Friday, February 28, 2014

The American Bridge office building: going...gone!

The American Bridge office building that once looked like this:

"Main Office Building of American Bridge Works, Ambridge, Pa."
Fisher-M'Conegly  Post Card Co., Homestead, PA.
1903 or 1904?
and this:

American Bridge office building,
 uncredited photo,
1924 Centennial Souvenir Program

Now looks like this:

The rubble formerly known as the American Bridge office 4th St. wing,
February 26, 2014,
Credit: P.J. Shotter, used with permission

Thanks to Mike and P.J. Shotter for these photos of some of the last moments of the American Bridge office and the rubble that it became:

American Bridge office building,
4th Street wing,
last phase of demolition,
February 24, 2014,
credit: Mike Shotter, used with permission

American Bridge office building,
4th Street wing,
turned into dust and rubble,
last phase of demolition,
February 24, 2014
credit: Mike Shotter, used with permission

American Bridge office building,
4th Street wing,
last phase of demolition,
February 24, 2014,
credit: Mike Shotter, used with permission

American Bridge office building,
4th Street wing
last phase of demolition,
February 24, 2014,
credit: Mike Shotter, used with permission

The rubble formerly known as the American Bridge office 4th St. wing,
February 26, 2014,
Credit: P.J. Shotter, used with permission

The rubble formerly known as the American Bridge office,
February 26, 2014,
Credit: P.J. Shotter, used with permission

The rubble formerly known as the American Bridge office,
February 26, 2014,
Credit: P.J. Shotter, used with permission

The rubble formerly known as the American Bridge office,
February 26, 2014,
Credit: P.J. Shotter, used with permission

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The State Theatre

State Theatre and State Luncheonette,
Merchant Street, Ambridge
Daily Citizen, January 27, 1959

The State Theatre was one of two movie theaters remaining on Merchant Street in the mid-1950s. The other was the Ambridge Theatre. The State was at 749 Merchant Street and the Ambridge at 714 Merchant Street.

[Update February 22, 2016: The October 6, 1944, Daily Times mentions in an article, "Ambridge Theatre Dispute In Court," about the lawsuit filed by the Penn Theatre's owner at that time, against the "former occupants of the Penn, now operating the recently-built State Theatre." The court's decision includes the information that the former operators of the Penn converted a garage building into the State Theatre.]

Ambridge had once had other movie theaters, including the Penn and the Prince, but those two closed in the early '50s.

According to the January 16, 1959, Daily Citizen, the Ambridge School Board planned to levy a five percent tax on the theaters. The theater owners warned that both the State and Ambridge theaters would close if that tax was imposed, and suggested a 10 percent tax on any shows costing more than 70 cents instead. I'm going to surmise that the theaters had many fewer shows costing more than 70 cents than they did shows costing 70 cents or less. The theater owners told the school board that if the theaters closed, 29 employees would lose their jobs.

The school board must have levied the five percent tax, because on January 26, the Daily Citizen announced that the Ambridge Parking Development Corporation planned to purchase the State Theatre, as well as the old Penn Theatre building on 5th and Merchant Street, to create parking lots.

[Update 6/17/14: photo below added

Closed State Theatre,
 plus State Luncheonette and Color Craft Paints
Merchant Street
photo developed July 1959
photo courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives
used with permission

Note written in bottom border of photo above says "State Theatre 700 Block West S. Ambridge Pa. Built in 1940s."]

In a May 1, 1959 article, the Daily Citizen reported, "Last night marked the passing of another Ambridge theater into time and memory as the State Theatre finished its final show."

I don't remember much about the State. I believe I may have gone there only a few times. I think I remember going to see Snow White there. I do remember going there with my father to see The Long, Long Trailer with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The scene that stuck in my mind, because I thought it was absolutely hilarious, had Lucy trying to fry eggs while the trailer was at a steep slant, and the eggs kept sliding out of the pan and off the stove. The movie was released in 1953 when I would have been three years old. Do I really remember a movie I saw at age three? I'm doubtful. Perhaps the movie was part of a double feature I saw sometime later. I'm still looking for old State Theatre movie ads to try to find out.

The former location of the State Theatre is still a parking lot.

In 1965, the Ambridge Theatre also would close and a new building housing Pittsburgh National Bank was built on the site. The current driveway on the north side of Huntington Bank is approximately where the Ambridge Theatre once stood.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ambridge History: The Grand Hotel and the Moose

I confess that unlike my co-blogger Robert Giles, I was not born a historian. I liked history. In fact, history was my favorite school subject. And I liked to read books about history and was fascinated by Old Economy and the story of the Harmonites who once lived there. But I never felt any real interest into digging into Ambridge's past.

When I grew up in Ambridge in the '50s and '60s, most of the buildings along the Merchant Street corridor looked old to me, so I simply assumed they were built on what had previously been Harmonite farmland. However, if I had thought about how young the town of Ambridge was, having been built after the American Bridge Company came to the area in 1903, my assumptions about what had existed before the buildings were built probably would have been only reinforced, but not because they were old, but because they weren't old. "These buildings are all so young, only about 50 years old. Of course, nothing was there before they were built except Harmonite fields and orchards."

Bottom line: in the '50s and '60s, I wasn't curious about the history of any of the buildings in Ambridge, except when I wondered why the old Divine Redeemer School building at 300 Merchant Street where I went to school, looked more like an old boarding house than a school.* A lack of curiosity I now seriously regret.

Now, I'm often surprised by what I discover as I learn more about Ambridge history.

Take this undated clipping** posted on Facebook by P.J. Shotter:

formerly located at 13th St. and Merchant St., Ambridge."
newspaper clipping, source and date unknown

P.J. asked if anyone knew where the Grand Hotel had been: was it perhaps where Franzee's-Javy's currently is?

I thought, "Wow, that's an impressive building. What happened to it?"

Had the Grand Hotel been near the former Grand Restaurant which once had been located at 1231 Merchant Street? Or had it been on the other side of the street? T
here were no real clues until I found an article in The Daily Times, September 20, 1937. The headline reads: "Ambridge Blaze Razes Building."

According to the article, "One fireman was injured and damage estimated at $10,000 resulted when fire swept through the upper three floors of the four-story Moose temple, Merchant and Thirteenth streets, Ambridge, Sunday afternoon, routing 13 occupants of an adjoining house."

The article noted that "the Moose temple, built in 1903 was almost a complete loss."

According to the article, the adjoining house belonged to Michael Kensler who lived there with his wife, son, and 10 roomers.

The article goes on to say that the four-story brick building not only housed the Moose lodge, but also a restaurant on the first floor operated by Gus Kellas. And importantly, the article mentioned, "The building formerly was occupied by the Grand hotel."

Update 2/28/14: Wonderful postcard of the Grand Hotel:

Grand Hotel
Date unknown

Even after reading the article about the fire, I didn't realize until recently that months before I started looking for information about the Grand Hotel, I'd already come across a photo of the building in Elise Mercur Wagner's Economy centennial book

"Moose Club,"
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program, Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today,

I suspect that after the fire, the Moose built a new lodge where the old one had once stood, but I haven't found anything to confirm that yet. 

I remember the Moose Lodge at 1300 Merchant Street that has been home to Franzee's-Javy's since 1984. As a kid, I went to at least one wedding there, and my grandparents would sometimes take me with them when they played bingo there. 

But, back then, I didn't wonder if another building had preceeded the Moose building. I did, however, wonder why anyone would think hanging the head of a dead moose above the entryway was attractive "welcome" decor.

I don't know when or why the Ambridge Moose left the building. I couldn't find information on whether they closed, moved, or merged with another lodge. But I do know that apparently the Moose head found a new home with another Moose lodge.

* I now know that before 1920, the old Divine Redeemer School was once the Davis Hotel, which explains a lot about that building.

** The clipping came from the collection of Lillian Turney, Ambridge High School Class of 1937, one of the first two women inducted into the Ambridge Sports Hall of Fame. The other woman was Marcella Spahr, a familiar name to about 40 years of Ambridge High School students.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The American Bridge office building: almost gone

American Bridge office building demolition,
4th Street wing,
February 21, 2014
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

On February 21, P.J. Shotter shot more photos of the American Bridge office building's demolition. All that was left standing was the 4th Street wing. That will no doubt soon be gone. Then all we'll have left is photos and memories. (Oh, and I'll have a brick from the building that someone rescued from the rubble and is going to give me the next time I'm in Ambridge.)

American Bridge office building demolition,
4th Street wing,
February 21, 2014
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

American Bridge office building demolition,
4th Street wing,
February 21, 2014
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

American Bridge office building demolition rubble,
February 21, 2014
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission
American Bridge office building demolition,
4th Street wing,
February 21, 2014
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission
American Bridge office building demolition,
4th Street wing,
February 21, 2014
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The American Bridge office: Going up and coming down

The American Bridge office building under construction,
Beaver County Times, August 20, 1974

This is the way the American Bridge office building looked when it was going up in 1903.

The photo is from what appears to be a supplement to the Beaver County Times on August 20, 1974, celebrating Old Economy's 150th Anniversary. The photo isn't the best quality, but it's the only photo of the office's construction I've found so far.

The text under the photo says:
A 1903 construction photo of the Ambridge plant shows the main office building on Park Road. The plant had its beginning in 1900, when officials from the Berlin Iron Co. purchased 40 acres from the Harmony Society to build a steel fabrication facility.
Now, 110 years later, the building, empty for 30 years or so, neglected, vandalized, and deteriorating, is coming down. On November 30 and December 16, 2013, I posted photos documenting the condition of the office's exterior walls when their demolition hadn't yet started. These new photos from P.J. Shotter and Denise Kosis, taken last week, show the early stages of the demolition of the exterior. Soon, the great Ambridge building will be gone.

Thank you P.J. Shotter and Denise Kosis. More photos should be posted soon.

Demolition of American Bridge office building,
February, 2014,
credit: Denise Kosis, used with permission

Demolition of American Bridge office building,
February, 2014,
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

Demolition of American Bridge office building,
February, 2014,
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

Demolition of American Bridge office building,
February, 2014,
credit: Denise Kosis, used with permission

Demolition of American Bridge office building,
February, 2014,
credit: Denise Kosis, used with permission

Demolition of American Bridge office building,
February, 2014,
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

Demolition of American office building,
February, 2014,
credit: Demise Kosis, used with permission

Demolition of American Bridge office building,
February, 2014,
credit: P. J. Shotter, used with permission

Friday, February 14, 2014


Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

The Schwartzes had a bicycle shop on an alley at the edge of Byersdale.

Byers Alley ran one-half block east of Duss Avenue north across Dearborn Street between Nick’s produce stand and Vicki’s Tavern. There was a trailer sales lot on the left. The bike shop was across the gravel from the trailers just before you got to Club 88. It was a white stucco building with a clapboard frame second floor.

I haven’t seen it in twenty-five years. It may look completely different now. Then again, some things don’t change.

The bicycle shop closed in the late 60s or the early 70s. Right about then, people stopped riding bikes until interest returned in the 80s.

Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz lived in the flat above the shop. Mr. had a full-time job in a factory and only worked at the shop evenings and weekends. Nine times out of ten it was Mrs. Schwartz who answered the bell and opened the door, slightly out of breath from hustling down stairs.

Mrs. Schwartz was a large woman with frizzy red hair and a face to match. You have to give her credit - she was patient with her customers, most of them kids. Whether you were a kid or not didn’t matter to “Schwartzie”. She treated everyone about the same.

If you needed a new tire or inner tube for your bike, she was the person to see. She and her husband carried a full line of bicycle accessories. They also sold bicycles, mostly used ones that Mr. Schwartz had refurbished.

The modern equivalent of taking your bike to Mr. Schwartz would be taking your automobile to the dealer’s repair shop. Too expensive. If you needed to repair your bike, you did it yourself or asked an older brother or another neighborhood kid to help. Mr. Schwartz did repair somebodies' bikes - we saw him working in his shop or outside on the walk. Maybe up on the heights there were kids who could afford Mr. Schwartz’s prices (or was it their parents who footed the bill?).

Mostly we knew enough about bikes to trust to our own wits. We didn’t have English racers with caliper brakes and three-speed gears. We had plain American bikes. Model Ts. Coaster brakes. Bendix. About the only thing I couldn’t fix on an American bike by age twelve was a rim that had gone out of line. That was something that you would only make worse if you tried to do it on the cheap.

Mr. Schwarz had a good eye for knowing which spokes to tighten and which to loosen.  He had one of those special wrenches that you placed over a spoke just where it exited the rim. I forget how many spokes there were on a bicycle wheel – too many. Each one had to be tightened to the right tension to bring a rim into alignment.

Mr. Schwartz had the stump of a pipe mounted vertically on his bench. He put an errant wheel on his "axle" and gave it a spin. Then he tightened and loosened spokes and spun the wheel until he got rid of the wobble. He made a chunk of change tightening spokes – his personal wheel of fortune.

Repairing a flat tire was simple. Most riders today prefer tubeless tires. Back then they had inner tubes.

First you had to turn the bike over on its seat and handlebars and remove the wheel.  Then you had to pry the tire part way off the rim so you could remove the tube.  Step three was to inflate the tube so you could identify the source of the leak. If the leak was “quick” you could feel it with your palm. If slow, you had to immerse the tube in water. The bubbles told the tale. 

Schwartzie sold tube repair kits. You had to roughen the surface of the tube before it would take a patch. There was a silver thingy with raised sharp bumps on it for abrading the rubber. When ready you applied the glue and the patch, the patch cut big to cover the hole with a half-inch to spare all around.  Time to borrow your Dad’s No. 142 - 2 inch C-clamp to hold the patch until the glue dried (maybe twenty minutes to be safe.)

Once the glue dried you deflated the tube completely so you could fit it back under the tire, making sure you inserted the valve stem cleanly through the hole in the rim of the wheel. Then you mounted the tire on the rim and inflated the tube with a hand pump.

Time to put the wheel back on, tighten the nuts and right the bike. Good as new. I fixed a flat tire many times.

Once you patched a tube too often, you had to break down and buy a new one - big expense for a kid self-financing his own repairs. No wonder I delivered newspapers.

About the worst thing that could happen to your bike was a bent fork. If it was bent too badly, the front tire would rub against the frame. Obviously, that made it difficult to ride and had to be fixed. There was a temporary workaround – you could ride with the wheel turned around and the handlebars facing out.

A “quick-and-dirty” fix was to run into a tree or wall with the wheel reversed and bend it back the other way. My brother Chuck had a professional solution. He took the fork off the bike and heated it red hot over the kitchen stove. Then he straightened it by whacking it with a hammer.

Before you try blacksmithing on your Mom’s kitchen stove, I have a suggestion – take as much of the paint off the fork as you can. It smells to high heaven when it melts in the fire.

Schwartz’s Bike Shop was the place to go if you wanted to add doodads to make your bike look spiffy. Handle bar grips were mandatory. I kind of liked those streamer things that you inserted so that they came out of the vents in the grips, but doodads were for other kids. I preferred the stripped-down look, no fenders, baskets, lights, bells or whistles.

I ought to explain how I came by my bike in the first place. Dad brought home five or six bikes in pieces – it may be that he found them in the Ambridge dump. Maybe he had answered a classified ad in the Times. Dumpster-diving didn’t come into vogue until the 70s so he didn’t get them that way.

We boys took them apart completely and washed down all the internal brake parts and ball bearings and gears. We soaked the chains in kerosene. We picked out the best tires and wheels and threw out the others.

We removed the seats and handlebars and the sprockets and pedals. We rubbed down the frames with steel wool and hung them from the joists in the garage. We painted them with cans of spray paint from the Baden Hardware.

When the paint dried, we re-assembled the bikes, using Vaseline to lubricate the ball bearings and other moving parts. The fenders were bent and rusty and beyond saving so we threw them away too.

In a couple of days, we had three good-looking serviceable bicycles. Dad had laid them at our doorstep. We had done the rest. 

Wheels. Time to ride.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Natural Bent for History

Microsoft Word
by Robert Giles

Growing up in Byersdale, I would often look about me and ask – “What was this like a hundred years ago?” I guess I had a natural bent for history.

The view from our back porch was underwhelming – an Atlantic service station, a truck park, Jan’s Bar, and the Byersdale Hotel. If I leaned forward, I could make out the corner of the Isaly store.

There was a large billboard just on the other side of  Duss Avenue.  It obscured the view of  Byers’ Field, not that Byers’ Field was much to look at, even if it was as important as the roadside markers said. “Logstown”. “Legionville”. “The Battle of Fallen Timbers”.

Beyond Byers’ Field were the railroad tracks. They were down on the river bank where they couldn’t be seen. We could hear but not see the Pennsy. The Ohio River we could make out on a clear day when the light hit it just right. It was almost a mile off. The J&L steel mill was always there, chain-smoking  and coughing fire. At day’s end, the sun settled over the dark Aliquippa hills.

Once we watched a worker put up a new advertisement on the billboard. He used a long-handled brush (like a wide soft broom) to glue sheets of paper to the board. When all the sheets were glued in the proper arrangement, it all looked whole and formed a nice picture. The glue dried invisibly and you had to be real close to see the seams. Just like wallpaper.

The day we watched, the man with the brush was putting up an ad for a new brand of cigarette, Salem. There was a handsome couple sitting down for a picnic beside a pond, pine trees  and mountains in the background. You could almost smell the pine scent. You guessed it. They weren’t eating fried chicken – they were enjoying Salem cigarettes. Everything was clean and nice. (And mentholated.)

That billboard was  as close to Paradise as we would get, sitting on our back porch in Byersdale.

It seemed that the history of Western Pennsylvania began and ended with the French and Indian War. I learned about it at school – Braddock’s Road, George Washington, Fort Necessity, Jumonville, the Battle of Bushy Run.

Admiral Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie, but that was another war, the War of 1812, and a long way from Byersdale. Lake Erie was almost in Canada.The Revolutionary War and the Civil War bypassed us entirely.

The time between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War was a big blank. Isn't that when they spent four score years quarreling about slavery when they weren't fighting about whether to have a national bank? And the Whigs were for “internal improvements” but the Democrats were against them.

Why any one would vote against “internal improvements” I couldn’t guess, but as soon as someone proposes, someone opposes. That’s just the way it is.

In sixth grade, our home room class walked down Rice Avenue  to visit “Old Economy”. That wasn’t in our text book but Mr. Scimio just wanted to have a nice walk on a warm spring day, I guess.

We learned about the Harmony Society before we went – I think there may even have been a movie that Mr. Scimio showed us. He adjusted the venetian blinds to darken the room. “Frank, switch off the lights now, please.”

The Harmonists (or is it Economites) couldn’t decide where to settle down, moving from Germany to Butler County to Indiana on the Wabash back to Beaver County within the space of twenty years. In that short period, they built three prosperous towns. It makes me tired just thinking about all that moving and constructing.

Finally they settled down in present-day Ambridge but they were celibate so they died out, proving forever and ever that socialism is harebrained and will not work.

I remember only two things from that field trip – besides Rice Avenue being the steepest hill on earth, that is. There was a building that had structural problems and the Harmonists installed iron bars and stays from wall to wall (up high out of the way) to keep the brick walls from splaying out. Very clever, practical people those Harmonists. (Wait a minute; didn’t we say they were harebrained in the previous paragraph?)

They also had this place called a grotto or cave that symbolized the inner beauty of the spirit – plain on the outside, beautiful on the inside – something like that. Anyway, we were given a big build-up - I thought it would look like the cave of Ali Baba when I got inside.

Sheesh, no way – what a letdown – to me it seemed almost as plain on the inside.

Now that I am approaching the age of wisdom, I have turned the focus of my meditation from my navel to my feet. I study my roots.

There is a wealth of resources for this, all made possible by Al Gore and his invention of the internet. Those little town centennial booklets that you could only find on obscure library shelves have been scanned and are available on Google Books.

Just yesterday, I read about the Reverend William A. Passavant, a saint of the Lutheran Church. His sainthood is commemorated every November 24th.

The name caught my eye because so many things in my old neighborhood bear his name – all sorts of hospitals and charities – the Orphan's Home and School in Zelienople (now Glade Run Lutheran Services), the Passavant Home in Rochester (now Passavant Memorial Homes), the Passavant Hospital in Pittsburgh (now UPMC Passavant Hospital).

He also founded hospitals and charities in distant places like Chicago, Milwaukee and Mount Vernon NY.

Passavant established a Lutheran church in Rochester as well as the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in nearby Baden (less than a mile from my old home in Byersdale).

He was born October 9, 1821, at Zelienople and died on January 3, 1894. He was educated at Washington & Jefferson College (undergraduate) and Gettysburg College (seminary).

At the age of 18, Passavant journeyed to Old Economy. (The trip back and forth from Zelienople on horseback may have been as arduous as climbing up and down Rice Avenue.)

Here is what Passavant had to say about the view from my back porch in Byersdale --

On the opposite side of the Ohio a lofty ridge covered with oaks and pines followed the windings of the river as far as the eye could reach. Clumps of sugar maple clothed in a livery of the richest green … were scattered over this valley in every direction, while fields of grain on the uplands; often surrounded by primitive forests, presented a quiet yet beautiful scene which wanted only the painters skill to be eternalized on canvas. 
The very first field* of the Economites was used as a camp by the army of General Anthony Wayne for the whole winter previous to his expedition against the Indian tribes of the West. The field contains about ten acres and was defended on two sides by the nature of the ground; the other two were surrounded by an embankment of earth eight feet high and a ditch which are still visible. 
The amount of land owned by the society amounts to two thousand acres and without doubt is among the best on the Ohio. A large part of this is what might be called high river bottom land which runs back to the hills, and is in many places a mile in breadth. This part is all cleared and cultivated, while on the hills there are yet large tracts of woodland.
It is really a pleasure to walk over this immense plantation and see the perfection to which farming is carried. Some of the fields contain fifty or a hundred acres, and are surrounded by the best fences, and on their entire surface not a stump is to be seen. If the land is too steep for the plough, it is covered with rows of white mulberry trees to supply the silk worms with leaves. If there is danger of a run washing away, its banks are lined with willows. Should the ground prove too marshy for the purposes of agriculture, it is planted with a species of osiers for the manufacture of baskets, and a deep ravine between sand hills which would otherwise be of no value has been chosen as the pleasure ground of their herd of hogs, where they may exercise their rooting propensities to their hearts desire, without injury to the soil. 
In this manner everything is arranged, the different grains and plants are adapted to their appropriate soils; everything receives a proper degree of attention and shows what can be done by a community of common interests properly governed. The number of farmers is very large and often in harvest fifty reapers may be seen in a single field. The women who are not otherwise employed often work in the field during harvest, and with their sleeves rolled up, and broad rimmed bonnets on their heads present a very picturesque appearance.

Much attention is paid to the raising of fruit trees, and in the fall of the year every variety of apple, pear, plum, peach, quince, etc., may be had for the asking. Some of their orchards are very extensive, especially the apple which covers several hills. The trees are grafted and produce every variety from the Rambo to the juicy Pippin. 
The flock of sheep belonging to the society is very large and numbers many thousands; they are pastured by shepherds during the summer who with their dogs lead a solitary life watching their flocks.

So you see that my valley was long ago something closer to an earthly paradise than that billboard advertisement for Salem cigarettes. I've pieced together a picture of it from eyewitness accounts from old-timers like Passavant.

It wasn’t a utopia, which translated from the Greek means “no place”, but it was a genuine place of beauty and order and prosperity, notwithstanding the inevitable portion of human frailty. 

To read more about Reverend Passavant, visit this link in Wikipedia.

The excerpted material authored by William A. Passavant is from the “Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine”, Volume 4, Number 3, dated July 1921.

*The "first" field of the Economites is none other than present day Byers’ Field.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Welcome to Ambridge

Welcome to Ambridge sign,
4th Street and Ohio River Boulevard,
Ambridge PA
Bridger yearbook, 1964

The "Welcome to Ambridge" sign at 4th Street and Ohio River Boulevard always told me I was nearing home when traveling north on Route 65.

The photo caption says, "The prominence of Ambridge as a thriving community is immediately evident upon arriving in the town."

The sign is now gone; I don't know how I should interpret that.

This is what the same corner looks like now. Perhaps more visually attractive. But perhaps not.

Intersection of 4th Street and Ohio River Boulevard,
Ambridge, PA

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Early Ambridge public schools: then and now

Five early Ambridge public schools,
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program,

Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today,

I plan to post more on some of the individual schools in the above photo in the future, but because there's been so much interest in these schools, I'm providing some basic information about them now:

Then (1924):
The photo above from the 1924 Economy Centennial Souvenir Program, Economy of Old and Ambridge of Today, compiled by Elise Mercur Wagner, shows five then-existing Ambridge public school buildings.

From the top:
  • Harmony School which was at 5th Street just above the intersection of Beaver and Duss Avenues, built in 1912 for Harmony Township students, expanded in 1915, and in 1916, taken over by the Ambridge Borough;
  • The first Ambridge High School at 740 Park Road, built in 1914, later became Park Road School;
  • Fourth Ward School at 16th and Church Streets, built in 1904 *;
  • Liberty School which was at 5th Street, directly above Harmony School, built in 1917-1918; and
  • First Ward School, 215 Merchant Street, opened in 1910.

Missing in the photo:
  • Second Ward School at Maplewood Avenue near 8th Street, built in 1904, duplicated Fourth Ward School. The Ambridge High School on Park Road was later built directly behind Second Ward School. In 1956, the Second Ward School building became the Ambridge Recreation Center, which, to the best I can determine at present, was razed in 1972 or 1973.  [Update April 12, 2004: the Old Economy-Sesqui-Centennial Historical Booklet compiled by Norman C. Young says that the rec center was razed in the summer of 1972.] [Update March 4, 2015: Although the Old Economy Sesqui-Centennial Historical Booklet says the rec center was razed in the summer of 1972, the school board was still discussing demolition bids in September 1972. The caption for a photo of the building in the Beaver County Times, November 23, 1972, said that demolition was slated to begin that month and was expected to be completed by mid-December. See the photo in the blog article "Second Ward School, Ambridge's second public school." The site now appears to be used as a parking lot by the occupants of the former High School/Park Road School building;
  • Ambridge Junior High School, Duss Avenue, under construction in 1924 but not opened until 1925, enlarged in 1929. After a second annex was built in 1938, it became part of the Ambridge Junior-Senior High School which was razed in 2008

Later schools:
  • Anthony Wayne School opened in 1929 and was renovated in 1965. The school closed in 2004 and the building is now vacant.
  • The Senior High School moved to Duss Avenue in an annex to the Junior High School in 1938. The Ambridge Junior-Senior High School building was razed in 2008.

    Now (2014):
Ambridge Towers,
site of former Harmony and Liberty Schools,
Google Street View

Harmony School later was used by St. Veronica High School beginning in 1945. According to the Quigley Catholic High School site, St. Veronica High School moved back to Melrose Avenue sometime after 1959 when the new St. Veronica grade school opened. As of now, I do not know the exact year that St. Veronica High School moved out of Harmony School. [Update 2/4/14: a commenter has advised that the last year St. Veronica High School was in the Harmony School was 1965.] And I also do not know how Harmony School was used, if at all, between St. Veronica's leaving and the eventual razing of Harmony School.

Both Harmony School and Liberty School were razed and are the site of the Ambridge Towers senior apartments pictured above which were built circa 1968.

First Ambridge High School building,
later Park Road School,
November 20, 2013
copyright Nancy Knisley

The Ambridge High School building at Park Road, pictured above, is the only school of the five Ambridge public schools shown in the Centennial program to still be standing. After the Senior High School moved to Duss Avenue in 1938, this building became Park Road School, attended by elementary students until 1972. In 1972, the building became an administrative building for the Ambridge Area School District. In 2011 it became the location of the Center for Hope.

Old Economy Visitor Center,
270 16th Street,
site of former Fourth Ward School,
photo: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

Fourth Ward School was razed in 1964 and remained a "recreation area" for many years. The site is now the location of the Old Economy Visitor Center, opened in August, 2003.

215 Merchant Street,
former site of First Ward School,
Google Street View

The story of the First Ward School is the saddest so far. Like the Fourth Ward School, the First Ward School was razed in 1964. When I was in Ambridge in June, 2013, the site was a undeveloped, weedy lot with cars and trucks parked on it. I do not know who owns the lot or why the vehicles are there. Does anyone know? If so, please leave a comment below.

*Interesting Ambridge School trivia: the Fourth Ward School was designed by architect Elsie Mercur Wagner, who compiled the Economy Centennial Souvenir Program.

In addition to the resources with links in the post, information for this article came from:

  • Ambridge Golden Jubilee Program, "Bridging the Future," 1955;
  • "Board Awards Contracts For Demolition Of Schools," Beaver County Times, September 25, 1964;
  • Old Economy-Ambridge Sesqui-Centennial Historical Booklet, compiled and edited by Reverend Norman C. Young, May, 1974.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Automatic milkmen!" High tech convenience in 1955

Does anyone remember "automatic milkmen"?

Those were three rather diverse locations listed in the ad below: super market, custard stand, and gas station.

I've tried to find out what they were, but so far, I haven't found anything. Were they vending machines of some kind?  If you know, please leave a comment below.

Automatic Milkmen ad,
Meadow Gold Dairies of Beaver Valley,
Rochester, PA
Beaver Valley Times,
July 1, 1955

Saturday, February 1, 2014

American Bridge: can you identify these men?

Men on American Bridge walkway,
circa 1940,
submitted by Chris Meager, used with permission

Reader Chris Meager sent me this old family photo, taken in the 1940s on the pedestrian bridge from the American Bridge office building to the mill. The man on the far right is Chris' grandfather, John Martin, who Chris said, "worked for American Bridge until the day he died."

Chris does not know who the other men are and would like to know their names. Do you recognize anyone in the photo? If so, please leave a comment. You can click on the photo to enlarge it to see the men's faces better.