Mary Bastianelli and Katherine Pianalto Ceola


Dr. Rebecca Howard, a descendant of the first Italian immigrants that relocated to Chicot County’s Sunnyside Plantation in the 1890s, will make a presentation at Lakeport Plantation on May 26 about the lives of five sisters who were among the first Italian immigrants to Sunnyside.

In her presentation, The Adventures of the Bastianelli and Pianalto Sisters: History from the Tontitown Museum, Dr. Howard will examine the lives of the five sisters.

Many in the generation who immigrated as children followed Old World marriage habits, delaying marriage until they were financially established. Few walked down the aisle before their late twenties or thirties. So what did a young woman in the 1910s in rural Arkansas do with an extra decade or so as a single woman?

Between the five Bastianelli and Pianalto sisters, they lived in at least four states, taught school, became nurses, and aided priests. One sister was a long-time schoolteacher in Lake Village. Another was among the first graduates of St. Edward Nursing School in Fort Smith. Two exercised their voting rights for the first time in California. An examination of their lives reveals fascinating information about an often “silent” generation.

Pictured above is a photograph of Mary Bastianelli, left, and Katherine Pianalto Ceola, right, taken around 1917, possibly at the Washington County Fair. Mary is wearing an engagement ring; her fiancé, Jack Zulpo, was killed in France in 1918. Photo courtesy of Tontitown Historical Museum.

The Sunnyside Plantation

The Sunnyside Plantation, just north of Lakeport, was the largest cotton plantation in antebellum Arkansas. Austin Corbin, a New York financier, acquired the plantation around 1886. Corbin experimented with convict labor and began modernizing the plantation with a short line railroad, telephone, and a steamboat anchored in Lake Chicot. In 1894 he subdivided the plantation into 250 twelve-and-half-acre plots with houses.

In November and December 1895, 138 Italian families arrived with Sunnyside contracts in hand. The contracts offered the immigrants a house and land for $2,000, payable over 21 years at 5 percent interest. By 1910 there were 739 Italian born individuals living in Chicot County. However, contract disputes, disease, and other issues at Sunnyside forced some immigrants to leave.

Father Pietro Bandini, assigned as chaplain to the new immigrants in early 1896, led a sizable group of Italians in 1898 to the Tontitown settlement in northwest Arkansas. The Bastianelli and Pianalto were among those who immigrated to Tontitown with Father Bandini.

[The story of the Italians at Tontitown is told and preserved at the Tontitown Historical Museum. Founded in August 1986, the museum is housed in the home of two of its original settlers, Mary and Zelinda Bastianelli.]

Lakeport Legacies Talk

Dr. Howard, who teaches at the University of Arkansas and sits on the Tonitown Historical Museum Board, will make her presentation at the Lakeport Plantation on May 26. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m. and the discussion begins at 6 p.m. The Lakeport Plantation is located at 601 Highway 142 in Lake Village. Lakeport Legacies is a monthly history talk at the Lakeport Plantation. Each month a topic from the Delta region is featured. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information and to RSVP, contact Blake Wintory 870.265.6031.