Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ambridge's Daily Citizen newspaper

The final issue of Ambridge's Daily Citizen was published on July 31, 1959, and Ambridge news coverage was, and is, very much the poorer for it. And people like me who want to learn about what life in Ambridge was like in the past, or do genealogical research, lost a invaluable source of information.

The Daily Citizen once told readers so much about what was happening in Ambridge. Small town papers like the Daily Citizen were the social media of their era.

Like today's Beaver County Times, Ambridge's Citizen covered news like important government actions, major business news, crimes, fires, deaths, and, of course, sports.

But the Citizen, like most small town locals, once included news about the lives of residents that routinely included births, engagements, and marriages; college acceptances; lists of high school students who made honor rolls; college students who made the Dean's List; who had enlisted or been drafted into the military; who was moving to or from Ambridge; whose home was being quarantined for contagious and feared illnesses like polio or measles.

Ethnic and union picnics, Ambridge's many parades, school field trips, lists of the names of Ambridge public schools' teachers, fraternal organization officers and activities, church news, the programming schedule of Ambridge radio station WMBA, boy and girl scout activities, lists of books being added to Laughlin Memorial Library's shelves, even school lunch menus--all were routinely covered, plus so much more. The details the Citizen provided about the lives of Ambridge residents was rather amazing. In one instance, during the WWII years when there was a rubber shortage and tires were rationed, the Daily Citizen felt it newsworthy to write at least a few words about an Ambridge resident who had been lucky enough to get three retread tires.

But the paper also shared details about residents' lives that people now might consider an invasion of privacy, even if they didn't back then: who was getting divorced and why; who was in the hospital or was being discharged; who was home sick with illnesses like "grippe" (the flu) or even a nasty cold; who was on vacation, where they went, and when they were expected to return; who had out-of-town visitors.

And the Citizen published so many ads placed by Ambridge businesses big and small! Plus there were ads for products, some long-gone, some that surprisingly still exist; ads promoting entertainment options: dances, often weekly, at Ambridge bars, nightclubs, and ballrooms, or run by fraternal or ethnic organizations; ads showing what was playing in Ambridge's movie theaters; ads for church and organization fundraisers like rummage sales, festivals, and, of course, bingos and pierogi sales.

Most of the Ambridge-centric news that was the Daily Citizen's focus disappeared once that paper was sold.

Here's a scan of the final issue of The Daily Citizen:

Front page
Final Daily Citizen
July 31, 1959

Surprisingly, the final issue didn't celebrate the long history of the Citizen, as the paper's anniversary editions had. The Grand Opening of A & A Rocket Car Wash in Leetsdale had more space in the final issue than the Citizen's last words about itself had. Rather, the issue had an abridged history of the paper, a list of the people who then worked at the paper, and a front and center essay,"An Old Friend Dies" which began:
An old friend died today.
As familiar as your kitchen sink and as welcome as your favorite chair after a hard day's work, the Ambridge Daily Citizen has lived in the homes of Ambridge and vicinity for a long, long time.
Some are indifferent, others don't care, but many feel a sense of loss this day. The loss of an old friend.
The management of the Daily Citizen, for 51 years in the same family, has endeavored, through personal integrity, to make it a newspaper that could be put in the hands of any member of the family of readers.
With this thought in mind, it was nice to know that the "little fellow" could always come to his hometown paper and never be turned away. The story of his child's birth was given as much thought and importance as the world's problems of war, peace, and Geneva conferences. 
Ambridge was in its early development when W. L. McCullogh, an enterprising ad manager for the Pittsburgh Bank for Savings, decided that the rapidly growing new town might need a newspaper. He enlisted two men with newspaper experience to be his partners: John E. Joos, the editor of a Pittsburgh German language paper, Der Sonntagsbote, who became editor of the new paper, and Joseph Lehan, the owner of a chain of papers in Western PA, who became the manager.

Lehan came to Ambridge in 1904 to get the paper started, and it sounds like he hired one employee, high school student Leonard Jewell, to handle the paper's business in Ambridge. Lehan trained Jewell to do everything from soliciting and writing ads, to gathering and writing the news. I didn't find any information about where Jewell's base of operation was. Perhaps he worked from home.

Jewell, however, did not have to print the paper in addition to his other duties; the first issues were printed in Pittsburgh. He did, however, have the job of taking the train to Pittsburgh to give the news copy to the printer, and later, he'd bring the printed papers back to Ambridge for distribution.

The first edition of the weekly, eight page Ambridge-Economy Citizen was published on July 29, 1904.

In December 1904, Paul A. Revere bought the paper and opened an office in the Ambridge Savings and Trust Building, located on the northeast corner of 5th and Merchant Sts. Concerned about the possibility of competition from printer H. Lee Goerman,* who already had a printing press in Ambridge, Revere also began printing the paper in Ambridge, in a rented, tiny, one-story building in the alley east of Merchant St. between 4th and 5th Sts.

The first issue of the Ambridge-Economy Citizen to be printed in Ambridge was published on October 6, 1905, and the weekly paper continued to be printed on Fridays until it switched to Thursdays beginning January 11, 1906.

"1904--First Citizen Home"
Alley between 4th and 5th Sts.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Daily Citizen caption:
Still standing, the small building shown above was the first home of the Daily Citizen in Ambridge. It served from 1905 until 1907. Originally built as a residence, and now housing a family, the two room structure was hardly large enough for the Citizen. It stands in the alley above Merchant St. between Fourth and Fifth St. The second home was at the rear of 458 Merchant St. from 1907 to 1909.
Although the tiny alley building that served as the Citizen's first print shop may have been standing in 1954, I didn't expect to find it still there in 2017. But I think it is.

This small building, behind the northern building of the three adjoining buildings--some of the oldest buildings on Merchant St.--which most recently were part of the American Carpet store at 432 Merchant, matches up enough with the Citizen's photo of its first home, that unless further evidence convinces me otherwise, I'd say that they are the same building.

Alley building behind 434 Merchant St.
August 14, 2017
credit: Nancy Knisley

The roof line has been altered, the porch roof removed, and a garage door has replaced the front door and window, but although the side windows have been replaced by glass blocks, you can see from the difference in the bricks where earlier windows had been. The bricks show that the windows that were once there were the size of those in the old Citizen building and in the right place, plus the brick arches above them remain.

Futhermore, a 1905 Sanborn Insurance map shows that a small building was in the same alley location back then.

As you can see from the ghost sign on the front of the alley building, it was once used by the old Economy Furniture store that did business at 440 - 452 Merchant St. for many years.

You never know where you'll unexpectedly find important evidence of Ambridge's history!

In 1907, the Ambridge-Economy Citizen bought the Jacob Henrici** Book Store, 458 Merchant, and the paper's offices and plant moved into the rear of the building there. That building, then renamed the Ambridge Book Store, no longer exists, and I haven't found a photo of that second Citizen location.

In 1908, D. L. McNees took over as president of the corporation that published the Ambridge-Economy Citizen, and later become both manager and editor. Members of the McNees family continued to head the business until its end.

As the weekly paper's business grew, it moved again, to a larger building on the southeast corner of 7th and Merchant Sts. in 1909. That building was at the rear of the lot at 699 Merchant, so more accurately, the building was on the corner of 7th St. and the alley that ran between 6th and 7th Sts. to the west of Merchant. That building was razed in 1938.***

"1909--Third Citizen Home"
7th and Merchant Sts.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Daily Citizen caption:
In 1909, the citizen (sic) moved into the building pictured above. The third Citizen home was located at the corner of Seventh and Merchant Sts. A big improvement over the first two Citizen buildings, the third Citizen home remained the paper's base of operations until 1919. After the Citizen moved to its Maplewood Ave. headquarters the Merchant Street building served as headquarters for various businesses. It was demolished in 1938 to make room for a new building, which housed a bakery and a number of offices.
In 1911, an evangelical campaign by all the Protestant churches in Ambridge sparked the creation of the first Daily Citizen. The committee in charge of the campaign approached McNees about running a daily paper during the six-week event, financed by the committee's selling 500 subscriptions at 10 cents a week. The daily paper ran four pages, while the weekly paper was printed on Fridays.

At the end of the six weeks, The Citizen became a regular daily, but apparently Ambridge couldn't support a daily paper yet, and in 1912, The Daily Citizen again became The Citizen, publishing on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Over the years, the paper continued to upgrade its printing plant equipment, allowing it to print better quality issues, and faster.

In 1919, McNees bought the Cunningham building, once a bakery, at 624 - 626 Maplewood Ave. and moved the paper to the much larger space. According to the "History of the Daily Citizen" in The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory, 1956, "The plant was moved on March 8, 1919, with the press being skidded over the alley to its new location on a flat bed sled."

"1919--Fourth Citizen Home"
636 Maplewood Ave.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Daily Citizen caption:
In 1919 the facilities of The Daily Citizen were moved to 626 Maplewood Ave. which serviced as base of operations until September 1951. In 1951 a new, modern office and printing plant, at 930 - 940 Glenwood Ave. was put into operation. The picture above was taken before the addition of an office wing, in 1930. Prior to the addition, editorial, advertising and business offices were all crowded into the front room. The front room housed the job printing department once the office wing was added.
Beginning on September 17, 1923, The Citizen began publishing three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And, on March 4, 1929, The Daily Citizen was reborn.

The photo below shows the 1930 office wing addition to The Daily Citizen.

Daily Citizen office wing
 626 Maplewood Ave.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Former Daily Citizen building
March 22, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

The Daily Citizen had to cope with some notable difficulties in the 1930s, including the death of D. L. McNees, who was killed in an car accident on June 19, 1931. His son, Floyd R. McNees succeeded him.

In addition to the economic adversities of the Great Depression, one of the paper's greatest challenges arrived with the high waters of the Great St. Patrick's Day Flood in 1936. Ambridge's gas mains, needed to run the paper's linotype machines, broke. But other area papers came to the rescue. The Sewickley Herald allowed the Citizen to use two of its machines. The Beaver Daily Times "sent five galleys of their early copy." Another problem came two days later when the Citizen's printing plant lost electric power, stopping its ability to print. But the Citizen was able to publish a four page edition, thanks to the Beaver Falls News-Tribune, which allowed the Citizen to use its equipment.

That wasn't the end of the problems created by the flood. Four days into the flood, the entire county lost electric power, but the Citizen's staff still were determined to print a paper. The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory describes their remarkable efforts:
A small gasoline engine was taken from a washing machine lent by C. F. Milleman, Ambridge merchant, and attached to one of the linotype machines; the pulleys and gadgets needed were obtained from the mangle and washing machine of Mrs. Anna Ross, 184 Sixth street; the operators worked all night by kerosene lamps and flashlights. The entire force was kept busy setting copy by hand. [T]he Citizen's portable saw for trimming advertising cuts was sent to the National Electric Products Corporation plant, where there was a source of power; and finally the forms and type were sent by automobile to Butler where the paper was printed on the Butler Eagle press! 
Floyd McNees died on May 28, 1937, after a long illness. His widow, Iona E. McNees became the paper's president, and Vaughn Arnold, who had previously run the accounting, credit, and commercial printing departments, was named as publisher. Amazingly, they continued in those roles until the paper was sold in 1959 to the company that published the Beaver Valley Times.

The Daily Citizen moved for the last time in 1951 after building a modern home for itself on Glenwood Ave.--its fifth and final home.

The fifth and final home of The Daily Citizen
930 Glenwood Ave.
1951 - 1959
Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory, 1956

Former Daily Citizen offices
930 Glenwood Ave.
March 27, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

After the Daily Citizen published its final issue and left the 930 Glenwood building, a new newspaper, the Ambridge Times, appeared to take over the mission of providing news about Ambridge and the people who lived there. In the Citizen's goodbye, it said that it hoped the Ambridge Times' owner "preserves the gift of an Ambridge newspaper with news about its own people." The Ambridge Times was short-lived, publishing for less than a year.

The Beaver Valley Times changed its name to the still published Beaver County Times after buying the Daily Citizen.

My memories of the Daily Citizen:

My maternal grandparents, with whom I lived, subscribed to the Daily Citizen. Even though I was only 9 years-old when that paper ended, I remember reading it, at first primarily for the comics, but I also enjoyed looking at the photos. Later, after my reading ability improved, I would sometimes read an article if it sounded interesting.

I remember the paperboy delivering the newspaper, taking a rolled-up paper from the large canvas bag hung on his shoulder, then hurling it onto our porch from the sidewalk. That took a strong arm, since our house's porch was 16 steps above the sidewalk, one of the highest houses on Beaver Rd.

When the Daily Citizen folded, my grandfather, a devoted reader, brought the final issue to my mom and told her to save it, it might be important someday. Until I started writing my blog, I never knew that my mom had saved that issue all these years. That's the front page of it above. And it turned out to be very important. None of the three libraries with Daily Citizen archives--Laughlin Memorial, Penn State's Pattee Library at University Park, and the State Library of PA in Harrisburg--had a copy of that last issue, either bound, on microfilm, or digitized. Laughlin Memorial now has a scanned copy thanks to my mom. Does anyone else still have that issue?
_____

I found it interesting that Ambridge's two early newspapers didn't hide their political leanings. The Ambridge Economy-Citizen was an "independent Republican newspaper," while the Ambridge News-Herald claimed it was "The only Democratic newspaper in Beaver County."

* Shortly after the Ambridge Economy-Citizen started, Goerman began publishing its competitor, the Ambridge News-Herald, which existed from February 7, 1906, until 1943.

** The Jacob Henrici who was a Harmony Society trustee died in 1892, so I don't know if the bookstore was named after him, or if it was owned by another Jacob Henrici, perhaps a namesake.

*** The 1911 Sanborn Insurance map of Ambridge shows the Ambridge Evening Gazette in the building that became the Citizen's third home. I've been unable to find any information about an Ambridge newspaper by that name. I wonder if perhaps it was the name given, or intended to be given, to the daily paper published during the 1911 evangelical campaign.

No comments:

Post a Comment