Sunday, April 5, 2020

500 block of Maplewood Ave. circa 1907 - 1913

These two vintage postcards show the 500 block of Maplewood Ave. from 5th St. looking north.

The upper card is the older of the two scenes. If you compare the two postcards, you'll see this first scene doesn't have the trees planted along the street that are shown in the lower card.

Note the horse and wagon way down the block, left side of the upper card.

The upper postcard with the older scene was never mailed, so there's no postmark to try to date the scene. But since the later postcard was mailed, and postmarked 1913, the scene on the older view must have been earlier.

More clues as to the date of the older postcard: Both postcards have divided backs on the address side, a style that the post office only allowed to be used beginning in 1907, so I know that the older postcard dates from after 1907. And before 1913. *

500 block of Maplewood Ave. looking north from 5th St.
circa 1907 - 1913

Compare the scenes in both postcards with this "now" photo taken by P. J. Shotter. Most of the houses shown in the two postcards are still there. As far as I can determine, the modern flat-roofed building on the right side of the photo, 510 Maplewood, was built on the last empty lot on the block in the 1950s. A podiatrist is there now. Earlier, it was was a dental office for many years.

500 block of Maplewood Ave. looking north from 5th St.
March 8, 2020
credit: P. J. Shotter

There's one other difference I see between the two cards: there's a house not in the older scene that's shown in the later one: 517 Maplewood, the third house on the left side of the later scene with the peaked roof and brown shingles at the top.

500 block of Maplewood Ave. looking north from 5th St.
postmarked 1913

Beaver County property records say 517 was built in 1916 which isn't possible. The house has to be older since it appears on a 1911 Sanborn insurance map** and the postcard mailed in 1913.

The yellow brick house with the pointed roof on the left side of the street in the "now" photo is also 517, so brick veneer may have been added after 1913. Better guess (maybe): although the postcard was mailed in 1913, the scene on the postcard predates 1911, since the 1911 Sanborn insurance map indicates the house was veneered. Either that, or the coloring of the houses on the postcard isn't accurate.

Here's the latest Google Street View of 517 and the neighboring houses on both sides:

515, 517, and 521 Maplewood Ave.
Google Street View
July 2019

Most of the street trees shown in the later postcard scene are now gone, although a few remain nearer to 6th St.  I wonder if they were some of the 200 - 300 trees planned for Ambridge for which the "shade tree commission" was accepting bids in 1908. (Daily Citizen, August 25, 1954)

Personal memory: I spent many happy visits to 517 Maplewood when my Uncle and Aunt, Pete and Helen Gause, lived there with my three cousins.

* And yes, I realize that just because the postcard was printed in 1907 that also means the scene on the card is from 1907. But the October 1905 Sanborn insurance map shows more empty lots in the 500 block on Maplewood than the scene appears to show. So 1907 seems to be a good approximate date of the earlier scene.

** On the 1911 Sanborn map, the address of the house that is now 517 Maplewood house was 508. Building addresses in Ambridge were changed in 1917, making Ambridge history involving old buildings so much more fun.

Here's the address side of the two postcards:

Address side of 1907 postcard

Address side of 1913 postcard

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Ambridge's Harmony Hotel. And the other Ambridge Harmony Hotel

"Harmony Hotel"
Manuscript Group 354: Old Economy Village Collection
Photo Number 635b
courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Old Economy Village
used with permission

Just a short distance northwest of the well-known and highly regarded Economy Hotel,* once located on the southwest corner of what is now 14th and Merchant Sts., there was a smaller, less impressive hotel. The Harmony Hotel, sometimes belittled as the "Tramp Hotel" or the "Hotel of the Unfortunates," hasn't been in business for many years, although its building still stands at 277 Fourteenth St.

Why those disparaging nicknames? According to Sarah Buffington, Old Economy Village curator:
"The guests at the Economy Hotel were told to arrive promptly at 4:30 for supper, so as not to keep others waiting. The staff was fed after the hotel guests, and then the 'tramps' were fed afterward. These homeless people were allowed to stay for one night, but were then told to move along. The Harmony Society kept track of them so that they wouldn’t overstay their welcome."
The date of the photo above is uncertain, but it probably dates from the late 1800s, before there was an Ambridge, or early 1900s. The building dates from much earlier, back to the establishment of Economy, and wasn't originally used as a hotel. Although it doesn't look like the typical, brick Harmonist house, it was the early home of Frederick Rapp, adopted son of George (Father) Rapp. Frederick Rapp later moved to a brick house that is on the grounds of Old Economy Village.

The three people in the photo are unidentified. but according to Buffington, the woman and girl may be Carrie Staples, a widow, and her daughter Katherine. Staples was a boardinghouse keeper there at the time of the 1910 census. 

The photo below shows a recent Google Street View of the former Harmony Hotel building:

277 Fourteenth St.
Google Street View
October 2013

What is not visible from Fourteenth St. is a large addition--that appears to me to be at least as large, or maybe larger, than the original house--built on the back of the building, probably around the time it became the Harmony Hotel. Buffington said the addition "is very much set up like an old hotel." You can see the addition from Boyleston St. Here's a satellite view of 277 Fourteenth St.:

277 Fourteenth St.
Google Satellite View

The other Harmony Hotel in Ambridge

To confuse Ambridge history more than it often is, there was another Harmony Hotel, across town from the one on 14th St. This Harmony Hotel, at 300 Merchant St., was built and operated later than the hotel on 14th St., but was also viewed as disreputable, especially by the American Bridge Co.

This Harmony Hotel was the bane of the American Bridge Co. for years. The company didn't want its employees drinking, and so devised deed restrictions that said that the area within the original boundaries of Ambridge was supposed to be "dry"--alcohol free--for 50 years. However, the Harmony Hotel, mere blocks from the company's plant and office, sold liquor. Legally. That was possible because the Harmony Hotel wasn't in Ambridge; it was in Harmony Township, at that time, just a walk across Merchant St. from Ambridge. Which I'm guessing made its site a very attractive spot for a

The building shows up on the 1911 Sanborn Insurance map as the location of the planned "Hotel May," named for its builder. Sometime between then and 1915, the name was changed to Harmony Hotel. The battle between its owner and American Bridge Co. over the hotel's liquor license appears to have begun early. Here's part of the remarks made by F. T. Cadmus, the plant superintendent, from the Daily Times, October 22, 1915:

The liquor license battle continued in 1916 when the hotel was owned by George T. Davis. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 14, 1916, Davis' attorney claimed that the American Bridge superintendent, Cadmus, had warned employees of the company that they would be fired if they were seen in the barroom of the Harmony Hotel.

So American Bridge must have been pleased by this announcement in the January 2, 1917, Daily Times:

A "temperance hotel" may not have proved to be as popular as the barroom at the Harmony Hotel may have once been, because in 1920, Divine Redeemer Church, across Merchant from the hotel building, bought it and converted it into a parochial grade school. After the church built a new school in 1961, the building was sold to the Karnavas Vending Co.

Karnavas Vending Co.
former Harmony Hotel
former Divine Redeemer School
300 Merchant St.
Google Street View, Oct. 2017

*Later renamed the Old Economy Hotel in the late 1800s.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gene's Coffee Shoppe & Dining Room, Thanksgiving Menu, 1929

Gene's Coffee Shoppe & Dining Room
Thanksgiving Menu
Daily Citizen
November 27, 1929

Gene's Coffee Shoppe & Dining Room was in the long-gone Ambridge Hotel, located from 1905 to 1964 on the northwest corner of 8th and Merchant Sts. The restaurant's address was not printed in the ad. I guess everyone in the area knew where it was.

That $1.25 is equivalent to about $19.40 today. Still an attractive price for a complete Thanksgiving meal, but when the average steelworker was making less than $0.68 an hour, and taking home even less, perhaps beyond the budget of the average steelworker's family,

And no pumpkin pie!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mohn's Grocery, Clover Farm Store

Mohn's Grocery
Clover Farm Store
location unknown
Old Economy Village archives, MG-332
used with permission

The above photo came from the Old Economy Village archives and was sent to me by Amy Andre who asked me if I had any information about the Mohn's Grocery store. An "Ambridge + four-digits" phone number is on the store's sign, but was the store in Ambridge and if so, where? Or perhaps was it in an Ambridge-area community that had phone numbers on the Ambridge phone exchange, like Fair Oaks (Leet Township) or Leetsdale?

Amy wrote:
I am a descendant of the Mohn family and was doing research at the Old Economy historical society on the Henry Mohn/Melina Feucht family and found this photo.
In a later email, Amy provided the following information:
There are still Mohn family members in Ambridge and Leetsdale but I don't know any of them, even though they would be cousins of mine. Henry Mohn's wife Melina Feucht was associated with the Harmonist's Society. Her father and sisters were members of the society. Melina's father is buried in the Harmonist's cemetery at Old Economy Village. It would be interesting to find out which Mohn owned the Mohn Grocery Store. 
My line of the Mohn family is Frederick Mohn and his wife Esther Keck. Frederick was born in Germany as was his wife Esther. The Keck family settled in Doreyville, Allegheny, PA. Frederick's children were born in Haysville, Leetsdale and Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh's North Side. Frederick did have some siblings that came with him to America and settled in the same areas.
Unfortunately, I have exhausted all the research materials I have at hand and have come up with nothing helpful. Can anyone help?

Here are two clues to narrow your search if you start one:
Clover Farms, a cooperative grocery chain, began in 1926.
It appears from ads that the "Ambridge + 4 digits" phone numbers began to be used in the 1940s.

I know there were once Clover Farm Stores in Ambridge: one was at 798 15th St. but I don't know the grocery's name; however that building looks nothing like the store in the photo. The Csurny's Clover Farm store was at 6th St. and Glenwood Ave. and Grosdeck's Clover Farm Store was at 290 - 292 1st St. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Vintage cars, 6th St. and Duss Ave. circa late 1920s. And an intriguing corner in the corner

"2 Packards-1 Franklin East Corner 6th & Duss Ambridge"
circa late 1920s
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Sometimes, when doing historical research, I find unexpected details that lead me in unexpected directions. And the photo above led to one of those times.

I don't know much about this particular photo other than the information that the late local historian Bill Bowan wrote at its bottom. "Early 20's - 2 Packards-1-Franklin East Cor 6th & Duss Ambridge." I don't know the identities of the people in the photo. I don't know why the three cars are parked where they were. And I don't know how Bowan came to own the photo.

And because I know so little, I thought I just would post the photo, say something about the photo's location, and that would be that.

"That" didn't turn out to be "that," but here's what I know about the location:

The houses in the photo's background look like 600 and 602 Beaver Rd. which are still there, so the photo was taken looking east. While 600 Beaver Rd. is on the 1923 Sanborn Insurance map, 602 is not. So I began to question the "Early 20's" date Bowan had written on the photo.

Maria Notarriani told me that the 602 Beaver Rd. house was built in 1926 according to Beaver County tax assessment records, so 10 years after the house at 600 Beaver was built:1916.

So the photo must have been taken later than the "early 1920's." Perhaps the late '20s?

Photos are often misdated--sometimes by a month or two, sometimes by many years. And I didn't believe the the date was critical to the history of the photo. So, blog post finished! But no.

Because while looking at the building on the left side of the photo, I had noticed that its Duss Ave. side slanted upward, and rather steeply too. While the left lower corner of the photo is both faded and out-of-focus, the incline of that corner building's ground floor is obvious. Hmm. Interesting. And me being me, I couldn't just ignore that.

Which leads me to ask: Does anyone have any information on the grading of the 600 block of Duss and/or the histories of the buildings on the east side of that block, especially the buildings closest to the Duss and 6th St. intersection?

Because at the time the vintage photo at the top of this post was taken, the 600 block of Duss Ave. sure wasn't as level as it is today:

600 block of Duss Ave. looking North
Google Street View
August 2011

And I've always wondered why the ground level of some of the buildings in the 600 block of  Duss, especially those closest to 6th St., looked odd, like they perhaps weren't built at the same time as the upper floors. Consider:

This is what the building on the corner of 6th and Duss, 600 Duss, currently looks like. Although it looks quite changed from the building on the left of the photo at the top of this post, tax records say it was built in 1920, so it must be the same building.

600 Duss Ave.
Google Street View
August 2011

The odd ground floors are especially evident in these buildings:

Left: Ross Auto Body, 606 Duss Ave.
Right: Filipino American Club of Ambridge (formerly Sons of Italy Lodge), 604 Duss Ave.*
Google Street View August 2016

Tax records also show that 603 Beaver Rd.,* the street address used by the Sons of Italy Lodge, was built in 1915. The 606 Duss building was built in 1920 according to tax records, although the 1923 Sanborn Insurance map only shows an empty lot on Duss at that site. (The map does show a building on Beaver Rd. that currently would abut, or connect to, the rear of 606 Duss.)

So the evidence seems to point to two possibilities: the buildings' current Duss Ave. ground floors were once below-ground basements; or newly constructed ground floors were added after that part of Duss was graded. Well, I guess there's a third possibility: the buildings' owners just wanted an unusual facade on the lower floor.

One other oddity about the 600 block of Duss that may be related to grading: while the houses on both sides of the street abut the sidewalk, those on the east (even-numbered) side have a raised porch with the entrance to the house about a floor above the sidewalk. While on the west (odd-numbered) side, the buildings' porches/entries are basically level with the sidewalk. That suggests to me that when the even-numbered homes were built, they were located on a hill; then later, the base of that hill was removed, and the bottoms of the porches were extended down to street level. But I'm not wedded to that theory.

I previously wrote about a vintage photo of 5th St. and Duss Ave. being graded, but I was unable to determine when that grading was done, except that the photo was taken between 1919 and 1928. I also don't know how much of Duss was graded then. So I don't know at this time whether the grading shown in that photo was related to any grading done in the 600 block.

* When the building at 604 Duss was the Sons of Italy Lodge, it used the address 603 Beaver Rd., where there was a more formal entrance. The Filipino American Club, now located in the same building, gives its address as 603 Duss Ave., not 604, even though it's on the east, even-numbered side of Duss Ave.

I expect that one day someone is going to wonder why a building on the even-numbered side of Duss has an odd-numbered address. Just like I once wondered why the former Sokol at 424 Duss has an even-numbered address even though it's on the odd-numbered side of the street. Turns out the reason is that the original address of the Sokol building was 424 Melrose Ave. Later, in 1951, a large second floor social hall, entered on Duss, was added.