On March 31, 2016, this 1915 photo, showing a group of people and what appeared to be a horse-drawn hearse in front of Divine Redeemer Church's property on the west side of the 200 block of Merchant St., was posted on the Good Samaritan Parish Archives' Facebook page. I had seen the photo before, in the 1956 Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary book. It is not the photo that's the focus of this blog post, although it's the reason I was so awed by the photo that this post is about.
To better see the details of this photo, or the others in this post, a click or tap should enlarge them.
|Divine Redeemer Church Property - 1915|
Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary 1906 - 1956 book
Maria Notarianni, who heads the committee that maintains the Ambridge Roman Catholic churches' archives at Good Samaritan Church, described the photo above on Facebook:
On April 2, 1907, Reverend Joseph A. Pospech was named Pastor of the Slovak Parish under the title of the Divine Redeemer Church in Ambridge. Land was purchased on the 200 block of Merchant St. that included a building that was suitable for a temporary church until the new one was built in 1918. The building can be seen in this 1915 photo where services were held in the basement. (The occasion may have been a funeral as there seems to be a horse-drawn hearse in front of the building.)
The house in the photo was purchased in 1916 by Fr. Herkel to be used as the rectory.
In 1918 the new church was built to the right of the temporary church building and in 1927, a convent was built where the temporary church building was located.But that photo is less than the half if it. Literally, as I found out when I had the privilege of spending an hour in August 2016, with the late Karl Urda, grandson of prominent Ambridge builder and businessman Charles Kristufek, who died in 1943. During my visit, Mr. Urda shared with me several vintage Kristufek family photos, including the panoramic photo below that took my breath away when I saw it.
The photo in the Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary book was only part of the right half of the panoramic photo!
|Funeral, 200 block Merchant St., west side|
courtesy Karl Urda
Here's the left side of the panorama that wasn't in the Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary book:
|Left side of panorama|
Divine Redeemer funeral
200 block of Merchant St., west side
courtesy Karl Urda
The left side of the panorama shows horse-drawn carriages as far as the eye can see, I think confirming Maria's theory that the scene showed a funeral.
The building near the center of the left-side of the panorama is the First Ward School, built between 1908 and 1910. The school was closed in 1964 and razed soon afterwards.
The panorama also shows the building to the left of the freestanding bell tower, which would have been to the immediate left of where the Divine Redeemer convent later was built.
The story Mr. Urda had to tell about that building was also surprising. He told me that building was the first Divine Redeemer School, built by Charles Kristufek, who at the time was a member of Divine Redeemer, then given to the parish. Mr. Urda said that his grandfather was much criticized for building a school before a church was erected, but Charles Kristufek put a high priority on education, and thought that a school building was more important than where church services were held.
If that information is accurate, that means that the Divine Redeemer School in the old Davis Hotel, 300 Merchant St., which the church bought in 1920, was not Divine Redeemer's first school, as the modern recounting of Divine Redeemer's history says it was.
So far, I've been unable to find more information about the building, except that the 1911 and 1917 Sanborn Insurance maps of Ambridge identify the building as a dwelling, not a school.
In 1960 - 61, Divine Redeemer built a new school to replace the one in the Davis Hotel building. My memory of what was between the First Ward School and the Divine Redeemer convent before the new school was built, on property to the convent's left--or where the building that Mr. Urda said was the first school once stood--is very hazy. I seem to remember an old, derelict building there. We'd have to walk via a narrow walkway between that scary looking building and the convent to get to the old church hall behind the convent. That church hall was razed when the 1961 school was being built.
The razed building on the Kernich property would have stood between the Merchant St. entrance to the new school and Merchant St.
|Merchant St. entrance to the former Divine Redeemer School|
March 22, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley
So, the history of the building that Mr. Urda identified as Divine Redeemer's first school, currently remains murky. Is the family story about that building being built as a school for Divine Redeemer true or merely a family legend? Did Divine Redeemer once own that building and later sell it? Did the Kruistufek family once own that property, but allowed the church to use it as a school, then later sold it? At this point, I can't say.
But perhaps, some day, I will be able to find more information about the building. And, maybe even find out whose funeral that might have been in 1915. If so, I'll update this post.
Karl Urda died on March 9, 2017. I'm so grateful that he made time to talk to me and allow me to scan his vintage family photos.