WEIRTON - Back in the days when a horse and buggy was the preferred mode of transportation, the late Salvatore "Sam" Aria and his wife, Pearl, started an excavating and hauling business that, to this day, remains a part of the Northern Panhandle's business fabric.
Aria Hauling & Excavating is celebrating its centennial - 100 years in business - this year, a legacy the couple's grandsons, Sam Sr. and Dave, feel very keenly.
"He started with a horse and buggy in 1912, and in the late 1920s started buying trucks," Sam said. "The story goes that at one time he and Mike Starvaggi were partners."
ARIA’S MARKING 100TH YEAR — Celebrating 100 years in business this year in Weirton are, from left, Sam Aria Jr.; his uncle, Dave Aria; and father, Sam Sr. The late Salvatore “Sam” Aria and his wife, Pearl, started Aria Hauling & Excavating back in 1912. The business is located at 1800 County Road, in the city’s north end. - Linda Harris
THE EARLY DAYS — Salvatore “Sam” Aria originally used a horse and buggy to haul materials for his customers. In the 1920s Salvatore and his wife, Pearl, started buying trucks to do the work. The couple founded Aria Hauling & Excavating in 1912. - Linda Harris
Starvaggi, of course, went on to build a business empire in the Northern Panhandle, with interests in construction, trucking, real estate, mining and river transportation.
Sam Sr. says his grandparents, though not as overtly canny as Starvaggi, did pretty well for themselves, building a hauling and excavating business that's flourished over the years. In 1917, they were doing some hauling for the old Phillips Sheet and Tin Plate, the steel mill that E.T. Weir moved to Weirton a few years earlier.
"At one time, Grandpap had 15 trucks and a coal mine," he said. That mine was on McCord's Hill out on Bethany Pike, though Salvatore also mined the coal from farms he owned in Colliers and New Cumberland.
Salvatore Aria came to this country in February 1909, emigrating from Sant'Angelo di Brolo in the Province of Messina, Italy. He took up residence in Mingo Junction, "and walked to Weirton every day looking for work," his grandson said.
The company is currently housed in a warehouse on County Road in the north end of Weirton.
"He built it," Sam Sr. said. "It was a gas station, too, for a while, but then he got more and more trucks and it just got too crowded so they shut the gas station down."
Salvatore remained at the helm of the business until 1976, when he died. His son, Patsy, took over, running the company until his death in 2001. Sam Sr. and Dave now oversee the company with the help of Sam's son, Sam Jr.
"Dave and I have been coming here since we were kids," Sam Sr. said. "We love it."
Sam Sr. said his Italian-born grandfather couldn't read or write English, so it was his grandmother, Pearl, who "was the brains behind the business."
"In the late '40s, my grandparents were like everybody else in the U.S. - they did really good and made a lot of money along the way," he said. "Up until maybe 10 years ago we were busy, too, but the steel mills, the decline in steel, (impacted us). But we keep going."
Sam Sr. said Aria Excavating still does the same things it's always done, "but on a smaller scale." He said it's important to his family that the legacy live on.
"Grandpap came over here and did all that hard work to build it, to make a living," Sam Sr. said. "We were raised with the idea of keeping the business in the family, with people who care about it."
And keeping business alive is one of the things that drives their mother, Phyllis, who at age 73 persuaded her sons to buy a little grocery and post office in Colliers.
"She worries a lot about that town," Sam Sr. said. "There's no store there now, so she's going to bring some life back into that little community."
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)