Thursday, February 22, 2018

A. M. Byers Co. 1930 - 1969

A. M. Byers Co. plant under construction
Duss Ave.
Daily Citizen supplement
August 10, 1929

The A. M. Byers Co. plant was the last of the large industrial plants to be built in Ambridge.* It opened in October 1930, producing wrought iron and wrought iron pipes, using a new mechanized production method, the Ashton process, which allowed the plant to produce higher-quality wrought iron--and produce it faster and at a lower cost.

When Ambridge's Byers plant was working at capacity, it reportedly produced more wrought iron than all the other wrought iron plants in the U.S. did combined.

A.M Byers Ambridge plant in lower half  of photo
(J & L across the Ohio River)
courtesy Beaver County Industrial Museum
used with permission

The plant closed with only two weeks notice in December 1969, the victim of declining demand for wrought iron products and increasing costs.

A. M. Byers Co. Ambridge plant
Duss Ave.
Beaver County Times
December 19, 1969

Beaver County Times caption:
DOORS TO BE CLOSED -- The Harmony Township Plant of the A. M. Byers Co., experiencing economic difficulties as a result of rising costs and product demand decline, will be shut down Dec. 31, bringing to a close 40 years of operations. At stake are 485 jobs including 127 office and supervisory personnel. Employment at the plant has been down for several months.
The former Byers production buildings are used by several businesses: Brunner Recyling, O'Neal Manufacturing, and Leeco Steel. The former Byers office is a U.S. Air Force Recruiting Center.

It was emotionally comforting for me to see that the Byers smokestacks still stand tall.

A. M. Byers smokestacks
Duss Ave.
April 29, 2015
credit: Nancy Knisley

My memories of the Byers plant

Two things stand out in my memories of the Byers plant, besides the fact that my Uncle Fritz Yerzek worked there.

The one memory I'm sure I share with anyone who lived in the area while Byers was operating, is the inferno produced by the Bessemer converter, located only about 150 feet from the west side of Duss Ave. The working converter would light up the night sky in shades of gold and orange. Multicolored smoke would rise high into the air. And sparks would drift into Duss Ave. onto passing cars if the wind was right.

Even as a kid I was astonished that Byers was allowed to put the converter so close to what was a major road at the time.

Byers' Bessemer Converter
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives

If our family car drove past Byers while the converter was working, my mom would say, "Don't look! Don't look! You'll hurt your eyes. You might go blind." But of course, I always snuck a look. The scene was awe inspiring in a somewhat terrifying way.

My other memory is the large, round, wrought iron plate that hung on a frame on the Duss Ave. side of the Byers office. I don't know what the plate really was called, but we always referred to it as the "gong."

The Bessemer converter ended up on display at Station Square in Pittsburgh. Does anyone know what happened to the "gong"?
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* Technically, the Byers plant was in Harmony Township, not the Borough of Ambridge, but, like other Harmony Township businesses, it used an Ambridge address and advertised itself as being in Ambridge.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

French Point Hotel, 1891 - 1902

French Point Hotel
Economy PA
Manuscript Group 354: Old Economy Village Collection
Photo Number 390
courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Old Economy Village
used with permission



The French Point Hotel was built in 1891, during the waning days of the Harmony Society's existence, at the northern edge of what is now Ambridge--but was then Economy--approximately where Merchant St. currently intersects with Ohio River Blvd. (Rt. 65).

The hotel was one of the important buildings in the historical bridge linking Economy with Ambridge

"Economy Hotel (New)"
French Point Hotel
Economy PA
Manuscript Group 354: Old Economy Village Collection
Photo Number 624
courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Old Economy Village
used with permission

The vintage panorama below shows the French Point Hotel on the far left. The Harmony Society's lumberyard is on the right, below the hotel. The hotel's being located near the lumberyard led to the hotel's destruction on April 23, 1902.

"Lumber Works. Economy PA."
French Point Hotel (left) above Harmony Society's lumberyard
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library Archives

Local historian Bill Bowan wrote information about the photo in the bottom margin:
W. K. Shafer Family purch. Hotel from Harmony Socy. 1895. Lumberyard & Hotel burned down in the same fire 1900-1901.
The fire began at the lumberyard, eventually spreading one to two acres, destroying the hotel, lumberyard, and several outbuildings. The source of the fire was thought to be a spark from a passing train engine. So Bowan was right about the fire, but not the year the fire happened.

Although described as the setting for "many brilliant functions...by society people of Pittsburg and Sewickley," the hotel, fortunately, had been vacant for at least five weeks at the time of the fire. (Pittsburg Commercial Journal, April 24, 1902). The reason the building was unoccupied was that it was in the process of being converted into a sanitarium of some kind. A train car of goods for the new sanitarium was also destroyed in the fire.

Previously, the hotel had been a popular stopping point for cycling groups traveling along "the Beaver road." (The Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 22, 1898; May 13, 1899).
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Since the French Point Hotel was destroyed in 1902, it could not have been one of two hotels where travelers might have stayed in 1906 as stated in the book Ambridge by Larry R. Slater.
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Ambridge trivia: Jim Holman, the current owner of the K & N Restaurant, 755 Merchant St., is a descendant of the Shafer family who owned the French Point Hotel. I know this because while I was in K & N one lunchtime, Mr. Holman came out from the kitchen to show me a framed copy of the panorama above and told me that his family had owned the hotel. He added that he had a much larger version of that photo at home.
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Thank you to Jeffrey Snedden, the writer of the "Histories & Mysteries" column for the Beaver County Times, for his invaluable help in finding information about the fire that destroyed the French Point Hotel.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Ambridge Savings and Trust Co. buildings

Ambridge Savings and Trust buildings
5th and Merchant Sts.
circa 1920s
Louis Vukovcan collection
courtesy Jackie Vukovcan

The three-story, red brick Ambridge Savings and Trust Co. (AS&TC) building on the northeast corner of 5th and Merchant Sts. is reputed to have been the first building constructed on Merchant St. in Ambridge. While there were older buildings further north on Merchant, in the area of 14th St., those buildings were in built in what was still Economy, not Ambridge.

The AS&TC, advertised as "The Oldest Bank in Ambridge," was chartered in 1902, and opened for business in 1903--two years before Ambridge was incorporated.

The upper floors of the AS&TC building were the location of some historically notable Ambridge events: The organizational meeting of Ambridge's Methodist Church was held there in 1903. In January 1904, the first Roman Catholic mass in Ambridge was celebrated there. Also in 1904, the young Ambridge Citizen newspaper opened an office there.

In 1911, AS&TC built and moved into an elegant two-story limestone building next door to its first one. You can see it immediately to the left of the original building in the photo above and the postcard below.

Ambridge's first Post Office building had been on 5th St., adjacent to the back of the first AS&TC building. Sometime after AS&TC moved into its new building next door, the post office took over the older one on the corner. It didn't stay there long; by 1923, the post office had moved into a building on the southeast corner of 7th and Merchant Sts.


Ambridge's post office (right) and 1911 Ambridge Savings and Trust Co. building to the left
5th and Merchant Sts., northeast corner
circa 1920s

You can see both the original AS&TC building and the 1911 building on the right side of the photo of the intersection of 5th and Merchant Sts. in the photo below.

"COR. 5th & MERCHANT BEFORE BEING REPAVED.
NOTE THE DOUBLE TRACK AND ROUGH STREET."
5th and Merchant Sts. looking north
circa 1920s
Louis Vukovcan collection
courtesy Jackie Vukovcan

Here's what that same intersection looked like not long ago:


5th and Merchant Sts. looking north
credit: P. J. Fletcher Shotter, used with permission

According to notes left by the late local historian William (Bill) Bowan, Ambridge Savings & Trust later remodeled both the brick and limestone buildings to create a single, large Ambridge Savings & Trust headquarters building.

At one time, Ambridge Savings & Trust reportedly had the largest deposits of any bank in Beaver County (Economy Centennial Souvenir Program, 1924). Like many banks, it ran into financial trouble during the depression and reorganized in 1933. According to Bowan, it became The Economy Bank of Ambridge.

Economy Bank of Ambridge
5th and Merchant Sts., northeast corner
1967 Ambridge Bridger yearbook

That beautiful Economy Bank of Ambridge building was razed in 1984; its location is now the drive-through of WesBanco bank. The only part of the AS&TC/Economy Bank building that remains are its gates, incorporated into the Merchant St. side of the drive-through.
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Update February 2, 2018: I thought I should add that 
I've been puzzled about the dates of the postcard and the undated photo at the top of the blog article.

From the cars, I would have said that the postcard was older. But the postcard also shows the corner building is the post office, which as the article says, moved into the building for a few years after the Savings and Trust Co. moved out.

On the other hand, the photo shows that the Savings and Trust Co. is in the corner building. Maybe it shows a period after the Savings and Trust Co. moved back into the building before remodeling the facade and converting it and the smaller building next to it into one large building.