The First Ward war

You’re reading this one because our printer ran out of toner.

Which they do. Everyone who owns any kind of printer has to replace the toner every now and again. This time, the new toner came in on a Saturday morning, and my co-worker Barb asked if I could put the new one in. So I did — I mean, first I put on coffee. I’m not capable of anything without my coffee. But then I installed the new toner.

Then Barb asked me to print out one page, just to make sure it was working. At random, I grabbed the microfilm with the 1911 Clinton Democrat. I rolled it into the machine, and looked through, looking for something good to print.

And I found the article on June 5, 1911: “War Breaks Out In The First Ward Between Italians.”

So I printed it out. Some stories demand to be told.

It began with two men who lived near the corner of Clinton and Hanna streets, Angelo Achello and Thomas Vallilleo. Vallilleo had, about a year previously, purchased a lot from the city for a hundred dollars. This lot bordered on Achello’s property, and almost immediately, a debate sprung up about where the property line was.

The men disagreed. So they each hired a surveyor to check the property lines. And you might assume that settled the dispute, except then I’d have nothing to write about. The surveyors disagreed. And the argument continued until June 1, 1911, when it finally boiled over one Thursday evening.

Vallilleo began building a fence. It was along the lines given to him by HIS surveyor, whom he’d specifically asked about this. After a couple of hours of work, Vallilleo went into the house while his wife took over. It was about then that Achello got home.

Seeing a fence where HIS surveyor, the surveyor he’d paid good money for, had specifically said not to put one, he flew into a rage. Grabbing a shovel, he charged at Mrs. Vallilleo, who defended herself by throwing a rock at his head.

Achello didn’t respond well to this, coming at her again with a shovel. But her husband came to the rescue (not that she needed it, evidently) and whacked Achello on the arm with a heavy piece of wood.

That escalated quickly.

Achello then pulled out a gun. It was described in the newspaper as a “big revolver,” and WHAT? He’d already had a gun THE WHOLE TIME? Vallilleo, not being stupid, ran for it down the alley, where a group of linemen for the Commercial Telephone Company were working under the supervision of Manager Frank McCormick, stringing wires down the alley.

The Democrat reported, “Vallilleo took refuge behind ‘Pappy’ Strayer, and when Pappy saw the glistening gun in the hands of an angry Italian, he started on a run, not wishing to be pumped full of holes, but Vallilleo kept right up with him, thus making matters worse.”

The gun, however, wound up forgotten, because Mrs. Vallilleo had managed to find an axe. Her husband came running back with his club, and Achello picked up the shovel again, and they were all pounding on one another with their improvised weapons when the phone crew interceded, pulling everyone apart.

“Doing so,” the newspaper said, “They no doubt prevented a tragedy.”

At this point, local Constable Ellis Myers arrived and took Achello into custody. Why only Achello was never fully explained, as everyone seemed to be Kung-fu fighting by that point, but he was later brought up in front of Alderman John P. Anthony for sentencing.

So, to sum up, in case you’ve lost track: A problem with a hundred-dollar investment and a weird property line escalated into a battle involving a shovel, a club, a gun, and an axe.

I have no idea what exactly happened to any of these people after that. (Given this incident, it would kind of surprise me to learn that they’d all died peacefully of old age.) There don’t seem to be any obits on file, no graves in the county match those names, and they aren’t listed in the subsequent city directories. It appears as if both the Vallilleos and Achello moved away, which was probably the best plan all around. I’m sure the rest of the neighborhood, as well as the phone crew, breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, our printer works fine.


Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at or 570-748-3321.