Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Charles Kristufek's two stores, 1903 and 1908

In 1889, Karoly Kristufek, then 13 years old, was sent, alone, by his Slovak family to live with an acquaintance in America. The boy, a trained harness maker, learned English while aboard ship, according to his grandson, the late Karl Urda, who provided the information for this blog post. Upon arriving at Ellis Island, the boy's first name was Americanized to Charles.

Charles Kristufek first lived in McKees Rocks, where he worked in a dairy, as a handyman, and eventually started building homes. In 1902, the American Bridge Co. needed builders to construct homes for the workers then building the new American Bridge plant on land along the Ohio River formerly owned by the Harmony Society. So Kristufek started building homes in the area that would become Ambridge.

Kristufek not only ended up building many of the homes and business buildings between Ambridge's First and Fourth Sts., but he also built Divine Redeemer's church and convent, and his own general store. Although the store is now gone, many of the homes and other buildings are still standing and in use.

During his life, Kristufek opened, and later sold, his own bank; built the first water works in Ambridge; became a borough councilman; opened a real estate and insurance company; and started the Economy Lumber and Building Company.

I'm going to focus only on Kristufek's stores in this post.

The first store, a wooden frame building, shown below, was built in 1903 at the intersection of First and Merchant Sts.

Chas. Kristufek General Store
300 First St.
circa 1903

The man at the far left in the photo is Charles Kristufek. To his right are his wife, the former Mary Skapik; their daughters, Carrie and Bertha; Mary Skapik; Steve Skapik; George Roman; and an unidentified store clerk.

The first floor, facing First St., was a general store, selling among other items groceries, meat, hardware, and stoves. Kristufek had a small office in the store where he provided Slovak translation services, would send money back to Europe for people, plus he helped arrange for railroad and steamship tickets. The second floor was used for Slovak Catholic Church services before Divine Redeemer bought property for a church.

The large addition to the rear of the building was a three-story rooming house, with its first level on Bank St., to the south of First St. The rooming house had 20 - 25 rooms, and offered bed and meals for the new American Bridge workers. Well, it provided a bed for 12 hours. The rooming house was a "hot bed" place, with one bed being shared by two men in alternating 12-hour shifts. The sheets were changed "at least every 10 days."

That building was destroyed by a fire, replaced by a three-story brick building in 1908.

Charles Kristufek's second store
300 First St.
circa 1908
courtesy Karl Urda

The above photo shows Charles Kristufek on the right, and on the left his daughters Carrie, Mathilda, and Bertha.

As you can see from the window advertising, the new store carried dry goods, notions, hats, caps, and shoes. And by that time, more of Kristufek's business was focused on foreign exchange services and selling steamship tickets. Kristufek no longer provided hot bed rooming.

The second store was razed in the late 1950s.

Sometime circa 1910, Kristufek opened a bank in the 100 block of Merchant St., pictured below. If I can find more information, I'll write about the bank in a later post.

Charles Kristufek's bank
100 block Merchant St.
circa 1910
courtesy Karl Urda

Charles Kristufek died of a stroke in 1943. His daughter, Bertha, and son-in-law, John Urda, took over Charles Kristufek's insurance and real estate business at 405 Merchant St. as "The Kristufek Agency." Their son, Karl, was still offering commercial property appraisals from that location when I was fortunate enough to meet and spend some time with him in August 2016.  Karl Urda died on March 9, 2017.

Charles Kristufek's brother, Stephen, also operated a store in Ambridge, a large department store at the triangular intersection of Beaver and Merchant Sts. I wrote what I then knew about Stephen's store in the August 14, 2015, blog post, "Ambridge's triangle buildings--there was more than one." I now have more photos and more information about Stephen's store, and I'm planning on writing more about it, I hope soon.

1 comment:

  1. What a great blog about my Great great uncle. Growing up, I have heard the names of the people you mention, just never had the chance to meet them.