Monday, December 19, 2016

Ambridge memorabilia: Tait's Garage sign

This "Taits Garage" sign is one of the larger pieces of Ambridge memorabilia someone has shared with me.

"Taits Garage" sign
owned by Gary Augustine
photo credit: Nancy Knisley
April 6, 2016

This white metal sign with blue lettering once hung on the Tait's Garage building at 1307 Merchant St. I didn't think to measure it when I photoed it, and I'm terrible at estimating the dimensions of things, but I'd say the sign is maybe five feet long by four inches high. When I find out the actual dimensions from the sign's owner, Gary Augustine, I'll update this post.

Tait's Garage ad
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program
June 1924

As far as I can determine, the Tait family built the garage building in 1920. The building was later occupied by R. E. Stettler & Sons, a Cadillac and Oldsmobile car dealership, then Economy Bowling Lanes. Economy Lanes was sold earlier this year and an antiques business will occupy the building.

Economy Lanes
1307 Merchant St.
April 6, 2016

Some Ambridge history buffs may recognize the name of the sign's owner, Gary Augustine, as a local LST expert. The reason he ended up with the Tait Garage sign is that his aunt was married to Harry Tait. The Tait family once owned a house at 288 Fourteenth St., now razed, as well as a livery stable behind the house that was razed in the 1980s.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Exploring Central Tube Company's neighborhood

Central Tube Company was in Ambridge from 1909 to 1940. The company was owned by Sewickley's Alexander Laughlin Sr., who built Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library in memory of his son, Alexander Laughlin, Jr. The mill buildings were north of Laughlin St. and east of Merchant St., later added to H. H. Robertson's property after Central Tube closed. Except for Centria's buildings, most of the area where Central Tube once stood is now vacant.

I've been curious about the scene on a vintage postcard, shown below, titled "Bird's Eye View, showing Central Tube Company Works, Ambridge, Pa." since I first saw it some time ago. While the postcard does show Central Tube Company in the background, it shows more of the neighborhood west of the mill from a vantage point that I think can only be from the St. John's Lutheran Church steeple. The postcard is undated, but one like it on eBay was listed as postmarked 1916.

Because the postcard isn't a photograph, but rather an artist's drawing, I wondered how accurately the buildings in the foreground had been drawn and whether any still existed. I didn't immediately recognize any of them, but eventually tentatively identified one of the buildings, a Harmonist building with a distinctive extension on its north side, as 1412 Merchant St.

I decided to take a walk around the area to see if I could identify any of the buildings in the photo with some degree of confidence. Not easy since many of them are shown from the side or back, not a street-side view.

I showed the postcard to Bob Mikush, my Ambridge history buddy, and told him of my plans to try to ID the buildings. Bob pointed to the long gray building in the center front. "That building is still there on 14th St." Of course! The old Harmony Hotel/Economy Hotel, now brown, but recognizable.

So with the former Harmony Hotel as my starting point, I set off on my walk, accompanied by Bob who was intrigued by the project.

On the postcard, I've numbered the buildings we were able to find:

"Bird's Eye View, showing Central Tube Company Works"
circa 1916

1. 270 Fourteenth St.

#1 on postcard
270 Fourteenth St.
Google Street View
October 2013

2. 274 Fourteenth St. According to Old Economy Village, this was the first George Rapp House.

#2 on postcard
274 Fourteenth St.
Google Street View
October 2013

3. 271 Fourteenth St. [Update January 20, 2019: I've learned this information from the Ambridge Historic District EDC: "Built late in the 19th century, this was once the doctor’s office and supplied much medical attention to the people in the area."]

#3 on postcard
271 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

 4. 273 Fourteenth St.

#4 on postcard
273 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

273 and left side of 277 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

5. 277 Fourteenth St.: This doesn't look like a Harmonist building, but it was. According to Old Economy Village, this was the first Frederick Rapp house. The 1905 Sanborn map labels it "Harmony Hotel"; the 1911 Sanborn map labels it "Economy Hotel." Note, this is not the famous Economy/Old Economy Hotel that once stood on the southeast corner of 14th St. and Merchant.  [Update June 7, 2017: An older Ambridge resident told me that when he was young, this building was reputed to be a brothel.]

#5 on postcard
277 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

6. 287 Fourteenth St.

# 6 on postcard
287 Fourteenth St. (left house), 289 Fourteenth to right
August 6, 2016

7. 289 Fourteenth St.

#7 on postcard
289 Fourteenth St.
August 6, 2016

8. 1412 Merchant St., the distinctive addition on the left side helped to confirm the identity of this building.

#8 on postcard
1412 Merchant St.
Google Street View
August 2016

9. 1415 Merchant St. The most helpful clue as to the identity of this building was the window pattern on the left side.

#9 on postcard
1415 Merchant St.
August 6, 2016

10. 1499 Merchant St. There's now a one-story addition on the left side of 1499 Merchant St. This building's front roof line and the windows on the left side helped to identify it.

#10 on postcard
1499 Merchant St.
August 6, 2016

If you can identify any of the other buildings shown in the postcard, please let me know, and if you can, send along a photo of the building.

Here's a scan of the back of the postcard.

reverse of postcard above

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Steve Horlick and his stores

S. G. (Steve) Horlick was a prominent Ambridge businessman in Ambridge's early years, perhaps known as much--if not more--for his sponsorship of Ambridge sports teams as for his merchandise. Local historian Bill Bowan wrote on the reverse of one of the photos below, "Steve Horlick was one of Ambridge's most beloved fans of sports. He promoted athletics among the town's young people and was a great community booster."

Horlick had two stores over the years. Bowan didn't give the street address of either store, but said that Horlick's first store was between 4th and 5th St., "about 4th Bldg. from 5th." That was the store shown in the photo immediately below. Baseball scores are written on the window, and a big display of The Saturday Evening Post is featured in the center.

S. G. Horlick's store
probably 467 Merchant St.
circa 1915
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

Turns out, I know where the store above was located! A while back, I was reading about the first Pittsburgh Press Marathon race in old newspapers and was excited to find the Press news photo below.

"Ambridge Checking Station"
Horlick's store
Merchant St.
Pittsburgh Press
Jan. 30, 1909

Pittsburgh Press caption:
This picture shows S. Horlick's news agency at Ambridge where tab is being kept on the runners in the Press Marathon race as they pass through the town.
That 1909 marathon was from Rochester to Pittsburgh, so the race course came through Ambridge. A few weeks before the race, writer Gertrude Gordon wrote about her travels over the marathon course in the January 12, 1909, Press:
At Ambridge a checking station was placed at the store of A. G. Horlick, newsdealer. I spent a very enjoyable half-hour in his store, listening to a really good graphophone, and making friends with his huge white dog, Tige. Mr. Horlick told me everybody in Ambridge has been talking about The Press Marathon race. After a very good lunch, which we obtained in a little restaurant across the road from Mr. Horlick's, and as god [sic] a cup of cocoa as I ever have tasted, we boarded the splendid Pierce-Arrow and drove home in the snow storm, arriving here late in the evening.
I don't know yet if "A. G. Horlick" mentioned in the passage above was a typo or if a relative of Steve Horlick owned the newsstand in 1909.

(Note the Chinese Hand Laundry on the very right of the Press photo.)

The building was divided into two storefronts, and I don't know for sure which one was occupied by Horlick's store, but a 1911 Sanborn Insurance map shows the storefront closer to 5th St. was a "News Stand and Tobacco" business.

While the facade of the building has been altered over the years, the location of Horlick's first store still stands.

463 - 467 Merchant St.
March 30, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

The next photo shows the interior of Horlick's first store, dated circa 1913 by Bowan:

Interior Horlick's store
probably 467 Merchant St.
circa 1913
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

About 1915 or 1916, Steve Horlick moved his store to the southeast corner of "6th and Merchant Sts." Bowan describes this second store as a sporting goods and tobacco store with a gymnasium in the basement. He notes: "Horlick shared this bldg. with Ambridge Post Office*, later with Ambridge National Bank." Those two businesses were directly on the corner at 598 Merchant; Holick's store was one storefront south at 578 Merchant.

Here's what the intersection of 6th and Merchant looked like around 1920. Horlick's second store would have been in the right storefront of the building in the forefront on the left.:

500 block Merchant St. looking south from 6th St.
circa late 1910-early 1920s
Beaver County Historical Research & Landmarks Foundation

Sadly, I don't have a photo of the facade of that second Horlick's store, but here are two photos of that store's window:

National Baseball Week display
Horlick's store window
578 Merchant St.
circa 1916
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

"Special Display Window of Rose-O-Cuba Cigars"
Horlick's store window
578 Merchant St.
May 15, 1916
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

And here's a photo of the interior of the second store:

"Steve Horlick's Sporting Goods Tobacco and News Store"
May 1924
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

Bill Bowan's note at the top says:
Dual Lighting System - Gas and Electric
Fosters Orchestra playing at Dance.
"Scaramouche" - showing at Prince Theatre

Here's the Horlick's ad from the 1924 Economy Centennial book:

S. G. Horlick ad
Economy Centennial Souvenir Program
Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today

I've come across several old Ambridge postcards published by "S. G. Horlick" including the one of American Bridge featured in my August 23, 2016, post "American Bridge and Ohio River postcard, 1920s."

I'm still looking for more information on Steve Horlick and his stores. The only additional bit of news I've found so far comes from the March 11, 1929, Daily Times, reporting on a 4 A. M. fire at S. G. Horlick's "newsstand and confectionery on the street floor of a two-story brick building at 6th and Merchant sts." By that time, Horlick was sharing the building with Barrett Pharmacy, and he and his family lived in an apartment over the store. The article said that the fire was believed to have been caused by a lighted cigarette that had been tossed through a manhole grating, starting a fire in some wastepaper in Barrett's basement. The fire was confined to the basement which was damaged by the fire and water, but the rest of the building was filled with smoke.

Also from the John S. Dunn collection: a photo of Steve Horlick's Ambridge Soccer team, circa 1905 - 06:

"Steve Horlick's Ambridge Soccer Football Team"
circa 1905 - 06
photo by Griffin Studios
courtesy John S. Dunn collection

Soccer team members listed:
1st row:
1. Frank Hulet
2. Joe Williams
3. Jock Sutherland
4. unidentified
5. Art Wardle

2nd row:
1. Jack Lothian
2. unidentified
3. Robert Rae

3rd row:
1. Steve Horlick
2. unidentified
3. John Bianchi
4. Wm. Brenner
5. unidentified

You can see a photo of one of Steve Horlick's baseball teams, "Our Boys," in my April 21, 2016 post "Group photo: Ambridge Our Boys baseball team 1919."


Thank you Maria Notarianni for scanning the John Dunn photos.

The building at 463 - 467 Merchant St. appeared to be empty the last time I walked by.  Over the years it was the Mayflower Restaurant, Saratoga Restaurant, at least two small groceries, and more recently, it was Bella Marie and G'lorenzo's restaurants.

The storefront at 578 Merchant St. was later the location of Katcher's Music and an early Katcher's Furniture store. After that, did that storefront become part of People's Service Drug Store and/or later Thrift Drug Store that were in the left side of the building, 598 Merchant?

* I am confused by Bowan's note saying that Horlick shared the building at the corner of 6th and Merchant with the post office, since according to my notes, elsewhere, Bowan wrote that the post office moved from the corner of 5th and Merchant Sts., where it was located in 1917, to the corner of 7th and Merchant Sts., which is where insurance maps show the post office in 1923. I'll recheck my notes and Bowan's, plus try to find other sources to reconcile the conflict.