These homes originally were built for the laborers, the men who did the tough and often dangerous jobs in the plant, and their often large families. Later, the houses became home to people who couldn't afford to live anywhere else, although some residents remained long after they had the money to move away from the close-knit community that had developed. But even the people who wanted to stay were forced to move when the Marshall Alley houses were razed in the mid-1950s*.
Most of the people who lived in the area were immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, but former residents mention neighbors from West Virginia and Mexico.
The residents of Marshall Alley and the surrounding First Street neighborhood were featured in some of the most well-known photos of Ambridge, taken by acclaimed photojournalist Arthur Rothstein.
Rothstein was one of the photographers employed by the Farm Service Administration to document the hardships faced by so many Americans during the Great Depression. He came to Ambridge in the summer of 1938 and took a series of photos in the First Street neighborhood. Most of the photos featured the neighborhood children including one at their Dead-End Pool and several in Marshall Alley, among them this one:
|Children in Marshall Alley|
Photographer: Arthur Rothstein
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Now, here's where the story of the Marshall Alley photos gets personal and left me gobsmacked. One day, after a long chat with Jimmy Pappas, founder of Ambridge's Maple Restaurant, who grew up on Marshall Alley, he pointed out the Marshall Alley photos hanging near the register, including the one above. He said, "There's your Aunt Helen."
Wait! What?! My Aunt Helen? Turns out that my Aunt Helen (Sokolosky) Gause not only was in two of the photos, but she also was the person who had provided the names of the children now written on the Maple's copies of the photos. And the thing is, my Aunt Helen has enlargements of those two photos hanging in her house, and we had discussed them a bit. But she hadn't mentioned she was in those photos. Aunt Helen would have been 11 years-old at the time the photo was taken.
So right after I left the Maple, I walked the half block to my Aunt Helen's house and rang her doorbell. So now, thanks to my Aunt Helen, here are the names of some of the children photographed in Marshall Alley:
1. (first name?) Swartz
2. Jimmy Pappas
3. Joe "Putsie" Kopac
4. Nick Vucetich
6. Mary Ellen Swartz
7. Helen Sokolosky
If you can fill in the missing names, know the names of some of the people in the background, or want to correct a name, please leave a comment.
Arthur Rothstein's collection of Ambridge photographs can be found online at the Library of Congress site or on Yale University's Photogrammar.
*As best as I can determine right now.