The Tontitown Story
We’re a small town with a rich history—a history we’d like to share with you! Come explore the past with us, and learn of stalwart immigrants who realized the American Dream through hard work and a vision of the future.
Enjoy the past in Tontitown!
Like so many American towns, the history of Tontitown begins with the story of immigrants. Facing high taxes, political unrest and unpopular colonial wars, a group of Italian farming families set sail for the United States in 1895, hoping to start a new life. After a false start in Southeast Arkansas, Father Pietro Bandini bought a plot of land in Northwest Arkansas and brought some 40 families to what would soon become Tontitown.
Father Bandini, born in Italy and schooled in France, chose the Tontitown area because of good climate and cheap land. By the time the 40 families following Father Bandini arrived in the area, the price of the land had nearly doubled, from $8 to $15 per acre, due to the demand raised by 120 newcomers. Each family agreed to buy 10 acres.
The winter of 1898-99 was harsh. The men worked in the mines of Oklahoma, while the women and children scraped by, living off the land. The new Italian-American Arkansans managed to build small log cabins, surviving on rabbits that first winter. When spring finally arrived, the immigrants went to work at what they knew best: farming.
Vegetables, strawberries, apples and grapes began to yield both food and cash. The first Tontitowners renovated an old schoolhouse, and quickly followed that by building a church, St. Joseph’s. That fall of 1899 they celebrated a successful harvest with the first Grape Festival. The Tontitown Grape Festival is still celebrated here every year, on the grounds of St. Joseph’s. By 1922, grapes had replaced apples as the main crop of the area, and the Welch Company built a plant here to process the fruit of the vine into grape juice.
Tontitown was incorporated in 1909, with Father Bandini as the first mayor. Soon after, the railroads ran through the area, with the first depot complete in 1912. Over the years we’ve certainly grown and changed — all without ever losing sight of our traditions and our heritage.