From Ohio History Central
Built in 1898, Saint John the Baptist Italian Catholic Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Father Alexander Cestelli was the first pastor of the Italian Catholic community in Columbus.
Numerous Ohioans are descended from Italian ancestors. Today, Italian Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries, like Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, or Southern European countries, like Italy, rather than from Western European countries.
In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern and Southern Europeans were also migrating to the state.
In 1900, just over eleven thousand Italian immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, their numbers had soared to 60,658 people. Most of these Italians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland. In 1870, only thirty-five Italian immigrants resided in Cleveland. By 1920, their numbers had risen to more than twenty thousand people. Most of these immigrants found low-paying jobs in factories, as day laborers, or as waiters, waitresses, and cooks in restaurants. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Italian products or began their own clothing or construction companies. In Cleveland, the Italian immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. By the late 1800s, most Italian immigrants in Cleveland had settled in two neighborhoods nicknamed Big Italy and Little Italy. Most of these immigrants were followers of the Roman Catholic Church.
Italian Ohioans were very committed to maintaining their traditional heritage and beliefs. In 1903, Cleveland Italians established La Voce Del Popolo Italiano, the first Italian-language newspaper in Ohio. By 1920, the paper’s circulation had reached nearly forty-five thousand people. Many Ohio Italians established social organizations. Typically, the groups were formed based on their former villages in Italy, creating a more familial organization.
During World War II, Ohio Italians rallied behind the United States, forsaking their homeland. Many Italian social groups dropped their Italian names and adopted patriotic ones, like "Abraham Lincoln" and "Betsy Ross," instead. While Italian organizations continued to exist in Cleveland following World War II, the number of new immigrants moving to the city slowly declined. By 1980, only 11,890 native-born Italians resided in the city. Other Ohio cities experienced similar declines. Italian Village in Columbus was a thriving suburb for Italian immigrants finding work in stone quarries, construction and trade. The buildings were Italianate style architecture. At St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, mass was spoken in Italian. The village flourished into the 1940’s. However, like other Italian communities in Ohio, there was a decline in population after World War II as members of the village moved to newer suburbs.
Italian Ohioans participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote and support Italian beliefs and customs. In 2000, the first annual Ohio Italian American Summer Festival was held in Cleveland to celebrate Italian culture and traditions. It continues to grow each year as well as The Columbus Italian Festival held in October. The Italian American Cultural Foundation located in Cleveland is an organization established to strengthen the Italian American identity and heritage.
- Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.