Saturday, October 5, 2019

Lower 100 block of Merchant St. circa 1905

Tenement building
circa 1905
lower 100 block of Merchant St., west side
courtesy Good Samaritan Parish Archives

I assume that not many photos were taken of early Ambridge and of those, precious few have survived. So I was very excited to see this absolute treasure of a photo, recently donated to the Good Samaritan Parish Archives by Diane Crevar Petcash. Diane is the great-granddaughter of Ambridge department store owner Stephen P. Kristufek. Stephen, frequently referred to as S. P., was the younger brother of the more well-known Ambridge builder, banker, realtor, insurance broker, and councilman Charles Kristufek.

The photo's most prominent building is a large three-story wooden tenement. There's a two-story dwelling to its right, and on the far right side, there's a market that sold groceries and meat. Merchant St. is unpaved. And of course, you can't miss the horse that may be pulling a wagon. None of the people in the photo have been identified.

Diane's great-grandfather S. P. Kristufek, and his wife Mary, owned one of Ambridge's most successful pioneer businesses, the S. P. Kristufek store, at the triangular intersection of Merchant St. and Beaver St./Rd. (labeled Duss Ave. on some early maps of Ambridge.) S.P.'s store had an interesting history, and if you haven't read the blog post about it yet, you may want to click on the link at the start of this paragraph.

Diane provided the 1905 date of the photo, but didn't know the location of the buildings. Amazingly, Maria Notarianni, who heads the Good Samaritan Archive committee, was able to locate where the buildings had been, on the 1911 Sanborn Insurance map of Ambridge:

The map shows S.P.'s store was across Merchant from the small apartment building and the market in the photo. On the snip of the map below, the tenement is the large yellow building marked "Tenements" just above the three rows of pink Marshall Alley dwellings. S. P.'s store is the triangular building at the intersection of Merchant and "Duss" on the map.

lower part of 100 block of Merchant St.
Sanborn Insurance map of Ambridge

The tenement is gone, probably long before the First St. area was cleared for redevelopment in the early 1970s, but I can't say that with certainty. So if you remember the tenement--or a different building in the tenement's location (115 Merchant St.)--please let me know when that was.

Diane believes that the tenement had some connection to S. P. Kristufek, since the photo of it was passed down to her along with other family photos, but didn't know what that connection was. I'm doubtful that a relatively wealthy family like S.P.'s would live in a tenement. Except for the time between S.P.'s first store's destruction by fire and his building a second store at the same location, he probably lived above his store, as is mentioned in a newspaper article about an attempted burglary of his second store.

So, what was the connection between S. P. and the tenement? Did S. P. Kristufek build and then perhaps later rent out the tenement when more people moved to Ambridge than he could provide with room and board in his store's building? Was the building occupied by some of S. P.'s more distant family members? Is it possible that S.P.'s family just wanted a photo of the buildings across the street from their store--and because the family was relatively wealthy, could afford to have one taken? I hope more research into Ambridge's earliest years will provide the answer.

Before writing this, I contacted another of S. P. Kristufek's great-grandchildren, Josh Selley, to see if he had any information about the tenement and its connection to S. P. He did not.


  1. My name is Ronald Moskal son of Alexander Moskal. My dad owned the tenement at 115 Merchant Street. I lived there till the age of 8 years old. We moved half way thru my 3rd grade to Hopewell. I remember my teacher's names too. I went to 1st Ward School. I'll never forget the paint factory fire. We students watched it from the windows while in school. If you would like information I'll be happy to oblige.

  2. I remember the lady who owned the smaller tenement too. Her name was Mrs. Javonovich. I hope I spelled it correctly. It was in te early 70's when the town bought the property at 115 Merchant Street. I lost my father Alexander Moskal in 1956. I was only 5. What a blow to me. It still hurts, but I'm 68 years old now, and soon I'll be with him in Heaven. I remember the Ambridge High band setting up to march in parades from 1st to not sure how far. I have many memories to share.
    Ronald Moskal