Sunday, December 10, 2017

200 block Merchant St., 1915: the mystery of Divine Redeemer's first school--plus a funeral

Vintage photos of Ambridge always excite me, especially if the scene is something I haven't seen before. But it's rare that my first view of a photo stuns me like the photo I'm posting about today did.

On March 31, 2016, this 1915 photo, showing a group of people and what appeared to be a horse-drawn hearse in front of Divine Redeemer Church's property on the west side of the 200 block of Merchant St., was posted on the Good Samaritan Parish Archives' Facebook page.  I had seen the photo before, in the 1956 Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary book. It is not the photo that's the focus of this blog post, although it's the reason I was so awed by the photo that this post is about.

To better see the details of this photo, or the others in this post, a click or tap should enlarge them.

Divine Redeemer Church Property - 1915
Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary 1906 - 1956 book

Maria Notarianni, who heads the committee that maintains the Ambridge Roman Catholic churches' archives at Good Samaritan Church, described the photo above on Facebook:
On April 2, 1907, Reverend Joseph A. Pospech was named Pastor of the Slovak Parish under the title of the Divine Redeemer Church in Ambridge. Land was purchased on the 200 block of Merchant St. that included a building that was suitable for a temporary church until the new one was built in 1918. The building can be seen in this 1915 photo where services were held in the basement. (The occasion may have been a funeral as there seems to be a horse-drawn hearse in front of the building.) 
The house in the photo was purchased in 1916 by Fr. Herkel to be used as the rectory.
In 1918 the new church was built to the right of the temporary church building and in 1927, a convent was built where the temporary church building was located. 
But that photo is less than the half if it. Literally, as I found out when I had the privilege of spending an hour in August 2016, with the late Karl Urda, grandson of prominent Ambridge builder and businessman Charles Kristufek, who died in 1943. During my visit, Mr. Urda shared with me several vintage Kristufek family photos, including the panoramic photo below that took my breath away when I saw it.

The photo in the Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary book was only part of the right half of the panoramic photo!

Funeral, 200 block Merchant St., west side
courtesy Karl Urda

Here's the left side of the panorama that wasn't in the Divine Redeemer Golden Anniversary book:

Left side of panorama
Divine Redeemer funeral
200 block of Merchant St., west side
courtesy Karl Urda

The left side of the panorama shows horse-drawn carriages as far as the eye can see, I think confirming Maria's theory that the scene showed a funeral.

The building near the center of the left-side of the panorama is the First Ward School, built between 1908 and 1910. The school was closed in 1964 and razed soon afterwards.

The panorama also shows the building to the left of the freestanding bell tower, which would have been to the immediate left of where the Divine Redeemer convent later was built.

The story Mr. Urda had to tell about that building was also surprising. He told me that building was the first Divine Redeemer School, built by Charles Kristufek, who at the time was a member of Divine Redeemer, then given to the parish. Mr. Urda said that his grandfather was much criticized for building a school before a church was erected, but Charles Kristufek put a high priority on education, and thought that a school building was more important than where church services were held.

If that information is accurate, that means that the Divine Redeemer School in the old Davis Hotel, 300 Merchant St., which the church bought in 1920, was not Divine Redeemer's first school, as the modern recounting of Divine Redeemer's history says it was.

So far, I've been unable to find more information about the building, except that the 1911 and 1917 Sanborn Insurance maps of Ambridge identify the building as a dwelling, not a school.

In 1960 - 61, Divine Redeemer built a new school to replace the one in the Davis Hotel building. My memory of what was between the First Ward School and the Divine Redeemer convent before the new school was built, on property to the convent's left--or where the building that Mr. Urda said was the first school once stood--is very hazy. I seem to remember an old, derelict building there. We'd have to walk via a narrow walkway between that scary looking building and the convent to get to the old church hall behind the convent. That church hall was razed when the 1961 school was being built.

The building that was to the left of the convent before construction started on the new school apparently did not belong to Divine Redeemer, as one might expect if the building had been Divine Redeemer's first school. The Divine Redeemer School Solemn Blessing and Dedication Program, November 18, 1961, says that when plans for the new school were being finalized in 1960, "the Paul Kernich property, fronting on Merchant Street beside the Convent, was purchased," and the building on the property was razed by parish volunteers.

The razed building on the Kernich property would have stood between the Merchant St. entrance to the new school and Merchant St.

Merchant St. entrance to the former Divine Redeemer School
March 22, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

So, the history of the building that Mr. Urda identified as Divine Redeemer's first school, currently remains murky. Is the family story about that building being built as a school for Divine Redeemer true or merely a family legend? Did Divine Redeemer once own that building and later sell it? Did the Kruistufek family once own that property, but allowed the church to use it as a school, then later sold it? At this point, I can't say.

But perhaps, some day, I will be able to find more information about the building. And, maybe even find out whose funeral that might have been in 1915. If so, I'll update this post.

Karl Urda died on March 9, 2017. I'm so grateful that he made time to talk to me and allow me to scan his vintage family photos.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ambridge memorabilia: National Air Mail Week cacheted envelope, 1938

Ambridge National Air Mail Week postal cover
May 19, 1938

I've added postal cachets to my growing list of "random things I now know something about only because I've been researching Ambridge's history":

This envelope, postmarked May 19, 1938, in Ambridge, was part of a U.S. Postal Service week-long promotion of air mail. I think most of us now assume that mail going any distance travels by air. But not so in 1938, when mail primarily traveled by trucks, trains, and ships. Cross-country or overseas letters could take weeks to arrive at their destination.

The Postmaster General at the time, James Farley, declared May 15 - 21, 1938, "National Air Mail Week" (NAMW) to mark the 20th Anniversary of the first scheduled delivery of mail by plane. All local postmasters were encouraged to create a unique commemorative NAMW “cachet”-- that design on the left side of the envelope--to mark the event. And they were supposed to bring attention to the benefits of air mail. Citizens were urged to send at least one letter by air mail during the NAMW celebration.

May 19, the day of the postmark on the never-mailed envelope above, was the day chosen for special NAMW events. Among the events were one-time-only NAMW plane flights, with planes carrying mail between the many towns celebrating NAMW. Many of those towns didn't have airports, but landing strips for small planes were prepared on local streets and fields.

Ambridge's NAMW cachet, featuring Old Economy Village, was one of an estimated 10,000 that were used in towns across the country. I don't know if a plane landed in Ambridge on May 19, 1938, but I'm going to try to find out. I'll update this post if I find any more information.

Here's a closeup view of the Ambridge cachet:

Ambridge NAMW cachet

Saturday, November 11, 2017

No bars allowed: when Ambridge was dry--or at least supposed to be

"What was the most surprising thing you've learned about Ambridge from your research?" Lois Himes, a librarian at Laughlin Memorial Library, who died on October 17, asked me earlier this year.

I had to think about Lois' question for a while, but then the answer came to me with absolute certainty, and no other fact about Ambridge I've discovered so far even comes close: the most surprising thing I've learned about Ambridge was that it was once dry. Dry as in alcoholic beverages could not be sold legally. And I'm not talking about just during the Prohibition years; I'm talking about the first 50 years of Ambridge's existence.

At least it was supposed to be dry for 50 years.

Yes, Ambridge, where long-time residents still boast about the number of bars the borough had back in the day when the mills employed thousands of hardworking, thirsty workers. I've heard the claim there were once 200 or so bars where millworkers could stop for a shot and a beer on their way home, no matter what shift they worked. Or maybe on their way to work, although the mills frowned on that.

"Steelworkers in corner beer parlor. Ambridge, Pennsylvania"
John Vachon
January 1941
Library of Congress

Yes, Ambridge, which people proudly claim once held the Guinness World Record for being the town with the largest combined total of bars and churches per capita. (But although I wouldn't be surprised to find that Ambridge indeed once may have had bragging rights to such a record, I've searched the Guinness database and could find no entry for Ambridge or "bars and churches." Nor have I been able to find evidence of any similar kind of official record elsewhere.)

In addition to all the bars, there were dozens of ethnic social clubs that supported themselves with their liquor and beer sales, made all the more lucrative because they were open on Sundays when the bars couldn't open.

"Bar at Catholic Sokol Club. Ambridge, Pennsylvania"
John Vachon
January 1941
Library of Congress

To be clear, not all of the area within the current boundaries of Ambridge Borough was dry, only the original Ambridge, located on land once owned by the American Bridge Co. and later sold through the company's real estate arm, the Ambridge Land Co. That property, which became the borough's First and Second Wards, extended from Big Sewickley Creek on the south to the current 8th St. (then called Bryden Rd.) on the north, and from Park Rd. on the west to Merchant St. and Duss Ave. on the east. I'll refer to it as the "dry area."

I think I first came across the startling information about the dry area in 2014, when I found a news clipping of a car in front of Ambridge's old Davis Hotel, in one of Bill Bowan's albums in Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library's archives. The clipping was one of the "Looking Back" photos the Beaver County Times once did from time to time.*

Group showing off car, George S. Capp at far right
at Davis Hotel, 1913
300 Merchant St.
Beaver County Times
July 9, 1984
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives

I'm sure the focus of the original photo was the car--not common in 1913 Ambridge--and the group of men posing with it. But information about the photo, probably provided by Bowan since he was the one who had submitted the photo for publication, included this:
The hotel was almost on the boundary line of Harmony Township on Beaver Road. On the east side of Beaver Road was the township, where liquor sales were permitted.
The location of the hotel was controversial because Ambridge prohibited liquor sales before World War I...But its proximity to the Harmony Township boundary allowed liquor sale in the Beaver Road and Third Street area.
Well, that was a startling bit of Ambridge history. I've been looking for more information about Ambridge's dry area ever since. What I've found since 2014 has gaps, leaving important questions unanswered--including the big one, "Given the legal restriction against the sale of liquor, how did the southern end of Ambridge end up with so many bars long before 50 years had passed?!"

I am continuing my search, but here's what I know so far:

I've mentioned my research about "dry Ambridge" to a few people who have an interest in Ambridge history, and none knew about the restriction on liquor sales. And they'd immediately jump to the conclusion that the Harmony Society, once the owner of the land, was responsible for the alcohol prohibition. But while the Harmony Society's members may have practiced celibacy, they were not adverse to the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The Harmonists were famous for their winemaking skills. In addition, they owned a brewery and a distillery.

Although I haven't seen the legal document that created the dry area, it's pretty clear from newspaper articles that the liquor restriction was at the behest of the American Bridge Co. American Bridge's interest in keeping bars out of Ambridge was obvious: they didn't want their workers coming to work under the influence or lose workers to alcoholism. Newspaper articles show that over many years dating back at least to 1904, American Bridge made a practice of challenging liquor licence applications in the Ambridge area, even applications coming from areas where liquor sales were legal, such as Ambridge properties to the north of 8th St. or in Harmony Township.

As far as I can determine, the dry area's liquor restrictions were put in place in 1903, so before Ambridge was incorporated in 1905.

The Pittsburgh Press, writing about a court case involving the liquor licenses of Ambridge bars in 1938, said that "The American [Ambridge?] Land Co., in turning over that section to the borough in 1903, specified in the grant that no liquor be sold there for 50 years." (Pittsburgh Press, April 30, 1938)

But that legal restriction didn't keep astute entrepreneurs from seeing and seizing the opportunity presented by Ambridge's dry area. Hence, the location of the Davis Hotel, which wasn't in dry Ambridge, but conveniently across Merchant St. from it. And that hotel wasn't the only such business.

In 1904, American Bridge Co. made "strenuous opposition" to granting liquor licenses to five Harmony Township businesses: two for retail licenses, two for wholesale licenses, and one for a brewery. "The deeds of all lots sold in Ambridge contain a clause prohibiting the sale of liquor on the property for 50 years, but several persons have applied for licenses just on the border of the town, where there are no restrictions regarding liquor." (Pittsburgh Press, March 29, 1904)

Yes, in real estate, it's location, location, location!

Ambridge Hotel
Eighth and Merchant Sts., northwest corner
circa 1905
courtesy Ambridge Borough

Location also may explain the seemingly odd site chosen for the Ambridge Hotel when it was built in 1905. It wasn't built in rapidly developing, but dry, Ambridge, which would have placed it nearer the train station, and would have been conveniently located for the growing number of potential guests. And the new hotel didn't join the other businesses clustered in the area that once was the Harmony Society's village of Economy, from 12th Street and north. But rather the Ambridge Hotel was built on the northwest corner of Merchant St. and Bryden Rd (now 8th St.), just a stroll across the street from dry Ambridge, making the hotel the first--and for years the only--Merchant St. business from that northern corner of Bryden Rd. to 12th St.

While liquor sales were always legal in the parts of Ambridge other than the dry area--except, of course, during the Prohibition era (1920 -33)--when were liquor licenses first issued in the dry area? I don't know the answer to that.

I do know that by 1938, there were 30 - 38 businesses in the dry area asking for renewal of their liquor licenses, which means their liquor licenses must have been issued before 1938.

The issue of liquor licenses in the dry area was hotly debated in early 1938. At the time, the "liquor trade" in the dry area reportedly employed 300 people with a payroll of $4,000. The claim was made that the only way to permanently settle the question of legality of liquor licenses in the dry area was by securing a release from every property owner there. (Daily Citizen, February 13, 1938)

And what role did the Borough of Ambridge play when liquor licenses were issued in the dry area before 1938? Again, I don't know. But I do know that in 1938, the Borough was adamantly on the side of the dry area businesses asking for their licenses to be renewed.

From the April 15, 1938, Daily Citizen:
Ambridge borough council will back liquor dealers of the first and second wards to have their licenses renewed despite restrictive property deeds, it indicated last night by voting a resolution against license refusal in the area.
The council said refusing to renew the licenses would "cripple businesses, lower property values and decrease borough revenue from licenses and taxes."

The Liquor Control Board wasn't swayed by the argument about the economic impact of closing bars in the dry area. The LCB refused to renew the liquor licenses of 36 bars in the dry area "after it was discovered" that the 1903 land grant "had specified no liquor be sold there for 50 years." I would have thought the LCB would have "discovered" the deed restriction before 1938, because American Bridge would have told the LCB about it before the licenses were issued, but I need to find information to confirm that.

However, the LCB's decision was quickly reversed in court based on a similar case in Philadelphia that had been decided in favor of the liquor licensees. Plus, the judge reasoned, "the denial of licenses to reputable merchants in the restricted area would allow bootleggers to invade the territory." (Pittsburgh Press, May 1, 1938)

But even after that court decision, American Bridge continued to object to liquor licenses. As late as November 1948, the "restriction against taprooms...under a 1903 property deed" was cited as one of the reasons local clergy and the ever-determined American Bridge Co. opposed the transfer of a liquor license from 348 Maplewood Ave. (also in the formerly dry area) to 398 Park Rd., across Park Rd. from the company's large office. (Daily Citizen, November 19, 1948)

I'll continue to look for information to fill in the current gaps in the history of liquor licenses in the dry area, and I will update this article if I find anything important. If anyone can supply any of missing information about the dry area, please let me know.

* In 1920, the Davis Hotel was sold to Divine Redeemer Church, which used it for its grade school until 1961. I wonder if the hotel was sold because Prohibition made running it a lot less profitable than it had been when could sell liquor. The building is now used by Karnavas Vending Co.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

400 block of Merchant St., 1904, 1909, 1910, and 1915

Merchant St. "Looking north from Charles St" (now 4th St.)
Vaughn Arnold collection
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

The 1904 date on this photo means it was taken the year before Ambridge was incorporated. The 400 block of Merchant was still unpaved. It appears that there were sidewalks of some kind, but dirt from the street and/or empty lot may have washed over it.

As best I can determine based on other early photos and vintage postcards, the building with the Coca-Cola sign still stands. I can't find an address on the building, but I think it would be 429 Merchant. It's the dark brick building between City Plumbing and the building at 435.

The huge painted Coca-Cola sign advertised Tingley's Pharmacy. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see "LEY'S," part of the Tingley's front sign jutting over the sidewalk. Currently, you can still see part of a faded painted sign near the top of the 429 Merchant building, but it doesn't match up with the lettering near the top of the Tingley's ad. If anyone gets down to that part of Merchant and can figure out what any visible letters might say, please let me know. Perhaps the last two letters are "UE" as they appear to be in the final two postcards below?

Note the small sign on the front corner of the Tingley's building showing that it had a Bell telephone.

I can't clearly make out what the sign says on the building to the north of Tingley's, but it may say "Laundry." There was a "Chinese laundry" near that part of the block, so that would fit.

On the opposite side of the street, the closer, three story building is no longer there. In the distance is the Ambridge Savings and Trust Company at 5th and Merchant Sts. It was later remodeled and became the beautiful Economy Bank of Ambridge, razed in 1984, and now the location of WesBanco's drive-through windows.

The 1909 postcard below gives a better look at the Tingley's ad.

400 block of Merchant St. looking north

You can still see the edge of the Coca-Cola sign in the postcard below. I can't make out the postmark year, but I'd say the card is circa 1910:

400 block of Merchant St. looking north
circa 1910

And another bit of the sign in a slightly later postcard. I wrote about the Briola Bros. grocery, shown on the right, in a June 20, 2017, blog post, "Briola Bros. store, Ambridge's first grocery":

400 block of Merchant St.
dated Sept. 9, 1915

You can see other early views of the 400 block of Merchant in the October 30, 2014, post, "400 block of Merchant Street: vintage views."

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1948 - 1981

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses
1026 Melrose Ave.
Daily Citizen
August 25, 1954

Daily Citizen caption:
KINGDOM HALL -- Jehovah's Witnesses gather each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday evenings at Kingdom Hall, Melrose Ave., Ambridge to study and discuss the Bible. The congregation number approximately 150. To be a members (sic) of the congregation one must go forth and preach from the Bible unless one preaches he or she is considered a visitor of the congregation and not a member. The group meets each Sunday morning, at Kingdom Hall, at 9:30 a. m. and leaves at 10:00 a. m. on a round of Bible preaching--they also go forth on other mornings to perform similar instruction. All members of the congregation are preachers and a group of special servants direct the teachings, handle business matters and conduct the affairs of the group. Robert Marciniak is the congregation servant in Ambridge. The local group erected the Melrose Ave., edifice.
The congregation started in Ambridge in 1924, at first meeting in private homes, later in rented halls on 5th St. and at 1133 Merchant St. In 1948, the members of the congregation built the Kingdom Hall building at 1026 Melrose Ave. in 60 days. (Spang-Chalfant newsletter, Nov. 1957, "Featuring the Ambridge Churches.")

The Melrose Ave. building was a one-story, light red brick building. Built on a single narrow but deep lot, the design of Kingdom Hall made the most of the space available, covering almost the entire lot except for a little bit of a front yard. A woman who had gone there said that because the building wasn't very wide, but it was really deep, the interior made her think it looked like a bowling alley.

The congregation moved to its present building, constructed by volunteers, in the Fair Oaks section of Leet Township at 194 Ambridge Ave. in 1981.

I remembered the Melrose Ave. Kingdom Hall and wondered what had happened to it. I didn't see it when I visited Melrose on one of my trips back to Ambridge. The building now at 1026 Melrose Ave. didn't look at all like Kingdom Hall. Was it razed after the congregation moved to Leet Township?

It was only after I looked at a satellite view of the building at 1026 showing a narrow, but very deep building on the lot, that I realized that Kingdom Hall had been hiding in plain sight, disguised as a two-story apartment building with a modern facade and an extension towards the sidewalk on the left-hand side. The only feature visible from the front that gives a clue that it was once Kingdom Hall, is the original right-side front window.

1026 Melrose Ave.
March 27, 2014

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lions Boy Scout Troop circa 1938 - 1941

When I began visiting Laughlin Memorial Library's archives to look through the late Bill Bowan's photo albums, I never expected to find a photo with a relative in it. But in two old newspaper clippings of photos of a boy scout troop, I did. Maybe.

I don't know when the photos were taken or when and where these clippings were published. Bowan's hand-written notes about them say "1938" for both photos, but the one without "1938" in the publisher's caption has "1941" handwritten on the front of it. If you know anything about the origin of these photos, please let me know.

Bowan's notes identified some of the scouts in the photos. I was surprised when I saw "Leon Gaus" listed among the names. Leon Gaus was the name of my maternal grandfather's younger half-brother. Although my grandfather spelled his last name "Gause," his siblings spelled it "Gaus."

I am assuming the "Leon Gaus" in these photos is my Great-uncle Leon, but I don't have anything to confirm that. However, if there might have been another Leon Gaus in the area, my Great-uncle Leon was born in 1924, which puts him at the right age to be a boy scout in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Lion's Club Boy Scout Troop
newspaper clipping
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Original caption:  THE LION'S CLUB Boy Scout Troop as they were in 1938. Members and leaders were attending an outdoor meeting.

Bowan's notes about this photo title it "1938 - Lake Lynn W. Virginia"

The list of identities as provided by Bowan:

1. Gaus Leon
2. Levy Rob
3. W. Chiappala
4. Frank Paulakovich
5. Eddie Hrico
6. Pete Sudar
7. James Pappas
8. Mike Lazorishak
11. Geo Salata

2 - Kneeling
1. Vince Sniady
2. Casmir Drugoz
3. Harry Kuntz
8. Bill Poutas

3. Standing
1. Benny Barsyz
7. Walter Joyce
9. Doc Hall
10. Frank Kloiber?

At the bottom right of the note "Mike Rusko" is printed.

Here's the second news clipping photo. Note "1941" written in the bottom right corner.

Leonard Rothermel and Boy Scout Troop
circa 1938 - 1941
newspaper clipping
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Original caption:  LEONARD ROTHERMEL, Ambridge High School teacher, and Boy Scout Troop of long ago.

At the top of Bowan's notes about the photo above, he wrote something I can't decipher. It looks like"Economy Golden Rose" followed by what appear to be page numbers. Anyone know what that might mean?

He identified the scouts in the photo, which he titled "Rothermel Scout Troop 1938," as follows:

1st row:
1. Frank Kloeber
3. Steve Lubic
5. Chas. Grosdeck
6. Andy Shulick

2nd row:
1. Bill Tartar
2. Rich Powell
3. Jim Pappas
4. Ed Matzie
5. Leon Gaus
6. Paul Pawlack
7. Bernard Hrico

3rd row:
1. Mike Orend
2. Ed Hrico
3. Mike Rusko
4. Hugh Thom
5. Paul Mikesner
6. Eddie Beaman
7. Vincent Sniady
8. Herbert Hopkins
9. Leonard Rothermel

If you recognize any of the unidentified scouts in these photos, or know more about the Lion's Boy Scout troop, please let me know.

Leon Gaus died in November 2014.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Briola Bros. Ice Co.

The Briola brothers, Frank and Michael, not only owned and operated the first and largest grocery store on Merchant St., they also ran a successful ice-making company for many years.

The Briolas' ice-making business began in 1904 in the Ambridge-Economy Brewery Co. building, once located on 11th St., immediately east of where the Trinity School for Ministry* is now. The 1924 Economy Centennial book, Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today, said that while the Briolas' ice business was in the brewery building, it could make up to seven tons of ice per day. The brewery went bankrupt in 1913.

The Heinz Co. later bought the former brewery building for making malt vinegar, and perhaps that was the reason the Briolas built, and moved to, a new building for their ice business. Heinz started vinegar production in April 1920, a month after the Briola Bros. Ice Plant on 10th St. and Glenwood Ave. began selling ice.

The Briolas began making making ice for wholesale only in its own plant in March 1920. The Economy Centennial book says that the new ice plant, with seven employees, was "the best equipped ice plant in this section, the capacity being 45 tons daily."

Briola Bros. ice ad
Ambridge Citizen
March 27, 1925

The small print in the ad above says:
For prompt delivery and satisfaction, come to us. We aim to please our customers at all times. 
We handle ice for all occasions, including the cracked ice, which is used for glass refrigerators, ice cream manufacturing and for many other purposes.
Preparations have been made in our plant increasing the capacity which enables us to supply Ambridge, Fair Oaks and Leetsdale.
Ice books on sale at our office, also obtainable from our drivers.
I don't know what "Ice Books" were, other than they obviously let purchasers buy ice at a discount. Anyone know what they looked like and how they worked?

The Ambridge Supply Co. was once at 1st St. and Park Rd., opened by George A. Mytinger in 1910. (Genealogical and Personal History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Volume 1, 1914).

Why am I mentioning the Ambridge Supply Co. and posting a photo showing its horse and wagon below? Because while that may be the Ambridge Supply Co.'s wagon, I believe that the building it's stopped at is the Briola Bros. Ice Plant building. Compare the door and window locations with the later photos of the Briola Ice Co. below.

Ambridge Supply Co. wagon at Briola Bros. Ice Plant
circa early 1920s
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

Thanks to the sign, there's no doubt about the identity of the building in the photo below. The "Belt-Line" mentioned in the information about the building's location was the spur rail line that once ran through Ambridge from French Point, across 14th and 11th Sts., behind the businesses on the east side of the 900 block of Glenwood Ave., and ended at 8th St. Some may remember it as the rail tracks that ran behind the west side of Ambridge High School's football stadium.

Briola Bros. Ice Plant
10th and Glenwood at Belt Line
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

At some point, the name of the business was changed to Briola Ice Co. I don't know when it closed, but the photo below is dated 1958. None of the people in the photo are identified. Do you know who they are?

The people in the photo have been identified by members of the Briola family:

Left to right: Mike Briola, Dick Briola, David Briola, Billy or Bobby Briola, Louise Briola, and Raymond Briola.

Briola Ice Co.
1010 Glenwood Ave.
Courtesy Ambridge Borough

While the Briola Ice Co. may be gone, the building is still there, although it now uses the address 421 10th St. As far as I could tell, it was occupied when I took the photo below in 2014. The current business advertising that it's in the building is Muscles' Gym.

Former Briola Ice Co. building
421 10th St.

Frank Briola was the victim of an attempted "Black Hand" extortion attempt in 1912. Usually, victims were told some harm would come to their businesses if they didn't pay the demanded amount. The May 28, 1912, Daily Times, said that the demand was for $6,000 and plans were arranged for police "to watch for the black-handers...but Biola (sic) failed to carry out his part of the agreement and the plans fell though."

However, there was apparently a second extortion attempt:  A November 16, 1912, Pennsylvania State Police report said:
At the request of U. S. Postal Inspector Craighead, of Pittsburgh, Sergeant McLaughlin and detail, of Troop "A" investigated "black hand" case in which the victim, one Frank Briola, of Ambridge, Pa., was requested to place $3,000 at a designated spot between Ambridge and Beaver Falls. By the use of a decoy package, the detail were successful in apprehending two Italians, Joseph Candilaro and Dominic Fiore.
Both men were tried, Fiore was found guilty, but Candilaro was acquitted.

* Many older Ambridge area residents may remember the main Trinity School building as the A & P, although much renovated.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ambridge memorabilia: parking meter token, Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce

The parking meter token below is somewhat of a mystery.

Ambridge parking meter token
side 1

Ambridge parking meter token
side 2

The reason the token is a mystery is because it indicates it was distributed by the Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce. Only I can't find any information about a "District Chamber of Commerce" in Ambridge PA ever existing.

If I have ever come across a reference to an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce, I don't remember it. Or thought it significant enough to note.

The only mentions of an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce I've found during several online searches were by people selling tokens like the one above.

I would have guessed that the token was from the mid-to-late 1950s, when Ambridge businesses were facing strong competition from the new Northern Lights Shoppers City with its 5000 spaces of free parking. But all I've found from that time are mentions and ads of the "Ambridge Chamber of Commerce."

I checked with Bob Mikush, whose family business, Mikush Maytag Home Appliance Center, has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for generations. He said he'd never heard of a District Chamber of Commerce.

I mentioned the token to Kimberly Villella, the president of the Board of Directors of the latest iteration of Ambridge's Chamber of Commerce, the Ambridge Regional Chamber of Commerce. Kim said that her research of the history of the Ambridge Chamber didn't find an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce.

So far, Kim and I have found four Chamber of Commerce groups that have been in Ambridge over the years, none with "District" in their names: The Ambridge Chamber of Commerce; The Greater Ambridge Chamber of Commerce; the Ambridge Area Chamber of Commerce; and the Ambridge Regional Chamber of Commerce.

So was the "Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce" on the token a mistake? Or, as unlikely as it seems, could the token possibly be from an Ambridge District of another town like Gary, Indiana?

If you know anything about an Ambridge District Chamber of Commerce, or when the token might have been used, please help solve the mystery and let me know.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool construction, 1939--and Ambridge's earlier playground pool

This year's summer swimming season may have ended, but for Ambridge children, in 1939, the promise of summers filled with laughter, splashes, and the occasional lifeguard's whistle, was starting to take shape, as shown in the photos below.

Construction of the Ambridge Borough Pool in Borough Park (now called Walter Panek Park) began in 1939, the year after Ambridge children from the First St. neighborhood built their own "Dead-End Pool" in polluted Big Sewickley Creek. When health authorities closed and drained the Dead-End Pool, the children marched to the Borough Council, demanding a public pool. I was surprised to learn while I was researching the Dead-End Pool, that the Council agreed that Ambridge needed a public pool, and voted to put a bond proposal to construct a pool on the November 1938 election ballot. The voters approved the bond measure.

But although pool construction began in 1939, completion was long delayed; the pool wasn't opened for swimming until Memorial Day 1942.

Recently, Winifred Graham Boser donated a set of snapshots to Ambridge's Laughlin Memorial Library, showing the early construction of the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool. Both of her grandfathers, Peter A. Conrad and Walter A. Graham, worked on the pool construction project. And during my last visit to Ambridge, I was lucky enough to be able to scan the photos to share them with you.

Any ideas about what the first photo below is showing? Construction work, of course. But is this work on the old road that once wound through Borough Park? Or the road leading from the Borough Park road into the site of the eventual pool?

"Boro Park, West Rd." ?
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Early Ambridge Borough Pool construction
"Boro Park"
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Fill was added during early construction
of the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Early construction "Boro Park Pool"
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

"Pool cut"
Early construction of Ambridge Borough Pool
May 11, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

"First Concrete"
Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool
June 24, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Work on the walls of the main pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Walls of the main pool being built
Ambridge Borough Pool
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Work on main pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Uncovering concrete on main pool bottom?
Borough employee Peter A. Conrad on right
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Main pool closer to completion
Walter A. Graham in forefront, head man on project
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Digging out ground for diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
July 24, 1939
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

More work on diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Working on diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Construction of diving pool
Ambridge Borough Park
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

The playground pool--Ambridge's first public pool

While doing research on the construction of Ambridge's first Jr. High School on Duss Ave. (later, after an annex was built, the Jr. - Sr. High School), I was really surprised to find out that a public pool once stood on the school's property in the 1920s.

I'm not talking about the pool in the Jr. High building, but rather an outdoor pool, run by a group called the Ambridge Playground Association, spearheaded by the Ambridge Rotary Club.

The first playground the group built was at the Duss Ave. site in the early 1920s, perhaps 1923. In 1925, the group added playgrounds at First and Fourth Ward Schools. When I was growing up, the playground at the Jr. - Sr. High School was between the northern end of the building and the Bollinger Co. office building. The playground was later moved to the south side of the building when the school's tennis courts/skating rink were built in the 1960s.

The Jr. High playground featured a swimming pool during the summer months. Since it was operated as part of the summer playground program, I think it was probably only open to children, but I haven't yet found confirmation of that.

I don't have a photo or a good description of the pool, but I assume was above ground and fairly large--75 swimmers at a time were allowed in it. And it was deep enough that parents were urged to insist that children who couldn't swim stay in the shallow end of the pool.

Two showers were provided so that swimmers could shower before they entered the pool.

In the summer of 1925, that pool's water pump needed repairs, and its opening was delayed until June 22, when the Citizen announced that the pool would open that afternoon. Two days later, the paper reported that the June 23 crowd was a record, with 300 swimmers enjoying the pool.

But confusingly, the same newspaper reported on July 20 that the swimming pool on the Jr. High School grounds had "not yet been opened." The reason was the "sewer is clogged and repairs not yet made." It further reported that the school board had decided not to open the playground pool that year, because a new sewer was required, and since the new school was under construction, it would be better to wait and connect both the playground pool and school to the sewer system at the same time. Did the Citizen mean re-opened? I'm still looking for the answer.

When the Jr. High athletic field was being planned in 1926, the construction of a fence that would include the playground and its swimming pool was discussed.

As of now, I don't know the last year the playground swimming pool was open.

Later, the Playground Assn. added two more playgrounds, one near Second Ward School, and the other at the then-new Anthony Wayne Elementary School. I don't know yet who was responsible for the construction of the playground near Liberty School.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Legionville's Ohio River Lock No. 4

Back on June 3, 2014, writer Bob Giles posted "Beautiful River" about his childhood adventures in and along the Ohio River, including playing on the remains of Lock No. 4, which once was on the east side of the river at Legionville, about a mile north of Ambridge.

Some time ago, a commenter on that post said he wondered what the lock had looked like back in the day. All I had at that time was a photo of the powerhouse, plus some photos of what was left of the lock at the time of a Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) survey in November 1992.*

I've finally found a photo of at least a portion of Lock No. 4, although, according to the information with the photo, it doesn't show the lock when it was still in business, but rather its demolition: "Demolition of the lock and dam has been commenced--this was the end of it." Still, it's the only photo of Lock No. 4 I've found so far. And I haven't found a single photo showing the lock's companion dam.

The photo shows the lock's powerhouse to the left and a lockmaster's house to the right, plus some of the lock below. In the background, on the hill above the train tracks, were buildings of the A. M. Byers wrought iron plant.

Demolition of Lock No. 4, Ohio River
Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
Inland Rivers Photograph Collection
circa mid-1936

Lock and Dam No. 4, built between 1898 and 1908, were the fourth of 52 locks and dams the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers constructed on the Ohio between 1887 and 1917. The purpose of the lock and dam system was to allow year-round river transportation via larger boats. It's hard to believe, but before the dam system was built, the Ohio River was usually too shallow for anything but small boats in the summer and fall. After the dams were completed, the Ohio had a year-round navigable depth of 9 feet. That doesn't sound very deep, but it is obviously enough to allow all the ship traffic on the river.

After the still-existing Montgomery Lock and Dam was opened at Monaca in June 1936, Lock and Dam No. 4, by then obsolete, were no longer needed, so they were demolished by the Army Corp of Engineers. The dam and lock reportedly were damaged by the Great St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936, but it's not clear to me how much of the demolition was related to the flood damage. Newspaper reports said that the demolition was expected to begin in the summer of 1936. I've been trying to find out more about the flood damage and eventual demolition, but so far, I haven't found those details.

Powerhouse, Lock No. 4
Ohio River
Legionville PA
circa early to mid- 1900s
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library archives

After the demolition, some parts of the lock near the river's edge remained. They are documented in the HAER report.

The HAER report says that the Lock No. 4 site had two lockmaster's houses, and the report includes site plans showing one on each side of the powerhouse. The first photo above shows only the southern of the two.

The lockmaster's houses and the powerhouse were left standing after the dam and lock were demolished in 1936. But even though the buildings were recognized as being historically significant, they were abandoned and allowed to deteriorate. Over the years, parts of the empty buildings were destroyed and vandalized. In the spring of 1992, the three buildings were bulldozed by the then property owners, River Salvage Company.

Ohio River Blvd. (Rte. 65) was extended from Ambridge's 8th St. to Baden in 1960, just east of the train tracks in Legionville.* I've been trying to recall if I could see any of the three deteriorating buildings while driving though that area, but I'm drawing a blank. Does anyone remember the buildings and what they looked like before they were razed in 1992?

The HAER report provides information about the lock's construction, operation, and more details about the lock's history. The operation of the wicket lock system used at Lock No. 4 was pretty incredible and required a boat with a crew. If you are interested, you can find the report at the Library of Congress' site.

Here are six of the 11 photos from the HAER survey. You can see all 11 at the Library of Congress website. 

The quoted descriptions in the captions are from the HAER survey report.

Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress)
circa 1992

Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress)
circa 1992

Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress)
circa 1992

Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress)
circa 1992

Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress)
circa 1992

Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress)
circa 1992

I've been told that some of the lock still remains along the river's edge, and barges dock there. It must be the area shown below to the west of some of the former Byers mill buildings.

Barges docked at Legionville, east side of Ohio River
Google satellite view

I don't know how much of the remains of the lock and its three buildings described in the HAER report are still on site. And I'm not adventurous enough to explore the area. If anyone has walked through, or boated by, the former lock's location and can add more current information, please leave a comment.

More Lock No. 4 history:

Over the years, some notable accidents happened in or near Lock No. 4:
  • October 13, 1907, a boiler explosion on a U.S. government pumping boat tied to the lock wall, killed five men and injured six. The initial reports said two more men were missing and presumed dead. The boat was blown to pieces.
  • August 14, 1927, two men were killed when their biplane exploded in the air, then crashed into the river at the dam.
  • August 13, 1940, an 11 year-old boy from Byersdale drowned while swimming at the old lock site.
  • _____

    In the "Beautiful River" post Bob Giles speculated that in addition to Dam No. 4's lock on the Legionville side of the river, the dam also may have had a lock on the west side. That speculation is unsupported by the HAER report or any other information I've found about the dam.

    He also wrote that the reason that the dam and lock were demolished was at the behest of J & L, the massive steel mill that stretched for miles along the west side of the Ohio at Aliquippa. So far, I haven't found any information confirming a connection between J & L and the demolition of the dam and lock.