Robertsdale, Pennsylvania

       Robertsdale, in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, was a "Company Town", where the homes, facilities, etc. were owned by the Rockhill Iron and Coal Company.  Miners were virtually "owned" by the company, and about the only place they could spend their wages was at the company store.  This exploitation of workers was made famous in the song "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

         The excerpt below is from a history written in 1883, about twenty-five years before the influx of Sicilian miners to Robertsdale:
         Robertsdale is a village that exists only by reason of the existence of the mines. The houses of which it consists are all owned by the Rockhill Iron and Coal Company, and occupied by their employees. These houses are seventy in number, and are capable of accommodating one hundred and forty families. The population of the village is seven hundred. There is one store here, kept for the accommodations of the miners, and only such shops as their wants necessitate. There are here four church organizations, though there is no church edifice. These churches are of the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Church of God denominations. None of these have resident pastors. Of the miners residing here a majority are Welsh, though English, Scotch, Irish, French and Americans among them.

         The Coniglio family's links with Robertsdale begin with Pasquale Calabrese, who arrived there from Serradifalco in 1911.   His sponsor was his brother-in-law Calogero D'Agro, brother of Pasquale's first wife Anna D'Agro (sometimes called Agro).  In 1912, Pasquale Calabrese, in turn, was Giuseppe Coniglio's sponsor.  Giuseppe's and Gaetano Coniglio's mother was Maria Carmela Calabrese, but her relationship, if any, to Pasquale is unclear.
          In 1913, Giuseppe's brother Gaetano came to Robertsdale, accompanying Giuseppe's wife Angela Alessi, sister of Gaetano's wife
Rosa Alessi.  In nearby Altoona, PA, Giuseppe and Angela had a photo (below) taken, which is still in the Coniglio family archives. 

AngelaGiuseppeMod2small.jpg (83156 bytes)

       Iggie Calabrese was a stranger, before his name appeared in the Serradifalco Project guestbook.  He was invited to visit the Coniglio family website.  He later e-mailed and said that on the Coniglio site, he saw the photo of Uncle Giuseppe and Aunt Angela.  He said he has the same photo, but he never knew who the subjects were.
       When Uncle Giuseppe came to America, his sponsor was Pasquale Calabrese.  Iggie Calabrese is the son of Pasquale by his second wife Vincenza Giambra.  We don't know the relationship between Pasquale Calabrese and Uncle Giuseppe Coniglio, but Giuseppe's mother was our ancestor Maria Carmela Calabrese, who married Gaetano Coniglio and bore Gaetano Vincenzo Coniglio.   If Pasquale was related to Maria Carmela Calabrese, then Iggie and the U.S. branch of the Coniglio family are related!


        Gaetano spent time in Robertsdale and in Pittston, Pennsylvania, where he was a coal miner.  Gaetano's wife Rosa and year-old son Gaetano (Guy) joined him in 1914 in Pittston, in eastern Pennsylvania, before Gaetano took them to Robertsdale.   Giuseppe and Angela returned to the Coniglio family home at No. 10 Via Migliore in Serradifalco sometime before 1920, and Angela passed away shortly after that.  Giuseppee never returned to America.  He remarried, and fathered ten children by his second wife, Anna Fazio.   Gaetano and Rosa had three sons (Leonardo, Raimondo, and Felice) in Robertsdale, and after about 1920, moved on to Buffalo.
         Many immigrants from Serradifalco followed similar paths: Serradifalco to Robertsdale; back and forth between Robertsdale and Pittston; and ultimately to Buffalo.  The rolls of Sicilian residents of Robertsdale must have looked like a Serradifalco directory: Coniglio, Alessi, Latona, Asarese, Giumento, Tabone, Territo, Calabrese, Butera, Ali, Turco, Lonobile; and many of them were relatives or close friends.
Chuck Dickey has sent us information that his relatives from the Ali (also Alli) family followed the same route.  Below are photos of some of his family.  Chuck also told me he had visited Robertsdale, and he provided us with information and photos about the Italian Cemetery there.  The 1918 flu epidemic, cited in one photo, may have been the cause of Angela Alessi Coniglio's illness and subsequent death.
          The cemetery sign also mentions "casualties resulting from acts of violence ... during the 1920s."   This is apparently a reference to coal miner strikes.  A search of records of the last names of current residents of the Robertsdale and Huntingdon County area shows there are few or none that are Italian.  Why did the hundreds of Sicilian families who lived in Robertsdale leave no descendants there?  Did most die of the 1918 flu epidemic, or the "acts of violence", or did they leave en masse in the 1920s, searching for a better place? 
          The 1890's through the 1920's were not only the height of Italian immigration to America, they were the volatile peak years of coal mining in Western Pennsylvania.  The Sicilians were brought in to a former rural agricultural region, where locals saw their farmland disposessed by coal mines.   Often immigrants were used as ignorant pawns of the mining companies to be "strikebusters": unorganized miners hired to discourage and impede the unionization of mine workers.  The Sicilians, though, were strong union supporters and hard workers. 
           During the same period, the
Ku Klux Klan was almost as active in Pennsylvania as it was in the South, and the KKK intimidated, threatened, and even killed those they disagreed with.  Often, earlier immigrants from other nations, fearing the loss of their jobs to "newer" immigrants, were duped into joining the Klan.  Don Numer, now of  Lebanon, Pennsylvania, tells the story of his Welsh grandfather, who was convinced by the Klan that the Sicilians were 'sent by the Pope' to take his job.  He joined the Klan, but when his wife found out three days later, that was the end of his Klan membership, and the end of his peaked hood and cloak.  Appropriately, she burned them!    Don's mother tells him 'the families were never proud of it and you didn't speak about any of your family being was the family's dirty little secret'.      
            But the Klan did persecute many mainland European immigrants and Roman Catholics.  Our ancestors were both, so it was no wonder that after
Felice (Phil) was born in 1920, Gaetano and Rosa moved to Buffalo, as did numerous other friends and relatives who had gone to Robertsdale from Serradifalco.

Click here > for A Visit to Robertsdale

Antonio Ali
and Phyllis Addeo ~ 1944
AntonioAliandPhyllisAddeo1944h411.jpg (37188 bytes)

Frances Turco Ali
and Anthony Alli
wpeC.jpg (17382 bytes)


Robertsdale,PACemeterySign.jpg (41536 bytes)

Robertsdale,PACemetery.jpg (87251 bytes)


        The staff of the  Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum has maintained the Italian Cemetery and is hoping to do more restoration.  If you'd like to join the Museum ($15 per year), or contribute in any amount to help preserve the Italian Cemetery, a piece of Serradifalco emigrants' history, please send your dues or contributions to the Museum's Research Librarian, Carolyn Carroll, with checks made out to the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum at the address below:

Main Street
Robertsdale, Pennsylvania 16674

NOTE: The four photos that form the background for this page are not from Robertsdale.  The Coniglio family did not own a camera until well after they moved to Buffalo in the early 1920's, and photos of their life in Robertsdale were non-existent. 
               The background photos here are from the excellent website of Professor Susan Ferrandiz, about the company mining town of McIntyre, PA.  These little towns dotted the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia during the heyday of American coal mining.  
               The stories of these towns were similar: they sprang up in the coal fields and were populated by men (and their families) who worked the mines from dawn to dusk, and rented their lodging; bought their supplies and obtained their services from "the Company" whose rules were their law.  The names of the towns and the people may have been different, but they all shared the legacy of back-breaking, lung-poisoning work that helped feed the steel mills of the nation.


webbunny.gif (3114 bytes)

CompassRose50high.gif (1661 bytes)



Site Index