Monday, February 18, 2019

When Ambridge had "everything you need"

Harvest Days Sale ad
Daily Times
October 3, 1956

Before there was a Northern Lights Shoppers City in Baden, years before the Beaver Valley Mall was built, Ambridge businesses were busy, and not just thriving, they were booming. Sidewalks were crowded with shoppers, and the lack of enough parking spaces was a frequent complaint.

But Northern Lights, the biggest shopping center then built in Pennsylvania, was under construction. Its first stores were about to open on November 1, 1956. So it was no surprise that the Ambridge business community was concerned, very concerned, about the impact Northern Lights would have. And they were right to be concerned. The opening of Northern Lights was the beginning of the downturn of the Ambridge business district.

Then the mall started luring businesses from Northern Lights.

And now, online shopping is killing off businesses in the mall.

Businesses couldn't have predicted in 1956 that "shop at home" would mean something very different in 2018 than "shop in your hometown."

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The curious carved pillars on Wagner Ave.

Pillar with the date "1884" on Wagner Ave.
April 16, 2016
credit: Nancy Knisley

Pillar with letters on Wagner Ave.
April 16, 2016
credit: Nancy Knisley

The 200 block of Ambridge's Wagner Ave. is a narrow, one-way street in the historic district, running between Church St. and Merchant St. The block is lined with a few modest non-Harmonist houses and not heavily traveled. If you did drive through it, you might not have even noticed the two tall stone pillars, one on either side of the steps in front of 269 Wagner.

269 Wagner Ave.
Google street view
October 2013

But if you were one of the street's occasional pedestrians, and particularly observant, you might have been struck by the odd pillars and stopped to take a better look. They are worn and look old and unlike anything else in Ambridge. On them, near the top, are carvings of six pointed stars, near the bottom are what appear to be letters. In addition, below their stars, the right pillar has the date 1884; the left, the letters "H" and "L" separated by a symbol. What do the carvings and letters mean? And why are the pillars in the tiny front yard of 269 Wagner where they seem out of place?

Here's what I know:

John Frederick (Fred) Knoedler, a stonemason by trade, helped carve the pillars. Fred and his wife, Katherine Kroll Knoedler, were long time employees of the Harmony Society, performing a variety of duties, but not Harmonists themselves.

The pillars originally stood in front of Economy School, built by the Harmony Society for the area's children. The letters "H" and "L" on one pillar stood for Jacob Henrici and Jonathan Lenz, the two Harmony Society trustees at the time the school was built in 1884, the year on the second pillar. (Beaver County Times, August 20, 1974)

The Economy School was built at the corner of what is now the northeast corner of Church and Laughlin Sts. You can see it in the left foreground of the photo below. The building to the right is the Blaine House, used as a school before the Economy School was built. The building in the background between the Blaine House and Economy School is Ambridge's Fourth Ward School.

"All Three Economy Schools"
Manuscript Group 354: Old Economy Village Collection
Photo Number 2404
courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Old Economy Village
used with permission

The photo below shows students in front of the Economy School in 1898. You can see the pillars on the sides of the student group.

"Economy School - 1898"
Manuscript Group 354: Old Economy Village Collection
Photo Number 2369
courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Old Economy Village
used with permission

The former Economy School building is now an apartment building:

Former Economy School building, now converted to apartments
1514 Church St.
April 6, 2016
credit: Nancy Knisley

After the Economy School was closed, its pillars were relocated, although I don't know when they ended up in front of 269 Wagner, once the home of Fred and Katherine Knoedler's daughters, Christiana Knoedler and Katherine Brown.

Christiana Knoedler standing with one of the pillars in front of her Wagner Ave. home
Beaver County Times
 August 20, 1974