Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, from the 1940s to the 1970s, one story at a time.

Category: Sharpsville, PA, Area 1940s – 1970s

MOM AND DAD DEJULIA

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.


Advertisements

TWO LOST BOYS OF SHARPSVILLE

There wasn’t much that was scary in 1950s Sharpsville – maybe watching a horror film at the Ritz (remember “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” 1959?) or the Cold War but that didn’t seem to be part of our everyday lives. Even so, like any place in the world and at any time in history, we weren’t entirely free of events that caused great anxiety.

Here are two stories that momentarily caused quite a panic in our small town in the days of my childhood. (Don’t worry, the endings are happy ones!)


Turmoil at the Oak Street Tunnel

William DeVaux McLean III. Source: Sharpsville (PA) High School yearbook, Devils Log 1958.

George Reid. Source: Varsity “S” photograph in Sharpsville (PA) High School Devils Log, 1957.

“Hey, I know what we can do!” When two young boys, 10 and 12 years of age, are looking for an after-school adventure you know that trouble could be brewing. In this case, the older boy was George Reid, son of Mr. and Mrs. A.M. Reid of Hazen Road, and the younger, William DeVaux McLean III, the son of Councilman and Mrs. W.D. McLean Jr., who lived on Oak Street. It was early spring 1950 and the weather was finally turning warm enough to inspire outdoor exploits.

They decided to explore a tunnel on Oak Street, a dark, dank underground passageway that must have long intrigued them. One can imagine that they were planning the operation all day at school so that, as they readied themselves at home, they knew exactly what to do: change from their school clothes to old blue jeans and shirts, pack a bag with a flashlight and other needs and tell their parents where they were headed.

As an eerily quiet afternoon faded into evening and dinner was served, there was no trace of the boys. Finally, Councilman McLean decided it was time go outside and check on them. Calling into the tunnel from both of its openings, he received no response. Alarmed that the water in the tunnel was a little higher than usual, he realized the situation was getting serious. He decided to enter the tunnel and quickly procured hip boots and old clothes from the nearby Donner Service Station.

Meanwhile, the police and fire departments had been called and arrived within ten minutes to aid in the search. They lifted the tunnel’s manhole cover and Councilman McLean lowered himself in, followed by the Police Chief Walter Karsonovich and several firemen.

While the searchers were sloshing through the tunnel for almost an hour, looking for signs of the boys and calling out their names, the police cars and firetrucks had attracted a crowd of curious neighbors. Unnoticed at the edge of the crowd were the two missing youngsters who had stopped by to see what all the commotion was about. The Sharon Herald reported that they “gave themselves up” to the relief — and exasperation — of all those present. George and DeVaux explained that they had changed their plans and explored the woods and creek at Pine Hollow instead.

–Source: “Boys Join Crowd Watching Search for Them in Tunnel,” The Sharon Herald, April 4, 1950.

Vexation on Veteran’s Day

Patrick Angel, 1955. Source: Sharpsville (PA) Elementary School 2nd grade class photo.

On a chilly November 11, 1955, the Veteran’s Day Parade on Main Street was just winding down. It had included a group of handsomely uniformed Canadian boys who played instruments in the Governor-General’s Horse Guard, a group that particularly fascinated my girlfriends and me. But another event occurred that tempered our enthrallment. My mother, having found me in the dispersing crowd, informed me that she had sent my 5-year-old brother Patrick home, thinking I was there. She became very upset when she returned home later and discovered that he had taken off his hat, gloves and coat, then disappeared. 

Dutifully, my friend and I began searching for Pat in the neighborhood, although too often distracted by one or another of the Horse Guard marchers milling about. We met up with a group of other girlfriends on the corner of Main and Third streets which by now also included a couple of those uniformed cadets. Just then my dad showed up and berated me for not looking for my brother. Feeling guilty and quite embarrassed, I quickly walked home to find a nearly hysterical mother, tearfully promising that if her son is found she would “never go anywhere again, just stay home and watch him!”

I resumed my search outside, joining most of the neighborhood in looking for my little brother. Over 60 years later, Patrick can still recall the rest of the story: “Mom got a call from Aunt Mabel just as I was waking up. It was the telephone that woke me. I remember crawling out from behind the couch and hearing Mom crying to Aunt Mabel that I had been kidnapped.”

When Mom heard a little voice crying out “Ma!” she turned to see that he was safe and sound! The joy that Pat was found was not only felt by his immediate family, but also by the many neighbors who were calling for updates. We concluded later that Pat must have hidden when he found no-one home since was afraid to be alone in the dark.

With that episode at an end, I returned to my friends and spent the rest of the evening becoming better acquainted with the members of the Horse Guards and temporarily forgetting the troubles of the day.

Where They Are Now

After having been lost boys, these youngsters found out three things. One, that there are people who deeply care that you are gone. Two, they will try very hard to find you. And, three, they are both happy and irked once you are found. These lessons must have stayed with them the rest of their lives as they successfully pursued their careers, married and raised their own children and never went missing again!

William DeVaux McLean III (SHS 1958) currently lives in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. He is president of ProDial, Inc., a telecommunications company. DeVaux and his wife Marjorie have 3 children, 4 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

Patrick Nicholas Angel (SHS 1960-1964), lives in London, Kentucky, where he works for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). Dr. Angel serves as senior forester and soil scientist for OSM, where he promotes reforestation partnerships on surface mines through the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative. Patrick and Glenna have 5 children and 3 grandchildren.

See Also The Day the Canadians Came to Town

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, with help from
William DeVaux McLean III (SHS 1958), Land O’ Lakes, FL,
who submitted 
The Sharon Herald article,
and Patrick Angel (SHS 1960-1964), London, KY.


WELCH HOUSE: Twice Burned

Disastrous urban fires were common occurrences in the early 1900s. Among the worse such conflagrations were the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City. But even with improvements in fire-fighting and fire safety, fires continue to take their toll, as evidenced by the burning of Sharpsville’s Welch House in 1914 and 1954 and the town’s original Municipal Building as recently as 2017.


The 1914 Welch Hotel Fire

The fire that brought down the Welch House in 1954 wasn’t the only time the building went up in flames. The following story ran on page 1 of The Record-Argus, Greenville, PA, on February 26, 1914:

Sharpsville, Pa., Feb. 26. Fire of an unknown origin, but supposedly originating from a gas jet or a gas stove, caused a $3000 blaze in the Welch Hotel, Sharpsville, on Wednesday morning.

Prompt and efficient work on the part of the fire department prevent[ed] the building from being gutted. Mrs. Welch and her son, Donald, were on the second floor when the youngster called to his mother to come to one of the rooms. Upon arriving there Mrs. Welch discovered the entire interior ablaze. A clothes press and dresser were being licked up by the flames, which were spreading along the floor.

Mr. Welch was summoned and an alarm was turned in. Pending the arrival of the firemen, Mr. Welch kept the blaze from getting a big start by keeping all the doors tightly closed.

The fire hydrants were frozen when the firemen arrived and they had to scurry about the neighborhood before finding an available plug. Before water was secured chemicals kept the blaze from getting beyond control.

An extinguisher from the Shenango Furnace Co., also aided the firefighters. Miss Anna Connelly and Miss Mary Conway, employed at the hotel, were among the heavy losers. The former lost her gold watch and the latter a diamond lavallier and all her clothes. The fire originated in the room occupied by the girls. Three bedrooms on the second floor and the kitchen and hall on the first floor were damaged by the flames.

The End of Welch House

Ralph Mehler of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society relates a story about another proprietor of the building. He was told by Jerry Hurl (SHS 1973) that Jerry’s grandfather, Timor Holland, was an owner of the Welch House in the 1940s (as well as Holland’s Pontiac dealership at 412 W. Main Street). Jerry recalled that the Welch House had 12 rooms upstairs, usually rented by traveling salesmen, and a typical Sharpsville bar downstairs serving food and drink.

[Interior View of Hotel Welch Bar, c. early 1900s, Main Street, Sharpsville, PA. Excerpt from photo #445, Courtesy of Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

By the time the building was destroyed in a 1954 fire, it had been owned for two years by Michael Hvozda. Ralph Mehler tells this story from Jerry Hurl: When the Welch House went up in flames, the “town drunk staggered into the fire department to report the fire, only to be disbelieved because, well, he was the ‘town drunk.'”

Additional details of the Welch House fire were recorded on the front page of The Sharon Herald on October 20, 1954, with these headlines:

“Welch House Fire Damage Is Estimated At $40,000”

“Historic Inn At Sharpsville Is Gutted Early Today: 11 Occupants Reach Safety”

“Blaze Of Undetermined Origin Destroys Second And Third Floors Of 68-Year-Old Building Owned by Michael Hvozda”

The article was accompanied by the following photograph:

[FIGHTING THE WELCH HOUSE FIRE — Forty thousand dollars is the estimated damage in the fire which gutted Sharpsville’s historic Welch House early today. Above, borough firemen battle the blaze in its early stages…. The Sharon Herald, October 30, 1954.]

According to the newspaper report, Mr. William Swartz, a roomer in the “Main St. tavern and rooming house,” woke before dawn on a cold October morning to a crackling noise. When he opened the door of a wall cubicle in a third-floor bathroom, flames shot out, coming from the attic above. Alerted to the fire, the owner, Michael Hvozda, and 10 roomers used a small hose and buckets of water to fight the fire, leaving with only the clothes on their backs when the firemen arrived. They lost all their belongings, including their coats and money, to the fire.

The report continues, describing the efforts of the Sharpsville volunteer firemen to quell the flames, using their two pumper trucks:

A fair wind whipped the flames but firemen were able to keep the blaze from spreading to nearby homes in the congested areas, as well as the next-door Gordon Ward garage and nearby Mertz lumber years…. [After three hours of fighting the fire] firemen entered the building about 9:30 to pull down chimneys, a dangling television tower and other dangerous sections of the house.

The fire destroyed the second and third floors and smoke and water damaged the first-floor bar and dining room. Sharpsville Fire Chief Samuel Riley estimated $30,000 damage to the building and $10,000 for furnishings, equipment and clothing. The owner stated that the loss was partially covered by insurance.

The End of an Era…or Not

After almost seven decades, the Welch House’s end had come. When the Welch House was built in the last years of the 19th century, boardinghouses, with their small private rooms and common dining areas, were important to the culture and growth of towns and cities. This affordable housing was a way of life for men and women of a variety of classes, ethnicities and professions, offering not only a cheap and convenient place to live but a way to become part of a boardinghouse family that replaced those they had left behind.

The boardinghouse concept was eventually replaced by tenement houses, apartment hotels and apartments. Today, the need for new and denser housing in urban centers has led to such offerings as micro-apartments, cooperative housing, halfway houses, YMCA boarding facilities, college dormitories and bed-and-breakfasts for travelers. These developments echo the convenience and affordability, as well as socialization, of boarding houses of yesteryear, such as the Welch House.

SOURCE: “Boardinghouses: Where the city was born: How a vanished way of living shaped America — and what it might offer us today.” by Ruth Graham for The Boston Globe, January 13, 2013. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/01/13/boardinghouses-where-city-was-born/Hpstvjt0kj52ZMpjUOM5RJ/story.html (accessed 02-March-2018)

–Ann Angel Eberhardt, (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with much appreciated assistance from
Ralph W. Mehler (SHS 1980), Sharpsville, PA.

See Also Welch House: Early History


WELCH HOUSE: Early History

Who among us remembers Sharpsville’s Welch House on Main Street? When it was suggested I write something about the “boardinghouse and tavern,” I hardly had a clue. That is, until I heard from my brother, read about it in my father’s memoir, and was provided the details of its early history by Ralph C. Mehler of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.


At one time Sharpsville had at least three hotels. In the early 1900s, there were the Knapp Hotel run by George Mahaney, Pierce Hotel run by James P. Clark, and the Hotel Welch, the proprietor of which was Martin Henry Welch.

The Welch building was still around when my family moved to Sharpsville in December 1949. By then it was known as the Welch House. My brother, Mike Angel, recalls the following:

I believe the Welch House was between 4th and 5th streets on the [north] side of Main Street, close to Wade D. Mertz & Son which sold hardware and lumberIt was a historical landmark, having been there for many years. I think it burned down during the 1950s. I remember it because I delivered newspapers there.

My father wrote in his memoir that, when he and my mother purchased Angel’s Casino on North Second Street in 1953, they spent the next several years supplying the dance hall and its kitchen with second-hand items acquired from other establishments that were selling off their equipment. Among the purchases were a stove, working table, french fryer, and other items from the owners of the former Welch House after it burned down in 1954.

Ralph C. Mehler has generously provided the rest of the story.

[Hotel Welch, c. early 1900s. Main Street, Sharpsville, PA.
Photo #446 Courtesy of Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

[Martin Welch Family outside Welch Hotel, c. early 1900s, Main Street, Sharpsville, PA. “Martin Welch holding sons Edward (Ted) and John Welch. One of the horses was named Shady Bell and the dog’s name was Jake.” Photo #443 Courtesy of Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

[Interior View of Hotel Welch Bar. c. early 1900s, Main Street, Sharpsville, PA.
Photo #445 Courtesy of Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

Michael Knapp, the Original Owner

Michael Knapp, was born in the Saarland region of Germany in 1842 and came to America with his family around age 8. His father worked the coal mines of what is now Hermitage. During the Civil War, Michael enlisted in the 211th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers from September 5, 1864, until the end of the war. He also worked the local mines after the war.

In the 1880 U.S. Census, he is listed as a hotel keeper, likely manager of the Pierce House, the only hotel in Sharpsville at the time. (It should be noted that due to the stringency of liquor licensing laws then, hotels were pretty much the only watering holes in town.) In 1886, we learn that he had struck out to build his own inn and tavern – the Knapp House – located on Main at Fourth Street.

Nicholas Mehler, Second Owner

By 1900 Michael Knapp had sold the Knapp House to his son-in-law Nicholas Mehler when it was re-named the Mehler House (as it appears on the 1901 Birds-Eye View map of Sharpsville*). Nick Mehler, besides owning a coal mine and later becoming a popular barber in Sharpsville, apparently owned the tavern for just a few years before selling it to Martin Welch around 1904.

*An excerpt of the map is shown below (the hotel is marked with a 3). The map can be seen in its entirety here.

[“Mehler House” #3 on Main Street. Excerpt of 1901 Map of Sharpsville, PA, created by T. M. Fowler & James B. Moyer. Source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.]

Michael Knapp Builds Another Hotel

Michael Knapp, in the meantime, erected a three-story hotel, the Knapp Hotel, in 1903. Likely overburdened by the crushing finances of the venture and perhaps still despondent over the death of his only son three years prior, Michael shot himself the day before the hotel opened. 

Another son-in-law, George Mahaney, Sr., assisted Michael’s widow in the management of the hotel. He later bought the building and located his clothing store there. George was five-time Burgess of Sharpsville, father of the Shenango Dam, and universally known as “Mr. Sharpsville.” 

Nick Mehler’s son, Ralph C. “Dutch” Mehler, originally started selling insurance out of his barber shop on the other side of Walnut Street. He later moved into the Mahaney Building (as the Knapp Hotel was later called). His son, Ralph W. Mehler (SHS 1955), later moved the insurance office over to the Sharpsville Plaza when it was built.

Martin Henry Welch, the Third Owner

Martin H. Welch purchased Mehler House from Nicholas Mehler around 1904 and the building was then known as Hotel Welch. It eventually became the Welch House, a name that identified the building for the next several decades.

Ed Welch, a professor emeritus living in Michigan is the grandson of Martin Henry Welch and the son of Edwin Martin Welch. In 2005 he donated the above photographs to the Sharpsville Area Historical Society (SAHS). Ralph C. Mehler of the SAHS made the photos available for this story.

Next: A Raging Fire Marks the End of the Welch Building

Ralph C. Mehler (SHS 1980), Sharpsville, PA
–Ann Angel Eberhardt, (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ

For More About the Mahaney Building:
Walnut Street Businesses II
Walnut Street Businesses III


THE RELUCTANT POLITICIAN

Lately, voters in and around Sharpsville, PA, may be leaning Republican, but in the 1950s, the area was a “hotbed of Democrats” according to a memoir written by August Angel. This was a problem when he decided to run for councilman, and later mayor, as he was a Republican. Here’s his story from his memoir, “Trivia & Me.”


My Run for Councilman and Mayor

The Borough of Sharpsville was a hotbed of Democrats. Anyone not registered or avowing to the party was looked upon as a misfit in the eyes of believers in the “Great Society.” That included me.

The time had come for candidates to enter the political arena. I was approached by a couple of Republican stalwarts to enter the race for borough councilman. Other Republicans who entered previous races had just given up trying to beat the system and the party needed a new face. It was not a big thing for me to take on the task of running. As the owner of a print shop, I could do my own printing, which was always expensive to others – and, to me, a loss wouldn’t be the end of life. My thinking was that I would at least benefit from the name recognition associated with being the only Republican to enter the race for councilman.

Flyer advertising August Angel’s run for Sharpsville (PA) councilman, September 1955.
[Click image to enlarge.]

Throwing My Hat In the Ring

I distributed flyers that simply declared my party and offered a synopsis of my schooling, work, and military tour. My son and his friends posted and mailed the flyers and distributed them porch-to-porch. I did not ask for a vote in person from anyone. Therefore, I had not committed myself to any obligation other than “throwing my hat in the ring” as a Republican candidate, a run that no other Republican wished to try for. There was no way I could lose face.

Election Day Jitters

On Election Day, the first Tuesday of November [1955], I was busy with printing and helping [my wife] Susie serve meals to a civic club meeting at Angel’s [Casino]. Susie and I cast our own votes, but we mentioned nothing about the election to the kitchen and dining room help that day. Politicians are usually so anxious to keep up with vote tallies as reported by voting precincts that they hang around until every vote is in. They make appearances at voting areas to be seen, suggesting that voters choose them. However, when the civic club had finished their dinner meeting, Susie and I cleaned up Angel’s for the next rental and then retired, with little hope as to the outcome of the voting.

The Winner Is…

The next morning, the Sharon radio news announced an upset in the race for councilman in Sharpsville. August Angel, a newcomer and a Republican, had defeated a Democrat by a sizeable margin and was to be seated with five Democrats and a Democratic burgess in the heretofore liberal stronghold.

There really was “no joy in Mudville” for me – the victory was unexpected. I hadn’t worked for the seat, as I was otherwise occupied with my two prospering businesses, my family, and activity in the Masonic Shriners’ fraternity. The seat on Council would mean meetings, assuming an active interest in community affairs, and being confronted with fiscal and physical affairs of a government with which I was not familiar. There would be a lot of quick learning ahead for me.

“Three New Councilmen for Sharpsville.” The Sharon (Pa.) Herald, January 4, 1956.

[Caption for photo on right: THREE NEW COUNCILMEN FOR SHARPSVILLE — Three men joined Sharpsville’s seven-member borough council last night, when Burgess Peter Joyce, second from left, administered the oath of office to G. Raymond Hittle, D., Clair Osborne, D., and August Angel, R. (hands upraised, left to right). They will serve four-year terms. Looking on at left is the new council president, Maurice Nelson, D. Other councilmen include Democrats Michael Falvo, H.C. Diefenderfer and Charles DiMarco. Source: The Sharon (Pa.) Herald, January 4, 1956, p. 12.]

A Ham on the Doorstep

Congratulations were copious. One morning, when I opened the front door to descend the stairs to the print shop, I pushed the screen door against an enormous 15-20-pound ham with no tag or identification. I quickly learned it was a gift from the garbage collector who had a bid before council. He used selected borough refuse to feed hundreds of pigs on his farm just beyond the town limits. That ham I kept – but refused any subsequent “pork” or perks in the four years I was a councilman.

Four Years of Meetings

I had no desire on my watch to gain anything or be in anyone’s debt, even though the job of councilman was an unpaid honor – if you can envision that. For four years, I routinely attended council meetings and offered suggestions or personal opinions. Never was there a confrontation – the members and burgess (George Mahaney) worked amicably. Being the only Republican, I commanded a lot of attention whenever the “chair” recognized me, but I was relieved when my term came to an end.

 

Sharpsville Council Members, c. 1956. August Angel is third from left.
[Click on image to enlarge.]

“Angel is the Man for Mayor”

Nonetheless, I had a deep inner feeling that I still owed the community some sort of service, so I announced a bid for Mayor of Sharpsville. (Until this time, the town’s chief magistrate was regarded a “burgess.” Whoever was chosen would be the first mayor.) 

Flyer advertising August Angel’s run for the first Mayor of Sharpsville, PA, November 1961.
[Click on image to enlarge.]

Though lacking the intense ambition of my opponents in the race, I did not fare badly. Again, there was no personal solicitation – only the distribution of handbills. The Democrats had to counter my campaign with printing, meetings, and house-to-house canvassing. When the voting was over and I was defeated, I actually felt thankful. I had enough personal activities — the print shop, Angel’s Casino, and memberships in other service organizations — to attend to. And there would be no long evenings spent in the municipal building!

— Excerpted from “Trivia & Me” by August Angel [1908-1996].


MAIN STREET MEMORIES

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 for 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.

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-0ld 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.

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.

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 and 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.

– 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.


WALL-TO-WALL SANTAS IN SHARPSVILLE

Sharpsville’s unique Santa program is a favorite among our small town stories and for good reason. This annual event held by the Sharpsville Service Club since 1947 projects the sentiments of the season: kindness, generosity, and hope. It’s encouraging to know that, after approximately 70 years, this simple homegrown tradition continues. According to Ralph C. Mehler, board member of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society and a former Santa helper, “participation–both in terms of number of Santas as well as homes and kids visited–has been pretty steady over the last 15 or so years.”

The following account of the Santas’ pre-Christmas-Day visits comes from a PowerPoint presentation, “Sharpsville – Then & Now” by Gail Nitch Hanes. She researched, wrote and distributed CDs of the presentation as a gift to the Sharpsville High School Class of 1964 at their 50th reunion. (Gail was the Reunion Committee Chairperson for the SHS Class of 1964 for ten years, from 2004 to 2014).


A BELOVED MEMORY FROM OUR PAST…

By Gail Nitch Hanes

Source: "Sharpsville -- Then & Now" PowerPoint presentation

Sharpsville Service Club sign announcing the Santa project. Located at the entrance to Sharpsville, PA. c. 2014.

Who of us could ever forget how very special Christmas was during our youngest years growing up in Sharpsville? Our hometown was, and still is, the ONLY town around here where Santa Claus visits each child right before Christmas. He even knows their names and ages. He arrives with his pack full of popcorn balls and sometimes even an ”early” present, with a reminder –”don’t forget to go to bed early on Christmas Eve so I can deliver the rest of your presents.” How awestruck we were to think that Santa made a special visit to us. Little did we know then just how Santa came to make those visits.

It all began in 1943 when George Mahaney Jr., a Sharpsville attorney, asked his friend Sid Owen to ”play Santa” for his children. Well, Sid was such a big hit with Mahaney’s children that he was asked by neighbors to drop in to visit their homes as well that night. The following year, both he and George dressed in the red suits and visited even more homes. By 1947-48 there were so many homes and children to visit, Mr. Mahaney recruited members of the Sharpsville Service Club to assume ”Santa duty,” which began our town’ s most beloved tradition. This year [2014] marks 71 consecutive years that Service Club members dressed in their red and white suits and, with the help of their special ”elves,” scattered throughout the Borough on December 23rd bringing smiles and the Christmas spirit to the children and their families. And they are all volunteers!

Of course, all this does not just happen; it requires extensive organizational work behind the scenes well before the holiday season. Routes must be designated and mapped out with house numbers; a timetable must be established, and most importantly, Santas must be confirmed, with ”elves” assigned to help each one. The afternoon/early evening of the big day, the men gather inside ”Santa’s headquarters” to begin the transformation from citizen to Santa: sitting in the make-up chair while white cream is smudged into their eyebrows and blush is rolled onto their pink cheeks; putting on their ”Santa hair and beard” and, last but not least, donning the famous red and white suit with the big black belt and special black boots — black liners with fur around the top. [They have to keep their feet warm for all the walking they’ll be doing].

When everyone is suited up and the room is wall-to-wall Santas, it gets a little loud when they begin to belt out their ”Ho! Ho! Ho!” They swap stories of past Christmases and the children they’ve met, especially those little ones who ask Santa the tough questions. They have to be ready to answer unique and oftentimes surprising questions from the children without missing a beat; after all, Santa knows everything. They also must be prepared to run the full gamut of emotions depending on family circumstances — from the happiest to the very saddest and neediest.

Wall-to-Wall Santas! Photo courtesy of Sharpsville Area Historical Society (SAHS) Newsletter, November 2017, page 3. This is one of 8 unpublished photos from the 1953 American Magazine article in SAHS’s collection.

As children, most of us were unaware of how the entire process worked. We were told that Santa might make a ”special visit” to make sure we’re being good and to remind us to go to bed early on Christmas Eve so he could deliver all our presents while we were asleep. What we didn’t know was that in order for ”Santa” to know which homes to visit, porch lights were turned on — to light his way. Then there would be a lot of whispering among the adults [about what we had no clue] in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Meanwhile, at some homes a note would be taped to the front door with the names and ages of the children in the family, along with any early presents Santa was to give. Santa’s helper would quietly retrieve the note and put the gifts in Santa’s pack. Then, the sound of sleigh bells would fill the air as Santa approached with his hearty ”Ho! Ho! Ho!” What treasured times those were!
 
And the tradition continues every Christmas season from one generation to the next. Even families who don’t live in Sharpsville gather at a relative’s home so their children can experience that magical moment when Santa calls them by name and they sit on his lap one more time right before Christmas. Even as adults, we still look forward to Santa’s annual visit too. Now it’s extra special because we share it with not only our children but our grandchildren and perhaps even great-grandchildren.

Sharpsville is transformed into a truly magical place every Christmas, thanks to this extraordinary group of people whose dedication to the tradition of Santa visiting every home will continue far into the future.

Thank you, Sharpsville Service Club members and helpers! [Donations to their cause are always welcome.]

— Gail Nitch Hanes, Southington, OH – Sharpsville High School 1964


Read More Holiday Stories Here:

A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS

A SHARPSVILLE CHRISTMAS

SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

A STORY ABOUT SNOW

Uniquely Sharpsville; Sharpsville’s Santas.”
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter,
November 2017, pages 3 & 5.


PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

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.


PIERCE MANSION

During my earliest years in Sharpsville, 1950-1952, I would sometimes walk past a curious 5-acre lot adjacent to East Shenango Street. Standing in the middle of the lot, surrounded by large trees, was a long-abandoned but still elegant building that dated back to the mid-19th century. We kids knew it as the Pierce Mansion, but that’s about all we knew. After many years, it seems about time to learn more about the mansion and the man who built it.

The story of the Pierce Mansion is best detailed in General James Pierce’s biography that is part of a PowerPoint presentation, “Sharpsville: Our Home Town — Then and Now.” This extensive history of Sharpsville was researched and assembled by Gail Nitch Hanes. She began the project in late 2012 and completed it in time to present CDs of it as gifts to her fellow classmates at her 50th reunion of the Sharpsville High School Class of 1964. The following are excerpts from that presentation.


sharpsville_james_pierce

General James Pierce, born in New Hampshire in 1810, died in 1871.

PIERCE MANSION

General James Pierce was a truly remarkable man whose life ended abruptly but one whose accomplishments and contributions to Sharpsville were almost endless. He touched every life in some way and left a legacy befitting a man of his integrity, innovation, imagination, and, above all, unwavering ambition.

One need only to look around town to see evidence even today of General Pierce’s phenomenal success. Originally, there was his magnificent mansion which he built on five wooded acres on the north side of Shenango Street between North Mercer Avenue and Walnut Street. Many of us still remember it.

Much generic information about the Pierce mansion is readily available from several sources, but perhaps the most interesting is from first-hand knowledge of Mrs. Anna Garnack Zielke, [aunt of SHS ’64 grad, Mike Garnack] who, at age 16, began working at the mansion for sisters Ellen Pierce and Cecelia Pomplitz, the only remaining family.

sharpsville_mansion

Pierce Mansion, built in 1874 by General James Pierce in Sharpsville, PA. Demolished in 1952.

Anna worked for the sisters for 10 years until she left to be married. In a nostalgic article about Mrs. Zielke [run in The Sharon Herald on November 21, 2004], she recounted how the mansion rose three stories high with ornate decorative wrought iron along the roof edges, a tower located at the top center front of the house, and tall pillars along the edges of the roof — all characteristic of that era. The mansion consisted of 30 rooms, each having brick walls, heavy oak woodwork, and 13-18-foot high frescoed ceilings.

Mrs. Zielke recounted, “That house was beautiful inside. You could see your face in the woodwork.” The floors on the first level were of polished marble and ran from the front door to the kitchen. In every room of the house, there was a marble mantle of a different color. Oriental rugs were placed throughout the mansion. There was a library where the sisters enjoyed reading. The third floor was a large ballroom, which had been closed off, where the family had once entertained visitors. One room on the second floor was a laboratory where younger James, a chemist who lived in Charleston, West Virginia, worked when he visited Sharpsville.

Mrs. Zielke fondly remembered the Pierces as being very kind and simple people despite their wealth. They used large sums of their money to help the community, including setting up a special fund for people who could not afford food or for those in jail.

The mansion is long gone now, as are all the Pierces. However, stories will always be told of the family and the magnificent structure that was a Sharpsville landmark for many generations. [One very sad note: the General died without ever having lived in his mansion; Chloe moved in alone when it was completed in 1874.]

After Chloe died and the last Pierce left Sharpsville, the General’s mansion lay vacant and progressively deteriorating. Suggestions were made to convert it into a hospital or some other public building because, according to standards at that time, it was too large to continue as a single residence. None of these plans were carried out, and, sadly, the mansion was demolished in 1952 to make way for Sharpsville Gardens public housing which was part of the urban renewal project.

The remarkable life of General Pierce came to an abrupt end at age 64 on December 2, 1874. While Chloe was in Baltimore buying furniture for their almost completed new mansion, the General was walking through the house and somehow accidentally fell down the steep cellar stairs. He was moved to Mount Hickory where a week later he succumbed to complications and shock resulting from those.

He left behind his beloved Chloe, who died on August 16, 1886. at age 70, and five sons — Jonas J., twins Walter and Wallace, Frank, and James B., all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps, maintaining his various enterprises, and growing into prominent businessmen.

When General Pierce came to this area, there was but a handful of homes. His genius stimulated the coal, iron, railroad, and banking industries; his philanthropic endeavors built schools and churches, and funded social and civic organizations; his community concern and awareness created an atmosphere that promoted a way of life in which all Sharpsville residents thrived.

Because of the Pierce family, Sharpsville rapidly became one of the chief centers of the iron and coal industry in the country, especially this part of Pennsylvania. General Pierce left a remarkable legacy to the people of Sharpsville and the Shenango Valley. His “footprints” and those of his sons are obvious in every corner of our town and many areas far beyond its borders.

[An interesting fact: General Pierce is the great-great-grandfather of Barbara Bush [maiden name Pierce], wife of President George H. W. Bush. Jonas Pierce, the General’s eldest son, is her great-grandfather. Barbara visited Sharpsville in 1982 for the 100th anniversary of the building of the Universalist Church.]

– Gail Nitch Hanes, Sharpsville High School Class of 1964.

“Pierce Estate, Sharpsville, PA.” Postcard depicting Pierce Mansion.


Read more about General Pierce’s life, the family’s other Sharpsville residences (including one that now houses the Sharpsville Area Historical Society), brief biographies of the Pierce children and grandchildren, Barbara Pierce Bush’s genealogy, and Riverside Cemetery, the final resting place for many members of the Pierce family. All this on pages 11-21 of “Sharpsville: Our Home Town — Then and Now” by Gail Nitch Hanes. 

Also by Gail Nitch Hanes: Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered.

See “Pebly and 13th Street Schools” for Pat Angel’s memories of visiting his friend in Sharpsville Gardens, the housing development that replaced Pierce Mansion.

If you have memories of the Pierce Mansion, please share them with us. After all, those of us who grew up in the 1950s may be the last who can tell those stories.

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (Sharpsville High School Class of 1958), October 2017.

SEE ALSO: Pierce’s Iron Banking Building


REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part II)

Here’s a question for those of you who attended drive-in movies in the 1950s through 1970s: Remember speakers that you would hook on your car windows? And if you were lucky you got one that worked? And the all-important concession stand that not only provided sweet or salty/greasy treats for movie-goers but was the movie owner’s profit-maker? Time marches on, to paraphrase the narrator of those old “March of Time” newsreels, but memories can evoke a wistful affection for the past.


RCA speaker used by drive-in theater-goers in the 1950s & 60s. Casing is made of aluminum. [Source: eBay]

Reynolds Drive-In: Speakers

Since the early days of the drive-in cinema, there was the soundtrack issue: How can viewers be enabled, enclosed in their cars, to hear the movie’s soundtrack?

In the 1930s, when talking pictures became commercially viable, drive-ins attempted various ways to handle the sound issue, such as speakers on the movie screen’s tower or in front of each row of cars. Finally, in 1941 RCA introduced in-car speakers complete with volume controls.

By the 1950s, outdoor theaters were providing movie-goers with individual speakers. In those days, rows of parking spaces were lined with posts that held aluminum-encased speaker boxes. You parked your car so the speaker was lined up with the front side of the car, removed the speaker from the post and hooked it onto the car’s lowered window. However, there were two concerns: whether your speaker worked well enough to hear the movie through the static and whether you would remember to replace the speaker, attached to its post by a wire, when you drove off at the end of the night! Broadcasting the soundtrack on AM or FM radio, introduced in the 1980s, was not only more economical but much less damage-prone!

Reynolds Drive-In: The Concession Stand

Source: Pinterest.com

Concession stands were the real money-makers for drive-ins. Reynolds had the usual concession stand which also housed the projection booth. In the 1950s, attendees were charged 50 cents a carload, if I remember correctly, but much more was spent on popcorn, french fries, hamburgers, and sodas.

The food was heavily promoted by goofy but effective cartoon ads at “intermission,” the half-hour between the double-features. The theater always showed two movies, along with several short subjects and a cartoon. The first movie was more family-oriented than the second one with its gun-toting bad men and sexy ladies. That’s why you’d see kids in pajamas in the playground that was located at the base of the huge screen. They were ready for “bed” in the car’s back seat by the end of the first feature film, leaving mom and dad free to enjoy the “grown-up” movie.

(I recall benches placed along the fence separating the playground from the parking lot. They were used by the “walk-ins’ who lived nearby and stopped by for an evening of entertainment without the need of a car.)

To add to the enjoyment of the evening, drawings for prizes were held and live rock-and-roll or polka bands performed on the roof of the concession stand before the movie and during intermission. Richard Seaman, originally from Sharon, PA (SHS 1952), sent in the following comment to Part I of this series:

In 1950-52 I played in a Polka Band – The Starlighters — that was hired to play music before the movie started. We would set up on the roof of the projection-refreshment stand and play Polkas and Waltzes. John Murcko – Accordion, Richard Seaman – Tenor Sax, John Bross – Drums, Jim Muder – Guitar. We may have had other musicians sit in with us but I can’t recall exactly who they were.

Reynolds Drive-In: The Last Picture Show

The date of Reynolds first closing is not known. Then in 1988, at the beginning of renewed interest in drive-ins that lasted into the early 2000s, Reynolds re-opened with updated features such as sound via radio and first-run films. Again, information on how long Reynolds’ second phase lasted could not be found.

A Sharon Herald article titled “The Final Feature,” dated August 3, 2014, mentioned a Herald Facebook comment in which David Pennington wrote that his family had once owned and operated Reynolds. David Pennington explained that his father and uncles ran the theater, with his grandfather running the projection booth and his grandmother running the ticket booth.

Beginning in 1998 the Reynolds Drive-In Theatre was run by the Loomis Family with Justin Loomis as the owner in the theater’s last years.

Sometime between 1998 and 2011, the theater again closed down, this time due to the need to convert to a digital projector required to show the latest movies. Loomis explained the difficulties in trying to reopen the theater on Facebook in July 2013:

Here is the latest scoop on being able to get back open, the total for the new system, screen, and renovations to the housing booth are in the six figures. the new system will not show on our current screen and it requires a building that is climate controlled year round. …The odds of being able to come back for the drive-in are very highly stacked against us.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre’s last showing, August 8 & 9, 2014. Source: Reynolds Drive-In Facebook page.

In the 2014 Herald article, which tells of the theater’s brief reopening for a final double-feature weekend, Loomis explained the reason for closing:

When [the movie industry] switched over to digital, it really screwed us over on movie selections…It’s not exactly a cash cow, more of a fun type of business….It’s a great place, people like coming. It’s a feasibility thing: It’s not exactly working for us…..It’d be great for a family business where it’s their main focus.

But the drive-in was not Loomis’s main focus: Instead, his family had another business, Loomis Auctioneer Services. It was the latter company that auctioned off the theater via the Internet in 2014. After some 70 years, the Reynolds Drive-In went dark for good after a “Farewell Weekend,” on August 8 & 9, 2014, when two first-run movies, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” were shown. By this time, adult tickets cost $5.00 and a carload (no limit) was charged $20.00.

Digital conversion and other innovations, such as LCD projectors, micro-radio transmitters, huge inflatable screens or the use of Jumbotrons, have kept some of today’s approximately 300 drive-in theaters appealing to movie-goers. However, the main attraction of drive-ins began long ago, peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, and still resonates with today’s open-air movie-goers: that magical feeling of watching a movie in the fresh air of the great outdoors, under the moon and stars.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (Sharpsville High School 1958), Phoenix, AZ. September 2017.


See Also:

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre (Part I)

Sources:

“Drive-In Theater.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive-in_theater

Finnerty, Meagen. “The Final Feature.” SharonHerald.com, Sharon, PA. August 3, 2014. http://www.sharonherald.com/news/local_news/the-final-feature/article_6ac4d278-f529-521d-bc04-28dd6591a0f2.html

“Reynolds Drive In.” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/reynoldsdrivein/


REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE AS OF 2012
YouTube video by Stffthats Gone