival was the main goal that first year. The
first spring, farming started with grapes planted along with gardens
and fruit orchards.
A school was started teaching English along with standard elementary
classes. Another school taught Italian and religious doctrine. Near
the school a church was built. Father Bandini believed that education
was the beginning of Italian institutions and made it so in Tontitown.
The settlers began to build better houses on their land and the
community began to prosper at least by comparison with their early
state. Agricultural skills of the people produced good crops and word
began to spread about the crops grown in the little settlement west
Tontitown was recognized by the Italian government and the Catholic
Church, and was visited by the Italian ambassador to the US in 1906,
less than ten years after its founding. Connections were established
in Italy and suitable immigrants were encouraged to come and many did.
Tontitown was incorporated in 1909. A post office had been opened in
1900 providing ready connection to the outside world and especially
back to Italy.
Farmers have adapted over the years growing not only grapes and
gardens but also commercial farms and, like much of rural northwestern
Arkansas, to raising poultry.
Many of the family names of original 40 familes are still seen in the
area such as Ardemagni, Ceola, Cortiana, Maestri, Pianalto, Penzo,
Sbanatto, Taldo and Zulpo. Every August a festival is held to
celebrate the grape harvest.
A new book on Tontitown history has just been published titled "So Big
This Little Place" by Susan Young.
The Story of Tontitown Arkansas, editted and compiled by W J Lemke
Washington Co Historical Society 1963
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