New book explores Italian immigrant history

Italian immigrants share stories

WARREN — The promise of jobs bought Italian immigrants to the Mahoning Valley nearly 150 years ago, but the men discovered they were being used as strikebreakers when they arrived.

Two former Mahoning Valley residents explore the roots of that migration that led to the large Italian-American population the region still boasts in the book “Coal War in the Mahoning Valley.”

Joe Tucciarone is a Hubbard native now living in Florida whose research into his own ancestry led him to the stories of the coal strikes in the early 1870s. Ben Lariccia, who now lives in Philadelphia but grew up in Youngstown and Girard, first saw Tucciarone’s findings on the Facebook page Mahoning Valley Italian Descendants.

“I’m a writer for an Italian newspaper (La Gazzetta Italiana) and supposed to know the history of my people,” Lariccia said. “I’m supposed to know about this and had no idea it went on.”

The two men began working together about three years ago, researching old newspaper clippings and other sources to create the book, which was released this month by Arcadia Publishing and the History Press. Tucciarone and Lariccia will talk about the book at noon today as part of the Bites and Bits of History series at the Tyler History Center, 325 W. Federal St., Youngstown, and at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Kravitz Deli Meeting Room, 3135 Belmont Ave., Liberty, as part of the William Holmes McGuffey Historical Society’s Memories of a Lifetime lecture series. Copies of the book ($21.99) will be available at both events.

The coal found in the Mahoning Valley was highly desirable, Lariccia said.

“Trumbull County produced hundreds and hundreds of tons of coal every day,” he said. “It was a soft coal but it burned hard. It had a high carbon content. That coal laid the foundation for the iron industry here, which developed into the steel industry.”

The men who worked in the mines mostly were from Wales and Scotland. When the price of coal dropped in 1872, the mine owners tried to cut wages and the workers revolted, going on strike. Mines in Lisbon brought in African American workers from Virginia, which led to racial conflicts. The mines in Trumbull and Mahoning counties recruited the Italian immigrants coming to America through Castle Garden, which was the point of entry in New York before Ellis Island. Tucciarone and Lariccia found copies of the ads used to lure those workers during their research.

“Neither the Italians or the blacks knew they were being hired to break the strike,” Lariccia said.

The Italian workers were barracked in an area of Hubbard Township that was known as Coalburg, and a second group was housed in Liberty at Church Hill.

When the strikes were settled, the Italians lost their jobs to the more experienced workers, but many began working for the railroads and several of those workers became prominent businessmen in the Valley.

“The coal operators owned the railroads,” Lariccia said. “They found employment there and continued living in Coalburg.”