Lecture series to begin with talk on Tontitown
“I went into a strange and beautiful country that I had never seen before, and I found my people happy, contented, prosperous, upright, respected citizens, filled with a fond remembrance of their mother country, yet imbued and inspired with a devotion to their adopted country.”
So wrote the Italian ambassador to the U.S. in 1905 after he visited the recently established community of Tontitown in Washington County.
Susan Young, Outreach Coordinator for the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, will inaugurate the Washington County Historical Society’s 2011 lecture series on Tuesday, May 31, with a program on this extraordinary community’s early years.
Tontitown was founded in the late 1890s by Italian immigrants who had earlier settled in Chicot County in extreme southeast Arkansas. Not adjusting well to the cotton culture of the Arkansas Delta, many Italians moved to Washington County, led by a charismatic Catholic priest, Father Pietro Bandini. Settling on land a little west of Springdale, the immigrants named their community Tontitown in honor of Henri de Tonti, the Italian who assisted LaSalle in his exploration of the Mississippi River and founded Arkansas Post, the first European settlement in the region, in 1686.
Susan Young is author of So Big, This Little Place: The Founding of Tontitown, Arkansas, 1898-1917, published recently by the Tontitown Historical Museum. By the time the Italians came to Northwest Arkansas in 1898, she remarks, her family had already called the Ozarks home for three generations. Even Young admits, “a Church of Christ-raised ‘hillbilly’ seems an odd choice to write the history of the
Catholic community of Tontitown, so people will naturally want to attend the program to hear me disclose why I was drawn to write the book.” Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the lecture.
The event will be held in the Parish Hall at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 136 East Henri de Tonti Boulevard (Hwy 412), in Tontitown on May 31. A reception will begi n at 6 pm, followed by the program at 6:30. The Tontitown Historical Museum will be open that day for touring at 5 pm.
Admission is free, and the public is encouraged to attend.
The Washington County Historical Society, which is the oldest local history organization in the state, sponsors programs that draw attention to the rich heritage of Northwest Arkansas.
Other lectures in this year’s series, dealing with the photographic heritage of
Fayetteville and the Civil War in Northwest Arkansas will be held in the fall.
Information courtesy of University of Arkansas
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