Saturday, July 31, 2010

Iron Mountain and the Settlement of the U.P. - Part 1

Although we have covered the Lombardian heritage of the Ironwood area, actually the larger population and percentage of specifically Lombardian settlement was in Iron Mountain over on the eastern Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan. Iron Mountain, like Ironwood, is close to the northern border with Wisconsin, and it also has a long history of mining.

Today, with a population of 8,000+, Iron Mountain is about 20% "Italian," and apparently that is largely Lombardian in origin. The welcome sign upon entering Iron Mountain states "Welcome to Iron Mountain - Proud Hometown of Tom Izzo & Steve Mariucci."

Tom Izzo is the head mens basketball coach of the Michigan State Spartans, one of the most successfull teams under his reign, including a national championship in 1999-2000; while Steve Mariucci is a former 2-time NFL head coach with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, and former head coach of the University of California Golden Bears. He is best known for developing a young Brett Favre while a quarterback coach with the Green Bay Packers, and also for coaching the 49ers to the second biggest playoff comeback victory in NFL history in 2001 (his 49er record was 60-43 overall).

I have no way to determine if Izzo or Mariucci, both "Italian-Americans," are of Lombardian descent or not. I would think they would be, but perhaps not. There were also many Piedmontese who had settled in the U.P. In any case, both are actually from Iron Mountain.

Iron Mountain is located in Dickenson County, which apparently has the same heritage. With a population of 27,000+, and about 17% "Italian," there are likely some several thousand people of Lombardian descent in the county.

From Wikipedia's Iron Mountain webpage: "Iron Mountain hosts a few points of interests such as the Millie Hill bat cave, The Cornish Pump, and is located adjacent to Pine Mountain ski jump/ski resort, one of the largest artificial ski jumps in the world. It shares Woodward Avenue with the neighboring town, Kingsford. In addition, Iron Mountain is known for its pasties, Bocce Ball Tournaments, World Cup Ski Jumps, and Italian cuisine. Iron Mountain was also named a "Michigan Main Street" community by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2006. It is one of only thirteen such communities in the State of Michigan in 2008. It is also the hometown of Michigan State University men's basketball coach Tom Izzo."

Iron Mountain is also the birthplace and hometown of Gene Ronzani, the former head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1950 to 1953. A former college football standout at Marquette University (on the northern coast of the U.P. along Lake Superior) as a halfback and quarterback, he had spent many years as a player for the Chicago Bears (1933 to 1938 & 1944 to 1945). He was also a college standout in basketball and track.

It would be a pretty good guess that Ronzani was of Lombardian descent, but we're sometimes left to speculate about certain things. We're not likely to receive any research grant to study such things anytime soon, as actually some other heritage groups do get. It's still fun to piece together, in this case, the history of Iron Mountain and the U.P.

There does seem to be a "Lombardian connecton" in and around the Great Lakes region, especially in the western portion. We know there were a sizable number of Lombardian immigrants in Duluth, for example, a port city along eastern Lake Superior. This is a subject that we've barely grazed the surface of. Finding information about some of these subjects, particularly about immigration from Lombardy, is like pulling teeth! I actually had found the reference to immigrants from Lombardy in Duluth in a very old newspaper article from the early part of the 20th century.

It should be mentioned that Lombardi nel Mondo has done some good research on the subject of Lombardian heritage in the United States, but they seem to only be interested in enriching this history to their own Lombardia-based organization, and have shown little interest in communication with any of us. Hopefully this policy will change. In the meantime, we will just continue to keep trying to piece together this heritage the best we can.

From the website called the Michigan Family History Network, here is a page entitled "Upper Peninsula Italians." It goes on to state that these individuals were mostly from Houghton County, in the northern U.P., which is actually another old area of settlement of immigrants mostly from Piemonte going back to even the late 19th century. Just quickly, we should be grateful to Wikipedia for being such an organizing element for laymen researchers. Especially the quick geographical searches of counties and towns. Google has started to make available old news articles from even obscure newspapers, so that's another source to keep in mind. I mean, that could have great potential for key word searches.

In the above link, we see the name Count Paolo Andreani, who was a Lombardian explorer of the Great Lakes, and who visited the U.P. in 1791. Ironically, the U.P. was very desolate then, but starting a century later, became a place of settlement for Lombardian immigrants. Andreani was the first known European to circumnavigate Lake Superior. Now between him and Beltrami, we have two key explorers of this general region, both of Lombardian descent. There is a lot more to say about Count Andreani, so we'll save that for another entry.

Another organization which had done some local research in the U.P. is the Italian American Federation of the Upper Peninsula, which was an umbrella organization of mutual benefit societies in the U.P. going back to at least 1922. I don't even know if the organization is still in existence. The following is a webpage from the Northern Michigan University research archives, and makes reference to a lot of old sources regarding "Italians" in the U.P. It's interesting that it makes mention of an association called Del Club Alpino, which was located in Calumet (in the northern U.P.). We should keep in mind that the Finnish, German, Lombardian, Polish, etc., immigrants in the U.P., starting in the late 19th century, were really more pioneers. Settling a rough terrain without any help. I mean actually building the cities, roads, farms, etc., from scratch. The link goes on to state regarding Del Club Alpino: "Membership roll and dues book for the club in Calumet. Many members were original or early settlers in the Copper Country, most of whom were from the Piedmontese villages (north of Turin) or Pont and Locana Canavese in Northern Italy."

What is apparent, even in merely scanning that last link, is that there are endless trails to follow. All we can do now is touch upon some of these subjects and try to draw some kind of picture, both locally and in terms of the bigger picture. If you happen to have any insight into any area of interest regarding this subject, feel free to contact us at Perhaps it would be easier to go ahead and put the information in text form and we can enter it here.