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 of Springdale.

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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