The Hill: a Cuggiono in St. Louis

The presence of the Cuggionesi in St. Louis began in 1880 when a large group of courageous men arrived at Union to work in the lead mines. It was a hard job, damaging to their health and seasonable work; the Cuggionesi then moved near St. Louis and, like other emigrants from Lombardy, Veneto and Piemonte, found work in the clay caves and the brick ovens in the south west of the city.
They began to construct  the  first houses of  timber and red bricks near to  their  place of work and created a suburb called “Dago Hill”. The suburb grew such that became one of the most active and flourishing centers; a real “Italian neighborhood” that the Italians named “Fairmount Hill” and the Cuggionesi “The Hill” or “The Mountain”.
The major part of these emigrants were not married, there were few women, each of them cooked, washed and ironed for a group of men. But starting from 1900 the pioneers of the Mountain began to ask their wives to join them; the young bachelors, on the other hand, made the voyage to Italy to marry girls from their place of origin and return with them; the youngest men married their fiancées emigrated for the purpose.
In 1903, a group of volunteers from the “Circolone” and the Circolino” gathered five dollars from every Italian to fund the construction of the first catholic church, the St. Ambrose Church, and an elementary-secondary parish school. Around them even today continues the social life of the Mountain, thanks to the activity of the parish pastor, Father Vincent Bommarito (originally from Sicily). The first marriages and christenings celebrated in this church were by  Cuggionesi.
According to statistical data  by the Church of St. Ambrose, in 1907 the presence of the “Lumbard” on the Mountain was about 2.100 made up by emigrants and their children born in St. Louis, while the Sicilians numbered over 1.000 people. Today the groups, from other areas too, are completely integrated.
In 1921 the Church was completely destroyed by fire and in 1926 it was re-built thanks to many donations, this time not in timber but red bricks. The bells were donated and dedicated to St. Ambrose, to Our Lady of Mt. Carmelo (Cuggiono), St. Teresa d’Avila (Inveruno), St. Nazaro (Marcallo con Casone) and St. Vincent Ferreri (Casteltermini). The names of the hundreds of benefactors, the majority coming from our emigrants or their descendants, can be found on the various memorial plaques inside the Church.

The emigrants have completely integrated into the New World and they have conserved the value of the respect for the family and have cultivated a comradeship like that in Italy.
The major part of the families of The Hill live in small houses constructed of timber and red bricks, surrounded by a well kept vegetable plot full of flowers, mostly without enclosures. The area, contrary to American custom, has plenty of restaurants and small shops everywhere. The hydrants along the roads are painted white, red and green and the lamp posts also are marked with the tricolor plus the words “The Hill”.
One gets the feeling of a solid community with a deep civic sense. When the construction of highway 44 divided and altered the characteristics  of the quarter with over one hundred houses demolished, the inhabitants of the Hill, with the precious support of Mons. Salvatore Polizzi, a sicilian priest who had been the Pastor of St. Ambrose Parish, obtained a direct link with the oldest part of the Mountain with the rest of the community via a flyover.
Crime is almost unknown , the services are good and the cost of living acceptable.
The Italians meet at the “Italian-American Bocce Club” where over 400 members  and their supporters  of all ages play bowls, drink beer or wine and speak Italian  and dialect, times gone by, which we have almost forgotten. The “Bocce Club” has a large dining room which is also utilized by the “Italian Club of St. Louis”.
This club, founded in 1922, has around 150 people of Italian origin, who use to spread the language, the dialect,  the culture and the traditions of their place of origin.
Another organization, the “Hill 2000”, has contributed  and still contributes to cement the community, providing economic, social and cultural  assistance and attracting the young, thereby “balancing” the society with people of all age groups.
Sport has, and still is, much practiced and important on the Mountain: the names of Yogi Berra (Cuggiono) and Joe Garagiola (Inveruno) are well known by baseball fans. On the Mountain a small delightful park has been named “Berra Park”.
A square on the Hill has also been called after Cuggiono: “Cuggiono Place”.
The national American football team in 1950, during the World Cup in Uruguay, defeated England: in the winning team, 5 players, amongst them Gino Pariani and Frank Borghi, came from the Mountain. The story of this memorable event is shown in a recent film entitled “The game of their lives”, filmed on the Hill.
The passion for cycling is very strong and alive: for over a century each year on the occasion of the “Hill Day”, the festival of the Hill, is held at  an exciting race around the Mountain, with many participants coming from other States of America.
The Hill, where everything has remained authentic and where senior citizens and the young are proud of their origin and makes one feel in Cuggiono, at home,  it has become a place to see for anyone visiting Saint Louis or just passing by.