WALNUT STREET BUSINESSES III
by Ann Angel Eberhardt
The Knapp Hotel/Mahaney’s Building
The stately three-story brick building on the corner of Walnut and Main streets seemed to be the anchor for the other buildings on the block. It was known in the 1950s as Mahaney’s Clothing Store, but it began as a hotel over a hundred years ago. Ralph Mehler, grandson of the owner of Ralph C. Mehler Insurance Agency, provides this history of the building beginning with the hotel built by his great-great-grandfather Michael Knapp.
The Knapp Hotel was built in 1903 by Michael Knapp on the northwest corner of Walnut & Main. Michael had previously managed another hotel in Sharpsville, the Pierce House (which later was part of the Parkway Apartments).
While Sharpsville was perhaps more of a bustling little town than it is today, letting rooms was only part of a hotel’s business then. At the time, the granting of liquor licenses were severely restricted with only hotels eligible in some years. Michael died right before the hotel opened, leaving a wife and three daughters at home. (Previously, one other daughter died at age 4 and a son at age 24.) Four other daughters were married at the time, including Katherine who had married George Mahaney, Sr., a month before Michael’s death. Collectively, they were widely known as the “Knapp girls.”
While he left a handsome new building, he also left an almost insurmountable amount of debt. (His widow, Anna, was eligible for widow’s pension since Michael was a veteran of the Civil War. Because a widow had to show she was without means of support she had to document to a skeptical War Department that it was a money-losing proposition.)
Ultimately, [Anna Knapp’s] son-in-law George Mahaney took over the building and business in exchange for paying off the debts. He later opened his haberdashery there. The upstairs hotel rooms were eventually converted into apartments.
From about the early 1940s, part of the Walnut Street-facing first floor was rented to Mehler Insurance Agency. Ralph C. “Dutch” Mehler was [George Mahaney’s] nephew. His mother, Emma Knapp, who married Nicholas Mehler, was one of the Knapp girls and sister to George’s wife (Another Knapp girl, Gert, married Frederick “Skip” Reichard, who originated the coffee stir.) Dutch started selling insurance in 1925 out of his barbershop which was on the east side of Walnut near the railroad tracks. Eventually, he laid down his clippers and started selling insurance full-time.
When the building was razed for urban renewal about 1973, my family was in hopes of at least saving the large stone with the name “Knapp” carved in it on the building’s Main Street-facing cornice. Unfortunately, the stone was dropped and smashed when the workmen were attempting to remove it.
The End of the Early Walnut Street Businesses
I suppose that the shopping malls that sprang up in the 1960s spelled the end of stores on Walnut Street as we knew them, along with many small businesses across the nation. Cheap gasoline, as well as the malls’ lower prices, mass advertising, discount department and chain stores, and easy parking were no match for the mom-and-pop stores.
Although many of Walnut Street’s neighborhood businesses are gone, and the buildings they occupied may no longer exist, they are not lost to the memories of those who lived in Sharpsville in the 1950s through 1970s.
– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, October 13, 2014