Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wrapping Christmas gifts at Sears, Northern Lights

Finding a Christmas season job wasn't easy during my college years at the end of the 1960s, not because jobs were scarce, but because I wasn't able to come home to Ambridge until shortly before Christmas Day. Most businesses that hired for the season tended to want employees who could work from before Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve.

So, when Sears at Northern Lights called in December while I was still at school and asked my mom to check with me to see if I'd be interested in working between the day I got home from school through Christmas Eve as a gift-wrapper, I said, "Sure!" Sounded like something I might even enjoy doing. And if I didn't, at least I'd be making a little money.

Wrapping Christmas gifts at Sears, which I did two Decembers in a row, turned out to be one of my favorite jobs ever.

At the time, Northern Lights, which had opened in 1956, was a busy, thriving place, crowded with shoppers, and despite its huge parking lot, finding an empty space often wasn't easy. Sears, a newly built addition to the center at its far northwest corner, where Giant Eagle is now, was only a few years old, having opened in October 1963.

Sears, Northern Lights,
Beaver County Times,
October 22, 1963

This Sears was much bigger and, not surprisingly, more modern than the old Ambridge store at 653-655 Merchant Street which had closed the week before the Northern Lights store opened.

The Ambridge store had carried appliances, sporting goods, tires and car accessories, paints and building materials, and tools--oh, and toys in Toy Town at Christmastime. Everything else had to be ordered from the Sears catalog, then picked up at the store when delivered. But the Northern Lights store was a complete department store, carrying everything the Ambridge store had, plus clothing including furs*, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics and perfume, candy, white goods (linens, towels, drapes), housewares, and furniture. And there was a snack bar.

Christmas ad, kids' winter outerwear
Sears Northern Lights
Beaver County Times
December 16, 1969

During my wrapping stints, the Northern Lights Sears still had a new store feel, all bright and shiny, but even more so decorated for the holiday season. Lights twinkled, ornaments sparkled, tinsel glittered. The store was bustling with shoppers eager to buy and staffed with employees eager to help them do that.

Christmas ad: electric organs, record players, and radios
Sears, Northern Lights
Beaver County Times
December 2, 1969

The small gift wrapping counter was set off from the shopping areas, near the customer service and credit departments if I'm remembering correctly. Even so, the store's cheery Christmas spirit flowed into our little out-of-the-way nook.

Depending on how busy the store was expected to be, I usually worked with one or two affable and energetic young women. We got along great and laughed a lot together. At one point, a manager came to the wrapping counter to try to recruit one of us to demonstrate a new waist-slimming product--a platform that rotated back and forth as you did the twist on it. The not-perfect gift for someone you loved, but maybe a buyer would think ahead to her New Years resolution to get in shape. One of my colleagues was delighted to be asked to perform for customers for a bit, and quickly volunteered.

Christmas ad, TVs
Sears Northern Lights
Beaver County Times
December 9, 1969

Sears offered customers free gift boxes and wrapping. The wrapping wasn't anything fancy. Customers got a box lined with tissue paper, a choice of papers, some ribbon, and a bow. Even with my minimal gift wrapping experience I could handle that without training, which hadn't been offered anyway. Really, the hardest part often was nicely folding the clothes and Christmas towels and cloth napkins before arranging them in the box. Or removing stubborn price tags.

We wrapped bracelets, blankets, blenders, babies' toys, and bubble bath. We wrapped record players, eight-track players, hair dyers, and electric shavers. Luckily, the bulkier items already came in a box, and no one asked us to wrap a car battery or a bike.

Christmas ad, automotive center
Sears Northern Lights
Beaver County Times
December 9, 1969

The customers were uniformly pleasant, chatting about their Christmas plans and the people the gifts were for, while patiently waiting for us to finish the wrapping. Who knew that gift wrapping could be such a social activity?

Most shoppers just wanted boxes, said thanks, and hurried on their way. But some, mostly men, were grateful to avail themselves of the wrapping, especially as Christmas got nearer. I believe many men would have happily paid to have their gifts wrapped. Free wrapping made them even jollier. And their apparently having stopped at a bar on their way to the store made them jollier still.

Christmas ad, women's clothing
Sears Northern Lights
Beaver County Times
December 2, 1969

Often the men would ask our opinion about what they'd bought. Was the robe appropriate for a woman in her 60s? Was the scarf trendy enough to satisfy a teen? Their sister was about our size, did we think a "medium" sweater would fit? Did we like the smell of Yardley's English Lavender?

Christmas ad: women's robes and hose
Sears Northern Lights
Beaver County Times
December 16, 1969

Some of the men would look mildly embarassed, others unabashedly naughty, when we opened their bags to find sheer black negligees and lacy lingerie. Others, I think, just wanted to see how we'd react, if we'd say anything about the sexy gifts. But we were gift wrapping professionals, and we didn't bat an eye.

Our late Christmas Eve customers were mostly men, relieved to have found something acceptable to give their kids, wife, parent, or girlfriend. And, yes, even the remaining wrapping paper we had would be fine.

Christmas ad, last minute gifts
Sears Northern Lights
Beaver County Times
December 22, 1969

On Christmas Eve, I was wistful as I stamped my time-card and turned it in for the last time, then stepped out into the cold, crisp night air to walk to the car where my mother was waiting to pick me up. I was looking forward to joining my family for their traditional Wiligia dinner, followed by Midnight Mass at Divine Redeemer Church. But I'd miss the joyful holiday bustle and the happy people who let us wrap their gifts.

* Sears trivia: When the Northern Lights store opened in October 1963, the manager said that Sears sold more minks than any other store in the world.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge: what's that building?

Over the past year, I've seen this postcard, or ones like it, being discussed on several Facebook pages. The postcard is of the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge* crossing the Ohio River, built in 1926-27. The small building to the left with the green roof has been of particular interest, but so far, no one has definitively identified it.

"Ambridge Aliquippa Bridge Across Ohio River, Aliquippa, PA"
circa 1930-1945

I don't have much information about the postcard. It appears to be a bordered linen-era postcard, a type of postcard published roughly between 1930-45.

The picture on the postcard appears to be a drawing, not a photo, so may not be entirely accurate. Despite the "Aliquippa" location in the card's printed caption, it shows the bridge from the Ambridge side of the Ohio. If nothing else, the postcard shows the bridge's walkway on the right, meaning the bridge is depicted from the east (Ambridge) side.

Here's a 1928 photo from Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library's archives of the bridge showing the same small building:

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge
approaching from 11th Street, Ambridge
credit: William J. Bowan
photo courtesy of Laughlin Memorial Library archives

I didn't find any further information about the photo in the library. However, the same photo was published in the May 13, 1991, Beaver County Times with the following caption:
This photograph presents a view of the Aliquippa-Ambridge Bridge in 1928 from 11th Street in Ambridge. The new building on the right was being constructed at the time. In 1964-68, the building and confectionery store next door were both demolished to make way for Route 65 .
I remember the building to the right with the North Pole Ice Cream sign, but I don't remember the building on the left. Does anyone know what it is and when it was demolished?

Update November 26, 2016:

I finally have a more positive identification of the small building to the left of the bridge.

After I shared the original post on Facebook, several people offered opinions on what the building may have been. One person suggested a toll house, but the Ambridge-Aliquippa bridge was never a toll bridge. I believe my cousin Frank Mish said it was a water pump house. Most of the commenters said they thought the building was a railroad switch tower.

I thought the building was in an odd location for a switch tower given the rather limited view the building gave of the train tracks that ran under the bridge, but what did I know about switch towers? Nothing.

The postcard in this post does give the impression that the building might have been just the top of a tower that was separated from 11th St. But then I took a closer look at the photo below of the bridge taken from South Heights looking east across the Ohio River towards Ambridge. The small building in question is near the far right in this photo. And although it's hard to see in the photo, the small building is not part of a tower. It sits level with 11th St. on the hill above the train tracks. Were switch towers ever not towers I wondered.

Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge
October 21, 1927
courtesy: Dale Donna Zehnder

Here's an enlargement of that part of the photo:

Enlargement of area south of the bridge

And then, during a visit to Laughlin Memorial Library, I found the photo below showing the Ambridge end of the bridge nearing completion:

Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge nearing completion on Ambridge side
courtesy: Bowan archives, Laughlin Memorial Library

On the reverse of that photo, the late Bill Bowan, a local history expert, had written a description of the scene:

Reverse of photo of bridge immediately above

Bowan wrote:
Completing work on New Ambridge Aliquippa Pa Bridge - at 11th St. & Ohio View. Ambridge Water Pump House on Left. Later razed in 1964-65 to make right of way for New Route #65. 

Based on that, I have to conclude that the building to the left of the bridge entrance was a water pump house, not a railroad switch tower. At the time the bridge was built, Ambridge pumped its water from the Ohio River; the Service Creek Reservoir wasn't constructed until the 1950s.

* Originally known as the Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge; the town of Woodlawn eventually became part of Aliquippa.

Ambridge trivia: Did you know...? #6 Kennedy Drive

Kennedy Drive was called Latimer Avenue until December 9, 1963, when Ambridge Borough Council changed the street's name to honor President John F. Kennedy, assassinated less than three weeks earlier on November 22.

Kennedy had traveled via Latimer Avenue enroute to Pittsburgh from a political rally in Aliquippa on October 12, 1962.

According to the December 10, 1963 issue of the Beaver County Times, 41 residents of Latimer Avenue had petitioned to ask for the name change.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ambridge trivia: Did you know...? #5 11th St. oil well

A working oil well once stood on 11th Street between Duss Avenue and Beaver Road.

Oil Derrick
11th St. between Duss Ave. and Beaver Rd.
circa 1900s
Daily Citizen
July 12, 1955

Original caption says:
IN THE GOOD OLE DAYS--This oil derrick was on 11th St., near Duss Ave., and Beaver Rd., in the early 1900's. Are you old enough to recall the setting?
I knew there once were oil wells in the Legionville and Tevebaugh Hollow areas, and I also knew that the Harmonites invested in oil wells, but the wells I'd read about weren't in what's currently Ambridge Borough, but rather on farmland in Economy and New Sewickley Townships.

I hadn't read anything about oil wells on the hills of Ambridge until I stumbled across an article about Economy in of all places, a 1899 magazine for railway conductors* which described "green hills dotted with oil derricks" and mentioned "hillsides, now leased to an oil speculator whose derricks overlook the village."

The photo above is the first I've found clearly identified as being an oil well in Ambridge. I do not know the year the photo was taken.

* "Economy--A Communistic Scheme in Practice" by Isaac Barrow, The Railway Conductor, 1899, Vol. XVI, Published by the Order of Railway Conductors

Update December 4, 2014: Because I know I have readers not familiar with Ambridge streets, I'm adding this current Google satellite view of the area of 11th Street between Duss Avenue (on the left side) and Beaver Road (not Beaver Street as indicated by Google) on the right. That area may have been vacant enough for an oil well in the 1900s, but it's been densely residential for a long while. You can't tell from this view, but 11th Street from Lenz Avenue to Beaver Road is quite steep.

I don't know how the derrick in the photo could be "near" both Duss Avenue and Beaver Road as described in the original photo caption. Perhaps the person who gave that as the location wasn't familiar with Ambridge streets. Or we have different definitions of "near."

11th St. between Duss Ave. and Beaver Rd.
Google satellite view

Monday, December 1, 2014

Santa comes to Ambridge! 1959

"Santa Claus is coming to Ambridge"
Beaver Valley Times
November 24, 1959

You could sometimes visit "Santas" who, let's be frank, were really "Santa's helpers" in Ambridge stores like J.C. Penney, Sears, or G.C. Murphy, but the real Santa always came to Ambridge and set up his headquarters right on Merchant Street. He'd arrive in Ambridge right after Thanksgiving, sometimes during a parade with a number of marching units, sometimes with a more modest escort as he did in 1959 when he was accompanied by the Ambridge High School band.

The Ambridge Chamber of Commerce would get very excited about Santa's stay in Ambridge. Although I have no idea why the Chamber's 1959 ad had quotation marks around "Santa" when they knew he was the real Santa.

"'Santa' Is Planning to Visit Ambridge"
Ambridge Chamber of Commerce ad
Beaver Valley Times
November 16, 1959

Some years Santa rode in on a firetruck due to "lack of snow" preventing him from riding in on his sleigh. If there had been snow...I guess the reason for the firetruck might have been "we had to clear the snow on Merchant Street for the marchers, so no sleigh." In some other years, Santa would ride on a parade float.

In 1959, Santa rode in on the truck pulling his official Santa Headquarters, a trailer donated by Twin Trailer Sales, at that time on the corner of Eighth Street and Latimer Avenue (later renamed Kennedy Drive.) In the photo of his arrival below, Santa is in front of Penn Sweet Shoppe, 501 Merchant Street. I believe the store to its right was Mark's Shoe Store at 503 Merchant.

"Santa's Here"
Beaver Valley Times
November 28, 1959

Original caption of above photo:
SANTA'S HERE - Old St. Nick came to Ambridge Friday afternoon, greeting the populace from atop a trailer which he used instead of his sleigh in the absence of snow. The jolly old fellow will talk to kiddies today from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in his trailer parked in front of the Timney Store on Merchant Street. He also will be there throughout the holiday season.

"'santa' makes his headquarters in AMBRIDGE!"
Beaver Valley Times
November 26, 1959

Look at all the Ambridge businesses sponsoring Santa's stay that are listed in the ad, just some of the many stores that lined Merchant Street in 1959. For the addresses of these stores, check out the Ambridge List of Lists page.

Here's some of the text in the ad (quirky capitalization included):
DON'T MISS SANTA'S ARRIVAL! Santa Claus will arrive in his sparkling trailer on Friday, November 27th in Ambridge, escorted by the Ambridge High School band! Santa will make his headquarters in his trailer on Merchant St. in Ambridge for the Christmas Shopping Season--Don't Miss him!
Even though Northern Lights Shopping Center had opened in November, 1956, Ambridge stores were still very busy in 1959, so busy that finding a parking space on Merchant and adjacent streets was difficult and sidewalks were crowded with shoppers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

American Bridge Day: 50th Anniversary

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Beaver County Times,
November 21, 1964

November 23, 1964, was "American Bridge Day" in Ambridge. The iconic Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Staten Island with Brooklyn was opened on November 21, and Ambridge's Mayor Walter Panek issued a proclamation recognizing the contribution of American Bridge Company's Ambridge mill and its employees in the bridge's construction.*

The text under the photo above says:
LONGEST SUSPENSION BRIDGE - New York's famed skyline fades into the background as the mighty new Verrazano Narrows Bridge takes the spotlight this week. Spanning the foot of New York Harbor between Brooklyn, right, and Staten Island, this breath-taking and record-breaking bridge will be opened for traffic today at 3 p.m. U.S. Steel's American Bridge Division, Ambridge, general contractors for the four main cables and the suspended roadway--including the record 4,200-foot long main span--was applying the necessary final touches when this photo was taken.
The November 21, 1964, Beaver County Times reported the bridge was said to be "the most spectacular yet built." An engineering marvel, the bridge was the world's longest suspension bridge at the time, and the mill workers at Ambridge's "Bridge Works" had fabricated materials for the bridge for almost three years, including 142,500 miles of the wire needed for the bridge's main cables. The mill also fabricated the bridge's suspended roadway.

According to the Times, Mayor Panek's proclamation declared "the might and ingenuity of local individuals played a vital roll [sic] in the bridge's design, fabrication, and construction." He noted that the mill "contributed substantially to the economy of our community" and "our fathers and forefathers found their first opportunity in America at the Ambridge Plant."

My father worked as a fitter** at American Bridge, one of the best I'm told. Putting the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge parts together was one of his proudest accomplishments. The bridge was one of two structures he helped to build that he wanted to see when we visited New York in 1964. The other was the Unisphere at that year's World's Fair.

Ambridge's American Bridge mill, which gave the borough its name, has been called "the plant that built America." It once employed almost 6,000 people and was the largest structural steel fabricating plant in the world."  It closed in 1984.

* The workers who actually built America's greatest structures like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are usually under-appreciated and overlooked. The American Bridge steelworkers at least were recognized by Mayor Panek's proclamation and an "American Bridge Day" in Ambridge. The New York City area steelworkers who built the bridge weren't even invited to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge's big opening day ceremony according to a segment on MSNBC's The Reid Report on November 21, 2014. Instead, the snubbed steelworkers attended a mass honoring the steelworkers who had died while working on the bridge.

* *Jay Deiter, who grew up in Ambridge near American Bridge and in the 1970s worked as an assistant to a fitter at Bethlehem Steel, described a fitter's job this way:  "A fitter is someone that can take pieces of steel, look at a set of blueprints, envision the assembled and finished project, correct engineering mistakes on the spot, build what is in front of him, sign off on his completed work and always be proud of his work and his craft!"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fourth Ward and the Economy schools

Although I do read a bit about the history of the Harmony Society's Economy, I mainly focus my research and blogging on Ambridge and the post-Harmonite period. But sometimes the two overlap, as wonderfully illustrated by this photo:

Three Economy schools
State Library of Pennsylvania
Old Economy Village archives

Although I had probably seen this photo on one of my earlier explorations of the State Library of Pennsylvania archives, I didn't appreciate what it showed until I started doing research on "Ambridge's First Building" which I blogged about last week.

The Old Economy historian's letter cited in that blog post mentioned two photos of the Blaine House, described as a school. The Blaine House is the large building on the right above. The Harmonites moved Blaine House from its previous location near what is now First and Merchant Streets shortly after they arrived at what would become their last settlement, Economy, in 1824. Christiana Knoedler says in her 1954 book The Harmony Society that the Blaine House was used as a school for over 60 years. The Old Economy-Ambridge Sesqui-Centennial Historical Booklet, compiled and edited by Rev. Norman C. Young, May 1974, agrees, saying that the Blaine House was used as a school until 1884.

Those other two buildings in the photo were also schools. The one on the left is a later Harmony Society school. The building in the background with a tower peeking out between the other buildings is Ambridge's first school, originally named Economy Public School, later called Fourth Ward School.

All I know about the Economy school on the left side is this bit of information from the Sesqui-Centennial booklet: "In 1884 a building was built on Church Street near 16th Street and prior to 1904 classes were conducted in this farm building adjacent to the old 4th Ward Building. This building is now used as an apartment house." An apartment building still occupies that corner, although it doesn't look like the 1884 school building in the photo.

In the photo, the Blaine House school and the school on the left look like they were next to each other; however, Laughlin Street ran between them. I don't know when Laughlin Street was constructed, although I believe that it was one of the streets that were cut mid-block in the larger old Harmony Society blocks when Ambridge was being built. Perhaps Laughlin Street was built after the photo was taken, but if so, it must have been soon after, since the street is shown on a 1905 map of the area.

I knew that not everyone who lived in Economy had been a member of the Harmony Society, and ever since I started doing historical research on Ambridge, I'd wondered where the children from non-Harmonite families went to school before Ambridge existed. Some may have been home-schooled, but in addition, according to The Twentieth Century History of Beaver County Pennsylvania, 1900-1988 (edited by Cheryl Weller Beck, 1989), "A schoolroom was always in use in Old Economy and attendance was free to all children, not only the children of members of the Society." 

The Ambridge School District built its first school, called Economy Public School, in 1904. It's the middle school in the above photo. Located between Laughlin and 16th Streets, almost mid-way between Church and Merchant Streets, it was built the year before Ambridge was incorporated, designed by architect Elsie Mercur Wagner, who compiled the 1924 Economy Centennial Souvenir Program: Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today

I've wondered about why Ambridge chose to build its first school between Laughlin and 16th Streets. Undoubtedly a new school was sorely needed with the sudden influx of new families moving into Ambridge after American Bridge was built; however, most of them were settling on the other end of town, near the mill.

Below is a postcard postmarked in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1912, showing the Economy Public School built by Ambridge:

"Public School Building, Economy Pa."
postmarked 1912

Although postmarked in 1912, the photo and card itself may well be pre-1907. Before 1907, the U.S. permitted only a mailing address on the back of postcards. This card has an undivided back with the notation, "This side for the address." The U.S. permitted divided back postcards beginning in 1907, allowing both a message and address on the reverse side of a card's image.

Any message on an undivided back card was often squeezed in the front's margins as it is here. The writing is very faded, but this is what I can make out:

On the left side:
Dear Miss Buchman, Kindly let me know how early in May you can [send?] for me. Bell phone 527.

On the right side:
Mrs. J. C. Campbell Lan[undecipherable] Gertie Rauch(?) phoned you about me. 

Fourth Ward School was used as a school until it was closed and razed in 1964. Its site was used for a playground for many years. The playground was razed to make room for the Old Economy Visitor Center which opened in August, 2003.

Old Economy Visitor Center
270 Sixteenth Street
April 1, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Marker

During my September, 2014, visit to Ambridge, I wanted to take a photo of "Ambridge's First Building," which the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation had recognized with a historical marker.

I wasn't sure where the building was, and a visit to the BCHRLF's Historical Marker Program page didn't help because, although "First Building in Ambridge" was listed, the marker's location wasn't given.

The Historical Marker Database wasn't helpful either, as it didn't list the marker.

Oh well, how hard could finding it be? I thought the building would probably be somewhere in or north of the historic district, perhaps between the Old Economy property and the French Point area. So I walked and drove around that neighborhood, looking for the marker, but didn't see it.

I knew the marker existed because I had once seen a photo of it taken by Edward King. I don't know when the photo below was taken, but no trees currently exist to the front or side of the building behind the marker, which turned out to be 1500 Church Street.

Historic marker
"Ambridge's First Building"
circa 1970s?
credit: Edward King, used with permission

Marker text:
Ambridge's First Building, 1824. This building was the first erected by the Harmony Society in their new town of Economy (now Ambridge) in May, 1824. It served as a church or meetinghouse until 1828. When the present Feast Hall was completed, this in turn was used as a church. The first building then became a granary and later a dwelling. The doors are the same on both sides, one probably being the women's door and the other, the men's. The emphasis placed by the Harmony Society on religion is illustrated by this building, which was erected before many of the society members had shelter.

Since my search had been fruitless, I asked some friends and acquaintances if they knew where the marker of the "first building" was located. I got a variety of answers, some of which I knew were wrong because the markers cited were not for the "first building." And I had driven through all the streets suggested as the marker location without seeing it. Why couldn't I find it?

I also got a variety of opinions on what building was "Ambridge's first."

The next day, I again walked and drove several times through all the streets in the northwest part of Ambridge: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Boyleston, Laughlin, Henning, Henrici, Church, and Merchant Streets, and again I couldn't find the marker.

While I did enjoy walking around Ambridge in beautiful fall weather, this was turning out to be a not very productive search historical-building-wise.

At that point, I decided I could keep wandering around northwest Ambridge looking for the marker, or I could ask the people who should know where it was. So I called BCHRLF and spoke with Brenda Applegate, the executive director. She told me that the marker once identified a building at the corner of Fifteenth and Church Streets, but was currently in storage by the BCHRLF after an Old Economy Village historian expressed concerns about the accuracy of the marker.

Later, Applegate sent me a copy of a February 21, 2002, letter from an Old Economy historian to the chairman of the Beaver County historical marker program about the possible "re-installation" of the marker at the "Blaine House." The letter states, in part,
[T]here  seems to be question [sic] as to the historical accuracy of the oral tradition associated with the house on the northeast corner of Church here in the Historic District of Ambridge as being the oldest house in Economy. 
The letter goes on to list some of the historical writings that would call into question the accuracy of the marker, including several passages from Christiana Knoedler's 1954 book, The Harmony Society in which she writes about the Blaine House, saying it was still at the corner of Fifteenth and Church Streets:
The house was located near old Beaver Road and First Street of present day Ambridge, about one mile from the village of Economy. The Blaines gave possession about two months after it was sold. It was occupied by Father Rapp until his new dwelling in Economy was completed.  
This house was about twelve years old in 1824, when it was taken down and re-erected. When rebuilt, all of the material was used again, even the plastering. For almost sixty years the building...was used as a school. It is now well over 135 years old and still stands at the northeast corner of Fifteenth and Church Streets. 
The other house of interest is the one at the southwest was a log house moved from the Heslet track (present day Hazel Hollow, near Nineteeth Street). This is considered to be the oldest house in Ambridge today.

The historian goes on to write about two photos showing the Blaine House:
As you can see, the building which is presently at the northeast corner of 15th and Church Streets bears no resemblance to the school house as rebuilt by the Harmony Society which reused all material again. The building there now may contain elements from the original House but is hardly a historic building of the Harmonist or pre-Harmonist period.

This is one of the photos, reproduced in The Harmony Society, showing the Blaine House and cited by the historian. The Blaine House is the building in the background. The copy of the photo below is from the State Library of Pennsylvania's Old Economy Village Archives with the descriptive note: "Typical dwelling and school (Old Blaine House)"

Economy house and schoolhouse
State Library of Pennsylvania
Old Economy Village Archives

Knoedler's caption in The Harmony Society says: A typical Economy dwelling at the corner of Fifteenth and Church Streets. At the right is Blaine House.

I think the second photo supplied as a reference by the historian is so interesting, it deserves its own post, which I hope to write soon. So I'll not show it here.

I did find another photo of The Blaine House in the State Library of Pennsylvania's Old Economy Village Archives which lists it as a "school." The descriptive note says: "The 'Blaine Mansion' moved (sometime in the 1820s) from what is now East of Merchant Street and Duss Ave Intersection"

Blaine House
State Library of Pennsylvania
Old Economy Village Archives

Here's the Google street view of 1500 Church Street for comparison:

1500 Church Street
Google street view

I don't have the answers yet to some of my new questions:
  • When was the building at 1500 Church Street, which Knoedler identifies as the Blaine House, so extensively remodeled it no longer qualified as a "historic building of the Harmonist or pre-Harmonist period"?
  • If 1500 Church Street is not Ambridge's first building, what is? Is it the former log house at 1427 Church Street which is believed to be the Heslet log house which Knoedler thought was "the oldest building in Ambridge" in 1954? And why didn't the BCHRLF mark that building as Ambridge's first? 
  • Were there other pre-1824 buildings on land that later became part of Ambridge that weren't moved by the Harmonites to Economy? And if so, what happened to them? 
  • What was the Blaine House used for besides a school? Was it ever used for a church/meetinghouse, granary, or house, as the marker said?

If you have the answers to these questions, please leave a comment.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

400 block of Merchant Street: vintage views

The 400 block of Merchant Street may be the most photographed block in Ambridge. Here are some vintage views showing the changes over the years.

I'm not sure of the year the photo on the postcard below was taken, but I think it's the oldest photo that I have of the 400 block of Merchant since it looks like it shows the trolley tracks being laid. They were completed in January, 1906. Although it's hard to tell in the photo, there are two sets of rails being laid.

The caption on the card says this is Merchant Street looking west, but most of us would say it was looking north, although both are sort of right; it's a northwest view; that part of Merchant Street does not run straight north and south.

I believe the three buildings with the awnings on the right may have been 454, 458 and 462 Merchant and have been razed. The building above those is the old Ambridge Savings and Trust building built in 1905 at the corner of Fifth and Merchant. It was later replaced by the large gray stone Economy Bank of Ambridge building, which was later occupied by Equibank, then used by a variety of short-lived tenants including The Bank Restaurant, then finally demolished to build a parking lot and drive-up windows for Economy Savings and Loan, now Wesbanco bank.

"View of Merchant Street, Looking West, Ambridge, Pa."
postcard showing building of trolley tracks,
400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

By the time of the suffragette march in May 1906, the trolley tracks had been completed, and the buildings with the awnings in the first photo now have neighbors: the Ambridge Laundry building to the left and and several brick buildings to the right.

Temperance March, May 1906
400 block of Merchant Street, looking south

In the postcard below, the painted sign advertises Coca-Cola and Tingley's Pharmacy.

"Merchant St.--Ambridge, Pa."
400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

In the next postcard, the building at the bottom of the left side is Tingley's Pharmacy. There appears to still be empty lots on both sides of the street. The building on the left side with lighter bricks on the upper stories has a sign for a "Hardware & Supply Co., but I can't read the first word. Can anyone make it out? There are still two sets of trolley rails.

"Merchant Street, Ambridge, Pa."
400 block of Merchant Street looking north

I'm guessing the date of the next postcard is in the 1920s. I don't see any vacant lots on either side of the street. Already, parking looks tight on the increasingly busy street. Now, there's only one set of trolley tracks.

"Merchant Street, Looking West--Ambridge, Pa."
400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

The photo below is not a postcard. It shows a bustling street with businesses many of us still remember. On the left. mid-block, you can see the sign for Ross Plumbing.

On the right, there's Economy Furniture, Iron City Beer, then a restaurant and bar whose name I can't make out (is it City Restaurant and Bar?). At the end of the block, you can see the Penn Theatre's marquee.

Merchant Street now has electric street lights.

400 block of Merchant Street, looking north

The photo below is still of the 400 block, but the photographer shot from further south.

On the left is Nicholas Grill, 401 Merchant (later the location of The Red Bull Inn); Kristufek Agency, 405 Merchant; Vince's Pizzeria, 427 Merchant; and Villella's Barber Shop, 443 Merchant. Although there's a large painted sign for the Ambridge Army-Navy Store, it had already moved to 517 Merchant Street.

On the right: New Rainbow Room Hotel and Bar, 412 Merchant; Modern Furniture, 432-434; and the Princess Shoppe, 454 Merchant.

The trolley tracks have been paved over.

400 block of Merchant Street, looking north
Bridger yearbook, 1965

Here are some recent photos of the same block for comparison. A number of the buildings appear to be vacant.

Villella's Barber Shop is still at 443 Merchant. Vocelli Pizza at 447 Merchant was once the Pfeifer funeral home.

400 block of Merchant, west (odd) side
March 30, 2014

400 block of Merchant Street, west (odd) side
June 23, 2013

400 block of Merchant Street, west (odd) side
March 30, 2014

459 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

465 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

400 block of Merchant Street, west (odd) side
June 23, 2013

418 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

Tim Cassidy Remodeling
424 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

430-434 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

There is an empty lot between 434 and 448 Merchant where I think Economy Furniture's parking lot once was.

448 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

The Chapel on Merchant Street
452 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

PNC Bank
498 Merchant Street
March 30, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Divine Redeemer St. George's Cadets

Divine Redeemer Church's St. George Cadets,
Daily Citizen, July 5, 1955

This was one of several vintage photos published by The Daily Citizen during Ambridge's Golden Jubilee (50th Anniversary) Celebration in 1955. I don't know anything about the photo other than the original caption which read:

ST. GEORGE CADETS, of the Divine Redeemer Church, organized in 1916, when this picture was taken by Valent Hovanec and Mike Safo. The cadets participated in the 1924 celebration parade. Known members of the band are: F. Zalmenek, A. Hertneki, V. Hovanec, A. Churni, T. Kerzan, T. Tkatch, T. Huk, M. Safo, V. Fagul, T. Hertnecki, B. Minueski, M. Hovanec, and C. Lulkovich.

I put a "?" after the 1916 date given for the photo because it looks like it was taken on the church's front steps, and the church wasn't built until 1918 according to the church's history.

The priest in the photo is most likely Rev. Ignatius S. Herkel who served as pastor from 1916 to 1941.

The "1924 celebration" was the Economy Centennial. The Centennial parade was held on June 7, 1924.

Here is a photo of the cadets published in Divine Redeemer's Golden Anniversary Celebration book in 1956:

St. George's Cadets, 1917
Divine Redeemer Church
Golden Anniversary book, 1956

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

800 and 900 blocks of Glenwood Avenue,1950s

This photo shows the 800 and 900 blocks of Glenwood Avenue looking north. I do not know the date of the photo, but the cars would put it in the 1950s.

You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

Because the view is slightly elevated, and Glenwood doesn't cut straight across 8th Street, but makes a shift to the west in the 800 and 900 block, I think the photo probably was taken from inside the old St. Veronica Church which once stood on the southwest corner of Glenwood and 8th Street where Good Samaritan Church's round Jericho Hall* is now.

800 and 900 blocks of Glenwood Avenue looking north
Circa 1950s
photo courtesy of Bob Mikush, used with permission

To the far left of the photo is the former Iron City Beer Distributor building.

The building cut off on the far right of the photo with the cars parked in its lot is the former Wall's feed and seed store. Wall's, like other Ambridge stores in that era, was closed on Sundays, and St. Veronica church-goers would use the Wall's lot for parking.

Ambridge Auto Repair was at 814 Glenwood next to Wall's, behind the Iron City trailer.

Towering above the buildings on the east side of the street are the lights for Ambridge High School's football stadium.

About half way up the west side of the street is L & S Auto Service (a Hudson and Rambler dealership) at 901 Glenwood, now the location of Kal's Body Shop.**

Where Glenwood dead-ends at 10th Street, the low white building is the Briola Ice Co. building.

The tall building to the left of the Briola building, peeking above the roof of L & S, is the old Heinz Vinegar Plant on Sherman Street.

The mill behind the right side of the Briola building is National Electric on 11th Street.

Beaver Valley Builders Supplies was at 906 Glenwood. Ambridge's newspaper in the 1950s, The Daily Citizen, was at 930 Glenwood.***

Do you remember any other businesses on those two blocks of Glenwood in the 1950s? If so, please leave a comment.

* Jericho Hall was originally Saint Veronica's grade school, replacing a brick school which stood on 8th Street and Melrose Avenue where Good Samaritan Church's parking lot is now.

** At one time, Hupmobile Sales and Service was in the 901 Glenwood building.

*** 930 Glenwood was the location of a number of other news or printing companies over the years: the Ambridge News-Herald, the Aliquippa Printing Company, and Vaughn Arnold's Citizen Printing.