Italian Heritage in the Middle of Everywhere

photo of pepperoni rolls with a coal miners dinner pail in the background

Did you know every time you enjoy a pepperoni roll, you’re having a taste of Marion County history? The arrival of Italian immigrants to North-Central West Virginia in the early 1900s led to delicious cuisine and rich cultural traditions that we still celebrate today!

large black stone engraved with information about a mine disaster

Coal Mining History 

At the start of the 20th century, the United States saw an influx of Italian immigrants. They quickly found work in West Virginia’s mines during the coal boom and contributed significantly to the industry’s early growth. The conditions weren’t the best in the coal mines, and sadly, our history has been marked by tragic mine disasters and labor disputes. For example, in 1907, 361 miners were killed in the Monongah Mine Disaster, the deadliest coal mine disaster in United States history. Of the men who died in this tragedy, 171 of them were Italian. A tribute to these miners is at the Monongah Mine Disaster Memorial in Monongah. 

You can learn more about coal mining history at Coal Country Miniature Golf and the Black Diamond Display at Arts & Antiques Marketplace.

man wrapping loaves of pepperoni rolls

The Pepperoni Roll

One of the most delectable ways we celebrate our Italian roots is with pepperoni rolls! A well-known treasure of West Virginia, the pepperoni roll originated in Fairmont over 90 years ago. The idea for these tasty treats developed deep in the Marion County coal mines because miners needed to pack a meal that could go long hours without refrigeration. The first solution was to fill their metal dinner buckets with sticks of pepperoni and loaves of bread . . . until Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro, one of the Italian coal miners, had a better idea. Argiro started slicing the pepperoni into smaller sticks and baking them into the bread—creating the famous pepperoni roll! The rest, as they say, is history. 

Once the pepperoni roll gained popularity around the coal mines, Argiro opened County Club Bakery. Now a state staple, many local eateries offer their take on this savory snack. Country Club Bakery, the home of the original pepperoni roll, has been serving the West Virginia delicacy since 1927. The bakery also offers Italian bread, rolls, cookies, pies, and shipping anywhere in the United States. 

Another area favorite is the pepperoni bun from Colassessano’s Pizza. The restaurant, which was opened in 1950 by Flippo and Filomena Colassessano, serves the buns in several ways. The “Everything” pepperoni bun includes the restaurant’s signature meat sauce, provolone cheese, and Italian-style peppers. Their rectangle-shaped pizza with its thick crust is also a local favorite. 

Other variations to try in Marion County include the sizable rolls from the Bakers Nook and loaded pepperoni rolls from Short Story Brewing and Copper House Grill.

outdoor festival

Feast of the Seven Fishes 

Like pepperoni rolls, another piece of Marion County’s culinary history is the Italian tradition, the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as Vigilia di Natale (or La Vigilia), is said to observe the wait until the baby Jesus’s midnight birth. In 2005, Marion County native Robert “Bob” Tinnel published the graphic novel “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” The story is based on his experiences of growing up in an Italian-American family and, specifically, the Christmas Eve tradition. The feast consists of a meatless meal with several seafood courses. The next year, in 2006, Tinnel and his wife, Shannon Colaianni Tinnell, collaborated with Main Street Fairmont and the community to organize the first Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival. The event has continued ever since, and thousands attend each year.  In 2019, the Feast of the Seven Fishes Movie was released. 

Want to learn more about our storied past? Request your copy of our new Marion County History Guide.  

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