Small Town Memories

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

Tag: businesses

Return of THE SHARPSVILLE ADVERTISER

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Welcome to the new home page! The long alphabetical list of titles still exists, but has been moved to another page, titled “A to Z Index.” Just click here or on “A to Z Index” in the menu at the top of the page for links to all the past blogs. Or if you’re looking for stories by a particular author, go to “Author Index.”

Meanwhile, you have quick and easy access to the latest blog which now displays at the top of the home page. You can also scroll down to see all the other blogs in reverse chronological order. 

[NOTE: Please ignore the recent “Small Town Memories” notification for “Dr. Bailey’s, Horse-and-Buggy Days” which required a password. It was sent inadvertently (my fault) and the page it refers to has been deleted. I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.]

Return of
THE SHARPSVILLE ADVERTISER

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Walter Pierce’s newspaper of the 1870s, The Sharpsville Advertiser, wasn’t the only newspaper published with that name. My father, August Angel, fulfilled his dream of publishing a newspaper with the same name from 1959 until the Angel family re-located to Kentucky in 1964.

Read more about the history of Sharpsville’s newspapers in the Sharpsville Area Historical Society (SAHS) newsletter, July 2014 SAHS newsletter (vol III, no 2). SAHS has 18 editions of the first Sharpsville Advertiser and 6 of the second Sharpsville Advertiser in its collection.

How It All Began

Brochure printed in 1960 by The Sharpsville (PA) Advertiser print shop. (Click on image to enlarge.)

August Angel originally learned printing skills while attending trade school during his high school years. His first job after graduation from Miami (Ohio) University in 1936 was at a boarding school located deep in the Appalachian Mountains of southeastern Kentucky. There, at the Pine Mountain Settlement School, he set up and supervised a student print shop and also taught classes in printing as well as other subjects.

After seven years at the Kentucky school and two additional years teaching printing at a high school in Dayton, Ohio, he tried his hand at other occupations. He finally returned to the printing trade in the 1950s as an assistant foreman in the composing room of The Sharon (PA) Herald newspaper.

At the same time, longing to “be his own boss,” he started a small print shop in what was then Sharpsville’s business district on North Walnut Street. As his business grew, he quit the Herald job and moved his print shop to a larger building on North Second Street in 1949. At last, he was truly his own boss.

The Sharpsville Advertiser PRINT SHOP

August Angel in his printer’s apron, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1960.

Before the advent of the digital revolution around the 1970s, print shops (including my Dad’s) consisted of a variety of large and noisy machines that produced small-format material, such as bills, letterheads, business cards, and envelopes. I remember Dad teaching us to feed the treadle-powered letterpress, which required quite a bit of hand-eye-and-machine coordination. My family lived in the apartment above his Second Street shop and I often fell asleep at night to the rhythmic sounds of those machines and the odors of printer’s ink and the chemicals that were used to clean the platens and type.

As demand for his print shop business grew, Dad upgraded to more automated machinery, such as linotypes, typesetting machines that cast characters in metal as a complete line rather than as individual characters. He wrote:

I had bought two linotypes from the (Sharon Herald) newspaper — one a 2-magazine and the other a 3-magazine. The company was selling these because of its transition to recently improved technology in typesetting – the change from lead casters to film exposure and chemicals.

…These were added to the shop’s Ludlow “Kelly B” press, that could print a 17 x 22-inch page, … a 2-hand-fed C&P press … and a windmill 10 x 15 Heidelberg, the second Heidelberg to be installed in the State of Pennsylvania.

About that Heidelberg press: Dad saw its potential when he was treated to a personal demonstration of the machine in front of his shop. The Heidelberg was brought in a special van with extension cables that were connected to a local plug. The demonstration showed how this new kind of press could print a job much faster, more precisely and more smoothly than any other machine. (Its innovative “windmill” feature is described here.)


(Click on image to enlarge.)

Dad was sold on the Heidelberg and ordered one from the German maker (which is now known as Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG) for around $2,200. It arrived at the print shop on a flatbed truck in June 1954, encased in a large wooden crate and accompanied by a man who stayed several days with my family to reassemble it since it had to be taken apart to get it into the print shop. Then he proceeded to instruct Dad in its operation.

We all enjoyed the Heidelberg man’s presence, particularly when he bought ice cream and peanuts for us children. Once the crate was emptied, he changed it into a playhouse for my younger brother Pat. About a year later it was re-built to fit on the branches of our backyard tree and used as a treehouse for my older brother, Mike, and his gang.

The Sharpsville Advertiser NEWSPAPER

The weekly paper that Dad started is described in “A Look Back: Sharpsville’s Newspapers” July 2014 SAHS newsletter (vol III, no 2) as one of “[p]urely local news, with an anodyne reportage perhaps in keeping with the placid days of the Eisenhower era.”

Dad wrote only a little about this venture in his memoir but did provide this information:

A source of great satisfaction to me in the printing trade was the weekly tabloid I christened “The Sharpsville Advertiser,” a 4 to 8-page newspaper, sans editorials with the same name as my shop. It was the summary of local news events that had occurred during the week, up to the time of the press run. Readers liked to see their names in print, and the advertising by merchants paid handsomely for all expenses incurred in its production. These included the weekly salary of a disgruntled printer from The Sharon Herald who joined me as a linotype operator and general makeup floor man, as well as a full-time pressman who operated the three impression machines – Kelly B., Heidelberg, and hand-fed.

Dad doesn’t mention it in his memoir, but he must have known that the origins of the name for his shop, and then his newspaper, dated back approximately eight decades to the newspaper started by Walter Pierce, the son of James Pierce who was an important figure in Sharpsville’s early history.

The Sharpsville Advertiser’s FIRST ISSUE

April 9, 1959, must have been an exciting day for Dad, as the Kelly B press churned out the first issues of his newspaper. In the upper left corner of the first page is an introduction, stating that it is “A Newspaper Of, By and For Residents of Sharpsville.” In keeping with SAHS’s adjective, “anodyne,” it provides these objectives:

This paper has no axes to grind. Rather, its objective will be to promote a harmonious aid among residents of our community by giving them a better understanding of the community’s accomplishments and problems. This harmonious air will be a giant step toward progress that will make a better Sharpsville and thereby heighten its stature in a better Shenango Valley.

This paper will take no sides in controversy, either political or otherwise, but will tend to present an unbiased factual report in its news columns.

However, this paper will afford citizens of the community an opportunity of voicing their own individual view on controversial matters or other issues through letters that will be published in an “editor’s Mail” column. Your letters are invited.

AUGUST ANGEL, Editor and Publisher.

The following images are the first two pages of volume 1, number 1, of The Sharpsville Advertiser:


(Click on image to enlarge.)

The Sharpsville Advertiser: MEMORIES

Dad’s newspaper lasted from 1959 until our family left Sharpsville in 1964. During the period of its existence, I was attending Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, but Dad was still recruiting me when I visited home, as well as people in the neighborhood and other family members to assist in its production. We collated and hand-folded the pages before he purchased a folding machine. We distributed the issues throughout the town and attached mailing labels to the newspapers for mailing out-of-town. (The first several issues were complementary, followed by an annual charge of $3.00). And we solicited ads from local businesses.

James Jovenall, a high school classmate (SHS 1958), was among those in the community who were hired to help out. He wrote in a Comment to the January 2015 blog, “Ritz Theater III”:

I also worked for your father for a short while selling ads for the Sharpsville Advertiser. All good memories.

His mention of ads triggered my memory of ad-running:

I’m pleased to know that ad-running for my dad’s newspaper was one of your good memories. I also held that job for a summer during college years, probably around 1960. I walked all over Sharpsville’s business district, visiting owners of banks, restaurants, dry cleaners, funeral homes, pharmacies, insurance agencies, bars, and various other small shops, asking them if they would buy or renew their ads, and if so, the size and information they wished to display. It wasn’t the easiest job for the timid person that I was and I particularly felt uncomfortable entering those dark, smoky, males-only bars looking for the owner. But, yes, it’s a fond memory now.

The Sharpsville Advertiser: FINAL YEARS

In 1964, my father along with my mother and younger brother left Sharpsville to return to a small village in Kentucky, where my mother was born and still had an extended family. Not one to take a break and with printer’s ink still in his blood, Dad set up a much-needed print shop deep in the southeastern Appalachian mountains.

The building that held The Sharpsville (PA) Advertiser print shop, 1949-1964. (Photo by Northwood Realty Services Hermitage, 2016.)

The Kentucky shop was a great success for many years. In the early 1980s, he sold it to his co-founder and finally retired to a log house on a farm in London, Kentucky, where his two sons and their families also lived and are still there to this day.

In June of 1967, Dad sold the Sharpsville shop for $15,400 to a couple who continued the print shop business. They ran it until 1967 when their premises were raided by the FBI, State Police and local police after a three-month-long investigation. The couple was charged with printing football and basketball tickets for sports lotteries but they quickly left town before they were to appear in court. That most likely ended the business of printing on North Second Street.

Eventually, the building that held the print shop was occupied by an entirely different business, Cattron Communications, until 2010 when it was acquired by Laird Technologies. As of 2017, the building has been occupied by Webb Winery which features a tasting room and a cafe.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, March 2019.

See Also:

A Treehouse Grows in Sharpsville
Main Street Memories
Walnut Street Businesses II


Advertisements

WELCH HOUSE: Twice Burned

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

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 lavalier 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 boardinghouses of yesteryear, such as the Welch House.

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

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. (Accessed 02-March-2018)

See Also Welch House: Early History


WELCH HOUSE: Early History

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Who among us remembers Sharpsville’s Welch House on Main Street? When it was suggested I write something about this “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, they 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 I, 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 II (SHS 1980), Sharpsville, PA
–Ann Angel Eberhardt, (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ

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


PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Pierce’s Legacy

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

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

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

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

Christmas Club

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

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

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

Pierce Opera House

 

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

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

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

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

According to the July 2013 SAHS Newsletter,

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Also

Pierce Mansion

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


REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part II)

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Here are questions 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



 

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part I)

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Now showing: Memories of the drive-in theater, featuring Reynolds, a local hot spot during the 1950s and 60s for family, friends, and dates. Part I gives a brief history of Reynolds, the name’s origin, and the reason why it is in this blog’s spotlight.

Reynolds Drive-in Theatre in its heyday, Transfer, PA, c. 1950s. Photo submitted to cinematreasures.org by Chris1982.

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE

The year that the Reynolds Drive-In died was 2014. This drive-in theater on Route 18 in Transfer, Pennsylvania, which lived for over six decades and experienced a brief comeback, now is no more.

Open air cinemas had existed in crude forms, showing silent movies, as early as 1915-1916 in Mexico and 1921 in Texas. The drive-in theater as we know it opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey, by chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. after he did much experimentation to get it right. His ideas took hold and drive-ins grew in popularity in the 1930s.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the number of drive-ins peaked at around 4,000 and were mostly found in the United States, Canada and Australia. In the Sharpsville, PA, area alone there were the Hickory Drive-in (Sharon), Larkfield and Guthrie (Grove City), Penn (New Castle), Lakeside (Conneaut Lake), Moonlight (Brookville) and Reynolds (Transfer). Just across the border in Ohio were the Howland (Niles) and four more in the Youngstown area (Northside, Ski Hi, Southside, and Westside). A few are still in operation. Pennsylvania was known to have the greatest number of drive-in theaters in the U.S., mostly due to two advantages: cheap land and lots of it.

During the 1970s the number of drive-ins was declining for a variety of reasons. The societal and technical developments that adversely affected drive-ins are well-explained on the “History” page of www.driveinmovie.com: Daylight Savings Time, video rentals, urban sprawl, and finally the push to convert from 35mm film to expensive digital projectors in the early 2000s. Drive-in theaters made a brief comeback recently, as owners found creative ways to fund their existence, such as combining them with flea markets or serving higher-quality food at the concession stand, but it’s been a struggle.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre: History & Memories

The story of Reynolds closely follows the course of drive-in theater history. The exact date that the Reynolds Drive-In originally opened is apparently unknown, with various websites estimating 1945, 1947, and as late as 1955.

However, the theater was already in existence for several years by 1953 as evidenced by an ad that appeared in the Record-Argus, a Greenville newspaper, featuring this message from Carl T. McKnight, Reynolds Owner and Manager:

A MESSAGE TO THE PUBLIC From REYNOLDS Drive-in Theatre

A few years ago we at REYNOLDS THEATRE decided we would like to keep our theatre alive during the winter months by having our marquee greet you with a friendly thought as you pass by. … We really appreciate hearing from you and would be happy to use any quotations or bit of philosophy you would care to send us, providing they are of a length we can use in our limited amount of space. …. LET US HEAR FROM YOU – CARL T. MCKNIGHT Owner and Manager

1967 AMC Ambassador with a front bench seat offering room and seat belts for three adults. Source: Wikimedia.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre was the place to be during its summers-only seasons in the 1950s and ’60s, whether it was a date night (remember when drive-ins were called “passion pits”?) or family night.

Spread across approximately 10 acres, Reynolds had the capacity for 550 cars, an average size for a drive-in then, and one large sheet metal screen tower that rested on a thick base of 75% stone masonry. There was a rise in the ground where you parked that tilted your car towards the screen. Because it was unpaved, the ground was sometimes dotted with puddles of water after a rain. At such a time, where the car was parked could be an important consideration! The spaciousness of cars in those days, along with their large windshields, made it easier to see the movie from both front and back seats. And those upholstered bench seats were much more comfortable than the hard seats of an indoor theater.

“Reynolds”: Whence the Name?

The name “Reynolds” has an intriguing history that dates back to the Civil War.

During World War II, “Reynolds” designated a Military Personnel Replacement Depot that existed in Pymatuning Township, Mercer County. What was once 26 farms on nearly 3,300-acres of rich land where potatoes grew, became in the span of only six months in 1942 the location of the largest military installation of its kind in the U.S. First known as Camp Shenango for the nearby village of Shenango, this self-sufficient “town” consisted of barracks, gymnasiums, chapels, libraries, theaters, a 100-bed hospital, fire stations, warehouses, mess halls, a rifle range, post exchanges, guest facilities, and much more.

http://www.greenvillereynolds.com/uploads/misc/IMG_1620.png

“Welcome to Reynolds Industrial Park.” 1949-present. Source: http://www.greenvillereynolds.com

All this was to temporarily accommodate officers and enlisted men before they were sent to war in Europe. In 1943, the War Department changed the name to U.S. Army Camp Reynolds in honor of General John F. Reynolds, who died in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

Camp Reynolds also served as a holding place for German prisoners-of-war from April 1944 until January 1946. Camp Reynolds as a military personnel replacement depot was closed in 1945.

From 1949 to the present day, 1,200 acres of the area have been the location of three parks (industrial, warehouse and business), owned and operated by the non-profit Greenville-Reynolds Development Corporation.

Reynolds Drive-In: A Family Connection

Flyer for Reynolds Drive-In Theatre that was handed out to patrons. Printed by The Sharpsville (PA) Advertiser, 1950s.[Click on image to enlarge.]

I have special memories of this drive-in. My father, a printer and a friend of Carl T. McKnight, then owner of the drive-in, used to print programs for Reynolds in the 1950s. The programs, handed out to each car at the ticket booth, advertised upcoming movies and probably other information that I don’t recall. Usually, my brother or I (when we learned to drive) would deliver the programs, along with a few friends. We could stay for the movie without charge and sometimes we did.

”The Ten Commandments” 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic from Paramount Pictures.

My dad hardly ever attended movies, indoors or out, but I do remember the time he took the family to see Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic film depicting the life of Moses, “The Ten Commandments,” some time after its release in October 1956. That this one interested him was a mystery to us kids. It couldn’t have been the subject matter as he wasn’t a church-goer. In order to get the actors’ names and movie titles right, Dad subscribed to film industry magazines, such as BOXOFFICE Magazine. Maybe he had read about the movie’s reputation as the most expensive and the most financially successful film ever made at the time, its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and 6 other categories, and its spectacular special effects. After all, Moses turns the river Nile to blood and parts the Red Sea right before your eyes!

[Continued with Part II]

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

See Also:

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part II) -Speakers, Concession Stands
& Reynolds’ Final Days

Irwin, Dan. “Movie Memories Part 3: Technology takes movie theater projectionists from distinction to extinction.” New Castle News, July 3, 2013. http://www.ncnewsonline.com/news/local_news/movie-memories-part-technology-takes-movie-theater-projectionists-from-distinction/article_b7f0ac78-d930-54b2-ba80-a99761928056.html

Sources:

“Camp Reynolds.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Reynolds

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

“Message to the Public from Reynolds Drive-in Theatre.” The Record-Argus, Greenville, PA. November 23, 1953, p. 4.  Newspapers.com.
https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/12091556/

“Reynolds Drive-In.” Cinema Treasures, LLC.
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/10365



SHARPSVILLE AND THE RITZ RE-DISCOVERED

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Good news! A guest writer has kindly agreed to share her story of reconstructing the history of Sharpsville’s landmarks, including the Ritz Theater. Having been the Reunion Committee Chairperson for the SHS Class of 1964 for ten years (2004-2014), Gail Nitch Hanes painstakingly assembled a PowerPoint presentation as a 50th reunion gift to her class. Now her gift and the tale of its creation are available here for the enjoyment of all of us who wish to keep Sharpsville’s history alive.

img112

This wonderful photo comes to us from the Mahaney Family collection. …A throng of Sharpsvillites had come out on August 26, 1950, for the Northwest Firemen’s Association parade. In the background is Walder’s Tavern, famous for its steak sandwiches (now the Marigold II), and the much-missed Ritz Theatre. As a second-run movie house then, it was showing the World War II comedy, “When Willie Comes Marching Home,” and the Joel McCrea-Veronica Lake western, “Ramrod.” [Photo courtesy of Gail Nitch Hanes, Ralph C. Mehler, and the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered

By Gail Nitch Hanes

Have you ever thought about doing something special which would require research? In the process, have you discovered far more information than you ever imagined? And was your curiosity piqued enough to explore every avenue which opened yet another door?

Well, that’s precisely what happened to me in 2012 when I was trying to determine that “something special” which would serve as the perfect gift for the classmates of Sharpsville High School Class of 1964 at our 50th reunion scheduled for September 2014.

The original plan was to create a brief pictorial “Then and Now” PowerPoint presentation of our hometown- Sharpsville, but the project took on an entirely new scope when my need-to-know kicked in and it became apparent that there is far more to our little town than most of us ever really considered. Why not include the history of Sharpsville along with the photos? Now the fun began!

With the generous assistance of classmates, their families and friends, and especially Ralph C. Mehler of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society, I was able to collect photos of “Then” Sharpsville as it was when our class was growing up through the late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s…the businesses/buildings along the main arteries in town- Shenango Street, Walnut Street, Main Street, Mercer Avenue- and more. Using these photos, I set upon a three-day “Now” photo shoot of those same locations, taking most shots from the same angles.

When I arrived at one particular empty lot on Main Street, it became painfully obvious that a very important old photo was missing from all the rest…that of our beloved Ritz Theater. In my historical research of various sources, I found articles written by Ann Angel Eberhardt and other Sharpsville-ites as well as bits and pieces of speeches made by Pete Joyce referencing the Ritz. The history of the theater was as complete as it could possibly get. However, a photo did not seem to exist, although classmates “picked” the memories and photo albums of older relatives and friends. Alas,…my PowerPoint would be completed without that one very important piece…one held so near and dear by all of us. All I had to show was the now empty lot on which the theater once stood.

It wasn’t until late last year one of our classmates sent me a copy of a photo [which was eventually printed in the March 2017 issue of Sharpsville Historical Society Newsletter, having been part of the Mahaney family collection]. It was of a Northwest Firemen’s Association parade down Main Street on August 26, 1950. In the background stands the Ritz Theater- EUREKA!! Finally,…we had that elusive photo. Of course, I immediately relayed the photo to our classmates to a fantastic response by all.

I must admit that the “Sharpsville, Our Home Town: Then and Now” project renewed my deep interest in the history of our little town and just how important it was to the overall history of our county, state, country, and even the world [e.g. the pig iron industry via Shenango Furnaces…John Jackson’s oiler, and much more]. It has given gave me a new appreciation of just how much of an impact even a small town like ours can have, and the immense pride in having grown up in the middle of it all.

And to think it all started with one man’s dream. Thank you, General James Pierce!

Gail Nitch Hanes (SHS 1964), Southington, OH, 2014. 


Click on the following link to view the PowerPoint presentation of
“Sharpsville, Our Home Town – Then and Now”: SHPVL – THEN & NOW

SEE ALSO:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958)
Ritz Theater II by Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960)
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958)



PAPERBOYS AND PINSETTERS

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

While writing about my brother, Mike, and his treehouse, I was reminded of two typical 1950s jobs he had while in high school: paperboys and pinsetters. Traditionally for boys only, those jobs put a little extra change in their pockets and taught them the fundamentals of the working world, whether they liked them or not.


sharpsville_sharon-herald-logo-3

[Logo used with permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.]

PAPERBOYS: “Read all about it!”

In the latter half of the 1950s, my brother Mike delivered “The Sharon Herald” daily newspaper door to door in Sharpsville, PA. Our dad described Mike’s work in his memoir, Trivia & Me as follows:

Mike was an industrious and outgoing teenager. Shortly after we moved to Sharpsville [c. 1950], he helped a friend with a 50 to 75-customer Sharon Herald newspaper route, learned all the addresses, and took it over when his friend gave it up for a bigger route. At first, the papers were too heavy to carry in a shoulder bag, so Mike pulled them in a wagon. The Thursday edition was the heaviest because it was often printed on 24 to 36 pages or 48 to 56 pages for special sale editions on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Washington’s Birthday, and the Fourth of July. [The Herald was then an afternoon publication.]

At first, each paper was delivered from the sidewalk to the porch on foot, a time-consuming effort involving much running back and forth. In time, Mike became adept enough to fold the paper into itself and throw it accurately to the porch door.

In the summertime, I often accompanied him on the route. When the weather was pleasant and doors were open we would listen to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” [a weekly situation comedy] and other radio programs uninterrupted as we moved from one house to the other. In wintertime, during the cold and snow, we were only interested in getting the papers delivered as quickly as we could.

sharpsville_pixabay_newsboySaturday was customer pay-up day. Unless a person has ever tried to collect monies for service, he would not believe the number of excuses some customers offered to avoid or delay paying the paperboy his dues. However, Mike was such a good businessman that he encountered only a few non-payers, mostly [those] customers who had moved out-of-town.

Dad was likely very proud of Mike’s newspaper job, remembering his own experience as a young boy in the early 1900s when he peddled papers on a street corner in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The newspaper, “The Plain Dealer,” which still exists to this day, sold for 3 cents each, of which 1 penny was his. Hopefully, his son Mike brought home a bit more than that!

PINSETTERS: Beware the Flying Pins!

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Pinsetting required even more exertion and dexterity than newspaper delivery. Several evenings a week, Mike could be found at the Thornton Hall, working as the pinboy at the receiving end of a bowling lane. When the bowling ball hit the pins, he cleared the fallen pins and rolled the bowling ball back to the player. At the end of turn player’s turn, he would return all ten pins to their proper places, ready for the next player.

Mike has this incisive memory of his pinboy job: “We were paid 13 cents per line for pin setting. The experience taught me that there must be an easier way to make money.”

One of the pinsetter’s main concerns was to avoid getting smashed by the oncoming bowling ball or flying pins. This was what I remember most from the days that I too reset pins, not as a teenager but as an Allegheny College student taking a women’s physical education course in bowling. The school rented lanes at a local Meadville, PA, bowling alley, and we students were pressed into service as pingirls. In order to set up all the pins for the next player, we used a treadle that we pushed with our foot, causing 10 pins to raise up. We would then set the bowling pins down on the pins, release the treadle, and the pins were in position for the next player. When that bowling ball came roaring toward us, we were sure to jump up and perch on a platform on either side of the lane, out of the way of the collision below.

The introduction of the mechanical bowling pinsetters and their prevalence in bowling alleys by the 1960s did away with the job of pinsetting. In this case, automation was a godsend. Not only did automatic pinsetters allow for faster games, but more importantly, they eliminated the dangers inherent in pinsetting by teenage boys and sometimes girls!


“The Sharon Herald” has been known as “The Herald” since 1970, having dropped “Sharon” from its nameplate to reflect wider distribution in the Shenango Valley, Mercer County, and several adjacent towns. The newspaper, still going strong in print and now online, has been a morning paper since 2002 and is published every day except Christmas Day.

Thornton Hall still stands on the corner of Thornton Street and Hall Avenue, just across the border between Sharpsville and Sharon, PA. According to its Facebook page, Thornton Hall still has a bowling alley. (The drug store and roller-skating rink in the same building that we 1950s-60s teenagers would frequent appear to no longer exist.) Although the alley still hands out paper score sheets on which players do their own scoring, I doubt that it still has human pinsetters. And I’m pretty sure that, if bowling classes were still offered at Allegheny College, pinsetting duty would no longer be required.

Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), March 2017, with help from Mike Angel (SHS 1960).
Excerpt from “Trivia & Me,” page 118, an autobiography written by August Angel.

WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

This is the second in a series chronicling my memories of 1940s Wheatland, Pennsylvania, a tiny village in the Shenango River flatlands of western Pennsylvania, that was totally destroyed by a tornado in 1985.

In this installment you can read about my family’s move to a barn, our neighbors and playmates, grocery stores big and small and one on wheels, the first television I ever saw, my dad’s cow and sheep, and the dumping of the slag.


Wheatland Flats II: Second Street

Thinking about our family’s 1945 move from 199 Third Street to 32 Second Street in Wheatland, PA, reminds me of The Jeffersons’ theme song, “Movin’ On Up.” We had not only moved to higher land to avoid the periodic flooding from the nearby Shenango River. We were moving upward financially as well, just as many families were able to do following World War II.

A year after my dad returned from the war, he decided he didn’t have much of a future in subsistence farming and accepted a position with Sharon Steel Company as a draftsman. Later, with the printing training and experience he had gained before the war, he secured a position in the composing room for the local newspaper, The Sharon Herald.

The Shack and the Barn

Having sold the Third Street house and now earning a regular income, Dad was able to remodel my grandfather’s barn into a home for our family. During the year this went on, our family stayed in a small three-room house adjacent to the barn. It had been my grandfather’s home since the 1930s. By 1946, Grandpa was tired of Pennsylvania’s cold winters which he felt contributed to his arthritic aches and pains. So, at the age of 62, he rode the Greyhound bus from Sharon across the United States to a small town in California where he contentedly lived out the rest of his life.

We called Grandpa Angel’s house “the shack” since it was roughly built with board-and-batten and tarpaper and didn’t have much in the way of modern conveniences. I remember bathing in a galvanized tub on the table in a very chilly kitchen. In place of an electric refrigerator, my mother would store food on a shelf outside the kitchen window in the winter and used an icebox that contained a huge block of ice in the summer.

I don’t recall the actual move to the remodeled barn, but it must have been a big occasion for my parents. We could now enjoy the marvels of a telephone, a modern refrigerator, a hot water tank, an indoor bathroom and lots of space! The only reminder that it was once a barn was the sliding barn door on one end of the building. It led into a hayloft, still full of sweet-smelling hay.

I visited Wheatland several years after the devastating tornado of 1985, only to find fields of weeds scattered with debris. No landmarks were left to help with orientation, except the street signs. All I could find of my childhood home was its stone foundation.

Click on an image to enlarge.

Neighbors and Playmates

After the move to the remodeled barn, which involved using a horse and wagon to haul our household belongings, my memories begin in earnest. After almost 70 years, I can still name some of the families in the area of this short section of the unpaved cinder-covered Second Street, most of whom provided one or two playmates for my brother and me.

At the very end of the street on our side were two families, the Papadics with a son named Murrell and a mother and her daughter, Beverly, whose last name was Blosz. Our house was the third one from the end of the street and was across the road from Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs. They were a kindly African-American couple in their 60s from whom my grandfather and mother sometimes bought home-made herbal medicine for our aches and pains. In his memoir, my father wrote:

Mr. Dobbs was an herbalist who had a big following of “patients”…. He was well-liked and held in high esteem as a professional throughout the immediate area. Mr. Dobbs was not hesitant to show his knowledge of which greens to pick and prepare for medicinal purposes. Mr. Dobbs was literate, a good conversationalist, and a non-active member of the Masonic Order. …Mrs. Dobbs, a slender, small person, was also liked by all the neighbors. She doted on our children as if a grandmother. …We were welcomed in her home, as she was in ours.

The Billobocky (Bielobockie?) family lived next to the Dobbs and included a little curly-haired girl named Simone. Farther down Second Street, on the corner of Second and Church streets, was the Behr (Bayer?) family. Kathleen Behr, who introduced herself as “Kitsy,” was my very first friend, whom I met when we first arrived in Wheatland. Her house was a mansion in my mind. It was a tall two-story wood frame structure and had not one, but two bathrooms upstairs. At the edge of the road in front of the house was a once-ornate but now weathered stone step. I was told this step was used to step down from horse-drawn carriages in the days before autos.

Other names are a bit fuzzy now, but studying the U.S. Census of 1940, I’m reminded of the Ludu’s and the Radu’s, who were among our Romanian friends. And I recall the Roach family, whose little girl Judy was another buddy of mine. They lived a block away on First Street, next to a little mom-and-pop grocery store. 

Grocery Stores Big and Small and One on Wheels

The little corner store in Wheatland Flats must have had a name but I don’t recall it. The steps up to the store’s front door seemed high and steep to a little girl, but the climb was worth it when I had a penny for a piece of candy. In case one’s preference was on the sour side, the store had a barrel of pickles in front of the candy counter. For most of the items you wished to purchase, you told the grocer what you wanted and he retrieved it from the shelves behind the counter. On the left was a meat counter and behind it was the butcher working at a thick wooden table set on a sawdust-covered floor. The store served as our “mini-mart” between the family’s weekly visits to Wheatland’s Golden Dawn Supermarket on Broadway or the A&P in Farrell.

Occasionally, our house was visited by the driver of a brown and yellow Jewel Tea Company truck. This little door-to-door “Home Shopping Service” on wheels sold pots and pans, dishes, cleaning supplies, groceries, and dry goods. And a Hopalong Cassidy coloring book that my mother purchased for me and which I treasured for years.

My First Ever TV Experience

Wheatland Flats: Second Street

Indian Head Television Test Pattern by RCA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


I watched my very first television at the home of another playmate, Emile, who lived on what was probably West First Street. TV programs would only air in the evening and while we anxiously waited for them to begin we would stare at a test pattern featuring an American Indian. I’m not sure what we watched in those early days, but I do know the pictures were black and white and rather snowy. Sometimes the picture would start moving up or down as if a film projector malfunctioned, but there was a “horizontal”  button on the TV set to fix that. There was also a “vertical” button and a dial to lighten or darken the screen. To change a channel, the father in the family would pull on cables that ran from the TV through the floor and to the antenna on the roof. I remember the ghostly figures of nearby residents politely standing outside of the living room windows also watching this amazing combination of radio and a moving picture.

Cows and Sheep

Even after Dad left farming to become a wage-earner, he kept one of his cows. She was a docile orange/red and white spotted cow, whom we simply called “the Guernsey.” Every morning and evening, before and after work, Dad would walk to the end of Second Street and down into the pasture with a milk bucket and stool, followed by several of us kids after school, and a cat or two. Our job was to use small thin tree limbs to switch at any flies pestering the cow. The cow produced enough milk to share not only with the cats but with neighbors. Mom turned the cream into butter, using a wooden paddle churn that was operated by turning a handle. Although we children enjoyed these gifts from our cow, the best part of all was the pastureland itself, an acreage of thick green grass which we could romp in and explore as we pleased. 

Click on image to enlarge.

For awhile, Dad also pastured a couple of sheep in our large expansive front yard. I’m not sure what he intended to do with the sheep. Maybe he was channeling his Romanian father’s occupation as a sheep farmer before coming to America. In any case, the sheep were useful in keeping the grass and weeds trimmed.

The Slag Dump

Wheatland Flats: Third Street

Hot slag pours from smelter. (Wikipedia Commons)

“They’re pouring the slag!” was the call to run outside and watch one of the most spectacular night-time sights of our childhood. Along the top ridge of a hill about a half-mile from our house, a switcher engine pulled a string of huge pots into place. Then each pot would tilt two by two, pouring parallel rivers of hot molten slag down the slope. The slag was the byproduct of steelmaking by the local steel mill and in those days was discarded as waste. We marveled at the brilliant orange-yellow-red colors of the slag lighting up the sky, as thousands of sparks and huge plumes of smoke rose upward, accompanied by the odor of burning metal. It was as thrilling an event as any fireworks display and it occurred for our viewing pleasure several times a month.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, AZ. October 2016.


See Also:
WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street
WHEATLAND FLATS III: Grade School & Pony Pictures
WHEATLAND FLATS IV: Once Upon A Time


RITZ THEATER I

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

For this month’s blog, let’s go to the movies again! When the request went out for remembrances of Sharpsville, PA, in the 1950s-60s, three stories about the Ritz Theater were submitted, evidently a popular memory for us old-timers. And no wonder! What glamor, high jinks and an array of adventures awaited us on that silver screen!


RITZ THEATER I

Many years have passed since the curtains closed on the stage of the Ritz Theater in Sharpsville for the last time after an afternoon or evening of entertainment, but the memories live on.

sharpsville_movie-reel-popcorn-3dAlthough the Hollywood films shown by this little theater were mostly low-budget, they were so much a part of our lives during the 1950s and 1960s that they likely formed some of the values we hold today. Of course, we had other choices of motion picture venues nearby, such as the Reynolds Drive-In Theatre in rural Transfer, PA, and the several larger and fancier downtown Sharon, PA, theaters which ran premieres and first-run movies. However, the Ritz was just around the corner from our house and much cheaper to attend.

The Original Owners

Charles E. Gable (1859-1945) was said to be the original owner of the Ritz. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, Charles, age 60, and his wife Florence Archer Gable (1861-1932) lived in the “Hotel Gable” on Railroad Street, Sharon, PA, and his occupation was theater owner. The theater at that time may have been the Gable Theater located in either Sharon or Farrell, PA. (Charles and Florence Gable graves are in Oakwood Cemetery, the same place where Julia and Frank Buhl are buried, near Thornton Hall in Sharon.)

Charles E. Gable (1859-1945)

Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960) submitted this newspaper clipping, from The Sharon Herald, 07 August 1942:

Birthdays Today: Charles E. Gable

Usually active at the age of 83 is Mr. Gable, proprietor of the Ritz Theater, Sharpsville, whose birthday is on this date. A Herald photographer caught him in a hearty laugh on his anniversary. Mr. Gable is one of the best-known men in the county, having been actively identified with the growth of the Shenango Valley. For many years he operated the Gable Hotel, which had a national reputation for the excellence of its meals.

The Ritz was described as “new” in the following excerpt of a speech given by Peter Joyce (owner of the former Isaly’s Dairy located on Third and Main streets) to the Sharpsville Service Club in 1979. In honor of Dr. Nelson Bailey, Mr. Joyce reminisced about Sharpsville in the 1920s:

 …[L]et’s wander back 56 years and look at the Sharpsville of that time and some of the people who have gone to their reward, whom Dr. Bailey first met. …Then, on down to First Street to the new Ritz Theatre with Charles Gable and his diamond rings and a powerful hoarse voice which we heard later in his famous nephew, Clark Gable….  http://www.sharpsvillehistorical.com/documents/Reminiscences.pdf

The following blurb in the September-December 1936 issue of The Film Daily (Vol. 70) also mentions “C.E. Gable” in connection with the Ritz in Sharpsville (and states a different relationship with Clark):

Sharpsville, Pa.— C. E. Gable, operator of the Ritz Theater here and nephew of Clark Gable, is leaving for Florida next week on his annual winter vacation.  http://archive.org/stream/filmdailyvolume770newy/filmdailyvolume770newy_djvu.txt

According to my brother, Mike Angel, “I believe a Mr. Belonax owned, or at least managed, the theater during our time period [1950s]. Cost for a Saturday matinee was 20 cents and if you didn’t have enough money Mr. Belonax would let you in anyway.” [Helen Belonax owned and operated a beauty salon a few doors down from the theater.]

If Mr. Belonax did indeed purchase the Ritz, he may have done so by responding to this classified ad “for Business Opportunities” in The Pittsburgh Press, April 16, 1950:

Ritz Theater, Sharpsville, Pa.
370 seats, drawing population 10 to 12 thousand, no competition, always a money maker.
Reason for selling: To settle Estate. Address: Trustee, 919 Koppers Bldg. Pittsburgh 19, Pa.

Sharpsville Area Historical Society (SAHS)

The March 2013 issue of the SAHS Newsletter may provide answers to some of the questions about the theater’s origins:

The Ritz Theatre opened June 1924, in time for Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary. It was then described as modern, up-to-date in every way, and absolutely fireproof. The building included two storefronts, initially occupied by Harry Solomon’s confectionary and Mrs. Carnes’ millinery. The owner was Charles Gable, noted locally as the uncle of Clark Gable; he also owned the Gable Theater in Sharon. Remembered for “his diamond rings and a powerful hoarse voice,” Gable operated the theatre until 1940 when ill health forced him to turn over management to Andy Seamon. Seamon then purchased the movie house from Gable’s estate in 1950 and ran it until the about 1965. The Ritz was fondly remembered for its Saturday matinee serials…..

Exterior of the Ritz Theater

The Ritz, located in a one-story brick building on the corner of First and Main streets was one of many neighborhood movie theaters that once existed in towns and cities across the United States. Only a few have managed to still be in operation, such as another Ritz Theater, also on Main Street, that I attended while living in Muncy, PA, in the early 1980s.

We kids enjoyed several evening and matinee movies a week at our little neighborhood movie theater. And we did so without adult supervision. At the time I didn’t wonder why our parents would let us attend so often, but now I think it may have been a convenient, sure, and safe way to get us out of their hair for a few hours.

I believe there was a red neon sign, indicating “RITZ,” above the front of the theater that was lit up when the theater was open for business. Decorating the facade of the Ritz’s portico were colorful posters promoting current and upcoming feature films and about eight stills of the movie that was currently playing. The ticket booth with its glass window was inside the east wall of the portico to the right of the doors.

sharpsville_movie-ticket

Entering the Ritz Theater

After purchasing a ticket, we walked through the entrance doors and, if we had an extra nickel, we would make a stop at the candy machine in the foyer and select our favorite candy, such as a box of Raisinets, JujyFruits, Good & Plenty, Mike & Ike, Milk Duds, Sugar Babies, or Dots. Or maybe a 5th Avenue or Butterfinger candy bar. Popcorn must have been available as well, perhaps at the ticket window, because to this day, the odor of popcorn reminds me of the cozy dark interior of the Ritz.

The Ritz Theater featured a narrow inner lobby which ran behind the auditorium seats. The wall that separated the inner lobby and the seating area was short enough in height to allow a patron to see the screen and available seats before entering the auditorium. There were two aisles dividing the three seating sections on a slightly inclined floor, a stage with curtains, and emergency exits on either side. The Ritz did not have a balcony but I vaguely remember box seats above the main seating area on each side of the stage. If they did exist, they were likely for decoration only, as I don’t recall that the box seats were ever used by patrons.

The Ritz Theater Staff

There were two brothers who worked as ushers. Their duties included leading us to our seats with a flashlight if the movie had already begun, monitoring the projection quality of the film, and making sure the audience behaved.

Irene Caldwell O’Neill wrote, “I have the name of the man who was employed as the projectionist/manager and some people think he may have been the purchaser when Mr. Gable died. The projectionist’s name was Andrew P. Semon (sic), who lived on Ridge Avenue. His daughter helped him at the theater in the later years.” (See excerpt from the SAHS Newsletter above.)

Movies at the Ritz

At the start of the movie, the curtains would dramatically part from the middle, probably another job for the ushers. Then we were treated to several “shorts,” such as a cartoon, travelogue, an installment of the latest adventure serial (with a “cliffhanger” ending), a newsreel, and/or a comedy. I remember how embarrassed we girls were as boys hooted and hollered whenever a jungle travel film showed bare-breasted “native” women. James A. FitzPatrick’s Traveltalk Film travelogues, which served to open our eyes to the world, always ended with a sunset and the narrator’s voice intoning this goodbye: “And as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we bid a reluctant farewell to…” whatever land the film was covering.

Finally, it was time for the main feature, which always began with what seemed to be an interminable list of all the credits. At first, the Hollywood films featured old-fashioned middle-class conformity and character idealization in the form of westerns, musicals, detective stories, and comedies. I dutifully listed in my 1950s diaries each film I saw, and still recall my favorites, such as the comedy series starring the Bowery Boys, as well as “Destination Moon,” “Son of Paleface,” “King Solomon’s Mines,” “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and the re-release of “Gone with the Wind.” Also, many of the movies were now in the saturated hues of Technicolor, instead of the all black-and-white films of earlier years.

By the latter part of the 1950s, Hollywood began realizing that the younger generation was interested in more realistic representations of their lives. Gradually we were treated to the exciting and sexy actions of anti-heroes such as Marlon Brando and James Dean and anti-heroines such as Bette Davis, Kim Novak, and Marilyn Monroe. My friend was a big fan of James Dean, filling a scrapbook with his pictures, and mourning, along with many other teenage fans, his untimely death in an automobile accident. The first movie to feature rock ‘n’ roll music, “Blackboard Jungle,” with its energizing “Rock Around the Clock” theme song, was a sort of awakening to me that kids my age were a group to be reckoned with.

At the finish of each film or short subject, two large words in the center of the screen informed us that the film had reached “The End.” Once outside again, I would enjoy studying the publicity stills to see if I recognized the scenes depicted.

Ritz Theater Advertising Card

The Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter, dated July 2016, displays the image of a Ritz Theater advertising card. It lists the titles and stars of movies scheduled to be shown for the month of February 1952.

Four of the 18 films were in Technicolor, the others were in black-and-white, and all were second-run, having been released the year before. The titles changed every two days, except on Saturday when they were one-day-only. There were double features on one of the Saturdays and in a Thursday-Friday show. This was the type of schedule that was in place during my Ritz days in the early 1950s, but I don’t remember advertising cards. They certainly would have been handy!

Other Ritz Memories

Mike recalls:

Between the theater and the beauty salon was a 2′ x 3′ grate over the sidewalk that covered an access to the basement or crawl space beneath the building. While waiting for the next movie, kids would play around the grate with money in hand to buy popcorn or candy and accidentally drop coins in the grate. Joe Wasley and I would always look through the grate’s iron bars to see if there was any change in the void. The grate had a lock on it and we couldn’t open it to retrieve the lost change, so Joe and I would put chewing gum on an end of a long stick and spear the coins through the iron bars. The coins would stick to the gum. There was always loose change to be had.

I remember the Christmas parties put on by some civic organization. They would give you a popcorn ball and a big bag of hardtack candy. Santa was always there. What a great time!!!

On one of my movie visits, there was a short fundraising film for the March of Dimes foundation’s fight against polio, a dreaded and widespread disease before the Salk vaccine was developed. At the end of the film, the lights were turned on and the ushers passed around collection cans for small donations from the patrons. Meanwhile, the song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” played which seemed to me a moving but perhaps an unfortunate choice.

The End of the Ritz

As more and more families bought television sets, Hollywood tried to beat out TV’s competition with technical innovations such as wide screens, 3-D movies, and CinemaScope. In 1952, my family drove to Pittsburgh to see “This is Cinerama,” a travelogue with a thrilling roller coaster ride that was projected on screens that seemed to surround the viewer. Even at the Ritz, we watched CinemaScope movies, such as “Prince Valiant,” and donned cardboard-and-plastic eyeglasses to watch “Charge at Feather River” and other 3-D movies. By June 1954, the entrance price had increased to 50 cents to keep up with rising costs.

However, changes in film distribution and the growing popularity of television were factors that led to the eventual decline of the Ritz and hundreds of other small movie theaters.

According to the March 2013 Newsletter for the Sharpsville Area Historical Society:

The long-vacant building collapsed July 11, 1995. Its foundation stands next to Jerry’s Tavern (the former Glen-Rose) on Main Street.

Sadly, a vacant lot now exists where this once lively showplace stood, but we movie-goers of the ’50s and ’60s can still see those images and performers, hear their words and songs, and smell the popcorn, as they play out in our fond recollections of the Ritz Theater.

sharpsville_movie_the-end

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with contributions from Michael Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY,
Irene Caldwell O’Neill, Escondido, CA (SHS 1960),
and Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA; April 2012


See Also:

Dr. Bailey’s Sharpsville 1920s, Part I
Dr. Bailey’s Sharpsville 1920, Part II
Ritz Theater II by Irene Caldwell O’Neill
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson
Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered 
by Gail Nitch Hanes