Monongahela museum exhibit celebrates Italian immigrants

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MONONGAHELA – A new museum exhibit in Monongahela is like a “who’s who” of local Italian immigrant families with success stories to tell.

Anyone from the small Mon Valley city who is more than 50 years old will reminisce about the smell and taste of fresh-roasted peanuts when they look at one photo in the Monongahela Area Historical Society museum of Odelli’s family store, where the roasting machine was once featured prominently at Third and West Main streets. Younger visitors who are sports fans will appreciate a display dedicated to retired pro football player Joe Montana, who grew up on Park Avenue.

“Despite adverse condition, they stuck it out,” said society President Susan Bowers. “The Italians had just as much to do with building this town as any other group.”

The exhibit is timed for the visit this month of nearly 50 residents of Ono San Pietro, a town in Italy’s Brescia region, whose ancestors immigrated in large numbers to Monongahela, beginning in the late 1800s.

While many of the immigrants relocated here to work in coal mines and on railroads, others established local businesses to stake their claim in Monongahela, Bowers said.

The Italian visitors will be in Monongahela Aug. 22-24 as part of an unofficial “sister cities” partnership. Some of them want to visit Monongahela Cemetery, where their ancestors are buried, while others want to connect with distant relatives.

The exhibit at the museum at 230 W. Main St. mostly contains photographs and it begins with a focus on the founding of St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, which is now closed. One photograph shows the Rev. Joseph Abatte, who led the building’s construction using stone quarried in Smithton and Butler. Another shows the last worship service held earlier this year at the church at Chess Street and Park Avenue.

“People loaned the historical society their treasurers so we could spotlight some of the families,” Bowers said.

She said she hopes the exhibit reassures the Italian visitors that “there is still a strong bind” between the two towns.

“Look at what they accomplished and their descendants are still here, raising families.”

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday.

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