Around the turn of the last century, Clinton, Indiana, located approximately 15 miles north of Terre Haute, had a great influx of Italian immigrants to the area to work in the coal mines. At one point the city had a population of over 15,000 people, of which, nearly one-third were Italian. The northwest area of Clinton became known as Little Italy as the majority of its inhabitants had come directly from Italy. Unlike a lot of the Italian immigration that took place at this time, most of the Clinton Italians were from northern Italy. A listing of businesses in the Little Italy section of Clinton in the 1920s shows (4) grocery stores, (2) meat markets, a bakery, a cheese shop, multiple tailors and clothing shops, shoe and variety stores all owned by Italian immigrants.
The Story of Coal in Indiana!
Since 1966 Clinton, Ind., has been hosting the Little Italy Festival. The festival started out small, but was genuine with good interests. Now, the Little Italy Festival is one of the biggest festivals in the Midwest. Between over 275,000 people visit this festival each year.
A new Lions Club in Clinton was the start of a way to attract new people and tourist to the city. In 1966 the previously non-existent tourism was beginning to grow. The new club, which caught the eyes of the people, evolved in less than six months into the Clinton's first Little Italy Festival.
The Lions Club committee proposed that some new work be done to the city to make it more recognizable to the public. The estimated cost of the project was $300, while at the same time, a photographer for the Clinton newspaper began to run articles in the paper about the city's lack of identity. Readers responded with suggestions for giving the city a known identity. Many suggestions were made in the next couple years, but the Italian theme had the best foundation. There is a part of Clinton that once thrived on the success of Italian Immigrants that was known as "Little Italy" and "spaghetti town."
An article was put in the paper about the ideas for an Italy Festival, which received great response from readers. The Lions Club, joined by many other local area organizations, all pitched in and began to organize and create the Little Italy Festival.
After the first festival was created and a huge success, a group of people from Clinton called, the Jaycees decided they wanted a real, full-size Venetian Gondola from Italy.
A Gondola is one those boats that the driver uses a long pole to push against the bottom of the river with, and it has two large pointed ends on either side.
Joe E. Beadsley headed up the search for the Gondola, and on Nov. 16, 1966, the group decided to order one to be built. It would cost them a grand total of $1,627. Between the years of 1967 and 1979, tourists at the festival could take rides on down the Wabash River. The boat has since then been retired from service, but still serves as a symbol of the Little Italy Festival.
Some attractions to look forward to are things like the grape stomping contest and spaghetti eating contests. Italian musicians, such as the Italian singers and the Ambush band, will perform Friday evening.
There is a full-out carnival, with carnival rides on one end of the festival and all kinds of parade events. There will also be magic shows, craft shops and food booths everywhere.
On Monday there a trip to Italy will be raffled. The cost of tickets is $5. Grape stomping contests will be conducted two or three times every day, so if you miss it once, you'll have plenty of chances to do it again.
Starting with a parade, the festivities and fun begin on at 6 p.m. Friday. The festival ends Monday at 10 p.m.
If you haven't made plans for this weekend yet, then head out to the Little Italy Festival for a weekend of Italian fun.