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

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