by Ann Angel Eberhardt
There are many references to George Mahaney throughout “Small Town Memories” but did you know that there were two of them … and how much this father and son contributed, in their own way, to the betterment of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania?
Even though they were not technically Sr. and Jr., they were often referred to as such, according to Ralph C. Mehler II, board member of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society. However, in the Mehler family (George Sr. was Ralph Mehler’s great-great-uncle) and perhaps more widely, they were referred to as “old George” and “young George.”
The following is the story about “Old” George. Part II, covering “Young” George who originated Sharpsville’s much-loved Santa Claus project, will be covered in a later blog.
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“OLD” GEORGE D. MAHANEY
GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Starting Out
Old George, whose full name was George Dennis Mahaney (1878-1966), began his working life at a young age engaged in various small endeavors but eventually became a five-time Burgess of Sharpsville, father of the Shenango Dam, and known as “Mr. Sharpsville.”
At age 13, planning to be a future banker, Mahaney started at the bottom rung, cleaning floors and polishing brass in a bank. Soon, disillusioned by what he saw as a “tough game” of banking, he moved from there to paperboy, delivering the Pittsburgh morning paper to Sharpsville subscribers, then driving a horse and wagon for the Boyle and Fitzmaurice grocery store in Sharon, PA. After being laid off from his driver job, he worked unloading coke from cars at the Spearman blast furnace. That job proved to be too strenuous and he moved on to performing odd jobs for the streetcar line extension workers.
Nick Mehler, Mahaney’s brother-in-law and a popular barber in town, gave Mahaney his first big break by offering to teach him the barber trade. After four years as an apprentice, lathering faces and, again, sweeping floors, Mahaney became an official barber. But he still hadn’t settled down.
Mahaney’s next ventures involved working for several grocery companies, gaining a solid knowledge of business along the way. After co-owning a ready-to-wear store in Conneaut, Ohio, for a year, he then took over the Knapp Hotel on Walnut Street, Sharpsville, from his mother-in-law, Anna Knapp in exchange for paying off the debts left behind by her husband, Michael Knapp. When Prohibition began in 1920, causing the hotel to lose business, Mahaney entered the men’s clothing and furnishing business.
GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Mahaney’s Clothing Store
It was in 1913 when George Mahaney and Joseph McGowan had purchased a men’s haberdashery on Walnut Street from the Cohen Brothers. McGowan was in charge until 1917 when the store was moved a few doors north to the former Knapp Hotel cafe and office and became the Mahaney’s Clothing Store on the northwest corner of Walnut and Main Streets that some of us can still remember. When it was torn down in the early 1970s during urban renewal, it was probably the oldest men’s clothing store in Sharpsville.
GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Early Civic Projects
The June 1924 issue of The Sharon (PA) Telegraph, celebrating Sharpsville’s Golden Jubilee (1874-1924), told much of this story about “Old” George. It goes on to describe two of Mahaney’s most impressive and well-known legacies: his involvement in the areas of civics and sports in Sharpsville.
According to the Telegraph article, he was a “valuable asset” in the printing of the old Sharpsville Advertiser (which existed from 1870 to 1919). “He and other boys used to earn 50 cents per day for turning the old hand press when the weekly was being printed.”
During World War I, Mahaney did his part by chairing Sharpsville’s Red Cross and visiting camps where Sharpsville soldiers were stationed. On Christmas Day 1919, at the close of the war, Mahaney was presented with a gold watch from the ex-soldiers of the community.
As of 1924, Mahaney was largely responsible for the success of Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary celebrations. He was an active member of the Sharpsville Improvement Board and a director of the Automobile Club. At one time, he was a representative of The Sharon Telegraph, selling and delivering the newspaper in Sharpsville.
GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Sports Enthusiast
Rated in 1924 by the Telegraph as “the best baseball umpire in Western Pennsylvania,” Mahaney is described as pursuing his hobby of Sharpsville area sports with enthusiasm and dedication. According to The Sharon Telegraph:
Mahaney was for several years president of the Sharon team in the O. and P. League and a director of the league. In those days, when the Shenango Valley supported a baseball team, Mahaney was the official umpire at all games.
He started umpiring when a “kid” in Sharpsville and records show his services were in demand when the furnace company teams clashed back in 1898. Mahaney at that time was only 20. He carried a bat in addition to a mask, for arguments at that time meant business and the umpire was given the undisputed right to protect himself.
Mahaney has always been a booster for Sharpsville athletics, especially when the high school teams are concerned. Since Sharpsville has awakened from its apparent lethargy in high school athletics and stepped to the foreground, ranking today as one of the leading schools in the county in athletics, George Mahaney has been a regular attendant at all games and his advice has helped the players on more than one occasion.The Sharon (PA) Telegraph, June 7, 1924, p. 9
His son, “Young” George, was a prominent member of the baseball and basketball teams during his four years in high school. (George F. Mahaney will be the subject of a later blog.)
GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Later Civic Projects
But Mahaney’s accomplishments didn’t end in those early days. Those for which George D. Mahaney is most renowned were achieved since the 1920s. His involvement in most of the civic, athletic and veterans’ organizations in the area earned him the Shenango Valley Junior Chamber of Commerce’s “Man of the Year” award in 1954. According to his obituary in The Sharon Herald, January 26, 1966, pp. 1-2,
A member of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Sharpsville, Mr. Mahaney included among his membership associations the Sharpsville Service Club, Sharpsville Volunteer Fire Department, Merchants and Businessmen’s Association and the Knights of Columbus. He was named to the Mercer County Housing Authority in 1946.The Sharon Herald, January 26, 1966, pp. 1-2
In 1953 Sharpsville’s town park was named Mahaney Park by the Bureau Council in honor of his long-time service as Burgess of Sharpsville. Located on the southeast corner of Shenango and Walnut streets, the park was laid out in 1916. (It currently features an ingot mold that was one of the last cast in Sharpsville in 2001, a reminder that Sharpsville was once the nation’s ingot mold capital.)
Mahaney’s untiring lobbying for the construction of the Shenango River Reservoir (also known as the Shenango Dam) was recognized by the Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1959. Built between 1963 and 1965, the dam was designed to control the periodic flooding of the Shenango River that affected Sharpsville and more so Sharon and Wheatland. An extra benefit of the Reservoir was a recreation area which includes the Mahaney Outflow Recreation Day Use Area, featuring a disc golf course and the Mahaney Access Boat Ramp.
[Photographs above and below are courtesy of the
Sharpsville Area Historical Society]
GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Family Background
George D. Mahaney was born in Pennsylvania on January 15, 1878. He was the son of D. G. Mahaney, a locomotive engineer who, for many years, was a resident of Erie.
When Mahaney was 3 years old (c. 1881), he moved with the family to Sharpsville when the town was merely a station stop and over two decades before its streets were paved. The Telegraph lists the school he attended as “the old Second Ward school.”
The record for County Marriages in Pennsylvania lists the marriage of George Mahaney, a merchant in Conneaut, Ohio, to Kathryn M. Knapp (1880-1955) on May 6, 1903.
The 1930 U.S. Census records the Mahaney family as living on Walnut Street in Sharpsville and consisting of George, a clothing merchant, his wife Katheryn (Knapp) Mahaney, and two sons, George F. Mahaney, age 22, and John, age 19.
After his first wife died in 1955, he married Rose Havlak on June 11, 1959.
George Dennis Mahaney died in January 1966. Three brothers and two sisters preceded him in death. He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Hermitage, PA. His widow survived with two sons, both attorneys, George F., and John K.; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. (Source: “Geo. Mahaney Dies: ‘Father’ of Reservoir,” The Sharon Herald, January 26, 1966, pp. 1-2.)
— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with assistance from Ralph C. Mehler II (SHS 1980).