Joseph Carabelli: Stonecutter, Little Italy legacy

Joseph Carabelli was a self-made man, an Italian immigrant who built a successful business in Cleveland that contributed to the local arts scene in ways that are still evident today.

Born in1850 in Porto Ceresio, Italy, Carabelli was apprenticed to a stone cutter while a young man. In 1870 he emigrated to the United States, settling in New York City where he remained for 10 years.

Wade Memorial ChapelDetermined to succeed in his new American environment, Carabelli took English classes at night in order to become fluent in the language as quickly as possible.

In 1880 he followed a familiar pattern—moving west to seek greater opportunity. This brought him to Cleveland where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He established his new business in Little Italy adjacent to Lake View Cemetery where many examples of his work may still be seen today.

The establishment of Lake View Cemetery in 1869 created an immediate demand for skilled stonecutters to create the monuments needed in this rapidly growing cemetery. A large number of immigrants came to Cleveland from the Abruzzi region of Italy, where skilled stonecutters had thrived for centuries.

Many found employment with Joseph Carabelli who quickly quickly became one of the leaders of this hard-working community. His company, originally known as Carabelli & Broginni, soon became one of the neighborhood’s largest employers, in many cases providing employment for generations of the same families.

One hundred forty years after it began operations the company thrives today as the Johns-Carabelli Co. on Mayfield Road in South Euclid—near the original location where Joseph Carabelli lived and worked a century ago.

The best known of his cemetery works is the Wade Memorial Chapel. Designed by Hubbell and Benes, construction began in February 1898 using a design first made a couple of years earlier.

The client was Jeptha H. Wade II who intended the structure to be a memorial to his grandfather, his namesake, who was a renowned Cleveland businessman best remembered as the founder of Western Union. Due to the early death of the senior Wade’s son, his relationship with his grandson was unusually close.

Carabelli was given the demanding job of supervising the fabrication and installation of the stonework embellishing the building’s interior.

This painstaking task took much longer than originally expected and the building was not completed until 1901. Built of carefully selected granite quarried in Barre, Vermont, the stone was selected because of its resistance to wear and staining caused by weather and pollution.

The material was chosen well. More than a century after completion the chapel’s outward appearance has hardly changed. The interior was decorated with an extraordinary stained-glass window produced by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Joseph CarabelliThe first event held at the chapel was on June 25, 1901the funeral service for Adelbert Hay— son of John Milton Hay who first became known as one of Abraham Lincoln’s private secretaries during the Civil War and later served as secretary of state under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Adelbert’s cause of death was an accidental fall from the window of a hotel in New Haven, Connecticut and is said to have been a blow John Hay never recovered from.

The chapel itself was immediately proclaimed a masterpiece. Wade was so pleased with the quality of Carabelli‘s work that he paid him a bonus of $1,000—a sum equal to $31,000 in today’s money.

Carabelli had a social conscience, working with the Rockefeller family to establish Alta House—an institution that historically provided a range of services to immigrant families in Little Italy.

Carabelli executed several important Civil War monuments including one in downtown Willoughby that honors local men who served in the Union Army. 

The Willoughby Soldier’s Monument was built at the request of G.A.R. Post # 74 and constructed at a cost of $1,400. This sum represents $ 38,000 in today’s money. Carabelli won a design competition and was chosen to create the monument in March 1885. The structure includes a six-foot tall statue of a Union soldier standing at parade rest. This statue is placed atop a granite column twelve feet high with panels recognizing 160 men from Willoughby who served in the war, as well as the major battles in which they fought. The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1885.

Another notable example is his 1892 Muskegon, Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument—a 76-foot-high marble column topped by a statue of the Goddess of Liberty. In one hand she holds a flag, in the other a sword. At the monument’s base are four statues representing an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artilleryman, and a sailor.

The entry of the 1902 Citizens Building on Euclid Avenue was decorated by a triangular panel with a bas relief that illustrated the elements of American commerce.Carabelli figures into a longstanding Cleveland architectural mystery: The entry of the 1902 Citizens Building on Euclid Avenue was decorated by a triangular panel with a bas relief that illustrated the elements of American commerce.

The fact that it was immediately recognized as among Carabelli’s best work was not acknowledged by the building’s new owners when they planned an extensive remodel of the building’s entrance in 1924. This feature was removed and discarded, its fate unknown to this day.

Although it would be deemed a controversial act now, as a member of the Ohio State Legislature Carabelli sponsored legislation that made Columbus Day a public holiday in Ohio.

When he died at the age of 61 in 1911, Carabelli left a lasting legacy of artistry and craftsmanship that endures a century later.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.