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Pelago Valley History

The Pelago Valley's rolling mountain-sides are a source of intoxicating beauty. Perhaps more so, to those of us who call it our ancestral home. It is with the highest regard for this beautiful and historical mountain area that I named my company, Pelago Valley.

If you are fortunate to drive through Italy, be sure to venture off the beaten path to enjoy the little towns. They are often the jewels of this wonderful country. And if you are an Italian-American, visit your ancestral home. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the friendly hospitality you'll receive.

Il Valle del Pelago (the Pelago Valley) is a picturesque valley between the mountain passes of Abetone and San Pelegrino in the Appenine mountains which border Emiglia Romagna and Tuscany. With towns like Fiumalbo, Pievepelago, S. Annapelago and Roccapelago, no matter where you are in the Alto Frignano, Monte (Mount) Cimone, at 2173m/7129ft stands proudly to the southeast.


The following historical summary along with other Frignano history can be found at this informative site:


"The name Pèlago comes from the Latin "pelagus" that indicates that near the dwelling place there is a large watershed; the only trace of this "pelago" now, is the wide bed of the river.

Pievepèlago, is first mentioned in literary documents in 1038, its origins were tied to the expansion of Christianity in Frignano and the early ecclesiastical organization of the population.

After having been made subject of the Municipal of Modena, the town passed under the domain of Montegarullo, by order of the Estense.

The particular position of the basin of Pèlago, enclosed by high mountains and until the Via Giardini was opened in 1778, the fact that it could only be reached through a few difficult roads, has favoured the development of a local culture that has made Pievepèlago one of the richest cultural centres in Frignano.

In fact, various interests, such as literature, art and science, have counted towards the development of the Society. "Lo Scoltenna", founded in 1902, a cultural circle still going well at the present day and recognised as an Academy of Italy. Pievepèlago has many important places of artistic interest such as the parish Church with its bell-tower (1871); the fascinating "Ponte della Fola" (Bridge of the Fairy-tale) just on the outskirts of the town, on the river Scoltenna, it is a typical Medieval hump-back bridge. In Pievepèlago the "Mulino di Domma" dated 1586 is worth a visit, at the hamlet of Sant'Andrea Pèlago you can admire a medieval tower and a beautiful 18th century wooden ceiling in the Parish Church. At Roccapèlago there are the remains of the age-old Castle of Obizzo da Montegarullo, that has been changed into a Church, where there are some 17th century paintings of the Bolognese school and a Processional Cross from 13th century.

At St. Annapelago, the parish church was rebuilt after a terrible landslide almost destroyed the town in 1896."

Additional History of S'Annapelago:

S'Annapelago is known to have existed since the 1600's and was a community which originated out of Roccapelago, the ruling fortress of the Obizzo of Montegarullo. It is believed that the wood cutters for Roccapelago moved to S. Anna to be closer to the forests where they worked, and eventually asked for their own church to be built closer to their homes.

Interesting details about S'Annapelago

Above the small village of S. Anna, the Saltello Pass had been used for hundreds of years to cross over into Tuscany by foot to Barga, Lucca, and Pisa. Even until the mid 20th century, merchants from both sides of the mountain pass used the Saltello to trade their wares on foot. Both sides of this mountain pass were the site of fierce fighting during WWII before the Nazi's surrendered to Allied pressure in 1945.

Pilgrimage to San Pelegrino

It was traditional on the feast day of Santa Maria, August 15 (Ferragosto) for the villagers from surrounding communities to make the pilgrimage to Mass at San Pelegrino's church. Villagers would set out during the wee hours of the night, on foot to reach the top ridge of the mountain path. From there they walked to San Pelegrino to get to Mass by 10:00 am. Before reaching San Pelegrino, pilgrims were to find a rock to carry, partially as a penitence, to deposit at the future site of a new church. The rocks were then thrown in one area where the church was to be built. Some say the mound of rocks is still visible from the mountain ridge, as a new church was never constructed.

The walk to San Pelegrino is still fondly remembered by the generation who made the pilgrimage on foot.

Il Ponte (The Bridge)

Il Ponte is a community of homes along a riverside. These homeowners utilized the natural torrent of the water to run mills, grinding wheat, rye and chestnuts for contadini (farmers) of the area. In fact, one home at Il Ponte proudly displays a stone marker from the 1600's. Traditionally, the fee for having your product ground by a miller (mulino) was one tenth the grind. Competition often existed where millers would take less to increase their business. These mills continued in usage through the 1950's when milling began to be done electrically.

Porcini Mushrooms

In Italy, the Porcini mushroom is revered as much as the Truffle in France. In the Pelago Valley, some of the most flavorful Porcini in all the world proliferate in just the right climate and conditions in the sottobosco (under forest) year after year.

Among the the inhabitants of this valley, some make their livelihood collecting this wonderful fruit of the forest (frutti di bosco). Amazingly, a Fungaio (professional mushroom gatherer) keeps his mushroom location a secret. In fact, some Pelago inhabitants don't even tell their relatives where their "spot" is, often taking the information to their grave.

Immigration to the US

At the turn of the 19th century, while Italy was just 40 years into unification, the country's economy suffered as did most of rural Europe at the time. The industrious citizens of this area worked hard to feed their families, cultivating the only crops which grew in mountenous, high altitudes. They raised wheat, rye, and chestnuts, sheep, pigs, and cows. Most country homes had at least one cow, a few chickens, a sheep for wool, and a few rabbits. People were poor, but raised their children on the whole foods they grew naturally, before "organic farming" ever became popular.

Highwood, Illinois, a small north suburban city of Chicago, is the home of a great many immigrants from this valley and its surrounding villages. One of the first documented Italian immigrants to Highwood were the Santi family who operated a grocery store at the turn of the 19th century. Soon many others found their way - away from the coal mines of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Colorado. The Italian immigrants to this Irish/German town soon called upon their relatives from the old country to join them in this new found land of plenty. And as more and more Italians from all over Italy congregated to the Highwood/Highland Park suburbs, their contribution changed the face of Chicago's North Shore.

Many immigrants took on jobs as manual laborers in construction firms from Evanston to Lake Forest. In fact, my great-great-uncle, Giuseppe Nanini, in the 1960's told of helping to build the Highland Park water tower in the early 1900's, which is one of the few with a brick surround. He also spoke of the many stone bridges he helped to build along Sheridan Road from Chicago to Lake Forest at the same time. You see, in the Pelago Valley there has always been a proliferation of sandstone (renario) A "scalpelino" was the tradesman title for a stone worker. These Italian Immigrants were adept at many trades, including stone-working, bricklaying, gardening, carpentry and more.

Today some of the descendents of these original Italian immigrants continue in many of the same fields including stone/marble working, masonry, landscaping, food service, as well as the professional fields of law, medicine, finance and commerce.

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