(Left to right) Mary Jane Lobertini Watson, Bill Claiborne, Stan Foust, Johnny Byrge and Melissa Brown.

 By Charlotte Underwood 

LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – Organizers of the Tally Town Festival met with LaFollette City Officials on Wednesday morning. The festival is set for July 29 from 1 to 9 pm in downtown LaFollette. The festival will be celebrating the Italian heritage and influence in Campbell County, commemorated with the 100th anniversary of the Piedmont Hotel built by Italian immigrant Domenico Lobertini.

Festival organizers Bill Claiborne and Melissa Brown met with LaFollette City Administrator Stan Foust and Parks and Recreation Director Johnny Byrge.

Mary Jane Lobertini Watson was also present at the meeting, as was Don Cassell, who is the leader of the band, The Tennessee Sheiks. Cassell is helping coordinate in finding a sound technician for the event. His band will also be among those to perform. Local photographer Colton Evans was present as well. He will be doing photography for the event. 

Claiborne and Brown requested several roads be closed off for the event, including Depot Street (South 5th Street) and part of Beech Street. 

Byrge said “most likely”, but some of those answers had to be sought from the police chief. He said that about three weeks prior to the event, the organizers will have to meet with the police chief, fire chief and street department head to look at logistics about road closures and such. 

According to Claiborne, they will be holding the Tally Town Festival centered around Depot Street and the surrounding area. The event will kick off at the Pavilion at Seargeant Park. The park area will also be designated as a kid zone. A genealogy exhibit will be set up in the old West LaFollette School cafeteria. Other events include four different bands, a possible wine tasting and art show, food trucks, car show, fireworks and much more, all in honor of the Italian heritage of Campbell County.  

“This could evolve into a signature event, and not just for LaFollette, but the surrounding area,” Claiborne said. 

Claiborne explained that there were 15 Italian families with descendants in LaFollette and that there was Italian influence throughout the town with buildings and construction. He and Brown said the festival would be a draw to those in Knoxville of Italian heritage as well. 

“This could be a calling card to LaFollette for the whole region,” Claiborne said. 

Festival organizers are also requesting a permit to have a wine tasting as part of a separate “ticketed” art show package, of which the proceeds will go to the Campbell County Historical Society, with the funds earmarked for cemetery maintenance and upkeep. The ticketed event would be held in the community center/former West LaFollette School. Wrist bands would be issued to those that purchase tickets to the wine tasting as a “security measure”, according to Brown. 

City Administrator Stan Foust said he would add Claiborne and Brown to the city’s upcoming workshop for April 24 to discuss it with the city council about approval of this request. 

                             Claiborne also shared Festival information below:

Press Release:

                  “All Roads Lead to Tally”

The first annual Tally Town Festival will be held Sat. July 29, 1 – 9pm. in Downtown La Follette.  The event is presented by the Campbell Co. Historical Society, WLAF, and the City of La Follette.

The Tally Town Festival is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Piedmont Hotel built by Italian immigrant Domenico Lobertini (Founder of Loby Blox), plus all of the other Italian immigrant families, and their descendants, who helped build Campbell Co. during the early 1900s.

      “Making You an Offer You Can’t Refuse”

The American Industrial Revolution created the circumstances for our story.  Italians were recruited by coal companies to work in the mines all through the Appalachian region.  A job-placement system developed called “Padroni,” where enterprising middlemen guided the newly arriving immigrants from the ship docks to the coal camps.

           Italy to Ellis Island to Campbell Co.

After a rich vein of coal was discovered in the northern section of the county around 1883, Jellico and Newcomb became the first area boom towns where several Italian families settled. These families included many who came straight from Ellis Island — Lobertini, Albertini, Testo, Mattie, Zecchini, Pelizzari, Zuaboni, Dusini, and others. They weren’t all miners by the way— many were artisans, master stonemasons and bakers.

Tennessee has only two percent of the Italian-American population, but in Campbell County we have at least 10 times that much in the percentage of people with Italian heritage.  We truly are:  “the biggest Little Italy in Tennessee.”

                            Tally the Coal 

Thomas Zecchini and other members of his family organized the Italian Blue Gem Coal Co. in 1895. Italians, along with Irish Catholics, started two Catholic Churches in the Jellico area:  St. Boniface and Sacred Heart.

Later, Harvey La Follette started his coal and iron company at Big Creek Gap.  This operation completely altered the landscape of the county. This second coal boom drew many Italians and others from Jellico to participate in the La Follette transformation which was a massive coordination of coal mines, coke ovens, railroads, timber extraction and new town construction.  This ambitious enterprise created the largest blast furnace in the South!  The population of this rural farmland exploded from only a couple of hundred people to thousands within a few short years.

      Viva Italia / Viva Appatalia / Viva America

We — the organizers of the Tally Town Festival — would like to welcome everyone to join us in the inaugural celebration of this unique and authentic ethnic heritage.  It is a true American success story!Assimilation became a reality here, not just a lofty, idealistic dream.  In Campbell Co., we became so harmonious as a “melting pot” of cooperation that the collective memory of this ethnic origin has grown almost extinct.

It is therefore, the purpose of this Event to revive, commemorate and honor this important Italian legacy.  Additionally, we believe it can serve to inspire others today by showing how people from different backgrounds — with a little spunk, determination, and hard work — can find common ground.  

And after all, you can’t build a city without blox and bakeries!

In Campbell Co., the Italians not only laid the foundation (literally) for many of our communities and businesses but they forged a spirit of hopeful productivity and camaraderie — a unified vision proving that Italy and Appalachia can indeed blend together in a creative and cohesive process of Appatalian Culture… something we like to call “Tally Town.” (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 04/13/2023-6AM)                                                       

4 Replies to “Tally Town Festival organizers meet with LaFollette Officials”


    1. Peggy Testo? Jitterbug? Betty? Claudie Anne?
      Peggy is my Mom. She’s in Mobile but is looking forward to getting home for this.

  2. My aunt married Bob Mattie and they lived on east Forrest street until they moved to Ohio in the 50s. Nearly all 26 of my books in “The LaFollette Chronicles,” series on Amazon feature Italians and Italian Americans and Tallie Town. The heroes and heroines always live on east Forrest Street. Of course. I have been invited to set up a booth at the festival and was told to bring my books. I follow orders very well, so I will be there. Of course.
    Douglas Joe Guy, LHS64

  3. This is exciting! Spent my youngest and then my teenage years in Tally Town. The stories I heard…
    In fact, I have my great-grandmother’s genealogy traced all the way back to the 1500’s in Sicily. She was from a town just outside of Palermo, and came to NYC in 1903. But! My great-Papaw’s line, who died just two months before I was born, is a dead end. His back-record stops in Naples and his hometown, Avellino (near Naples), when he got on the boat in 1906. If I ever get a break on his line I’ll be in hog heaven!
    Looking forward to this festival!

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