Small Town Memories

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

Tag: philanthropy

PIERCE MANSION

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

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


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A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Here’s an extra story this month to honor the season
and wish you contented, peaceful, and charitable holidays. 

christmas-tree-pixabayWhat’s Christmas without a fir tree festooned with garlands and shiny ornaments? This was the approach my brother Mike and I decided to use as we gathered enough courage to ask Dad for that essential icon of the season. After all, it was Christmas Eve and we didn’t yet have a Christmas tree.

We knew Dad appreciated the traditions of Christmas, but only simple non-commercial ones: Handmade decorations on a tree brought in from the woods and Mom’s Christmas dinner. And he always happily greeted the annual visit of a Sharpsville Service Club Santa Claus. But we weren’t sure where a store-bought Christmas tree would fit into his thinking.

Dad owned and operated a print shop that occupied the first floor of our home on North Second Street in Sharpsville, PA. He loved that shop, took pride in the good business he had established, and worked hard at it day and night. So when we came to him with our request for a tree, he was, as usual, busy feeding paper into the noisy printing press, printing a last-minute order and trying to meet a deadline that allowed no time to tend to the details of Christmas. As the press continued its rhythmic clatter, he reached into his pocket and handed us two dollar bills, challenging in his tough-love way, “Okay, then. Go get yourselves a tree.”

We must have known the very place we could buy a tree and perhaps even proposed it to Dad. There was a shop on West Ridge Avenue, across from the then Sharpsville Junior-Senior High School, that had several Christmas trees on display outside its front door. I don’t recall what sort of business it was, possibly one that sold televisions. Snow must have been on the ground, as my brother brought his Flexible Flyer sled with us, as we trudged up the steep and icy Second Street hill to the store.

sharpsvillle_sledding-pixabayWe selected the perfect tree, then asked a young salesman if we could purchase it with our two dollars. He hesitated, then told us to wait a moment while he went inside the store. He returned, saying “Sure, you can buy one!” We suspected that he had received permission from his boss to sell the tree to us two little kids at a very reduced price.

We hauled our precious tree home on the sled, carried it up the steps to our home, and set it up in the living room. The family spent Christmas Eve decorating it with our collection of mostly homemade (of course) decorations and enjoyed Mom’s delicious home-cooked Christmas dinner the next day.

It’s been 60-plus years since we experienced that good-hearted gesture by the staff person and the storekeeper. I’ve always wished I could thank the two of them for enabling us to have a tree, but for more than that. It was a simple act of kindness that defined for us the essence of Christmas, the sort of Christmas spirit that Dad was trying to teach us.

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS), Goodyear, AZ, 2015.

Read More Wintertime Stories Here:

THE BIG SNOW OF 1950

THE BIG SNOW OF 1950: Saving the Trumps

A SHARPSVILLE CHRISTMAS

SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

SNAPPING THE WHIP At Buhl Park

A STORY ABOUT SNOW

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


BUHL PARK II: Clubs and Library

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

In the Sharpsville of my youth, Memorial Day meant the end of the school year (by a day or two), a parade down Main Street, and best of all the opening of the swimming pool at Buhl Park. That was around 60 years ago. According to the Mercer County Historical Society, this year (2015) is the 100th anniversary of Buhl Park.

Buhl Park and other Buhl legacies are popular subjects when it comes to Sharpsville memories. Here is the second story about Buhl Park written by Irene Caldwell O’Neill, SHS 1960.


Buhl Park II: Clubs and Libraries

Buhl Farm Park

I couldn’t write about my childhood in Sharpsville without mentioning Buhl Park, also known as Buhl Farm. It was once owned by the local philanthropic couple, Frank and Julia Buhl, who had donated all 300 acres to the community in 1914 to be used as a park.

When I was young my favorite feature was the park’s huge swimming pool, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I and my siblings, as well as most young white people in the valley, went there almost every summer day to escape the sweltering Pennsylvania heat. (I remember that the African-Americans or “Negro” residents were allowed to use the pool only one day a year, the day before it was drained for the winter.)

A big white colonnaded building, called the Casino dominated the park and was the focus of a lot of childhood activities. The pool was located on the building’s right while on its left and continuing around the back was the picturesque Lake Julia, itself covering eleven acres. Most winters Lake Julia froze deeply enough to provide ice skating and the Casino floors were covered over with rough wood planking so we could wear our skates inside and purchase hot chocolate. We played crack-the-whip and ice tag until our ankles couldn’t bear any more.

In the summer we would lie on the adjacent sidewalk and look down into the lake’s green and murky depths studying the moss, frogs, and fish. The Caldwell kids weren’t the only children to take home tin cans or glass jars filled with lake wildlife.

My mother’s family, the descendants of Robert and Jessie Cline Black, held a few of their family reunions at one or another of the park’s covered picnic shelters. While the children would go off to the pool, one of the playgrounds, or chase through the gardens, our dads had plenty of space for a ball game and the women would sit and talk, relaxing after all the meal preparations and planning done to get their families there.

My sister Judy and I, hoping to become respectable tennis players, chased our balls around one of the tennis courts a few times. The courts were in a sad way in the mid-1950s but usable enough for our poor game.

When my oldest sister, Bobbi, married in 1958, some of her wedding photographs were taken in the sunken garden at the park. This was a common practice at the time and I think it would be interesting to know how many years are covered in Buhl Park wedding photos.

So much has been written about the park’s Dum-Dum Golf Course that I won’t be redundant. All the same, I must mention that it was fun to walk across and that many of my male classmates caddied there in mild weather.

Buhl Clubs

My brother and other boys in the Shenango Valley attended the Boys’ Buhl Club while I went to the one Julia Buhl donated for the girls in 1936, both located in downtown Sharon. I took tap dance and ballet lessons there, as well as simply enjoying the well-equipped facility. It had a kitchen (presumably for culinary lessons), bowling alley, and a comfortable, posh in fact compared to what I was used to, common room where my cousin and I met to play with the stock of board games, jacks, and Pick-Up-Stix.

A shower room was located off the gymnasium and for a girl who had only taken baths this was a heavenly experience. I’d be ashamed to admit how long I stood under that blissful hot water. The girls’ building closed in 1987 having consolidated with the boys’ club. Sad, but probably necessary, as the endowments were almost gone.

Buhl Library

The Buhl Library (courtesy of the same pair) was located above and in the same building as the boys’ club. I frequently rode the bus (for ten cents) from Sharpsville to Sharon, spent time at the girls’ club and then visited the library where I checked out the maximum number of books I could carry home. If my cousin met me at the club we often walked up State Street to her house on the corner of Baker Avenue. I could get a ride home from there with Dad on his way from work or take another city bus.

-Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, May 2013


To this day, Buhl Park, a member of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, serves as an “exceptional recreational, ecological, and scenic” area for the enjoyment of the community. Read more about the park’s history and its current activities here

 Click on map to enlarge image.
Current map of Buhl Farm Park. Source: http://www.buhlfarmpark.com

Current map of Buhl Farm Park. Source: http://www.buhlfarmpark.com


See Also:

BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground
BUHL CLUB FOR GIRLS
SNAPPING THE WHIP At Buhl Park


BUHL CLUB FOR GIRLS

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

sharpsville_image_costume

At ten years old I was an uncoordinated and bashful kid, but there I was in 1950, performing with a tap-dancing group of girls of the same age on stage before an audience of mostly proud parents. As the pianist played John Philip Sousa’s march, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” we tapped our feet and twirled tiny batons in approximate unison.

Our costumes, sewn by our mothers, were sleeveless white piqué dresses with short circular skirts. I suppose the horizontal rows of red rickrack across our chests were meant to suggest the braiding on military band uniforms.

We were the youngest of several tap-dancing groups, assembled according to the age or skill of the dancers, and this recital completed my first year of dancing lessons at the Julia Buhl Girls’ Club in Sharon, Pennsylvania.

During the early part of the twentieth century, Frank H. Buhl and his wife, Julia Forker Buhl, used much of their fortune from Sharon’s steel industry – Buhl Steel Co., Sharon Steel Castings, and Sharon Steel – to provide recreational and health facilities for their community. Frank Buhl must have been highly influenced by his father, also a steel magnate, who had owned the Sharon Iron Works and founded the Christian H. Buhl Hospital. Among Frank and Julia Buhls’ many gifts to the area were the F.H. Buhl Club, the F.H. Buhl Farm, and support of a free public library and his father’s namesake hospital. A trust was established and under supervision of the F.H. Buhl trustees, continued supporting their gifts.

After Frank Buhl’s death in 1918, Julia Buhl continued giving to charitable causes. By the mid-1930s, she opened a girls’ club which I remember as a tall red-brick building just off State Street, the street on which their mansion is still located.

It was at the Buhl Club, as we called it, that my short-lived dancing career began. We youngsters seemed to have free reign of the several floors of activities. After our tap lessons in the dance studio, my friends and I could choose to read books in the small library, play billiards, try our hand at duckpin bowling, or pound out a musical piece on the piano in the music room. The facility’s design apparently mirrored the F.H. Buhl Club that opened in 1903 for men, having held the same types of offerings. In fact, when the girls’ club closed in 1987, it was merged with the F.H. Buhl Club, a facility that exists to this day for the enjoyment of both male and female members. (Source of historical description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_H._Buhl_Mansion accessed 11-June-2014.)

sharpsville_image_tapshoesTo travel the few miles to the club from our homes in Sharpsville, we girls took the public bus, our black patent leather tap shoes dangling by their grosgrain ribbon ties from our hands. I don’t recall whether we paid dues for the dance lessons or club membership, but we did need a coin or two for the bus.

I attended lessons at the girls’ Buhl Club for four years, from 1950 to 1954. I remember dancing at subsequent recitals to “The Hot Canary,” “Tea for Two,” and “The Blue Tango” in costumes ranging from a brown and yellow canary outfit to a blue blouse and skirt ensemble.

As my eyesight dimmed, a result of undiagnosed myopia, I struggled to learn the new steps that were introduced at each session. The teachers were patient, sometimes singling me out to demonstrate the steps to me very carefully, probably assuming I was mentally challenged rather than visually so.

Regardless of my shortcomings, hanging out at the Buhl Club was among the best experiences of my youth. Because of the Buhls’ generosity and concern for others, I gained independence, confidence, and social skills in a grand old building set aside just for us girls.

–Ann Angel-Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Phoenix, AZ, June 2014.


See Also:
BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground
BUHL PARK II: Clubs & Library
SNAPPING THE WHIP at Buhl Park


BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

A return visit to Julia Lake and the Casino at Buhl Farm Park in 1993
by Ann and daughter, Adrian.
[Click on image to enlarge.]

“This is just like Germany!” was a phrase we often heard from my father as we took a Sunday drive through Buhl Farm in the 1950s.

My brothers and I just rolled our eyes at the repetition of our dad’s words, but I realize now, after having visited Germany in my later years, that the park indeed resembled the German landscape: clean, green, and manicured. And I also realize now that it hadn’t been very many years since my father had lived in Germany as a soldier during World War II. Serving in the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps, he had seen cities destroyed by bombs, but he also drove many times on the autobahn through a pristine and verdant countryside.

At that time, the park was still young, having been in existence around 35 years. The idea for a park began when Frank H. Buhl, with his steel industry earnings, began purchasing land in Hickory Township in the early 1900s. By 1914 Mr. Buhl, working closely with landscape professionals, oversaw the creation of a 300-acre recreational park for the local community. It was designed with a four-mile-long roadway that wound through the gently rolling wooded terrain, connecting all the features of the park, such as tennis courts, picnic pavilions, a golf course, an artificial lake and casino, a children’s playground, and an athletic field.

Besides detouring through the Park on Sunday drives, our family would sometimes select its beautiful setting as background for photos on special occasions. The Kodachrome slides my father took of us are fading now, but there we were in our Sunday best on Easter Day 1956. Standing on the Park’s thick green grass, squinting in the bright springtime sunlight, are my grandmother, mother and me posing proudly in our pastel-colored Easter hats and dresses and my two younger brothers squirming in their Sunday suits. Another time, a friend of the family and camera hobbyist took over a dozen slides of me as a young girl in the flower garden that was named after Frank Buhl’s wife, Julia (and added to the park in her memory by her family and friends in 1936).

On summer days with little else to do, we kids often visited the Park, willing to walk or bike the almost two miles in the hot sun up the Seventh Street hill, because at the end of this trek were the wonders of a day spent at the Park on our own.

What freedom we enjoyed, exploring the woods, riding the ponies, swimming in the (cold!) aqua-colored waters of the pool, attempting to hit a ball at least once back and forth on the tennis court, or romping about in the flower garden! And we didn’t have to pay a dime to enjoy any of the Park’s many offerings!

I still remember the skunk cabbage that grew in a swampy area near the swimming pool (its large broad leaves had a putrid smell when crushed), the rough cement of the swimming pool, and the Casino with its changing rooms, showers, and a foot bath we walked through before entering the pool.

With the help of an endowment, continued contributions from the Buhl family and local citizens, and government grants, the Buhl Farm Park has been maintained, updated, and improved upon throughout its one hundred years of existence. In this way, the Park has existed to this day as a vibrant activity center for the community.

For a map and other memories of Buhl Farm Park, click here.

Source of historical information: http://www.buhlfarmpark.com/bfp/buhl-legacy and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_H._Buhl_Mansion (accessed 30 June 2014).

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, 30 June 2014.


See Also:

BUHL PARK II: Clubs & Library
BUHL CLUB FOR GIRLS
SNAPPING THE WHIP At Buhl Park