Joseph Carabelli was born in 1850 in Lombardy, a region in northern Italy. He grew up in the tiny village of Porto Ceresio in the province of Como on Lake Lugano. Giuseppe (Joseph) was the son of Charles Carabelli (1809-1870) who was a stone mason by trade.
Joseph was a very studious child whose artistic talents were recognized at a very early age. At the age of twelve he was an apprentice sculptor. As a teen, his daily routine consisted of morning high school classes, afternoons devoted to sculpting and evening instruction in drawing.
Learning about the advantages offered in America, he pursued the study of English, which took up most of his leisure time. In his late teens Joseph was already recognized as one of the finest journeyman sculptors in all of Italy. In 1870 Joseph’s father died. This was the same year that Joseph arrived in New York City shortly after his 20th birthday.
Being an expert stone cutter who could speak fluent English he easily found work. That first year in the U.S. he took small jobs while living in Harlem. In 1871 he was hired by the federal government to do some of the ornamental work on its new buildings. His first public work was on New York City’s Post Office which he was involved in for some seven years. It is during this period that he chiseled such showpieces as the Statue Industry and The Great Eagle which later adorned that grand old New York federal building. In 1876 Joseph moved to Boston where he won acclaim for carving the mighty Lions that stand on the Boston Commons. While in Boston he married a girl from his home town. In 1877 he was sculpting for the New York Sate Capitol building in Albany.
Carabelli accumulated a substantial sum of money on the East Coast and decided it was time to invest in a business of his own. In the fall of 1879 he visited Cleveland to explore the opportunities there. On this visit he met another prominent Italian stonecutter named James Broggini who had already been in Cleveland for several years. In that year Carabelli and Broggini opened on Euclid Avenue. The new granite and marble works stood directly across the street from Lake View Cemetery on land purchased from Jeptha Wade. In 1883 they changed the name of their successful monument and statuary concern to Lakeview Granite Works. By 1886 the partnership was dissolved and the company became the Joseph Carabelli Company.
In 1886 Carabelli move into a home at 1866 Coltman Rd. where he lived until his death some twenty five years later. Joseph and his wife Annette were devout Catholics who had nine children. Only three of the nine, Joseph Jr., Charles and Lillian, survived infancy.
Carabelli, even in his time, was considered a great artist. His designs and sculptures are impressive pieces. Everyone who was anyone in Cleveland had their family monuments designed and built by this master of his trade. Probably the most notable was John D. Rockefeller. The Rockefeller obelisk in Lake View Cemetery is the largest single piece of granite ever quarried in North America. Some other notable Clevelanders whose memorials were built by the Carabelli Company include Jeptha Wade, Marcus Hanna, John Hay, Samuel Mather, Charles Brush, Caesar Graselli, Solomon Severance and Charles Otis, just to name a few. He was also commissioned to design and carve statues of several prominent men including President Rutherford B. Hayes.
Carabelli was given many contracts to design and carve the fancy stonework on important buildings and public memorials. He did the relief work on the Garfield Monument and also chiseled the exterior of the Wade Chapel whose interior was designed by Louis Tiffany. In downtown Cleveland, he helped the noted architect Levi Schofield trim the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Public Square. Some other once famous downtown Cleveland buildings that Carabelli Company worked on were the Williamson, Rockefeller, Schofield, Cleveland Trust, Citizens Trust and Rose Buildings. Carabelli’s style and technique are very evident on the old Federal Building on Superior Avenue and Public Square. The six large American Eagles that crown the corners and the decorative columns that project from its front are a good testament to Carabelli’s patriotic style.
By the mid 1880’s a number of immigrants from the Italian province of Campobasso found themselves on Carabelli’s payroll and soon they were sending for their families and friends. This fact and the nearness to the railroad, which also employed many Italians, were the two most significant reasons for the formation and development of Cleveland’s Little Italy Neighborhood. During Little Italy’s first quarter century Carabelli was always unquestionably the leader. Carabelli, the richest Italian in Cleveland at the time, was a great humanitarian who was very kind and charitable toward his fellow countrymen. He even assisted those that he himself could not employ in finding work. Joseph Carabelli’s predominant idea was to transform the Italian immigrant into a good American citizen.
In 1894 Cleveland City Council named Carabelli Avenue in honor of Joseph Carabelli, Little Italy’s most distinguished citizen. What is especially significant about this fact is that it was done while he was still living. By 1890 Mayfield-Murray Hill was already being referred to as the Italian section of East Cleveland. Carabelli was the driving force behind the formation and early development of Holy Rosary Parish. In 1891 Father Joseph Strumia gave his first missions and said his first masses for the people of Little Italy. During that time Fr. Strumia resided in the Carabelli home and together they made arrangements for the organization of a new parish. Joseph Carabelli led the committee that canvassed the neighborhood for donations to build the first church that was originally located at the corner of East End (East 120th) and Mayfield.
In September of 1892 the Mayfield-Murray Hill area officially became part of the great city of Cleveland. In the following month the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus was observed. For that event and for the purpose of raising funds for that first Holy Rosary Church, the neighborhood’s first Italian Festival was held. In late 1892 Carabelli was appointed secretary of the new parish. By 1900 the need for a larger church became evident. In 1901 Carabelli purchased an adjacent lot at the corner of Mayfield and Coltman roads. He immediately turned the deed over to the bishop for the sum of one dollar and eight years later the doors to the Holy Rosary Church of today were opened.
Joseph Carabelli was also directly responsible for the beginnings of the Alta House in the summer of 1885. It was so named in honor of Miss Alta Rockefeller who pledged support for the nursery there. He became good friends with John D. Rockefeller and was the one who persuaded him to finance the construction and later support the brick Alta House building which was dedicated and opened in the early 1900’s. He was also instrumental in getting the Cleveland Board of Education to build Murray Hill School.
Carabelli was involved in civic affairs beyond Little Italy and was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Builder’s Exchange. He was encouraged to run for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives in 1908. He was not interested in politics but agreed to run because he recognized the opportunity to help his community. Carabelli’s most noted achievement as a Congressman was his writing and sponsorship of a bill declaring October 12th a legal holiday in Ohio commemorating the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The bill passed both houses and was signed into law by Governor Judson Harmon on March 17, 1910.
Joseph Carabelli died April 19, 1911 from a stroke he suffered as a result of a fall inside his home the day before. Carabelli’s deeds and accomplishments speak for themselves but this editorial, reprinted from The Cleveland Leader is worth quoting…
“Cleveland has lost one of its most useful citizens by the death of Joseph Carabelli. Not only did he contribute to the progress and prosperity of the city by the success he won in his business but the time and effort he gave so generously to all movements for the public welfare had no small effect in helping to promote civic betterment.
Although born in Italy, and not coming to this country until he had reached young manhood, he was an ideal American citizen. Better than that for Cleveland, during his thirty years residence, he was an ideal Cleveland citizen. He had a keen interest in everything that related to the city’s advancement and was ever ready with work and money to assist it. He was one of the most active and efficient members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Builder’s Exchange. As one of the Representatives of Cuyahoga County in the Ohio Legislature he proved a capable and trustworthy public official.
But the principal aim of Mr. Carabelli’s life was the Americanizing of his fellow Italians in Cleveland. The public is aware, in a general way, of what he attempted to do. No one, however, knows all that he did. What is known is that the Italian people of Cleveland owe this man a great deal.
No further epitaph could any man have, than that which may, with truth, be placed above the grave of Joseph Carabelli. “He gave freely of his best to the city, his adopted country and his native countrymen.”
Joseph Carabelli Historical Links