Small Town Memories

Exploring the history of SHENANGO VALLEY, PA, one story at a time.

Category: History

PATAGONIA Memories

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

No, “Patagonia Memories” is not about memories of the geographical area spanning southern Chile and Argentina, but about a place right in our own Mercer County. The latter may not have lakes, mountains, glaciers, and deserts that the South American region is known for, but the Patagonia of Pennsylvania is remembered, with appreciation and nostalgia, by some as a pleasant and peaceful place of their childhood.

Enter Dick Hudson, this month’s author, whose portrayal of life in 1950s Patagonia, PA, brings forth memories many of us can relate to. A big welcome to our newest guest writer!


Patagonia School: A Four-Room
Schoolhouse on East Street

By Dick Hudson

The Patagonia community is on several streets going up the west hill of the Shenango Valley, with North State Line Road as the dividing line between Ohio and Pennsylvania and the towns of Brookfield, OH, and Sharon, PA. One of those streets that goes up the hill off North Water Street (the street that parallels the Shenango River) is Superior Street. A third of the way up the half-mile street, East Street runs to the right and is the street on which the Patagonia schoolhouse was located.

[Sketch of Patagonia Schoolhouse by Dan DeBonis, March 2, 1939.
DeBonis was the artist of several large paintings that were

on the walls of the Sharon (PA) Store for many years.]

The Patagonia community and the school maintained a stable environment, a sense of togetherness. And the teachers at the school remained the same for quite a number of years: Miss Ebert (Principal) first grade; Mrs. Komlos, second grade; Mrs. Shollenberger, third grade; and Mrs. Wimer, fourth grade. Mrs. McGinnis was the custodian. With less than 20 students in each grade, all students were known well by the teachers. I attended Patagonia School from first grade through the fourth, 1951 to 1955.

Map of area surrounding Patagonia, PA
[Google Map showing Superior and East streets, Patagonia, PA.]

After turning off Superior Street onto East Street, the school would be immediately on the left (west side). There were little ditches on both sides of East Street up to the school, and on the corner of the school lot stood a fairly small tree (though big enough for climbing up a bit). Facing the school front, farther up along the left border of the lot were both a large swing frame with two swings on it and a monkey-bar fixture for climbing. Farther up in that direction stood a very large (I think maple) tree out from the back corner of the first-grade classroom.

In front of the school was the entrance area, a large square 40 yards to the street by 50 yards wide (an estimate at best), was covered in gravel, sometimes too thick to ride one’s bike through it. This area led to cement steps on each of the three sides going up and into the building.

Patagonia School: Interior

Inside, there were a few more steps and then the hall (usually with drawings or other artwork of students hanging on both sides). The hall then widened into a square with the first-grade door straight ahead, that classroom being on the back left corner of the school. A small water fountain was to the right of the door. The second grade was in the back right corner of the school, and the door was farther to the right and facing across the square area. In between the second-grade door and the fountain was another door, this one leading downstairs to the basement.

On the left of this square area was the door for the third-grade room that was at the front left corner of the building, and the fourth-grade room was on the right front corner. Also, to the left of the square area were openings that led to stairs going down to one side the girls’ restroom and on the other side to the boys’ restroom.

Also, off the square area to the right was the “teachers’ room,” a room with a cot, running water, and a place for teachers to get away a bit – plus a place where a sick child would go until being picked up and taken home.

Each classroom had eight windows, four on each of the two walls that faced out, and always with one of the windows facing out from the “cloak room” that each classroom had (though not many “cloaks” were worn). These windows, very wide and tall, would be raised in the fall and spring … allowing wasps to often come into the room, hover about on the ceiling (getting the attention of each of us – or at least me!), and then sometimes dropping straight down and landing where luck and fate might have it. That image still haunts me a bit!

In the basement, where a few times we saw movies and a ping-pong table and various games were available. There were pillars that held up the upper floors, and to the right of the stairs (through a door and out of sight) was the coal furnace for heating. On the other end of the downstairs was an opening with cement steps that led out flat doors toward the back left side of the building not very far from the big maple tree. The school had an active Parent-Teacher Association and I think some of their meetings took place in the basement during the years. However, most PTA meetings were held at the fire hall on Superior Street (I think that is correct).

Patagonia School: Exterior

Again, facing the school from the street, to the right of the school and toward the front, were two basketball hoops, though it was typically too muddy (or covered with snow) to play when it was basketball season. Somewhere along that side is where the teachers parked their cars, though very few cars were ever there.

In the back of the school was a big lot where at recess running and playing and letting off energy took place, sometimes organized “Red Rover, Red Rover, let —– come over,” or kickball or dodgeball or when snow was there “fox and the geese” along the snow paths that the students made. Also in winter, snow slides were made at the front of the lot where a few more small trees were and it sloped to the street. These slides would become sheer ice at times and a bit dangerous. Back then it seemed no one much noticed that we would slide and tumble onto East Street.

At one time, while first and second grade did have their own rooms, third and fourth shared one room, and fifth and sixth shared another room – that was before I entered first grade in 1951. When I was there, just four classrooms existed in the school. This earlier doubling up had been typical in many small schools, but it ended when the student population increased and the fifth and sixth-graders went elsewhere.

Behind the school was a large playing area, and in the summers it was part of the summer playground.

The building was torn down in the 1960s, replaced by a more modern one, but it remains a warm memory in the hearts of those who spent time in that modest little schoolhouse on East Street.

About the Community of Patagonia

Patagonia is located in Hickory/Hermitage Township, and at one time was connected to the rest of the Township. In the 1800s, the borough of Sharpsville was formed, taking the land that connected Patagonia with the rest of the Township. Thus, Patagonia was isolated across the Shenango River on the west hill of the Shenango Valley, yet always remained part of the Township.

The Patagonia School was centered in a community of tight streets and that meant that most of the students walked to school. Buses did bring in students from outside of Patagonia, as from Orangeville Road (where I lived) and Myers Hill. Patagonia School was in a real way, a city school — but the “city” of Patagonia was actually quite small though an original part of Hickory/Hermitage.

North State Line was the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania and separated Brookfield, Ohio, from Patagonia, which was in Pennsylvania. At the top of West Hill, the west side of North State Line Road was in Ohio and the east side of the same street was in Pennsylvania. That meant that close neighbors and friends could easily have attended schools in different states (both Sharon, PA, and Brookfield, OH). The others out in the township did not experience that, although there would have been students living in the Pennsylvania towns of Clark, Sharpsville, Sharon, Farrell, or West Middlesex who were just across the street from their friends in Hickory.

One thing Patagonia did NOT have when I was young was a Little League organization. While other boys who liked baseball would have been able to play in the Hickory Little League, boys in Patagonia had to play in Sharon LL. We would walk across the Clark Street bridge, up through the middle of the Westinghouse plant, as Clark Street divided the big plant, turn left and walk along Sharpsville Avenue to the North Sharon Little League Field, about two miles each way. And after each game, we would take our nickel or dime and buy some candy and “pop” at Saul’s little store (I think the name was Saul?).

Other Patagonia Memories

A few more memories: catching falling leaves from the big maple tree behind the first-grade room at recess in the fall and early days of the school year; the smell of new blue jeans until they were washed a few times; our getting polio shots and all of us feeling “sick” (mostly mental) until we went outside for recess and all were fine; getting a physical exam in the back of our classroom with a few curtains blocking the view; Mrs. Shollenberger, on the last day of school, collecting marbles from the boys when they were dropped on the floor, and tossing them out the front window of her third-grade room with the idea that the boys could go and try to find them.

[“My Weekly Reader,” 1956.]

I remember, too, making various artwork for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Presidents in February, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter, with Mrs. Lake coming by every few weeks to give us art lessons. Mrs. Tarr also coming on occasion to give us voice/phonics/enunciating practice. And Mrs. Pasin, the nurse, checking on our general health each year. Also, thinking that cleaning the erasers was a neat thing to do, despite getting chalk flown all about, or emptying the pencil sharpener; getting the Weekly Reader each week, often with a big map coming with it for the teacher, and a student getting to keep the map sometimes.

And the memories keep coming: In the first grade, singing at the beginning of each day, “Good morning dear teacher . . .”; pledging allegiance to the flag; getting in line often and standing at attention for various reasons; sitting up straight at our desks so our row could be first to do something.

An occasional “program” for the PTA when it would meet downstairs on folding chairs. A radio program on WPIC . . . “Hickory Schools are on the air” was the opening. Mrs. Wimer being out some of the time and Mrs. Dresch taking her place in my fourth-grade year. (Mrs. Wimer died here in Athens, GA, some years ago and I went to her funeral, not knowing she was here in a nursing home until she died. Her daughter, whom I met that day, told me that Mrs. Wimer had not spoken for eight years, but I don’t know what illness she must have had.)

[“Hickory Township Schools Broadcast Every Tuesday Morning at 9:05 Throughout the School Year.” Go to “An Old-Timer’s History of Sharon” for more about this program.]

At Halloween we would dress up after lunch (with most being able to go home and back) and we would then guess who each one was. It was pretty easy to tell for the most part as there were not many of us, and we also all knew each other’s shoes – which were seldom covered. And, on our birthday we would bring candy bars for the rest of the students.

The next to last day of the school year, we would go to Conneaut Lake Park for the day, then return to school the next morning for just a few hours to get our report cards. That final short day was one when we could bring a younger sibling and in fourth grade I brought my sister Judy, later being told that I had been “very protective.”

And in the summers, the school was open in the basement, with a ping-pong table set up, and various games to play (checkers, chess, jacks, dominos, and others).

All in all, it was a very fortunate beginning for us, with dedicated teachers, good fellow students, caring parents, and a feeling of being safe.

— Dick Hudson (HHS 1963), Colbert, GA, June 1, 2020.

About the Author

Dr. Richard A. (“Dick”) Hudson grew up in the Patagonia area on the Orangeville Road and graduated from Hickory High School in 1963. He attended Slippery Rock (PA) University, which placed him in their Sports Hall of Fame, as well as designated him as a Distinguished Alumni Recipient one year. (He is also in the Mercer County, PA, Sports Hall of Fame.) Later, he received his doctoral degree at the University of Georgia, where he spent most of his career in charge of the University’s 1996 Olympic involvement and a Consultant to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, served as Director of the University’s Executive Programs, and coordinated several statewide projects and initiatives. Read more in the Spring 2020 issue of Connections / What’s New magazine, pages 18-21, by clicking here:

https://issuu.com/accaging/docs/ath2011375_whats_next_spring_2020_final_lr

[HM Carl XVI Gustaf on left, presenting an honor to Richard Hudson. Atlanta, GA, c. 1997.]

He has been honored twice at the White House for projects he did for Georgia, and also by Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, in a ceremony in Atlanta for coordinating Sweden’s Olympic pre-Olympic training in 1995 and 1996.

Dick Hudson is a retired faculty member at the University of Georgia. His current home is in the countryside near Colbert, Georgia.


See Also: How PATAGONIA (PA) Got Its Name by Dick Hudson


REMEMBERING RIDGE AVENUE of the 1950s

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Ridge Avenue was certainly a suitable name for the street. It was presumably named in Sharpsville’s early days for the section of the street that runs along the top of a hill from South First Street to South Seventh Street. (I personally know that at least part of Ridge Avenue is on a hilltop because I trekked up a very steep Second Street many times in rain, snow, sleet and hail in the 1950s to attend Sharpsville High School on Ridge Avenue!)

Over the decades, Ridge Avenue grew in length and now stretches from Eighteenth Street on its west side to South Mercer Avenue in the east. For the most part, the street runs parallel with Main Street to its north (until Fifteenth Street) and Pierce Avenue to its south. 

Ridge Avenue, with its many wood-framed houses interspersed with small businesses offering a variety of services, three churches offering peace and comfort, and a high school devoted to the education of the town’s young people, was a somewhat busier street in the 1950s than it is today.

REMEMBERING RIDGE AVENUE: Auto Service Stations

When I was growing up in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s, there were at least four car service shops: 

  • Ridgeway Auto Service, 1417 Ridge Avenue near Fourteenth Street, owned by T. L. Petricini.
  • McKean & Osborne, 965 Ridge Avenue at Tenth Street, owned by Joe McKean.
  • Marrie Pennz-Oil Station, corner Ridge and Walnut streets. “Get Your Car Greased While You Work — We will Call For & Deliver –”
  • D&S Atlantic Service, corner Ridge and Walnut streets.

REMEMBERING RIDGE AVENUE: Churches

The three Ridge Avenue churches that I recall are still, after many decades, in operation today: St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of Sharpsville and Church of the Nazarene.

St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church, Ridge Avenue, Sharpsville, PA. (Source: Church website)

In June of 1908, Rev. Michael A. Miller began overseeing the construction of a new St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church at 311 West Ridge Avenue. According to A Twentieth Century History of Mercer County Pennsylvania (Lewis Publishing 1909), the church “was built of native stone and Devonshire brick, with Cleveland stone trimmings, and [was] one of the finest and largest buildings in the city.” William Henry Adams was the contractor. It was more than 14 years before the church was entirely completed. (Go to “Italians in Sharpsville” for more about St. Bartholomew R. C. Church.)

The construction of the First Presbyterian Church of Sharpsville, located at 603 West Ridge Avenue, began in 1928 using native stone (since darkened by soot from the Shenango Furnace) from the Blaney farm east of Sharpsville. The building’s site, selected for its central location in town, was purchased from the McCracken family whose house was then relocated. When many pledges remained unfulfilled due to the Depression, the congregation volunteered their labor to build their church. It took until 1935 before they could move into a still-unfinished building, and it wasn’t until 1950 that construction was finally completed.

Construction of First Presbyterian Church, Ridge Avenue, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1929.
Source: Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter, July 2014 (Vol. III, No. 2).

Sharpsville (PA) Church of the Nazarene, c. 2019. Source: Church website.

On the corner of Ridge Avenue and Eighth Street stands the Sharpsville Church of the Nazarene, a Protestant Christian church. The building was formerly occupied by the United Brethren. The Church of the Nazarene congregation held its first service on Christmas Eve, 1938, in the old Presbyterian Church on First and Main streets. Approximately two months later the church used a storeroom at 28 Shenango Street for its then 20 charter members. In the spring of 1941, they moved to the church they occupy to this day, a building at 804 West Ridge that they purchased for $9,000. A new parsonage was purchased at 810 West Ridge Avenue in 1952, replacing the old one on Eighth Street, which was eventually replaced by a parking lot.

REMEMBERING RIDGE AVENUE: Sharpsville High School

The first graduation from Sharpsville High School took place in 1884, approximately 36 years before the construction of the school building in about 1920 on Ridge Avenue between First and Second streets. Where the graduates attended school before then is a mystery, but a clue may be seen in the c. 1910 class photo of Sharpsville High School students. They appear to be standing in front of the Robison School.

The high school was designed by Taylor and Hanna, Sharon architects, and constructed by Wallis and Corley, Sharon contractors. The cost of the building (consisting of 14 rooms, a gymnasium and basement) and furnishings was approximately $150,000, about $3 million in today’s dollars. By 1922 the school graduated 18 students, according to Pete Joyce’s speech celebrating Dr. Bailey’s life in Sharpsville.

I attended Sharpsville High School from grades seven through twelve in the 1950s (in 1958 103 of us graduated). My high school memories and those of others are described in the following blogs: “Junior High School,” “Senior High School Traditions” and “SHS Class of 1958 Celebrates Its 60th!” 

In the year after I graduated, a brand new high school building opened in 1959 on Blue Devil Way for junior and senior Sharpsville students. The old building became the “William P. Snyder Middle School,” named for the owner of Shenango Furnace Company, which operated blast furnaces in Sharpsville from the early 1900s until the 1970s. 

When a new space was created for Sharpsville Area Middle School next to the Sharpsville Area High School, schooldays at the Ridge Avenue building were at an end. Instead, the large red brick structure at 100 West Ridge Avenue was converted to a privately owned mixed-use complex and renamed the TrailBlazer Building, now holding about a dozen commercial tenants as well as 23 apartments. 

I feel a sense of loss and sadness when I think of the demolition of some of Sharpsville’s historic buildings, such as the Pierce Mansion and the Mahaney Building. But how comforting it is to know that a new life has been found for the Sharpsville High School building on Ridge Avenue! 

REMEMBERING RIDGE AVENUE: Other Businesses

Among the ads in the 1956 Devil’s Log Yearbook was one for Dick’s TV Center at 211 Ridge Avenue. It read,

DICK’S T.V. CENTER
Sales–Installation–Service
Service & Distributors for Sylvania, G.E., Philco,
R.C.A., Admiral, Crosley, Emerson, Stewart Warner

In 1953 my father purchased our first television and it was most likely from this shop. (It was a big event when that black-and-white Philco with a 21-inch screen was placed in a featured spot in our living room, even though the only available TV stations in Sharpsville at that time were channels 73 [WFMJ-TV – NBC] and 27 [WKBN-TV – CBS], both from Youngstown, Ohio.) [Revisions and additions were made to this paragraph on February 10, 2020.]

And this shop was probably the one we regularly called for a repairman when our TV malfunctioned, often when one of the TV’s vacuum tubes burned out. Because a TV set in those days was like a large piece of furniture, repairmen usually made house calls. Today, with modern flat-screen sets being difficult to fix and often disposable, the TV repairman is a relic of the past. The building that held Dick’s TV Center, across Ridge Avenue from the high school, still exists today and is still in use by a small business.

Dick’s TV Center is featured in “A Christmas Kindness,” a blog about the owner’s very nice gesture to my brother and me when we wanted to buy a Christmas tree. I couldn’t recall the name of the store, but a reader reminded me it was Weber’s TV. Possibly the owner’s name was Dick Weber.

Stevenson Funeral Home at 1142 West Ridge Avenue is no longer in operation at this site. Neither is Stewart’s Grocery that occupied a little building on the corner of West Ridge and Seventh Street. In the 1950s we students from the Robison Elementary School would stop at Stewart’s after school with our pennies and nickels to buy candies.

Sandy’s, at 212 West Ridge Avenue, was another after-school stopping place in the 1950s, in this case by the high school students. Located a few doors from Second Street on the same side as Sharpsville High School, it was a popular venue for meeting with friends, listening to the latest rock ‘n roll 45 rpm records on the coin-operated jukebox, chatting on the pay phone or sipping soda from glass bottles. 

Sandy’s on West Ridge Avenue, Sharpsville, PA, 1956. Source: 1956 Devil’s Log Yearbook.

Ridge Avenue served its townspeople well some 70 years ago. And as much as certain features have changed since then on this little street, some have stayed the same. For those things that have been consigned to the dusty bins of the past, all we have left are a few photographs, if any, and our memories.

Sources

1956 Devil’s Log Sharpsville (PA) High School Yearbook.

First Presbyterian Church of Sharpsville website.

“First Presbyterian Church.” Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter, July 2014, Vol. III, No. 2, page 4.

Sharpsville Church of the Nazarene website.

“Sharpsville High School Students abt 1910.” Class photo on Familyoldphotos.com.

“Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary, 1874-1924.” Supplement to the Sharon (PA) Telegraph, June 7, 1924, pp 10 & 14. Courtesy of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society. http://sharpsvillehistorical.com/documents/
GoldenJubilee.pdf

St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church website.

White, John G. A Twentieth Century History of Mercer County Pennsylvania. Chicago, IL: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1909. Pages 647 & 953.


The STAGECOACH

by Eric Bombeck

[A jam-packed stagecoach rushes through town. Source unknown.]

It’s hard to believe that around the time Sharon, Pennsylvania, was first settled c. 1800, 500 yards up the west hill was considered “The West,” or more accurately, “The Western Reserve.” In those early days if you wanted to get somewhere you rode a horse, drove a horse-drawn buggy, sailed in a ship, or walked. The 1800s, however, was a century of change. If you were born about the same time Sharon was founded and lived to be 100, you would see life-changing advances in transportation, primarily in steamboats, trains, automobiles and in the increased number of canals and roads.

There were many small communities in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, but they were all isolated from each other. It really was not much different from how it was back in Europe since antiquity. Many communities over there, a mere fifty miles apart, often barely spoke the same language. Here in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the advent of one thing began to tie all the communities together — the stagecoach.

[French forts in the Ohio Valley, 1754. Source: http://www.ncpedia.org]

In the late 1700s, the French began to expand the ancient Indian trails so that they could build a series of forts in western Pennsylvania to protect their land from the British: Fort Presque Isle in Erie, Fort Le Boeuf in Waterford, Fort Machault in Franklin and Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh. (Concerned by reports of French expansion into the Ohio Valley, the British sent a young George Washington right through our area in 1754 to negotiate with the French.) 

By the War of 1812, as troops began to travel on foot to Erie, it became clear that better roads were needed. Turnpikes were being built all around the region. It was inevitable then that stagecoach lines would begin to pop up. The first stagecoach lines began to appear here around 1817. The stagecoaches were not initially received very well. In Ohio, when the Conneaut-to-Poland stage line came in, people were so leery of it that they protested. 

[Excerpt from Map of Pennsylvania, 1832, showing (in blue) stagecoach route. General Maps Collection, Library of Congress.]

Soon other lines sprang up. The Franklin & Warren (PA) stage line had three routes in the region. The route between Mercer and Warren, Ohio, ran right through the Shenango Valley. The stagecoach named “The President Jackson” left the Greentree Inn in Mercer at noon, then stopped in Sharon, then Charleston where the horses were switched out with a new team. This was done Nascar-style every 12 miles with teams switching out in under 10 minutes and passengers rarely even getting out. The route continued through Sharpsville, Sharon, Brookfield and Vienna, and ended up in Warren, Ohio. The miracle of the stagecoach: 31 miles in only 8 hours! Or at least that’s how long it was supposed to take.

The “dean of the Mercer-Warren stage line drivers” during the 1860s was the rough-riding, independent Mike Malhony. Even though it was his job to be prompt, Mike was one of those guys who wasn’t exactly tied down to any schedule. Sometimes the stage would leave at noon, sometimes closer to 1:00. Many passengers who were trying to get to the stage stop in Sharon (Tom Porter’s Tavern) often arrived an hour late. 

In the 1840s, Randall D. Wilmot opened up a stagecoach stop on the other side of Warren, Ohio. The complex had a bar, store and lunch stand. Randall, somewhat of an eccentric marketing genius, named the area “The Center of the World.” When the railroad made “The Center of the World” obsolete, Wilmot moved to Cortland, Ohio, and opened a grocery store called “The End of the World.” (If you travel Route 5 on the other side of Warren you’ll still see a road sign that reads “The Center of the World,” where an unincorporated community of a few houses still exists.)

As stagecoach lines grew, so did communication between towns. Travelers from bigger cities carried “gossip” and often newspapers with them that small-town folk could read. Villages that were once isolated now had a lifeline to the rest of the region. The post office, realizing horses were now antiquated, began using stage lines to send mail. (The number of post offices in Pennsylvania rose from only 3,000 in 1815 to 28,000 in 1860.)

The life span of the rough-and-tumble stagecoaches was relatively short. In the earlier years of the 1800s, they contended with the Erie Canal. In later years, railroads offered relatively luxurious travel accommodations and were faster and cheaper than the stage lines. In many places around the country, the stagecoach lines lasted until the automobile knocked them out, some even lasting until World War I.

[George Bancroft, John Wayne and Louise Platt in Stagecoach (1939). Source: “Stagecoach (1939 film),” Wikipedia.]

We all have some image of the stagecoach era in our psyche, something akin to Jimmy Stewart sauntering up to help a pretty pioneer girl off the stage or John Wayne in the classic Western movie, Stagecoach. But the next time you get into your SUV with heated seats and electronic stability control remember this quote from the 19th-century American author Washington Irving on stagecoach travel…

There is certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.

Source: www.quotehd.com
[The Old Stone House, Slippery Rock, PA. oldstonehousepa.org]

If you travel on the William Flynn Highway to Slippery Rock, PA, you can see an old stagecoach stop and tavern. The Old Stone House was constructed in 1822 by John Brown as a resting place for weary travelers on the busy Pittsburgh-to-Erie Pike. Go to oldstonehousepa.org for more information about this stagecoach inn and history museum of rural life.

— Eric Bombeck (SHS 1979), South Pymatuning, PA.

Sources: 

Bombeck, Eric. The Way It Was Newspaper, Facebook, June 2019. 

“Center of the World, Ohio.” Wikipedia.

History of Rail Transportation in the United States.” Wikipedia

NCPEDIA, an online encyclopedia about all things North Carolina. www.ncpedia.org

“The Old Stone House” website. oldstonehousepa.org

“Tales of the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys.” Recordings made in the 1950s by The Industrial Information Institute, Inc., Youngstown, OH, 1951-10. 

For an eyewitness account of stagecoach travel, read Roughing It (American Publishing Company, 1872), a semi-autobiographical book by Mark Twain. With his rough-hewn humor, Twain tells of his jarring ride over potholes and ruts from Missouri to Nevada.


AN OLD-TIMER’S HISTORY of Sharon, Pennsylvania

by Eric Bombeck

In October of 1938, WPIC, the Shenango Valley’s first radio station, came on the air. In its early days radio was seen as a high-brow medium. Stations played classical music, endeavored to educate the public and were rarely crass.

Sharon High Students 1950. Seated: James Miller, Ronald Rowlings. Standing: George Sikora, Radine Woods.

In an effort to involve the community, WPIC put in phone lines from Sharon and Hickory High Schools directly into the studios. Students could now do broadcasts from the schools. More than one high school kid got a job at WPIC because of this. (Joe Prelee, who went on to a storied career in NYC radio, got his start this way.)

The following is a transcript from a WPIC broadcast from Sharon High School on June 23rd, 1950. Miss Mary Lee, the historian being interviewed, was 89 years old at the time of this broadcast, meaning she would have been born around the beginning of the Civil War. She was old enough to have heard some of the stories she tells from people who were here from the beginning. Enjoy this oral history of Sharon as told by Miss Lee in 1950 to two fifth-grade students.
— Eric Bombeck

THE HISTORY OF SHARON

Date: June 23, 1950
Time: 9:15-9:30 AM
Music

Announcer: Good Morning boys and girls, we are broadcasting from the auditorium of the Sharon High School. It is our pleasure to have with us this morning, Miss Mary Lee, a former teacher and very well-known resident of our city. I don’t believe she would mind my telling you that she is 89 years old. She is going to answer some questions about the history of Sharon, which will help you in your study of Sharon.

Jane White and Bob Smith, two children from the fifth grade, Prospect Heights School, will interview Miss Lee. Miss Lee has lived in Sharon for over fifty years and has done extensive research work on the history of Sharon. The children of Sharon are required to learn something of Sharon’s history and this is the first of a series of programs to be presented in this history of Sharon.

“Hickory Township Schools Broadcast Every Tuesday Morning at 9:05 Throughout the School Year. Kinder Quiz: Sandra Stevenson, Joseph Padulla, Judith Vasconi, Juliann Birch, Drew Kelly, quiz mistress Mrs. Sara L. Tarr.”

Announcer:  Jane, do you have a question you would like to ask Miss Lee?

Jane:  Miss Lee, will you tell me who was the very first settler of Sharon?

Miss Lee:  William Budd was the first settler. He was known as “the Father of Sharon”

Jane:  Where did William Budd come from?

Miss Lee:  Budd came to Sharon from Washington County, Pennsylvania. That is on the other side of Pittsburgh.

Bob:  About what year did he came and where did he make his first settlement?

Miss Lee:  Bob, history books tell us he came in the spring of 1796 when George Washington was serving his second term as President of the United States and the nation’s capital was located in Philadelphia. Young Budd’s plot of land included 400 acres and he built his log cabin on what is now the northeast corner of Washington Street and South Irvine Avenue. Later, he built a cabin nearer the river, at what is now 61 South Main Street and spent some time hunting and trapping before he returned to Washington County to marry sixteen year old Drucilla Hultz.

Bob:  To what kind of cabin did young William Budd bring his bride?

The Herald artist’s depiction of
William Budd’s Cabin.

Miss Lee:  The log cabin was a story and a half high. The loft was reached by a ladder, there was a puncheon floor, a clapboard roof and greased paper windows. Bob, if you would like to know more about these cabins, you might look it up in the World Book. It will go more in detail than I can on this program.

Jane:  Miss Lee, what did the Budds do if they wanted some groceries or supplies?

Miss Lee:  Jane, we are told that the Budds produced nearly everything they needed except for farming implements, ammunition and salt. If they needed these, they had to go to Pittsburgh. In those days, it took them three weeks to go. A barrel of salt was worth twenty bushels of wheat. The only roads were the streams and narrow wavering paths made by wild beasts and Indians. Deer were common, wolves howled at night and occasionally a black bear was to be seen on the trip.

Bob:  Didn’t the Budds have any near neighbors that they could borrow from rather than making this long trip?

Miss Lee:  Yes Bob. In 1798 Charles and Frances Reno settled east of the Shenango River and north of William Budd’s, around what is now Reno Street, down near the Junior High School. The Bentley’s the Stokley’s, the Hoaglands, McBrides and Loves all moved into the valley and, in spite of hardships, these pioneers had come to stay. On May 23, 1798, the second generation made its first appearance, in the tiny person of James Bentley, the first white child born in Sharon.

Jane:  Miss Lee, what do you know about the early homes of Sharon?

 Location of William Budd’s first cabin in Sharon – Baker Service Station at 183 South Irvine Avenue.

Miss Lee:  We know the earliest homes of the pioneers were log cabins. Then, these were replaced by frame homes. In 1851, long rows of company houses were built for the people who were working in the iron mill. In one of them, over thirty years later, there grew up a Welsh immigrant boy, who was to become the first Secretary of Labor and afterward, a Senator of the United States, James J. Davis.

In 1864 Sharon was becoming a good-sized town and brick homes were replacing the frame ones. Some of these are still standing on East State Street. The brick home, opposite the Golden Dawn store on the corner of North Oakland Avenue and East State Street, where the Sample Funeral Home is located, is one of these homes.

The first stone house to be built in Sharon is still standing on Dayton Way, just across from the Wishart planning mill. The second stone house to be built was the Buhl Mansion, now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Forker, East State Street.

The house which was occupied by Gariety Funeral Home, at the corner of Washington and South Water Avenue is considered one of the oldest buildings in Sharon. This house which has been remodeled and enlarged many times was originally a log cabin.

Bob:  Miss Lee, surely if the people of Sharon were interested in building nice homes they wanted a name for their village.

Miss Lee:  Oh yes, Bob. William Budd took care of that in 1815. Tradition tells us that he was worried about that, so he decided to choose a name from the Bible. He put three names in a muslin covered box. The third name drawn was “Sharon.” We do not know whether he had in mind the plains of Sharon or the Rose of Sharon when he selected the name.

Jane:  We know in the very beginning the Budds had to go to Pittsburgh for their supplies but when did they finally get some stores in Sharon?

Miss Lee:  Well, Jane, in 1815, Elias Jones bought 100 acres of land north of State Street, west of the Shenango River. He built a distillery and a storeroom and became Sharon’s first distiller, innkeeper and postmaster.

In 1818, the first bridge was built over the Shenango River at the cost of six hundred dollars and then wooden sidewalks were built so the shoppers could visit Jake Cozadd’s shoe shop or Elias Jones’ store. The mail now came twice a week from Mercer by stagecoach instead of horseback. The Sharonites who made the great trip to see General Lafayette at Mercer twelve miles away, in 1824, came home to a village whose streets were unlighted and choked with dust or deep mud. By 1825 new names had appeared in Sharon, and new faces in business houses. “Daddy” Washington Porter kept store at the southeastern corner of State Street and Water Avenue where the news stand is now located. David Budd had a new tavern. Sharon was still a log settlement but it was home to people who had faith in the future and the courage to make the future bright.

Bob:  Miss Lee, I thought Willson’s furniture store was one of the oldest stores in Sharon. When did it have its beginning?

Miss Lee:  You are right Bob. It was in 1845 that James Willson, a Brookfield boy, stood on the top of the West Hill and looked down into the valley and then toward Brookfield Center, trying to decide whether he would start his business in the flourishing Ohio village or in the smaller Pennsylvania settlement below on the muddy Shenango River. He decided that the new covered bridge, the building though only a single-track affair, twenty feet wide, would enable Sharonites to get across the river, beyond the city limits, where expenses were less. From that boy’s decision sprang Sharon’s oldest family business, now known as the Willson Furniture Store.

Jane:  What were some of the other businesses that were established about this same time?

Miss Lee:  Jane, I have been told that many people were interested in establishing banks, The Shenango Hotel with eighty-six rooms, a drug store by Reno and Espy, a music store by W.C. DeForest, a cloak and millinery shop by Mrs. Mark Cohen and many other shops.

Bob:  We have learned in our study of geography that people cannot live in a community unless they have some way of earning a living. How did these early pioneers make a living?

Miss Lee:  Bob, everyone must work if they want to earn a living and these Sharon pioneers were no exception.

In 1802, Benjamin Budd gave Sharon its first industry. Budd built a saw and grist mill on the east side of the river in the southern part of the present Sharon. The mill was operated by power furnished by a dam in the river. In 1822 Clark built a flour mill on North Water Avenue and in a few years he put in fulling and carding machinery. In 1810 coal was discovered near Sharon and at first, it was used in the homes for fuel but later it was used in the iron mills. 1846 was the outstanding year in the development of the blast furnaces. Six blast furnaces were built in the Shenango Valley to make pig iron with charcoal and native ores. In this same year Frank Allen began his experiments at the Clay Furnaces, where he succeeded in substituting coke for charcoal, and finally, in using the raw coal as a fuel, a discovery which greatly influenced Sharon’s future.

Sharon had a tremendous boom in the ‘50s. The rolling mill started in 1851 and soon was turning out forty-five tons of pig iron weekly, at a cost of $18.00 a ton.

These are just a few of the early industries that were carried on, which enabled the early settlers to earn a living.

Jane:  As I look at this beautiful auditorium where we are now, it makes me want to know something about the early schools of Sharon. Miss Lee, I imagine you too are interested in the early schools.

Miss Lee:  The two-million-dollar school system of today is a far cry from the first log cabin school in 1800. It was then that Thomas Rudge used the birch switch as the first teacher in the new community.

At present, there are ten public school buildings in use. The first of the schools now in use was East Ward, built about 1880, South Water Avenue and the Prospect Heights Schools in 1904, Russell Street was constructed in 1908, Jefferson Avenue in 1909, the Senior High in 1923-1924, Wengler in 1927, Junior High in 1929 and Thornton Avenue in 1929.

Daniel Hates, a Revolutionary War veteran, began teaching in 1803 in a log house erected for the purpose, on what was known as the Hoagland Place. This was one mile north of the present State Street, about the same time a log building was erected for school purposes near where the Baptist Church now stands on West State Street.

Besides these schools, there was a schoolhouse built of round logs that stood on the north side of State Street.

The first brick school in Sharon was built in 1850 near the present site of the Pennsylvania depot. In the early 1920s the building was turned into a railroad roundhouse.

Jane, as you can see, the people of Sharon have always been interested in education and want the very best for their boys and girls.

Bob:  Miss Lee, they tell us the church is the greatest factor on earth for the building of character and good citizenship, and it is a storehouse of spiritual values. Without a strong church, neither democracy nor civilization can survive.

Do you think these early settlers believed this?

Miss Lee:  Yes, Bob. These early settlers were very much interested in starting a church. Again history tells us that on June 24, 1804, the Baptist Church was organized with nineteen members – the Hoaglands, Morfords, Renos and the four Bentleys, and the rest of the early settlers. Morford and Hoagland were deacons. Services were held in groves, barns and houses for three years. Within a year after the church was organized, Adam Bentley, with an ox-team, went to New Jersey, four hundred miles away, to bring back Reverend Thomas Jones who was willing to come if his expenses were paid. The parsonage was a log cabin on the farm of Wayne B. Wheeler.

In 1807 William Budd donated land for the church and the graveyard. The land extended west from the present site of the First Baptist Church. Later, Mr. Budd gave an adjoining lot to the Methodists and the two lots were thrown together for the general use of the town.

Jane:  I know you can’t tell us when all the churches in Sharon were established but I would like to know when the First Presbyterian Church was started. That is the one I go to.

Miss Lee:   That is my church too, Jane. It was organized in 1844 with twenty-four persons present.

Bob:  I go to the Sacred Heart Church. Do you know when it was organized?

Miss Lee:  Why yes Bob. In 1859, a Sharon Mission was started in charge of Father Hartman. Father John O’Keefe was the first pastor named for the Sharon congregation. Services were held in the homes of members pending the erection of a rectory, after which mass was celebrated in a room in the parsonage. In 1854, the cornerstone was laid for Sacred Heart Church on a plot of ground donated by Dr. J.M. Irvine. The building was pushed rapidly because the congregation was growing steadily with the arrival of new people in town, attracted by the rapid development of the iron industry.

Jane and Bob, that is all the time I have to tell you about Sharon’s early growth but if you would like to hear more about the building of the Erie Canal and about the wonderful contributions made to the community by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Buhl, I will be only too glad to tell about them sometime again.

Announcer:  Thank you Miss Lee for giving us this interesting information. I am sure we will all look forward to your next visit.

Goodbye everyone, this is station W.P.I.C. signing off for the Sharon Public Schools, which can be heard every Tuesday morning at 9:15.

– Submitted by Eric Bombeck, (SHS 1979), South Pymatuning, PA. Transcription and photographs from WPIC Archives, courtesy of The Way It Was Newspaper.

CONTI FAMILY: From Pofi to Sharpsville, Part I

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

You’re in for a special treat! This month’s guest writer, Gary Conti, shares with us a three-part story: Parts I and II tell of his Italian family, their immigration and life in Sharpsville as Italian-Americans. Finally, Part III describes a visit to the land where it all began.

Gary was born in 1963 and has been a lifelong Sharpsville resident. He grew up on South Second Street until he was 16 years old, and recalls the “good family friend Mary Caracci and her family who lived down the hill on North Second Street. I used to go there with my Aunt Theresa to visit Mary and accompany my aunt when she cleaned the offices of Cattron Communications.” After graduating from Sharpsville High School in 1981, Gary worked at Container Products and Howe Industries for about a total of 16 years. He is currently an employee of United Parcel Service (UPS).

Join Gary as he takes us on his grandparents’ journey from Pofi, Italy, to a new life in Sharpsville, a journey made by the many far-sighted and courageous people who came to America in the early years of the twentieth century.


THE CONTI FAMILY

Part I: From Pofi to Sharpsville

By Gary Conti

Gary Conti, age 5. Sharpsville, PA, c. 1968.

Ever since I was a small child, people would see or hear my last name and ask if I was related to this or that Conti. My answer was that I really did not know. Conti is a very well-known name throughout Italy. Now I have an answer: If they didn’t come from Pofi, Italy, and end up in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, then we are not related. But it wasn’t until 2007 that I learned this answer.  

Opening a Treasure Chest

One snowy January day in 2007 I sent an email that opened a treasure chest of facts that is still full to this day. I sent this email to a man named Tony who spent half the year in his hometown of Pofi, Italy, and the other six months in Toronto, Canada. He was putting together a reunion in Pofi of bloodlines around the world the very month we would be going there in October of 2007. I sent the email and, thinking I may never get a return reply, I left the room to make some coffee. When I came back to the computer, I found how wrong I was. I not only had a reply in minutes but one that told me I had hit the target. “Do you know the Scurpa’s?” he asked. Only all my life! In fact, I found out my grandmother was related to them.         

The recipient of my email inspired me to learn how to research. He taught me how not to trust the years on the headstones of Italian graves. Because records in Italy were lost in wars, earthquakes, fires, and other calamities, the birth and death years on the headstones were mainly those that family members thought they knew. This derailed research he had done seven years before. He also introduced me to the Ellis Island Records website as well as telling me where to write in Pofi and what to say. Within a couple hours, I began hitting paydirt!

The only things I had going for me were the names of my grandparents who died decades before I was born, the name of the town and a few things my aunt taught me.

My Grandfather’s Path to Sharpsville

Italy, showing the location of Pofi in the province of Frosinone. (Source: NASA Space Goddard Flight Center.)

My grandfather was Luigi Conti, born in Pofi, Italy, in 1893 to Francesco and Francesa Giorgi Conti. He and five other men, ages 17 to the 40s, left their village in April of 1913 for Naples where they boarded a ship called The Prince of Piedmont. They made the trip across the ocean and arrived in New York on May 2nd. My grandfather and two others, a Scurpa and Luigi Gori, his best friend, headed to Sharpsville. They were following a path from towns south of Rome — Pofi, Castro dei Volsci, Ceccano, Ceprano and Falvaterra — that had already been made years before.

The men of the southern area of Italy were mostly farmers in what was known as “The Land That Fed Rome.” They and those farther south were forced to give a share of their crops to the Italian Government, which was then used to feed their own families who lived in the region to the north. To this day, this practice is not taken well by the southerners as it became, as a result, almost impossible for them to make a living. Somewhere along the line Sharpsville became known to the people of this area as a place where they could thrive and the push across the Atlantic to our town was on.

When my grandfather arrived in Sharpsville his petitioner was Luigi Gori’s older brother, Giacinto. Luigi went to work at the old Valley Mold & Iron which was at one time the largest ingot mold foundry in the world. He worked there for many years as a molder.

My Grandmother’s Arrival

Marriage of Mattia Recine and Luigi Conti, St. Bartholomew Church. Sharpsville, PA, January 1917.

My grandmother was Mattia Recine Conti, the daughter of Giovanni and Carmine Vona Recine. She did not come to America until December of 1916 and her trip across the ocean was a bit of historical significance. Because World War I was in full force at the time, her ship, the Caserta, had big guns mounted on top. At certain points on the sea, the crew would engage in target practice for possible attacks by U-boats (German submarines). I could just imagine my grandmother’s reaction to that as a passenger!

My grandmother’s voyage was the Caserta’s last trip across the Atlantic, as the vessel company, out of safety concerns, stopped its operations until after the European Conflict.

I have gone over her ship manifest many times only to conclude that she made the trip across with strangers. It’s amazing to me how a woman could make that rough trip alone.  

Mattia Recine arrived at Ellis Island in New York City a few days before Christmas of 1916 and, on New Year’s Day, she married my grandfather at St. Bartholomew Church in Sharpsville. I have never found out if they knew each other back in Pofi and always wondered if the Scurpa’s had something to do with the marriage. The only clue I found was a couple of years before she came to America, my grandfather was living at Alice Row*, with another man whose last name was also Recine.

(*Alice Row was a group of Valley Mold row houses located off North Mercer Avenue on Cedar Street in Sharpsville. “Alice” was the name of a furnace at Valley Mold. The building no longer stands and the site is now used by a dealership to store used cars.)

Beginning Life in Sharpsville

conti_frank_schoolboy_pixlr - Edited (1)

Frank Conti, my father, c. 1936, Sharpsville, PA.

My grandparents’ first child, Sebastian (known to the family as “Sub”), was born in 1918. He was followed a year to the day afterward by Theresa, then Mary, Rosa, my father Frank (left photo) and then Tony. Even though they were born here they spoke little English when they started school.

I came to learn over the years that my grandfather Luigi was a no-nonsense guy who ruled in the old-school way: Punish first then move on. Do what you are told and stay away from his garden! My Aunt Theresa used to tell me how he would sit on the porch at night with a radio and a bottle of homemade “Dago Red” and claim that he could hear Rome on the radio. Anybody who has ever had that homemade wine knows that hearing Rome from Sharpsville after a couple of drinks is possible! Besides the wine he was known for working in that garden, ruling the home and smoking those little Italian cigars that he would always send the kids to get for him.

Funeral for my grandmother Mattia Recine Conti, c. 1937. The children in front are my father and Uncle Tony Conti.

At a very early age, my aunts and uncles lost their mother, my grandmother, (in c. 1937) and their father (in 1945). My father was 9 and my Uncle Tony 7 when their mother died. I never knew a lot about her other than she was good with the kids and kind with many friends in the Italian community of Sharpsville, as you could see in the photo by her casket. My Aunt Theresa and Uncle Sub had some of their teenage years taken away and quickly became very close as brother and sister.

Uncle Sub was the first of my father’s siblings to move away from his childhood home. He found work in the iron mill and married Mary Josephine Sabella in 1937. They lived on Seventh Street just above where Rossi Barber Shop was.

Later, Uncle Sub moved back to Cedar Street when he took my father in. My father told me many times that the Seventh Street house was where he had his first Thanksgiving dinner. I guess Italians did not take part in that tradition early on.

My Uncle Tony is another one for the record books. Because of very poor health as a child, he was not expected to live past teenage years. They found a hole in his heart on a checkup right on the front lines during the Korean War and he was sent to Japan and then home. He later had the first successful open heart surgery in Cleveland. He will soon be 88.

What I learned from Magdalena Scurpa

Aunt Theresa Conti Gula and my grandfather, Luigi Conti, c. 1941.

Magdalena Scurpa, who was related to my grandmother, took my aunt Theresa under her wing and made sure the connection to Italy lived on. As a young kid many years later I would sit at my aunt’s kitchen table listening to her stories as she made sauce, bread and pizzelle (traditional Italian waffle cookies), as well as fried dough. Man, do I miss that stuff!  

She would tell me how the Italians feared The Black Hand, a name given to an Italian organized crime group that blackmailed Italian business owners and struck fear into Italians. It mostly operated before Prohibition and, yes, even in Sharpsville, Sharon and Farrell. It was known around the country and it really took hold in Hillsville near New Castle.

She told me of the time the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the hill above the town of South Pymatuning because all immigrants and African Americans lived in the old neighborhood at the lower end and that cross was in clear view. The story I hear, though, is that the Klan members didn’t stick around after starting it!

Growing up and hearing family stories made me feel like I was a part of it all. It was and still is special to me. I have never forgotten where my bloodlines came from and their struggles.

[Right] A pizzelle press in action. Source: Photo by (and courtesy of) Jacquelyn Stager, author of “Life Between the Buns: Pizzelles Anyone?”, a blog that includes a recipe for pizzelles. (Accessed 2018-10-20).

Next month: The Conti Family, Part II: An Italian-American Christmas, A Golden Childhood.

— Gary Conti, SHS 1981, Sharpsville, PA.

See Also:

THE CONTI FAMILY, Part II: From Pofi to Sharpsville – An Italian Christmas, A Golden Childhood
THE CONTI FAMILY, Part III: A Return to Pofi, Italy – A Journey of My Own
Angel’s Casino: Here Came the Bride
Italians in Sharpsville
Mom and Dad DeJulia


.

ITALIANS IN SHARPSVILLE

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Ciao, amico mio! Those Italian words and others were well-known in our small town in the 1950s, whatever one’s heritage. First and second-generation Italians made up one of the largest ethnic groups at the time in Sharpsville and their language and traditions were by then part of our culture.

Between c. 1880 and 1924, more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States, half of them between 1900 and 1910 alone. The majority were fleeing rural poverty in Southern Italy and Sicily and seeking work in America’s factories, steel mills and coal mines and help build this country’s roads, railroads, dams, tunnels, and other infrastructure. Today, the descendants of Italian immigrants who stayed in the U.S. are still a large part of Sharpsville’s population at 14.1%, second only to German ancestry at 16.2%.

Italians, like many foreign groups newly arriving in our country, were not always accepted graciously by those already living here. Ralph C. Mehler II of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society, writes in the Society’s March 2017 newsletter (page 1),

Then as now, economic anxiety over the supply and demand of labor mingled with irrational fears over the mores, customs, and religion of foreigners. Thus, we see a report from 1898 about “trouble at Sharpsville” on account of immigrants being employed for the construction of the new water works. “Six citizens have been arrested for interfering with them.” These workers, however, weren’t Mexicans or Muslims, but the first arrivals here from Italy.

The July 2018 newsletter of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society tells of the 1904 flood that washed away the bridge over the Shenango River near the feed-mill. Several of those who were standing on the collapsing bridge were plunged into the river and at least four drowned. Strangely, this disaster has faded from the town’s memory and merited just passing attention by the contemporary press. One newspaper at the time reported that “The four unfortunates were Italians whose names cannot be accurately identified.” Even follow-up reports did not attempt to find the names of the drowned. The article notes that while language barriers contributed, prejudice was certainly behind the indifference.

Italians in Sharpsville: 1950s

St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church, 311 West Ridge Avenue, Sharpsville, PA. (Source: saintbartholomews.com)

By the 1950s, such “troubles” were a thing of the past for the Italian community. Instead, the Italians’ contributions of customs, food, language and entertainment became a welcomed part of everyday life for all. What 1950s resident can forget the savory pizza at Walder’s Tavern at 111 Main Street!

I remember my mother of Scots-Irish descent strictly following our Italian neighbors’ practices of foregoing meat on Fridays and refraining from hanging laundry on Sundays. We non-Catholics were curious about their genuflecting whenever Italian-Americans passed their church on foot or in a car, the mysterious sooty cross on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, and their worry over which pleasure to “give up” for Lent. I often felt left out of this special part of our society but I was glad I wasn’t restricted by the Pope’s list of forbidden movies that my playmate had to follow. Instead, I could watch any movie I wanted to at the neighborhood’s Ritz Theater (for better or worse)! 

Most impressive to me was the gaiety of the wedding receptions in Angel’s Casino, the building next door to my home. There the guests ate, drank, sang, danced the Tarantella and played the Italian betting game Morra under my bedroom window until long after the bride and groom left at midnight.

There were a few occasions when I accompanied friends to the St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, now over 141 years old, on Ridge Avenue. I remember attending Christmas Mass at midnight and experiencing the beauty and serenity inside the dimly-lit interior, with its vaulted ceiling, tall stained-glass windows and the smoky-sweet smell of burning incense. 

Italians in Sharpsville: The Italian Society

In many communities, early immigrants, like “birds of a feather,” created clubs and places where they could come together to enjoy and preserve their old traditions. Sharpsville had the Italian Society which eventually created the Italian Home. According to Ralph C. Mehler II of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society (SAHS), the group was founded in 1913 and officially known as the Societa Italiana di M[aria] S[anta] Generale Gustavo Fara. 

“General Fara Society on Firm Basis.” The Sharon (PA) Telegraph, 1924. Courtesy of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.

Mehler provides a newspaper article about the Italian Society’s early days. It appeared in the 1924 Sharpsville Golden Jubilee Supplement to The Sharon Telegraph (page 5) and is transcribed as follows:

GENERAL FARA SOCIETY ON FIRM BASIS
The General Fara Society today is one of the leading fraternal organizations of Sharpsville, its membership including 75 of Sharpsville’s leading Italian citizens.

The society was organized June 2, 1913, by George Rosati, Maurice Stigliano, Carmelo Palazzio and Joseph Ciolto (Ciotolo?)

Since it was organized the society has undergone many hardships. Its membership at one time being reduced to eight men.

Members declare the society is on a sound financial basis today, largely due to the efforts of Thomas Muscarella, the president. During the last year, the membership has been doubled through the energetic work of Muscarella.

Italians in Sharpsville: The Italian Home

Also from Mehler:

The Italian Home we all know (now the Sharpsville American Legion, 617 Main Street) was built in 1950. Yet, earlier on that lot was a commercial building containing in 1912 a barber shop and a vacant store, and two stores by 1929. A newspaper notice from September 16, 1935, notes that land was transferred from Vic Palazzo to the club. This earlier building was smaller and up against the sidewalk, unlike the building from 1950 which was larger, more modern and set back from the street.

We (SAHS) have a funeral photo, with a large crowd of (Italian) mourners gathered around an open casket on the steps of St. Bartholomew’s. Many had sashes, which I assume were meant they were officers in the Italian Home. Also in our collection is an August 12, 1914, edition of The Sharpsville Advertiser. It reports that “Members of the Italian Beneficial Society of Sharpsville are preparing for a great doings on Sept. 8, when they will celebrate the day of St. Mary of Ancona with religious services, a big parade, general picnic outing, addresses and a grand blowout at night in the shape of fireworks.”

The Italian Home was Sharpsville’s only ethnic home, in contrast to the large number of them in Farrell. (Italian, Slovak, Greek, Serbian, two Croatian, two German, Hungarian.)

shps_american_legion

American Legion, 617 Main Street, August 2014. Source: Google Maps.

Non-Italians were evidently welcome at the Italian Home as well. Ralph Mehler remembers “going to a dance there in 8th grade (1975), but it was always somewhat of a mystery.” My diary of 1956 mentions attending record hops at the Italian Home, one of which took place in January, “a lively party” given for the kids of Westinghouse strikers.

In a narrative written in 2013, Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960) recalls visiting the Italian Home in her childhood: 

A large building in town available for parties and receptions was the Italian Home on Main Street.

My young brain assumed it had been built by a coalition of Italian immigrants as a place they could meet, socialize, and retain their sense of community in a foreign land. Now I wonder if it wasn’t privately owned and rented out to whoever paid the price.

A large percentage of the Shenango Valley’s population was first and second generation Italian, drawn to our town by employment in the steel mills. On most Friday and Saturday nights, the music of accordion bands and happy laughter poured from its open doors to the adjacent sidewalk.

No one could live in our town without having Italian friends or neighbors and sooner or later you’d be invited to a happening at the Italian Home. I was invited to more than one event by the family of my elementary school friend, Susan Dunder. I remember eating … fabulous homemade pasta as I wondered what everyone was saying in the unfamiliar language.


Do you have additional details about Italians in Sharpsville? If you would like to share your experiences of living as (or among) Italian-Americans or your memories of the Italian Home, please send us your story. (Also, photos would be great!) Click on “Leave a comment” at the end of this story or send an email to bissella9@hotmail.com.


See Also:

ANGEL’S CASINO: Here Came the Bride
THE CONTI FAMILY, Part I: From Pofi to Sharpsville
THE CONTI FAMILY, Part II: An Italian Christmas, A Golden Childhood
MOM & DAD DeJULIA
REMEMBERING RIDGE AVENUE of the 1950s for more about St. Bartholomew Church

Sources:

Cannato, Vincent J. “What Sets Italian Americans Off From Other Immigrants?” Humanities, January/February 2015, Vol. 36, No. 1.

“Italian Americans.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_Americans (accessed 2018/9/24).

Mehler II, Ralph C. Sharpsville Historical Society Newsletter, March 2017 (page 1).

Mehler II, Ralph C. “Traces of Lost Sharpsville: Slackwater Dam.” Sharpsville Historical Society Newsletter, July 2018 (pages 3-4, 6).

St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church. www.saintbartholomews.com (accessed 2018/9/24).

Sharpsville Golden Jubilee Supplement to the Sharon Telegraph (June 7, 1924) in the collection of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.

“Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.” City-Data.com. http://www.city-data.com/city/Sharpsville-Pennsylvania.html (accessed 2018/9/24).

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, September 2018.
Ralph C. Mehler II (SHS 1980), Sharpsville, PA.
– Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, March 2013.


UPDATES: Additional information concerning Emma Robison and Emma Deeter has been entered in their biographies on ROBISON SCHOOL I and DEETER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL pages. Check it out!


 

 

DR. BAILEY’S SHARPSVILLE 1920s, Part II

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

When I was a kid, our family didn’t see a doctor on a regular basis as most of us do today. In fact, we had to be in need of vaccination or really, really sick or injured before our parents called on the doctor’s services. One reason for avoiding a doctor’s visit was that private health insurance was unaffordable for many in those days and employer-sponsored health insurance plans were usually unavailable, including for my family.

In the 1940s when we lived in Wheatland, PA, the family doctor would come to our house with his black satchel full of medicines and instruments in hand.

By the time we moved to Sharpsville, the reverse was true and continues to this day: an appointment would be made to visit the doctor at his place of practice. If it becomes the norm that doctors visit us via computer, we will have come full circle in a way!

As we continue to follow Pete Joyce’s memory journey around 1920s Sharpsville in honor of Dr. Nelson Bailey’s arrival in town at that time, we learn who lived and worked in this small Pennsylvania town and how active it was in those early days. We also better understand the contributions its citizens, and particularly Dr. Bailey, have made to the community, some whose names still resonate today.


Reminiscences of Sharpsville
In Honor of Dr. Nelson Bailey
(continued)

A speech presented by Peter Joyce to the Sharpsville Service Club, 1979
(The text has been slightly edited for clarity.)

Around the corner from Mahaney’s was Abrams the cobbler, Engles Bakery, J.V. Minehan’s Dry Goods Store. Then the Racket Store and C.N. Oates for papers, magazines and confections with an outdoor popcorn machine.

Then Lou Burckhart’s Meat Market and O.B. Law’s Grocery Store. I never saw Mr. Law smile. He had a son who was a lawyer but seemed to spend most of his time reading spicy novels over at Reichards Drug Store. Now we are over to Norman Mertz restaurant where the railroaders ate.

Then over to the ballpark at Shenango and Walnut where the American Legion would hold carnivals to raise money for their home. Hear and see Ray Kane, Bill Hart, Joe Donohue, Ed Davies, Dr. [James] Biggins, [Harry] Pebly and Frank Callahan, the greatest barker of them all. Patriotism was strong and beautiful and inspiring and the Vets used to speak at the schools on Armistice Day, then there would be the parades. We all knew [the lyrics to] “Johnny Get Your Gun,” “Over There” and “How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree!” ….

Across the road from the ballpark was Mike Nathan’s coal and feed supply. Later it became Bill Lee’s then Parker & Lee. And, on down Walnut street was Andy Bombeck, the contractor.

shps_hanes_methodist_church

The people of Sharpsville were good churchgoers. Father Miller was at St. Bartholomew’s, Rev. Spink at the Grace Reformed, Rev. Cousins at the Methodist Church, Rev. Gossell at the Baptist, Rev. Hills at the United Brethren and Rev. Woods at the Presbyterian Church.

[Above right: First United Methodist Church, 148 E. Shenango St., Sharpsville, PA, c. 1940s. Courtesy of Gail Nitch Hanes.]

shps_car_DixieFlyer

Wade Mertz was doing some building and selling coal and feed, etc. Tim Holland had a new auto agency for a beautiful car called the Dixie Flyer. [Left: Dixie Flyer 1916-1923. Source: AllCarIndex.com]

Stiglianos were baking delicious Italian bread. Ben Jackson was running the Boiler Works making Sharmeters. [Clock-faced gas pumps. Click here for a photo and history of this Sharpsville Boiler Works product.]…  

and the Menkes were running three blast furnaces at Shenango Furnace

shps_SAHS_blast furnace

Shenango Blast Furnace, Sharpsville, PA. Source: Excerpt from “This Is Shenango,” 1954. (Courtesy of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.)

The best baseball was played at Joyce Field, near Leona and Hazen now. The streetcars ran every 15 minutes to Sharon. Telephones had come to Sharpsville in the late 1880s and connected the Sharpsville Furnace to the Pierce Coal Co. The first public telephone was at Skip Reichard’s store. The first directory showed only eight subscribers in 1887 and 15 in 1890.

When I look back I think our greatest loss is that we no longer are producing characters. Where are the old Skin Troutman and young Skin, Reptile High Tree, the Turkey Murphys, Blair Boys, Pete Lyden, Squaw Long, Mike Tobin? If I had only written down their stories.

img699

Well, this is the Sharpsville that Dr. Bailey came into. Going as you did from Jamestown as the son of a doctor, to med school, to internship, then to Sharpsville.

You brought with you a lovely, gracious, kind and patient wife, an ideal partner for a young doctor. Youve lived on Locust Street, Ridge Avenue, corner of Main and Mercer, before settling where you are. 

[Above right: Residence of Dr. Bailey on the northwest corner of North Mercer and East Main, 1930s. Courtesy of Gail Nitch Hanes.]

Children came in Gods good time and blest your union. I don’t know whether to describe you as an old-time doctor or a new-time doctor. We all knew that at all times you were a wonderfully kind and generous man. During the Depression, you suffered with the people, but you gave of yourself and to the community. You were the Mercer County Medical Doctor, President of Buhl Hospital and the Mercer County Medical Society. You are a splendid father with a real dedication to the Hippocratic oath. Both your hands and your heart were involved in an act of love to heal—yet never was vanity on display. Your life revolved around your family, your profession and your golf. When you came here we had just dedicated a new High School. The Class of 1922 had 18 graduates, up ten students from 1918.

You have witnessed many, many improvements in this town. Your profession has changed enormously, and our great country has discovered its social responsibility. It’s a long time from Warren G. Harding and his “Return to Normalcy” to Jimmy Carter being “Born Again.” Its a “helluva long time,” is the way Dr. Bailey would say. You have witnessed two world wars, the Depression [and] the convulsion of the 60s, yet common sense prevailed.

The Sharpsville Service Club is proud of you, Dr. Bailey. You are everything that a citizen and doctor should be. You are a credit to your community and we are all so happy that you adopted us 56 years ago. And, we wish you many more years of health and happiness.

See complete narrative at:
http://www.sharpsvillehistorical.com/documents/Reminiscences.pdf

For a transcription of an interview with Dr. Bailey, go to:
 Jamestown Horse-and-Buggy Days Recalled,” The Herald, Sharon, PA: July 17, 1979, page 28. (Courtesy of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.)

See more about Pete Joyce at:
http://www2.sharonherald.com/localnews/recentnews/0103/ln032201c.htm

— Permission to reprint Peter Joyce’s speech was granted by
The Sharpsville Area Historical Society.


Dr. Nelson John Bailey was born in Jamestown, PA, on March 24, 1892, to Winona E. Bailey and Myron D. Bailey, who was also a physician. Nelson was one of six children.

Bailey attended Grove City College and The University of Pittsburgh. He was graduated from Jefferson Medical College (now Jefferson University) in Philadelphia. When he was ready to enter practice in 1920, his father wasn’t well, so he took over his father’s practice until 1923.

When Dr. Bailey started practicing medicine in Sharpsville in 1923, he moved into the former office of Dr. Addison E. Cattron who had died in 1923. The office was built onto the side of Cattron’s house, in which Mrs. Cattron and their three daughters continued to reside.

As of 1940, Dr. Bailey was living on North Locust Street, Sharpsville, PA. By 1942, his home was located at 116 Mercer Avenue. His business was always at 61 East Main Street.

Dr. Bailey and his wife, Georgia J. (1893-1968), had two sons, Nelson C. and Hugh M., and two daughters, Harriet Jane and Margaret W.

Dr. Nelson Bailey died on October 24, 1988. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery located on the east side of South Mercer Avenue, Sharpsville, PA.


Sources:

 “Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVVG-DKD7 : accessed 2018 July 16).]

“Jamestown Horse-and-Buggy Days Recalled,” The Herald, (Sharon, PA) July 17, 1979, page 28. (Courtesy of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.)

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch.org
(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MG32-H91 : accessed 16 July 2018).

“United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KQCK-QCH : accessed 16 July 2018).

“United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” database with images, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VQFC-PF7 : accessed 16 July 2018).


For a wealth of information about Sharpsville in the 1920s, see
Sharpsville Golden Jubilee Supplement to the Sharon Telegraph (1924),
in the collection of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.

Click here (1901) and here (1912) for vintage maps of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.

For additional references to Dr. Bailey, see:
Dr. Bailey’s Sharpsville 1920s, Part I
Main Street Memories
Immunizations & Home Cures


MOM AND DAD DEJULIA

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Longtime residents of Sharpsville can tell us a lot about the history of this Pennsylvania borough. Please welcome Donna DeJulia, a 1960 Sharpsville High School graduate and our guest writer this month. She fondly describes her father, a hard-working steel mill worker whose parents had come from Italy, and her mother who saw Sharpsville as a place in which to settle down and raise a family in peace and security.


MY PARENTS IN SHARPSVILLE

By Donna DeJulia

Ladle in the Homestead Steel Mill.

I was born and raised in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, as my father was. His family came from Italy and bought a house at 42 North Eleventh Street down by the railroad tracks. All my life he had told me wonderful stories about his upbringing. Even though they had very little it sure sounded like he and his family had a lot of fun.

Dad told me how, when they were dirt poor and had nothing to eat, he and his brother broke into a train and stole cans of Spam and pineapple that were for the troops overseas during World War II. They took these canned goods and buried them in their backyard. The Conrail police came and searched in vain for the stolen items. In any case, the DeJulias were no pillars of the community! And they had so much Spam and pineapple that my Dad would never eat those two foods for the rest of his life!

When my parents married, they settled in Sharpsville where Dad worked at Shenango Inc. steel mill for over 40 years. A bricklayer by trade, he would climb into those big ladles (like the replica in the Sharpsville town park) and line the inside with brick before they poured steel into them. Even after the owners, the Shenango Group of Pittsburgh, went bankrupt and sold the plant to its employees in 1993, he was still going over to the mill and training people.

ABOUT MOM

It’s funny how two words can be so complicated … “About Mom.” I could describe her physically…but that tends to change with time and it doesn’t entirely answer who she is. Her hair color fades and her waistline grows and then shrinks. There is also this wrinkle in her brow that is deepening every year. Her body is stiff when she awakens. If she doesn’t get a cup of coffee and her bra on first thing in the morning she can’t think.

All this is from years of stress and happiness both from raising her children and grandchildren, not to mention the couch campers that would hang out in her house. Random people have always slept and ate at my mom’s house. You may stop by in the morning and find a foreign body lying on a couch or floor, bundled in a blanket, not realizing who they are until they rise. They could be friends of her four children or friends of her 14 grandchildren. Who knows why they felt more comfortable in her home than in their own homes. If nothing else, there was always someone in Mom’s home with an ear to listen to whatever crisis they may be going through at the time.

My mother lived in Sharpsville for 50 years. She still had her original telephone number she got in 1958, so I guess that would indicate a sense of stability. She may not have had beautiful furniture, a refrigerator full of food or even a lot of personal belongings. The pipes under the kitchen sink were broken, her porch roof fell off and the carpet was shabby, but we still called it home. But one thing she does have is a lot of love and understanding to share and she is always there for her children no matter what they are going through.

About Mom?… Maybe her personality is a clue. She believes in the magic of the moment and that everything in life happens for a reason. What the reason is, is really none of her business. That is for God to know. But she trusts in him and feels he know what he is doing. She believes that laughter heals. She believes in hope. She likes looking way up into trees and examining each leaf that God has created. She believes that children are meant to be heard and have feelings and thought just like adults, but sometimes they are just not given the opportunity to express it. She enjoys a good book. It can take her anywhere in the world and she never has to leave her home. She does not like bigotry or racism and she can barely tolerate ignorance when it comes to diversity. She believes that all people are created equal and are entitled to their opinion just as long as it does not harm others. I learned from her that for the most part there is good in every person. Sometimes you have to look real close, but it is there. This is a glimpse…about my mom.

All Mom ever wanted to do was to live in one house, raise all of her children and have them go to one school district. You see, she moved all over as a child and attended 22 different schools, so that was her and my father’s dream. After 45 years of marriage her husband had passed on and all of her children are grown. Her job in her falling-down house was done. It was time to move on and take care of herself. This is something she has never really done because she has always taken care of everyone else. So, Mom is no longer in Sharpsville, she has left Mercer County to start a new life, a well-needed life that revolves solely around her. It is about time!

MORE ABOUT DAD

Well, on the 12th of July my father has been gone for 10 years. I have this dreaded fear of losing the memories I have of him. The red flannel shirt he always wore. The way he rode through town on his bike and everyone knew him. How he spent the 68 years of his life in Sharpsville, working, raising children and spending quality time with his family.

I rarely remember the man getting angry but when he said to do something, you did it. I remember the fascinating stories he would tell how he and his seven siblings grew up on Eleventh Street in Sharpsville. He was not an educated man, he could hardly read, but he was the smartest man I ever knew. If it was broken, he could fix it. He took people’s malfunctioning VCRs, TVs and any other things that he felt was worthy and fixed it new. He would then give them away after they were repaired, never taking money for them. He had collected so many extra bicycle parts that every kid in town would bring their bikes to be fixed. After he died I had 6 broken VCRs in my closet. I just couldn’t throw them out, not now! Dad may be back to fix them. It was a good three years before they made their way out to the trash.

When my father died on July 12, 2002, I was devastated. It was so unexpected. He was a healthy vibrant man at the age of 68. He rode his bicycle at least 10 miles a day. It was a weekly routine to peddle through town on trash day looking through people’s garbage to see what he could salvage, being the great repairman that he had turned into being after he was forced into retirement in 1990 at the ripe old age of 57. He would scout around and then in the evening he would have my niece take him around in the car and pick up those televisions, VCRs, stereos and anything else that could be restored. He did not drive, never possessed a drivers license and could not read but was able to fix anything that was slightly fixable.

Well, that morning he apparently got up early like he always did. He ate half a bologna sandwich, then got on his bicycle and proceeded to peddle through town. When he arrived at the bank he started to ride through the parking lot, clenched his chest and died before he ever hit the pavement.

Today, every now and then when I am home alone. I can sometimes smell the faint smell of Havana Blossom Chewing Tobacco and Old Spice aftershave. It happened just the other day. I was lying on my bed resting and the window was opened. A small breeze blew across the little room and that smell hit my nose. I felt grateful and full of life. Those times that it happens is when I know my dad is visiting and telling me everything will be okay.

SHARPSVILLE REVISITED

Sharpsville Service Club sign, Sharpsville, PA. c. 2016.

When my father died I really became interested in the history of Sharpsville and have done quite a bit of research on it. Now when I go through the town everything looks different than it did in the 1970s. The buildings look smaller and the population has declined. The sign still stands near the Sharon line stating that Santa Claus visits every house on Christmas Eve. The town still has only one traffic light and the new police station has no jail cell to hold local wrongdoers.

My favorite bench with my initials carved in it has been removed from the town park. The old City Hall has turned into a floral shop. (In June 2017, a fire that originated in the basement badly scarred the City Hall and shut down the floral shop.) And I will never understand why Pierce’s mansion was torn down to build a housing complex. I remember when trains passed by my house daily and I hung out at the fire station and watched HBO on TV. No matter how the passing of time impacts the town it will always be my Sharpsville.

— Donna DeJulia, (SHS 1960) Franklin, PA, 2012.

See Also:
THE CONTI FAMILY, Part I: From Pofi to Sharpsville
THE CONTI FAMILY, Part II: An Italian Christmas, A Golden Childhood
ITALIANS IN SHARPSVILLE 


MAIN STREET MEMORIES

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

After the Civil War, General James Pierce created a new business district in the area of Mercer Avenue and Shenango Street. However, the town of Sharpsville was growing so rapidly that Pierce found it necessary to lay out additional lots to accommodate the need for new housing. According to Gail Nitch Hane’s PowerPoint presentation, “Sharpsville – Then & Now:” “Since it was assumed that the street lying at the foot of the hill would replace Mercer Avenue as the town’s major thoroughfare, it became Main Street.” This promising outlook for Main Street may be why a request for the street’s first concrete sidewalk was granted in 1882.

Indeed, Main Street was a busy place in the early years. The Sanborn Map Company’s insurance maps of Sharpsville from 1895 through 1912 (found here on the Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s site) show a variety of businesses. Depending on which year you choose, just between Walnut and Second streets you can see buildings for a General Store, Grocery, Chine’ (Chinese?) Laundry, Dentist, Music & Millinery, Insurance Office, Meat, Notions, Drugs, Tailor and/or Bakery.

By the 1950s when I lived in Sharpsville, Walnut Street had become Sharpsville’s concentration of businesses but there were still a number of enterprises along Main Street, intermixed with homes. The following are a few of the services, businesses and people that I recall, some still around, some lost to the ages.


The businesses I visited most often were Ritz Theater on the corner of Main and First streets and Isaly’s Dairy at Main and Third. (They’ve been covered in several other posts on this blog, such as here for the Ritz and here for Isaly’s.)

Also, my dad frequently took our car or truck to the Snyder & Freeman car dealership, auto body shop and gas station at 12 Main Street and we often bought our groceries at Johnson’s Market(For a photo of Johnson’s Market, go to the May 2016 Newsletter of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.)

Dr. Nelson Bailey was our family doctor as well as the school doctor. My mother was good friends with Helen Belonax who owned Helen’s Beauty Shop in the same building as the theater. Also near the theater, at 111 Main Street, was Walder’s Tavern where we teenagers enjoyed pizza that we could purchase by the slice and my brother still recalls their delicious steak sandwiches here. None of these businesses nor their buildings exist today, except Dr. Bailey’s old residence at the northwest corner of N. Mercer and E. Main.

Click on image for enlarged view.

Sharpsville Municipal Building

“Hello, this is Mrs. Angel calling about a fire.” This telephone call greeted each of the Sharpsville firemen day or night in the 1950s, whenever there was a need for the volunteer firemen’s service. My mother’s voice, in her southern accent (she was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky), was immediately recognizable by the firemen, who then drove themselves to the site of the conflagration, joining those whose turn it was to stay overnight at the station. My mother was a member of the “women’s auxiliary” of Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the civic organizations that my father belonged to. This phone duty was no doubt was one of the auxiliary’s services.

A fire siren blaring in 1950s Sharpsville was a big occasion in our normally quiet town. The loud wail of the siren atop the Sharpsville Municipal Building and on the fire truck brought us kids running to Main Street to catch a glimpse of that red truck speeding by with firemen hanging on the sides. Our next stop was the fire station to read the truck’s destination scrawled on a blackboard, then we’d scurry back to our neighborhood with the news.

The Sharpsville Municipal building, known in the past as the Town Hall and to us in the 1950s as the Fire Station, still stands at 244 West Main Street, across North Third Street from the now vacant lot where Isaly’s Dairy used to stand.

shps_city_bldg

“City Building, Sharpsville, PA.,” c. 1930s. Image on postcard, courtesy of Mike and Fredi Angel.

Built in 1904, the rectangular two-story brick structure that featured a gabled roof and a chimney served as the center of the town, housing not only a fire station but the police station, meeting rooms and even jail cells.

Most recently it was the location of the Sharpsville Floral and Gift Shop. Peggy Marriotti and her brother, Gary “Butch” Linzenbold bought the building from the borough about 30 years ago to continue operating a flower shop that was started by their father, Art Linzenbold, in 1963.

As the space was remodeled to accommodate the flower shop, the family thoughtfully retained some of the building’s original flavor, such as keeping the jail cells and the fire pole. They also set aside an area to display historic photos, maps and vintage items from past businesses which became a popular visitor attraction. One can still see the ghost of the original sign over the front door that reads “Sharpsville Municipal Building.”

Unfortunately, in June of 2017, a fire that originated in the basement badly scarred the building and shut down the floral shop, at least for the time being. The historical artifacts were salvaged and the shell of the building is intact, so there is hope that the building, at one time so important to Sharpsville’s civic operations, will be one day restored.

The Robinsons

Not far away, in fact next door, the current Sharpsville Volunteer Fire Department is located in a modern one-story brick building with an attached garage for the fire trucks. However, in earlier years this lot held the home of the Robinsons. In his memoir, my dad describes how he knew Mr. Robinson: 

…I was told of an empty garage building with a five-room apartment above. The building was at 29 North Second Street in Sharpsville, only two blocks away from the business area. The owner was Mr. Robinson, who was a 65-year-old retired auto mechanic who specialized mainly in brake repairs and lived with two older sisters in a house adjacent to the Fire Department. When I contacted the gentleman and explained my need [for my growing printing business now on Walnut Street], he offered me the garage space for $10 per month and I accepted… Early spring of 1946, I talked with Mr. Robinson about buying the building. He was pleased to hear what I proposed and offered it to me on a land contract. As long as I paid the same as rent, I would be handed a deed to the place in time…

Consequently, my brother and I would visit the Robinsons once a month on a Saturday to deliver our dad’s payment on the garage building, which Dad had begun renovating for his relocated print shop and for our family’s future home upstairs. Even at a young age, I could sense that crossing the Robinsons’ front porch and entering their home was like stepping back into another time, so antiquated were the furnishings. I particularly remember a large Tiffany-style stained glass lamp in their front window and a floor model radio that was always playing a baseball game. Even the three siblings seemed quite ancient to me. But they always heartily welcomed us kids and sent us home with not only a receipt but the previous month’s supply of the weekly Saturday Evening Post magazine. We would pull them home in our little red Radio Flyer wagon we brought for that purpose and I would happily leaf through them until the new supply the following month. At Christmas, the Robinsons would call us over to pick up our gifts, one for each of us three Angel children. I liked to think that maybe we were “adopted” by them because they missed having children around.

*In a November 11, 2019, email, my brother Mike Angel wrote to me about his memories of the Robinsons:

The print shop building was purchased from the Robinsons. I remember old car repair equipment still on the premises when we first occupied it.  The tents and other camping equipment used on our Pymatuming trips was either purchased or given to us from/by the Robinsons who used the equipment on a trip they took out west during the 1920s or 30s (?). I remember a home movie they showed us about their trip. Do you remember the plum tree in their backyard? It always had the sweetest plums each season. Never saw a tree like that since.

(Memories of that plum tree did come back to me as I wrote about the Robinsons. Those plums were indeed as juicy sweet as Mike remembers.)

The Sanborn Map Company’s insurance maps of Sharpsville may carry a clue to Robinson family’s earlier history. During the years of the maps, 1895-1912, a “Robinson Brothers’ Table Factory” was located in the Second Street block behind the building that my dad purchased from the Robinsons. *Ralph Mehler of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society wrote the following comment in a November 6, 2019, email, about the Robinsons’ connection to the Table Factory:

Regarding the Robinson family, your dad’s friend, the 65-year old retired auto mechanic, most likely belongs to the furniture factory Robinsons.  

The Robinsons’ home no longer stands, but part of it can be seen to the right of the Municipal Building in the vintage photo of the fire truck above. 

Other families who lived on Main Street were known to us because they included children who were our playmates. For example, there were the Wasleys, whose house was, and still is, directly across the street from the old Municipal Building. Joe Wasley was my brother Mike’s best buddy. The two joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation and continued to be friends ever since. There were the Lockes who lived on the corner of North Second and Main streets. Their daughter had the best birthday parties ever!

William Weldon Electric Shop

Former building for the William Weldon Electric Shop, early 2000s.

Across and down the street a bit from the Fire Station was a brick building, still standing, that holds a particular memory for me. An electrical supply business was located in a narrow two-story brick building at 213 West Main Street, probably constructed in the same era as the old Municipal Building. When the weather was good, a man in a wheelchair, possibly the owner, had a habit of sitting in front of the store watching the world of Sharpsville go by. We felt he was, in particular, watching us kids as we passed by, making sure we were behaving. This building later was the home of Saborsky TV & Electronics Sales and Service and, from 2012 until recently, Stitch & Dazzle Inc.

Donaldson’s Funeral Home

Donaldson’s Funeral Home, Main Street, Sharpsville, PA.

Moving east on West Main Street, the next building I remember is a large, handsome white home with a wrap-around porch, known as [Alexander P.] Donaldson’s Funeral Home in the 1950s. Those of us who lived nearby regularly saw cars parked end-to-end on the side streets when a funeral was in progress. Angel’s Casino created the same problem during the record hops and wedding receptions, often making this a very busy area. The congestion caused by the funeral home, now the Donaldson-Mohney Funeral Home, was eventually alleviated when parking lots replaced some of the surrounding old buildings. Established in 1880, the Donaldson-Mohney Funeral Home is the area’s oldest funeral service provider. You can read about its long history here.

A low concrete and cinder block wall still runs between the North Second Street sidewalk and the Home’s well-kept lawn. Many times we teenagers would sit on that wall waiting for our friends to arrive or for the bus to show up.

Piano Teacher

After many childhood years of piano lessons with Professor King, I changed to a teacher who lived in one of the houses close to the Ritz Theater. The interior of his house was another one that seemed frozen in an earlier decade. His wife had died some years before and it seemed that nothing had changed in his house since then. He was a quiet, serious teacher, often giving me one of his music magazines from earlier days titled “The Etude” that contained the pieces that he was teaching me to play. I was intrigued by the old-fashioned ads that filled the magazines. I stayed with him until I went away to college. I no longer remember his name, but his good teaching provided me the advancement I needed for piano classes in college. 


My recall abilities are not as keen as I wish they were, and resources, such as the Sharpsville Area Historical Society, Mercer County Historical Society and the Mercer County Office of the County Clerk, are far away from my current residence. If you would like to help out by contributing your memories of Main Street or any other Sharpsville subject, please feel free to send them as Comments. Or, even better, send a complete narrative to me at bissella9@hotmail.com and, if appropriate, I’ll see that it gets published.

See Also:
PYMATUNING: Camping in the 1950s
DR. BAILEY’S SHARPSVILLE 1920s, Part I and Part II
Return of THE SHARPSVILLE ADVERTISER

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, December 2017,
with much appreciated help from “Sharpsville — Then & Now
by Gail Nitch Hanes (SHS 1964),
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletters by Ralph C. Mehler (SHS 1980) and
“Trivia & Me” a memoir by August Angel.
*Updated November 11, 2019.


PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

James Pierce’s Iron Banking Building as it currently exists in c. 2013. Sharpsville, PA.

There was a lot of trust in the hearts of small-town citizens in the 1950s. In fact, I don’t remember if we even thought much about it. Trust was something that was taken for granted when doors were left unlocked overnight or we children ran about the neighborhood unsupervised. In those days, there were no such things as identity theft, car alarms or security cameras.

“King Edward Mild Tobaccos” Cigar Box, a handy container for many things.

An example of this was my father’s instinctive trust, not only in us kids but in small-town society in general, when he sent us to the bank each week to deposit cash and checks from his printing business. I can still picture my brother or myself, about 9 and 11 years old, carrying that yellow King Edward cigar box weighed down with rolls of coins and checks as we walked along the dirt path that ran between our Second Street house and the Erie Railroad tracks. When we reached North Walnut Street we would leave the path to turn left, cross the tracks, then take a right on East Shenango Street.

After another block or two, we reached a row of buildings that included the three-story First National Bank on the corner of North Mercer and East Shenango streets, less than a half-mile from our home. There, barely able to reach the teller’s window, we would slide the contents of the box under the teller’s cage, the teller would tally the items in a little bank book, date-stamp and initial the entries and return the book to us.

There was a bit of irony in those regular deposits that were earned by my father’s business. In earlier years, Dad was turned down by a bank’s employee when he asked for a loan to start up his printing business. Now that Dad’s business was doing well, each deposit must have been very satisfying to him.

James Pierce’s Legacy

The Iron Banking Company building, built in 1871 by General James Pierce.
Corner of Mercer and Shenango Streets, Sharpsville, PA.
[Click on image for enlargement.]

As children, we weren’t aware that the bank building we visited, like the Pierce Mansion we passed along the way (before its demolition in 1952), was already four decades old and part of the James Pierce legacy.

The structure was constructed in 1871 by “General” James Pierce (1810-1874), president and principal owner of Sharpsville’s first bank, the Iron Banking Company. It was built to resemble the Italianate style of architecture popular nationwide in the mid- to late-1800s, with its rectangular shape and its row of seven tall front windows that were rounded on top. The Geddes & Pierce Foundry supplied the cast iron front of the building.

James Pierce’s presidency was followed by that of his son Frank (1852-1931). The Iron Banking Company was later converted to the First National Bank of Sharpsville in c. 1905. In 1964 it became a branch of the McDowell National Bank in Sharon. Later, the building housed other banking institutions, including a PNC branch until 2013. As of 2015, the first floor was occupied by Meadville Area ONE Federal Credit Union. The two brick buildings on North Mercer Avenue are now part of the Sharpsville Borough Historic District.

Christmas Club

There was another reason we kids regularly visited Sharpsville’s First National Bank back in the 1950s. Hoping that we would develop a savings habit, Dad made sure we belonged to the Christmas Club, a program that banking institutions had developed to promote their services as well as holiday spending. He belonged to such a club when he was a young lad in Cleveland, Ohio, memories of which he recorded in his memoir, “Trivia & Me.” The setting was in the 1920s, a bit earlier than the Great Depression, the period Wikipedia indicates as the time the Club became widespread. Dad’s descriptions of the Christmas Club generally match those that I remember experiencing in the 1950s. He writes:

It was the era when banks sponsored Christmas Clubs. People — especially youth — were encouraged to deposit small amounts of money each week for 50 weeks. Banks solicited five cents or 10, 25 or 50 cents to do the double job of teaching people to save money and promoting Christmas sales for merchants. The banks would issue a passbook in which a teller would record the weekly deposits and then initial the entry. Two weeks before Christmas, one could withdraw the savings in cash (without interest) for a shopping spree. For several years I managed to join the 10 cents club and was awarded the joy of a cash harvest of $5 at Christmas time.

Even though the interest rate was low or nonexistent and fees were charged for withdrawals, I had a feeling of accomplishment when I received that check in early December. And the Christmas Club may have contributed to the way we siblings handled our finances since then, leaning more toward careful than spendthrift. The Club exists to this day, although primarily run by credit unions.

Pierce Opera House

 

For 40 years after Pierce’s bank building was constructed the 3,000-square-foot third floor served as Sharpsville’s cultural center, having been home to the Pierce Opera House. There is limited information about the shows performed in those early days, but it is known that the organization offered a variety of musical events and featured speakers. Once motion pictures became popular, they were shown as well.

In addition, the two upper floors were used for high school graduations during the late 1800s until c. 1920, an occasional basketball game in the early 1900s and as a meeting place for the Order of the Eastern Star and the Masons. The building also housed the original offices of the town’s early newspaper, “The Sharpsville Advertiser,” started by Walter Pierce, James Pierce’s son. After the 1920s this floor remained unused for some time.

In the early 2000s, Michael G. Wilson and his family began restoring the opera house which had been left neglected behind a concealing wall for some eight or nine decades. Wilson, owner of the building since 1999, had been a longtime Borough Manager of Sharpsville who retired January 2017. The Wilson family found — and preserved — much of the opera stage’s original trappings and equipment once the wall was removed. For photos of old-time ticket booth posters and graffiti, go to Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s “Opera House Pictures.”

Wanting to see the restoration continue in good hands, Mr. Wilson sold the building to Dr. Francisco Cano, an allergist/immunologist from Greenville, PA, himself professionally trained in operatic voice. Cano’s love of opera and the arts was a driving force behind the ongoing phases of restoration designed to house theatrical, musical, and opera performances once again. The first performance of the Pierce Opera House’s revival was in 2009.

According to the July 2013 SAHS Newsletter,

The Pierce Opera House itself is worth the visit. This historic venue features beautifully restored woodwork, excellent acoustics, and a warm intimacy between the audience and the stage. Modern climate control and conveniences have been introduced to this 142-year-old local treasure.

The Valley Lyric Opera, which now resides in the Pierce Opera House, provides an excellent level and variety of programs. Past performances include the operas Aida, La Traviata, La Boheme, Rigoletto; musicals [performed by the Area Community Theatre of Sharpsville — ACTS] South Pacific, Man of La Mancha, as well as ballets, musical tributes to Neil Simon and Andrew Lloyd Webber and a host of other outstanding offerings.

Pierce Opera House has once again taken its rightful place as Sharpsville’s center for the arts. Visit them online for future developments and upcoming performances: www.valleylyricopera.org

Sources

Angel, August D. Trivia & me: an octogenarian mirrors his twentieth century. London, KY: August David Angel, 2007. Print.

“Bravo! Sharpsville steps into act with opera performances in July.” 22 March 2009. http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/mar/22/bravo-sharpsville-steps-into-act-with-opera/ [accessed 31-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

“Christmas Club.” Wikipedia website.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_club [accessed 31-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

Hanes, Gail Nitch, Sharpsville: Our Home Town — Then and Now.” 2012. Pp. 13-18 and 57-59. Powerpoint on PDF. Internet resource.

“More About Rigoletto.” Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter, July 2013, Vol. II, No., 2, page 2.

Pierce Opera House website. www.valleylyricopera.org [accessed 23-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

“Walking Tour.” Sharpsville Area Historical Society. walkingtour.pdf [accessed 23-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

See Also

Pierce Mansion

Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s Newsletter, March 2017 issue, page 2, for more about the Opera House Block.