Monday, April 9, 2018

Ambridge view from a hill, 1905

I remember seeing the postcard below before I became so interested in Ambridge history and wondering back then if the photo was really of Ambridge. It's hard to identify old buildings from the sides, backs, and roofs, especially when the photo isn't sharp. Nothing looked familiar to me. And I couldn't see any of the familiar landmarks that would tell me "this can only be Ambridge," like the Old Economy church tower or the American Bridge office building. Is it possible the town might have been misidentified?

I know I wasn't the only person wondering about the identity of the town in the photo, because I've been asked "Is this really Ambridge?" several times. But I can now say with confidence, yes, it is Ambridge, because I have learned enough in the past several years to identify a few of the buildings. And a postcard message from 1905 helps too.

I've numbered the buildings I have IDed on the postcard. To see a larger view, click on the card:

Ambridge looking northwest from hill
circa 1905

While I've numbered the buildings from left to right, I'm going to start with #4 on the far right side, because, several years ago, that's the first building I thought I could identify.

#4. First St. Veronica Church, 8th St. and Glenwood Ave. Since razed.

St. Veronica Church
circa 1906

The next building I identified was #2, near the center:

#2. The long building with five single windows on the top floor, then groups of windows on the floor below, looks to me like the Ambridge Savings and Trust Co. building, once on the northeast corner of 5th and Merchant Sts., now also gone. The roof line is right.

Ambridge Savings and Trust buildings
5th and Merchant Sts.
circa 1920s
Louis Vukovcan collection
courtesy Jackie Vukovcan

#1. Based on the distinctive roof line with a cube on each end, I believe that #1 might be 439 Merchant St.  Vintage colored postcards show that building as red brick, with second and third floor balconies. It's the third building on the left side of the postcard below. That building still stands, but it's now painted white and its balconies are gone.

400 block of Merchant looking north

439 Merchant St.
October 3, 2014
credit: Nancy Knisley

3. The identical, closely spaced row of roofs are probably the houses on Melrose Ave. They're still there more than a century later.

"Melrose Avenue Looking West, Ambridge, Pa."
500 block of Melrose looking north
postmarked September 28, 1911

The message on a mailed copy of the postcard below clinched the identification for me, plus provided some interesting facts about early Ambridge I hadn't heard before--including why the postcard scene might be as hazy as it is.

"View of Ambridge, PA"
postmarked 1905 

The message on the card says:
My dear Uncle, You can't see the Bridge works in this picture--just a little smoke. We are 25 minutes ride from Pittsburg. Have been here over four months and haven't seen a bright morning yet. Pittsburg smoke covers us up. Like the work but don't like the country. Am going to move pretty soon. Am working on sky scrapers now. 8 hr days with Sat. P.M. off. Wages are good too Living expenses are correspondingly high. Sincerely Rex. (I think its signed Rex, but maybe Ray?)

Here's a scan of the reverse of the mailed postcard immediately above:

reverse of mailed postcard
Nov. 7, 1905

It looks to me as if the card's photo might have been taken from a hill near 3rd St. Any thoughts on the hill's location?

Thank you, Tom Martin, for the unmailed postcard at the top of this post.