Sunday, October 8, 2017

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1948 - 1981

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses
1026 Melrose Ave.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Daily Citizen caption:
KINGDOM HALL -- Jehovah's Witnesses gather each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday evenings at Kingdom Hall, Melrose Ave., Ambridge to study and discuss the Bible. The congregation number approximately 150. To be a members (sic) of the congregation one must go forth and preach from the Bible unless one preaches he or she is considered a visitor of the congregation and not a member. The group meets each Sunday morning, at Kingdom Hall, at 9:30 a. m. and leaves at 10:00 a. m. on a round of Bible preaching--they also go forth on other mornings to perform similar instruction. All members of the congregation are preachers and a group of special servants direct the teachings, handle business matters and conduct the affairs of the group. Robert Marciniak is the congregation servant in Ambridge. The local group erected the Melrose Ave., edifice.
The congregation started in Ambridge in 1924, at first meeting in private homes, later in rented halls on 5th St. and at 1133 Merchant St. In 1948, the members of the congregation built the Kingdom Hall building at 1026 Melrose Ave. in 60 days. (Spang-Chalfant newsletter, Nov. 1957, "Featuring the Ambridge Churches.")

The Melrose Ave. building was a one-story, light red brick building. Built on a single narrow but deep lot, the design of Kingdom Hall made the most of the space available, covering almost the entire lot except for a little bit of a front yard. A woman who had gone there said that because the building wasn't very wide, but it was really deep, the interior made her think it looked like a bowling alley.

The congregation moved to its present building, constructed by volunteers, in the Fair Oaks section of Leet Township at 194 Ambridge Ave. in 1981.

I remembered the Melrose Ave. Kingdom Hall and wondered what had happened to it. I didn't see it when I visited Melrose on one of my trips back to Ambridge. The building now at 1026 Melrose Ave. didn't look at all like Kingdom Hall. Was it razed after the congregation moved to Leet Township?

It was only after I looked at a satellite view of the building at 1026 showing a narrow, but very deep building on the lot, that I realized that Kingdom Hall had been hiding in plain sight, disguised as a two-story apartment building with a modern facade and an extension towards the sidewalk on the left-hand side. The only feature visible from the front that gives a clue that it was once Kingdom Hall, is the original right-side front window.

1026 Melrose Ave.
March 27, 2014

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lions Boy Scout Troop circa 1938 - 1941

When I began visiting Laughlin Memorial Library's archives to look through the late Bill Bowan's photo albums, I never expected to find a photo with a relative in it. But in two old newspaper clippings of photos of a boy scout troop, I did. Maybe.

I don't know when the photos were taken or when and where these clippings were published. Bowan's hand-written notes about them say "1938" for both photos, but the one without "1938" in the publisher's caption has "1941" handwritten on the front of it. If you know anything about the origin of these photos, please let me know.

Bowan's notes identified some of the scouts in the photos. I was surprised when I saw "Leon Gaus" listed among the names. Leon Gaus was the name of my maternal grandfather's younger half-brother. Although my grandfather spelled his last name "Gause," his siblings spelled it "Gaus."

I am assuming the "Leon Gaus" in these photos is my Great-uncle Leon, but I don't have anything to confirm that. However, if there might have been another Leon Gaus in the area, my Great-uncle Leon was born in 1924, which puts him at the right age to be a boy scout in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Lion's Club Boy Scout Troop
newspaper clipping
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Original caption:  THE LION'S CLUB Boy Scout Troop as they were in 1938. Members and leaders were attending an outdoor meeting.

Bowan's notes about this photo title it "1938 - Lake Lynn W. Virginia"

The list of identities as provided by Bowan:

1. Gaus Leon
2. Levy Rob
3. W. Chiappala
4. Frank Paulakovich
5. Eddie Hrico
6. Pete Sudar
7. James Pappas
8. Mike Lazorishak
11. Geo Salata

2 - Kneeling
1. Vince Sniady
2. Casmir Drugoz
3. Harry Kuntz
8. Bill Poutas

3. Standing
1. Benny Barsyz
7. Walter Joyce
9. Doc Hall
10. Frank Kloiber?

At the bottom right of the note "Mike Rusko" is printed.

Here's the second news clipping photo. Note "1941" written in the bottom right corner.

Leonard Rothermel and Boy Scout Troop
circa 1938 - 1941
newspaper clipping
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Original caption:  LEONARD ROTHERMEL, Ambridge High School teacher, and Boy Scout Troop of long ago.

At the top of Bowan's notes about the photo above, he wrote something I can't decipher. It looks like"Economy Golden Rose" followed by what appear to be page numbers. Anyone know what that might mean?

He identified the scouts in the photo, which he titled "Rothermel Scout Troop 1938," as follows:

1st row:
1. Frank Kloeber
3. Steve Lubic
5. Chas. Grosdeck
6. Andy Shulick

2nd row:
1. Bill Tartar
2. Rich Powell
3. Jim Pappas
4. Ed Matzie
5. Leon Gaus
6. Paul Pawlack
7. Bernard Hrico

3rd row:
1. Mike Orend
2. Ed Hrico
3. Mike Rusko
4. Hugh Thom
5. Paul Mikesner
6. Eddie Beaman
7. Vincent Sniady
8. Herbert Hopkins
9. Leonard Rothermel

If you recognize any of the unidentified scouts in these photos, or know more about the Lion's Boy Scout troop, please let me know.

Leon Gaus died in November 2014.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Briola Bros. Ice Co.

The Briola brothers, Frank and Michael, not only owned and operated the first and largest grocery store on Merchant St., they also ran a successful ice-making company for many years.

The Briolas' ice-making business began in 1904 in the Ambridge-Economy Brewery Co. building, once located on 11th St., immediately east of where the Trinity School for Ministry* is now. The 1924 Economy Centennial book, Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today, said that while the Briolas' ice business was in the brewery building, it could make up to seven tons of ice per day. The brewery went bankrupt in 1913.

The Heinz Co. later bought the former brewery building for making malt vinegar, and perhaps that was the reason the Briolas built, and moved to, a new building for their ice business. Heinz started vinegar production in April 1920, a month after the Briola Bros. Ice Plant on 10th St. and Glenwood Ave. began selling ice.

The Briolas began making making ice for wholesale only in its own plant in March 1920. The Economy Centennial book says that the new ice plant, with seven employees, was "the best equipped ice plant in this section, the capacity being 45 tons daily."

Briola Bros. ice ad
Ambridge Citizen
March 27, 1925

The small print in the ad above says:
For prompt delivery and satisfaction, come to us. We aim to please our customers at all times. 
We handle ice for all occasions, including the cracked ice, which is used for glass refrigerators, ice cream manufacturing and for many other purposes.
Preparations have been made in our plant increasing the capacity which enables us to supply Ambridge, Fair Oaks and Leetsdale.
Ice books on sale at our office, also obtainable from our drivers.
I don't know what "Ice Books" were, other than they obviously let purchasers buy ice at a discount. Anyone know what they looked like and how they worked?

The Ambridge Supply Co. was once at 1st St. and Park Rd., opened by George A. Mytinger in 1910. (Genealogical and Personal History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Volume 1, 1914).

Why am I mentioning the Ambridge Supply Co. and posting a photo showing its horse and wagon below? Because while that may be the Ambridge Supply Co.'s wagon, I believe that the building it's stopped at is the Briola Bros. Ice Plant building. Compare the door and window locations with the later photos of the Briola Ice Co. below.

Ambridge Supply Co. wagon at Briola Bros. Ice Plant
circa early 1920s
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

Thanks to the sign, there's no doubt about the identity of the building in the photo below. The "Belt-Line" mentioned in the information about the building's location was the spur rail line that once ran through Ambridge from French Point, across 14th and 11th Sts., behind the businesses on the east side of the 900 block of Glenwood Ave., and ended at 8th St. Some may remember it as the rail tracks that ran behind the west side of Ambridge High School's football stadium.

Briola Bros. Ice Plant
10th and Glenwood at Belt Line
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

At some point, the name of the business was changed to Briola Ice Co. I don't know when it closed, but the photo below is dated 1958. None of the people in the photo are identified. Do you know who they are?

The people in the photo have been identified by members of the Briola family:

Left to right: Mike Briola, Dick Briola, David Briola, Billy or Bobby Briola, Louise Briola, and Raymond Briola.

Briola Ice Co.
1010 Glenwood Ave.
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

While the Briola Ice Co. may be gone, the building is still there, although it now uses the address 421 10th St. As far as I could tell, it was occupied when I took the photo below in 2014. The current business advertising that it's in the building is Muscles' Gym.

Former Briola Ice Co. building
421 10th St.

Frank Briola was the victim of an attempted "Black Hand" extortion attempt in 1912. Usually, victims were told some harm would come to their businesses if they didn't pay the demanded amount. The May 28, 1912, Daily Times, said that the demand was for $6,000 and plans were arranged for police "to watch for the black-handers...but Biola (sic) failed to carry out his part of the agreement and the plans fell though."

However, there was apparently a second extortion attempt:  A November 16, 1912, Pennsylvania State Police report said:
At the request of U. S. Postal Inspector Craighead, of Pittsburgh, Sergeant McLaughlin and detail, of Troop "A" investigated "black hand" case in which the victim, one Frank Briola, of Ambridge, Pa., was requested to place $3,000 at a designated spot between Ambridge and Beaver Falls. By the use of a decoy package, the detail were successful in apprehending two Italians, Joseph Candilaro and Dominic Fiore.
Both men were tried, Fiore was found guilty, but Candilaro was acquitted.

* Many older Ambridge area residents may remember the main Trinity School building as the A & P, although much renovated.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ambridge memorabilia: parking meter token, Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce

The parking meter token below is somewhat of a mystery.

Ambridge parking meter token
side 1

Ambridge parking meter token
side 2

The reason the token is a mystery is because it indicates it was distributed by the Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce. Only I can't find any information about a "District Chamber of Commerce" in Ambridge PA ever existing.

If I have ever come across a reference to an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce, I don't remember it. Or thought it significant enough to note.

The only mentions of an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce I've found during several online searches were by people selling tokens like the one above.

I would have guessed that the token was from the mid-to-late 1950s, when Ambridge businesses were facing strong competition from the new Northern Lights Shoppers City with its 5000 spaces of free parking. But all I've found from that time are mentions and ads of the "Ambridge Chamber of Commerce."

I checked with Bob Mikush, whose family business, Mikush Maytag Home Appliance Center, has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for generations. He said he'd never heard of a District Chamber of Commerce.

I mentioned the token to Kimberly Villella, the president of the Board of Directors of the latest iteration of Ambridge's Chamber of Commerce, the Ambridge Regional Chamber of Commerce. Kim said that her research of the history of the Ambridge Chamber didn't find an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce.

So far, Kim and I have found four Chamber of Commerce groups that have been in Ambridge over the years, none with "District" in their names: The Ambridge Chamber of Commerce; The Greater Ambridge Chamber of Commerce; the Ambridge Area Chamber of Commerce; and the Ambridge Regional Chamber of Commerce.

So was the "Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce" on the token a mistake? Or, as unlikely as it seems, could the token possibly be from an Ambridge District of another town like Gary, Indiana?

If you know anything about an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce, or when the token might have been used, please help solve the mystery and let me know.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool construction, 1939--and Ambridge's earlier playground pool

This year's summer swimming season may have ended, but for Ambridge children, in 1939, the promise of summers filled with laughter, splashes, and the occasional lifeguard's whistle, was starting to take shape, as shown in the photos below.

Construction of the Ambridge Borough Pool in Borough Park (now called Walter Panek Park) began in 1939, the year after Ambridge children from the First St. neighborhood built their own "Dead-End Pool" in polluted Big Sewickley Creek. When health authorities closed and drained the Dead-End Pool, the children marched to the Borough Council, demanding a public pool. I was surprised to learn while I was researching the Dead-End Pool, that the Council agreed that Ambridge needed a public pool, and voted to put a bond proposal to construct a pool on the November 1938 election ballot. The voters approved the bond measure.

But although pool construction began in 1939, completion was long delayed; the pool wasn't opened for swimming until Memorial Day 1942.

Recently, Winifred Graham Boser donated a set of snapshots to Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library, showing the early construction of the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool. Both of her grandfathers, Peter A. Conrad and Walter A. Graham, worked on the pool construction project. And during my last visit to Ambridge, I was lucky enough to be able to scan the photos to share them with you.

Any ideas about what the first photo below is showing? Construction work, of course. But is this work on the old road that once wound through Borough Park? Or the road leading from the Borough Park road into the site of the eventual pool?

"Boro Park, West Rd." ?
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Early Ambridge Borough Pool construction
"Boro Park"
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Fill was added during early construction
of the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Early construction "Boro Park Pool"
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

"Pool cut"
Early construction of Ambridge Borough Pool
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

"First Concrete"
Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool
June 24, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Work on the walls of the main pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Walls of the main pool being built
Ambridge Borough Pool
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Work on main pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Uncovering concrete on main pool bottom?
Borough employee Peter A. Conrad on right
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Main pool closer to completion
Walter A. Graham in forefront, head man on project
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Digging out ground for diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
July 24, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

More work on diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Working on diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Construction of diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

The playground pool--Ambridge's first public pool

While doing research on the construction of Ambridge's first Jr. High School on Duss Ave. (later, after an annex was built, the Jr. - Sr. High School), I was really surprised to find out that a public pool once stood on the school's property in the 1920s.

I'm not talking about the pool in the Jr. High building, but rather an outdoor pool, run by a group called the Ambridge Playground Association, spearheaded by the Ambridge Rotary Club.

The first playground the group built was at the Duss Ave. site in the early 1920s, perhaps 1923. In 1925, the group added playgrounds at First and Fourth Ward Schools. When I was growing up, the playground at the Jr. - Sr. High School was between the northern end of the building and the Bollinger Co. office building. The playground was later moved to the south side of the building when the school's tennis courts/skating rink were built in the 1960s.

The Jr. High playground featured a swimming pool during the summer months. Since it was operated as part of the summer playground program, I think it was probably only open to children, but I haven't yet found confirmation of that.

I don't have a photo or a good description of the pool, but I assume was above ground and fairly large--75 swimmers at a time were allowed in it. And it was deep enough that parents were urged to insist that children who couldn't swim stay in the shallow end of the pool.

Two showers were provided so that swimmers could shower before they entered the pool.

In the summer of 1925, that pool's water pump needed repairs, and its opening was delayed until June 22, when the Citizen announced that the pool would open that afternoon. Two days later, the paper reported that the June 23 crowd was a record, with 300 swimmers enjoying the pool.

But confusingly, the same newspaper reported on July 20 that the swimming pool on the Jr. High School grounds had "not yet been opened." The reason was the "sewer is clogged and repairs not yet made." It further reported that the school board had decided not to open the playground pool that year, because a new sewer was required, and since the new school was under construction, it would be better to wait and connect both the playground pool and school to the sewer system at the same time. Did the Citizen mean re-opened? I'm still looking for the answer.

When the Jr. High athletic field was being planned in 1926, the construction of a fence that would include the playground and its swimming pool was discussed.

As of now, I don't know the last year the playground swimming pool was open.

Later, the Playground Assn. added two more playgrounds, one near Second Ward School, and the other at the then-new Anthony Wayne Elementary School. I don't know yet who was responsible for the construction of the playground near Liberty School.