On August 31, 1979, the first West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival began in Clarksburg. This event began as a way to celebrate the heritage of a large percentage of the Italian-American population in North Central West Virginia.
In the early years of the 20th century, thousands of Italian immigrants began to migrate into the Clarksburg area. Many of them arrived in the Clarksburg area looking for economic opportunity in the coalmines, but for most Italian migrants this was only for a short time. Most of these individuals would leave the mines for a career in business, mostly opening and working in restaurants.
The first Italian Heritage Festival gave the opportunity for Italians to not only celebrate their culture but their contributions to the state. Over 80,000 people filled the streets of Clarksburg to participate in the festivities. These included a parade in which Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio who shared a car with Governor Rockefeller and Senator Jennings Randolph. The main event for the weekend was the Jerry Vale concert. There was also a lot of entertainment, and of course traditional Italian food and drink. One Clarksburger stated, “Italian residents here, comprising almost 25 percent of Clarksburg’s population, want to tell the community how grateful they are for the opportunities made available to them, that “we love Clarksburg and the mountains of West Virginia which are our home.1”
Fast forwarding forty years later, the Italian Heritage Festival is still a yearly occurrence on Labor Day weekend. This festival remains an important event to Italian-American residents in West Virginia and the Clarksburg community.
1- Clarksburg Telegram, August 1979 – West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival.