‘Little Italy’

Reunion set to remember Meaderville
2006-09-02T23:00:00Z ‘Little Italy’By Tracy Thornton of The Montana Standard - 09/03/2006 Montana Standard

In Butte’s infancy, European immigrants coming to this mining camp tended to band together — hence the Irish settled in Dublin Gulch or Corktown, the Cornish and English in Centerville and Walkerville, Finns in Fintown, Austrians, Croatians and Slovenians in McQueen, and the Italians flocked to Meaderville.

Bontempo, Martinelli, Castellano, Bertoglio, Ciabattari, Favero, Sconfienza, Ronchetto and Grosso — these were just some of the Italian families who settled in what would come to be known as “Little Italy.” Although some Cornish, English and Irish immigrants also lived in the community, the majority of its residents could trace their lineage back to Northern and Central Italy.

By the lates 1920s, Meaderville, unlike other Butte neighborhoods, took on a life of its own, with its abundance of restaurants, taverns, night clubs and specialty grocery stores. So much so, that it earned the nickname “Little Monte Carlo.” Next week, Meaderville will come alive once more as dozens of former residents gather Saturday, Sept. 9, at the new Vigilante Rodeo Grounds, to share the past with family, friends and long-ago neighbors. Among those attending will be Pauline (Mencarelli) de Barathy, Tom Holter and Jim Troglia, all of Butte. The trio recently sat down to share some of their Meaderville memories.

Holter was born in Meaderville and grew up in McQueen. He spent much of his youth in Meaderville, however, as his grandfather, Mike Ciabatarri, ran M. Ciabatarri & Son Meaderville Grocery. As a teenager, Holter spent his Saturdays delivering groceries for his grandfather, and on most Sundays, dinner was served by his Aunt Neda in Meaderville. “She was a helluva cook,” he said.

Troglia’s childhood memories include building go-carts, skating on the neighborhood rink, riding bikes over the many hills behind Meaderville and stealing cigars from Guidi’s Grocery (and getting sick, too). Guidi’s, Holter noted, was known throughout Butte for their sausage and salami. “When they died,” he said, “they took that recipe to the grave.” de Barathy was amazed at all the imported items the store carried, including the different types of cheese. “That was their specialty,” she said.

A number of restaurants flourished in Meaderville, including the Aro Cafe and the Rocky Mountain Cafe. de Barathy recalled how residents could smell the wonderful aromas drifting from the restaurants. “Your mouth would just water,” she said. “You wanted to taste it so bad.” Holter, on the other hand, had a fondness for the Meaderville Bakery. “Best there ever was,” he said.

All three people talked about the gardens — not the Columbia Gardens, but all the neighborhood gardens. Troglia laughed and explained that “every damn house had a garden” in Meaderville. According to Troglia, competitiveness was rampant, and if a person with a particularly beautiful garden was asked where they got the dirt for their garden, he or she would reply, “No Tell ’Em Gulch.” Competitiveness went beyond gardens, too. The race for who made the best wine or grappo ran a close second. Wine was a staple in Italian households, and every fall the train would bring in an abundance of grapes and cherries. “That’s when the competition began,” laughed Troglia. “Even after we left Meaderville (in 1964), he said, “my dad still made wine.” Italian traditions were passed down through the generations, and for many, so, too, was the language. Although de Barathy’s mother was born in Butte, it was not until she started school that she learned English. “That was not unusual,” she explained.

By the mid-1950s, work had begun on the Berkeley Pit, and 10 years later, Meaderville had succumbed to “progress.” Its former residents, however, continue some of its traditions.

Every Christmas, without fail, Holter serves up a big Italian dinner, which includes “piatto forte,” a dessert recipe handed down by his mother. On New Year’s Eve, it’s “bagna cauda” at the Troglia home, a spicy dish with anchovies and garlic that originated in northern Italy.

What de Barathy cherished most about her neighborhood was the fact that it was so close-knit. It was nearly a nightly occurrence to find people outside, visiting with their neighbors. “It was their chit-chat time,” she said.

“I miss that,” de Barathy, said, “so some nights I go over to visit my brother-in-law, Steve, who lives across the street.” According to de Barathy, who helped organize the reunion, more than 200 people have already registered for the reunion, some from Idaho, Washington, California and Texas. She looks forward to everybody seeing each other — some after 30 or 40 years. “Italians like to talk and visit,” de Barathy said, “and they all want to connect on old times.”

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