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 a 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
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 Reichard‘s 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] Pebley 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.
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.]
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.
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.
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. You‘ve 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 God‘s 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.” It‘s 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:
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:
— 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.
“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.