Small Town Memories

Exploring the history of SHENANGO VALLEY, PA, one story at a time.

Tag: Shenango River

THE TWO GEORGE MAHANEYS: Part I

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

There are many references to George Mahaney throughout “Small Town Memories” but did you know that there were two of them … and how much this father and son contributed, in their own way, to the betterment of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania?

Even though they were not technically Sr. and Jr., they were often referred to as such, according to Ralph C. Mehler II, board member of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society. However, in the Mehler family (George Sr. was Ralph Mehler’s great-great-uncle) and perhaps more widely, they were referred to as “old George” and “young George.”

The following is the story about “Old” George. Part II, covering “Young” George who originated Sharpsville’s much-loved Santa Claus project, will be covered in a later blog.


NOTE: For reasons only known to WordPress, many Comments are missing from the posts on “Small Town Memories.” Comments submitted by readers have not only been encouraging to the blog authors but many have also added additional – and valuable – bits of history to the story of Sharpsville, PA, and the surrounding area. However, they are not lost. All the blogs and their Comments were copied to Google Documents as backups as they were published. The Comments can now be found on this site’s page titled *ARCHIVE: Comments.* Just click on the link in the menu across the top of any page (under the site’s title) to see the list. Meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to send us your Comments going forward. If appropriate, they too will be added to the Archive list so we won’t miss a one.


“OLD” GEORGE D. MAHANEY

GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Starting Out

Old George, whose full name was George Dennis Mahaney (1878-1966), began his working life at a young age engaged in various small endeavors but eventually became a five-time Burgess of Sharpsville, father of the Shenango Dam, and known as “Mr. Sharpsville.” 

[George Mahaney, article and photo, The Sharon (PA) Telegraph, June 7, 1924, page 9.]

At age 13, planning to be a future banker, Mahaney started at the bottom rung, cleaning floors and polishing brass in a bank. Soon, disillusioned by what he saw as a “tough game” of banking, he moved from there to paperboy, delivering the Pittsburgh morning paper to Sharpsville subscribers, then driving a horse and wagon for the Boyle and Fitzmaurice grocery store in Sharon, PA. After being laid off from his driver job, he worked unloading coke from cars at the Spearman blast furnace. That job proved to be too strenuous and he moved on to performing odd jobs for the streetcar line extension workers.

Nick Mehler, Mahaney’s brother-in-law and a popular barber in town, gave Mahaney his first big break by offering to teach him the barber trade. After four years as an apprentice, lathering faces and, again, sweeping floors, Mahaney became an official barber. But he still hadn’t settled down. 

Mahaney’s next ventures involved working for several grocery companies, gaining a solid knowledge of business along the way. After co-owning a ready-to-wear store in Conneaut, Ohio, for a year, he then took over the Knapp Hotel on Walnut Street, Sharpsville, from his mother-in-law, Anna Knapp in exchange for paying off the debts left behind by her husband, Michael Knapp. When Prohibition began in 1920, causing the hotel to lose business, Mahaney entered the men’s clothing and furnishing business.

GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Mahaney’s Clothing Store

[Mahaney’s, a men’s clothing store. 1917-early 1970s, Sharpsville, PA. Source: Donna DeJulia.]

It was in 1913 when George Mahaney and Joseph McGowan had purchased a men’s haberdashery on Walnut Street from the Cohen Brothers. McGowan was in charge until 1917 when the store was moved a few doors north to the former Knapp Hotel cafe and office and became the Mahaney’s Clothing Store on the northwest corner of Walnut and Main Streets that some of us can still remember. When it was torn down in the early 1970s during urban renewal, it was probably the oldest men’s clothing store in Sharpsville. 

GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Early Civic Projects

The June 1924 issue of The Sharon (PA) Telegraph, celebrating Sharpsville’s Golden Jubilee (1874-1924), told much of this story about “Old” George. It goes on to describe two of Mahaney’s most impressive and well-known legacies: his involvement in the areas of civics and sports in Sharpsville.

According to the Telegraph article, he was a “valuable asset” in the printing of the old Sharpsville Advertiser (which existed from 1870 to 1919). “He and other boys used to earn 50 cents per day for turning the old hand press when the weekly was being printed.”

During World War I, Mahaney did his part by chairing Sharpsville’s Red Cross and visiting camps where Sharpsville soldiers were stationed. On Christmas Day 1919, at the close of the war, Mahaney was presented with a gold watch from the ex-soldiers of the community. 

As of 1924, Mahaney was largely responsible for the success of Sharpsville’s Golden Anniversary celebrations. He was an active member of the Sharpsville Improvement Board and a director of the Automobile Club. At one time, he was a representative of The Sharon Telegraph, selling and delivering the newspaper in Sharpsville.

GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Sports Enthusiast

Rated in 1924 by the Telegraph as “the best baseball umpire in Western Pennsylvania,” Mahaney is described as pursuing his hobby of Sharpsville area sports with enthusiasm and dedication. According to The Sharon Telegraph:

Mahaney was for several years president of the Sharon team in the O. and P. League and a director of the league. In those days, when the Shenango Valley supported a baseball team, Mahaney was the official umpire at all games.

He started umpiring when a “kid” in Sharpsville and records show his services were in demand when the furnace company teams clashed back in 1898. Mahaney at that time was only 20. He carried a bat in addition to a mask, for arguments at that time meant business and the umpire was given the undisputed right to protect himself.

Mahaney has always been a booster for Sharpsville athletics, especially when the high school teams are concerned. Since Sharpsville has awakened from its apparent lethargy in high school athletics and stepped to the foreground, ranking today as one of the leading schools in the county in athletics, George Mahaney has been a regular attendant at all games and his advice has helped the players on more than one occasion.

The Sharon (PA) Telegraph, June 7, 1924, p. 9

His son, “Young” George, was a prominent member of the baseball and basketball teams during his four years in high school. (George F. Mahaney will be the subject of a later blog.) 

GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Later Civic Projects

But Mahaney’s accomplishments didn’t end in those early days. Those for which George D. Mahaney is most renowned were achieved since the 1920s. His involvement in most of the civic, athletic and veterans’ organizations in the area earned him the Shenango Valley Junior Chamber of Commerce’s “Man of the Year” award in 1954. According to his obituary in The Sharon Herald, January 26, 1966, pp. 1-2,

A member of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Sharpsville, Mr. Mahaney included among his membership associations the Sharpsville Service Club, Sharpsville Volunteer Fire Department, Merchants and Businessmen’s Association and the Knights of Columbus. He was named to the Mercer County Housing Authority in 1946.

The Sharon Herald, January 26, 1966, pp. 1-2

In 1953 Sharpsville’s town park was named Mahaney Park by the Bureau Council in honor of his long-time service as Burgess of Sharpsville. Located on the southeast corner of Shenango and Walnut streets, the park was laid out in 1916. (It currently features an ingot mold that was one of the last cast in Sharpsville in 2001, a reminder that Sharpsville was once the nation’s ingot mold capital.)

Mahaney’s untiring lobbying for the construction of the Shenango River Reservoir (also known as the Shenango Dam) was recognized by the Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1959. Built between 1963 and 1965, the dam was designed to control the periodic flooding of the Shenango River that affected Sharpsville and more so Sharon and Wheatland. An extra benefit of the Reservoir was a recreation area which includes the Mahaney Outflow Recreation Day Use Area, featuring a disc golf course and the Mahaney Access Boat Ramp.

[Photographs above and below are courtesy of the
Sharpsville Area Historical Society]

GEORGE D. MAHANEY: Family Background

[George D. Mahaney as Burgess of Sharpsville, PA, sitting at his desk in the Borough Building. Undated photograph]

George D. Mahaney was born in Pennsylvania on January 15, 1878. He was the son of D. G. Mahaney, a locomotive engineer who, for many years, was a resident of Erie. 

When Mahaney was 3 years old (c. 1881), he moved with the family to Sharpsville when the town was merely a station stop and over two decades before its streets were paved. The Telegraph lists the school he attended as “the old Second Ward school.”

The record for County Marriages in Pennsylvania lists the marriage of George Mahaney, a merchant in Conneaut, Ohio, to Kathryn M. Knapp (1880-1955) on May 6, 1903.

The 1930 U.S. Census records the Mahaney family as living on Walnut Street in Sharpsville and consisting of George, a clothing merchant, his wife Katheryn (Knapp) Mahaney, and two sons, George F. Mahaney, age 22, and John, age 19. 

After his first wife died in 1955, he married Rose Havlak on June 11, 1959.

George Dennis Mahaney died in January 1966. Three brothers and two sisters preceded him in death. He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Hermitage, PA. His widow survived with two sons, both attorneys, George F., and John K.; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. (Source: “Geo. Mahaney Dies: ‘Father’ of Reservoir,” The Sharon Herald, January 26, 1966, pp. 1-2.)

See Also:
The Two George Mahaneys Part II (“Young” George F.)
Walnut Street Businesses III
Welch House: Early History

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ,
with assistance from Ralph C. Mehler II (SHS 1980).


Rise of the GOLDEN DAWN

by Eric Bombeck

By Eric Bombeck

I recently had a chance to sit down with Lou Epstein, whose grandfather Nathan Rosenblum founded Golden Dawn Foods. Lou resides in Sharon, Pennsylvania, with his wife. This is his family’s story…in search of the American Dream.

Nathan Rosenblum. Came to America from Lithuanian at age 18 in the 1890s, peddled groceries, then founded Golden Dawn Foods.

In the late 1800s, Lithuania was in a time of unrest. The Russian government was impinging on the freedom of the Lithuanian: The Catholic church was under attack and the printing of anything in the Lithuanian language was banned. America, however, was becoming a shining city on a hill. Immigrants flocked into Ellis Island by the millions.

Around 1890 Nathan Rosenblum left Lithuania to come to Sharon. The iron industry in the valley was booming and jobs were plentiful. Nathan soon realized that there were small food markets all over town, but what about the people who were too far away to walk to them? There were no limitations on what you could do in America and Nathan decided he would be a peddler.

Starting with a horse and cart he would go to outlying areas of Sharon to sell fruit and other groceries and dry goods. About this time, he married Cecilia Kamenofsky and together they opened a small store on Shenango Street downtown. He would peddle while she ran the store.

Louis Rosenblum (holding reins) and David Rosenblum, Nathan’s sons, peddling groceries before Golden Dawn Groceries was established. [Source: Tri-State Food News, Pittsburgh]

Business was great and Sharon continued to grow. Then came those fateful nights in March of 1913. The river began to rise on March 24th and didn’t reach its maximum height of almost 17 feet until March 27th. The water battered the Rosenblum’s store. Nathan and his bride lost half their merchandise and watched as the Shenango River swept their piano away.

Undeterred Nathan began to wholesale foods to small local shops and markets. By 1920 he had a four-story warehouse on Silver Street, Nathan and Cecilia had 5 children and Nathan Rosenblum and Company had a bright future.

[Click on image to enlarge.]

In 1931 Nathan passed away and the wholesaler business he built was passed down to the kids. The trio of H. David Rosenblum, Oscar Ben (Cutter) Rosenblum and Sam Epstein (their brother-in-law) were to be the senior management team. In the 1930s they began to look for a new name for the business. There was a brand of flour then named Golden Dawn and it sounded like a great name. They asked permission from the company and officially changed the name from Nathan Rosenblum and Company to Golden Dawn.

After the war, in 1946, the foundation was laid for a new warehouse on Shenango Street. (In 1960 it was expanded to 40,000 square feet.) The next big step was franchising. There were many advantages to being a franchise. Stores could get the Golden Dawn brand-name food as well share the advertising in the local paper or on the radio. (Golden Dawn was one of the first advertisers on WPIC which began airing in 1938.)

Click on image to enlarge.

Franchises were a fairly new concept but Golden Dawn did it right. They had their own meat department and their own advertising department where they printed ads or anything the stores needed. There was an accounting department and later in the 1960s they kept track of it all with an IBM department. They even built their own displays and racks. The first Golden Dawn was located where the Sharon News Agency is now, across from Daffin’s Candies. Magnatto’s and Donofrio’s were two of the earliest franchises enlisted.

There were 135 stores in the Golden Dawn family at its peak. The store owners that hit their numbers could go on trips that included Paris, Monte Carlo and Acapulco.

Shenango Valley Golden Dawn locations as of 1978. [Source: The Sharon Herald]

In the very early 80s Golden Dawn was bought out by PJ Schmitt out of Buffalo. Lou Epstein was hired on by them and worked many years after for them. Then in the early 90s they went into bankruptcy and took the Golden Dawn name with them. Many stores weren’t sure if they could legally keep the name on the front of their stores so they took down the Golden Dawn signs. Today there are ten remaining stores left from the once great Golden Dawn empire: Farrell Golden Dawn, Walt’s in Mercer, Shawkey’s in Jamestown, Zatsick’s in Conneaut Lake, all in Pennsylvania. Orlando’s has 3 up on the lake in Ohio: in Jefferson and Orwell, Ohio, and in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

Businesses like empires rise and fall. But only in a democracy like ours could a Jewish-Russian immigrant, selling fruit from a cart door-to-door, build a business that would grow into a 135-store franchise. One day the sun will set on the last Golden Dawn store, but it will continue to be true that anything is possible in this great land we live in.

— Eric Bombeck (SHS 1979),
South Pymatuning, PA, May 2019

WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

This is the first in a collection of stories about living in the flatlands of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, where a diverse community once thrived but no longer exists. One of the fiercest tornadoes in history wiped away this tiny village in 1985, but it did not erase my memories of the place where I lived as a child in the late 1940s.

In order to write about my knowledge of Wheatland in those post-WWII days, it is necessary to also include the history of my family, as the memories are intertwined. With these stories and those that others have sent me, I hope we can preserve some of Wheatland’s history before the memories are gone forever.

If you, too, lived in the flatland of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, before its destruction, I hope you will please contribute to this account.


WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street

To describe my family’s presence in Wheatland in the 1940s, I must begin with my immigrant grandfather, Augustine Anghel. Enticed by flyers advertising jobs in U.S. steel mills and on railroads, he came to America in 1906 with a plan to earn and save money, then return to his home in Romania to continue working on his sheep farm.

Instead, he stayed in the U.S. for the rest of his life (for which I am most grateful!), only returning to Romania to bring my grandmother to the “New World.” They had two children, my father (1908) and my uncle (1910). After my grandparents’ eventual divorce, my grandfather settled in western Pennsylvania, where he found comfort in the community of the many other European immigrants, as well as in the area’s lush green rolling hills so much like his native Transylvania.

In the spring of 1945, after almost a year of Army training and five months before WWII ended, my father, August Angel, was sent to Germany to serve as a member of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) Detachment.

While August was overseas, my mother, with us two children in tow, ended up on my grandfather’s doorstep needing a place to live. By that time Augustine had purchased land in Wheatland, part of which he farmed. As my father explains in his memoir:

My father had bought an old abandoned subdivision. Lots measuring only 25 feet wide had been laid out for small houses for steel mill factory workers. However, because of the 1929 Depression, the building of factories in Wheatland was no longer feasible and the real estate company declared bankruptcy. My father, a believer in owning land, bought the entire tract [75 acres] that included a good section of Wheatland.

For a while, my mother shared living quarters with my grandfather’s Romanian friends, but she soon tired of that arrangement. She had saved enough money from her wartime allotment and part of my father’s military income to purchase a two-story wood frame house on Third Street. She paid $3,000 for the house, which had running water, electricity, and an outhouse.

Third Street, Wheatland, PA, c. 1946. August Angel with cow.
[Third Street, Wheatland, PA, c. 1946. August Angel with cow.]

My earliest memories are of the Third Street house and that of my father returning from two years as a soldier, wearing his dark olive green Army uniform and carrying a huge stuffed duffel bag of the same color on his shoulder. My mother, brother and I were in the house anxiously watching for him to appear on the narrow sidewalk that led to our side porch. When we heard a familiar whistle – a certain melodic phrase that I can still hear today – we knew he was home.

Wheatland may have been a very small town (population 1,421 in 1940) but it did have a proper annual Memorial Day parade. On April 5, 1946, a month after my father’s return, The Sharon Herald printed a front-page story about my father’s participation in CIC’s capture of a Nazi leader while in Germany. From then on my dad was considered a local war hero. For several years afterward, he was invited to tell of his wartime activities before various civic organizations and to join the leaders of Wheatland’s Memorial Day parade.

The parade was complete with majorettes and a marching band, which were probably from Farrell High School since Wheatland had no high school. Also included were lines of school children, myself among them, from the Wheatland Elementary School, dressed in our Sunday best and following behind our respective teachers.

The procession ended at the American Legion (#432) Home, where Dad and others gave patriotic speeches on the porch. I recall that the Home was located on the top of a steep hillside and we would join other townspeople gathered below to listen to the speech. The frame building had several floors filled with lots of old furniture that my brother and I loved to explore while our dad called out the numbers at the Legion’s weekly Bingo games.

It seemed to us children as if we were standing for hours as we waited for the speeches and ceremonies to end. Then the best part came! We were rewarded with Dixie Cups of cool, creamy ice cream that we heartily dug into with our tiny wooden spoons.

Photos: Memorial Day Parade, Mercer and Broadway avenues,
Wheatland, PA, May 29, 1947
Click on image for larger view.
wheatland_house_front view
[Flooded house, 199 Third Street, Wheatland, PA. May 1946.]

As delighted as my parents were in owning a home, they were to find out that its location near the Shenango River was a problem. When the river overflowed its banks in the Spring of 1946 and flooded a wide area that included our house. To us kids, living in the middle of a temporary lake was quite an adventure. But to my parents it was time to move to higher ground (and to a smaller house with lower taxes), that is, Second Street. The house was sold to the Splitstones, with whom my family became friends.

In November of 2015, I received this surprising email about the Third Street house:

My name is Tom Hoovler and have I got a story for you!

I was reading through some of the stories on your blog recently and became interested in your brief side notes about your grandfather’s farm on 3rd Street in Wheatland, Pa. Your short but telling descriptions led me to one interesting but tentative conclusion, but I needed to call my mother in order to verify it.

She had always told us that her father had purchased his house at 199 3rd St. from a family named Angel. After discussing it with her, I discovered that, apparently, it was your family. Her name in those days was Agnes Audrene Splitstone and her father’s name was George. On top of it all, she says she knew you from the days that you lived on 2nd street, even though you were a few years younger than her….

Photos: Tom Hoovler and his mother, Agnes Audrene Splitstone,
Third Street, Wheatland, PA, 1959
Click on image for larger view.

I live near Buffalo, NY, now. But I lived in that house at 199 3rd St for the first three years of my life. My parents lived in that house with my grandparents for a few years after they got married. We moved to Farrell and I graduated from FHS in ’76. But I have very fond memories about that house and that property. In my growing years, I probably spent more time there than I actually did at the house I called home up over the hill in Farrell.

My grandmother died in 1970 and my grandfather went into a nursing home a couple of years later. That was when the house was sold off, and we lost track of it. Eventually, the house, as well as the entire Wheatland flats were totally destroyed in the massive tornado of 1985. Everything south of Broadway was re-zoned light industrial afterward and it was truly the end of an era.

In later emails, Tom wrote about the Shenango River floods…

[My grandparents’ house flooded] at least twice that I’m aware of, and maybe more. My mom has a photo of herself pregnant with me, sitting on the porch surrounded by water, so that would have been ’58. I only saw one of them and that was when I was four, in ’63. And that was definitely the very last time since the [Sharpsville] dam went into full operation a couple of years later.

…and about Wheatland’s Memorial Day parade:

When I was living down there, and even for a few years afterward, we used to go up and watch the parade on Memorial Day. I can remember my mother and Aunt Louise used to decorate my tricycle with red, white, and blue crepe paper. Then, we’d walk up Church St., past the old church and across all the railroad tracks to get to Broadway, where the parade would be. Great memories.

There was indeed something about living on Third Street, Wheatland, Pennsylvania, that made for happy memories. Maybe it was the post-WWII relief and hope for a better life that we children could sense in our parents. And maybe it was the semi-rural setting that allowed us to play in the surrounding fields and on the unpaved streets of this small town freely and safely, without a care in the world.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, AZ
Tom Hoovler, FHS 1976, Buffalo, NY


See Also: 

Wheatland Flats II: Second Street
Wheatland Flats III: Grade School & Pony Pictures
Wheatland Flats IV: Once Upon A Time 

TOM THUMB WEDDING & THE PHC

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

In 1946, when my brother, Michael, and I joined other children for several Saturdays at the imposing Protected Home Circle Building to practice walking down an aisle as pretend wedding participants, I don’t think we really understood what it was all about. On the day of the Tom Thumb Wedding, however, I’m sure I felt quite elegant when my mother tied matching ribbons in my hair and dressed me in a homemade pink chiffon gown adorned with flower appliques. My brother was decked out in a little tuxedo, also sewn by my mother, and probably wishing he were back home climbing trees in his front yard instead of participating in this curious ceremony.

The Protected Home Circle (PHC), which sponsored the mock wedding, was a fraternal life insurance company founded in Sharon, Pennsylvania, in 1886. The company not only provided insurance benefits to families, but also sponsored social, patriotic, and religious activities for young people as a deterrent against juvenile delinquency. I recall my brother and I, at a very young age, attending ballroom dancing classes and watching a puppet show during a Halloween costume party in that massive four-story white brick PHC Building.

But the Tom Thumb wedding was the big show. This elaborate event consisted of 52 little boys and girls none older than 12 years except the teenaged “cleric” and his two attendants. Looking at the photograph of this wedding party, taken 70 years ago, I can imagine once again the long trek down the aisle between chairs of proud parents and other relatives, in step with Richard Wagner’s “Wedding Chorus.”

In the lead would be the numerous bridesmaids in long dresses of a variety of pastel colors and styles escorted by groomsmen in black attire. Six of the bridesmaids, including a pair of twins, carried bouquets of flowers which must have ranked them higher than the rest of the bridesmaids.

Next were the tiniest of the tots. First, the flower girl wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying her little basket of petals that she scattered on the bride’s path. She would have been accompanied by the ringbearer, distinguished by his white suit and short pants, and carrying the white satin pillow with the rings.

Then the main event: the lovely bride on her “father’s” arm, the long train of her gown held by a page, another wee boy dressed similar to the ring-bearer as they walked slowly towards the officiant and groom waiting on the “altar.”

Tom Thumb Wedding sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Fall 1946.

Tom Thumb Wedding sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA, Fall 1946. Michael Angel is in top row, directly between bride and groom; Ann Angel is third from right, top row.

The bride did not hold a bouquet, at least not in the formal photograph taken afterward. Instead, it appears that she is holding a prayer book. The photograph doesn’t give much indication that we were enjoying the occasion, so maybe Mike and I were not the only ones who were just cluelessly playing our roles as we had been trained. After “vows” were exchanged and the photograph was taken, we filed out in the proper recessional order and then headed with our parents for the reception in a banquet hall.

Reception following Tom Thumb Wedding., sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA. Fall 1946. Ann & Michael Angel seated at table, 4th and 5th from left. Mother, Susie Angel in upper left corner.

Reception following Tom Thumb Wedding, sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA, Fall 1946. Ann & Michael Angel seated at table, 4th and 5th from left.

Marriage of Livinia Warren and General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), February 10, 1863, at Grace Episcopal Church, Manhattan, New York, NY.

Marriage of Livinia Warren and General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), February 10, 1863, at Grace Episcopal Church, Manhattan, New York, NY.

Tom Thumb weddings were originally inspired by one of showman P.T. Barnum’s many publicity events in the late 1800s. Barnum promoted popular museum attractions that included performances by the little person Charles Stratton, an actor whom Barnum renamed “Gen. Tom Thumb” after the English fairy tale character who was no larger than his father’s thumb. Barnum arranged and funded an actual wedding of Charles Stratton to equally minute Lavinia Warren in the winter of 1863. Their sensational wedding was a welcome diversion for the country during the dark days of the Civil War. Soon after, re-enactments of this diminutive wedding, featuring children, became popular as youth activities or fundraisers across the country and, after rising and falling in acceptance for over 150 years, continue to be held to this day.

The Protected Home Circle Building has its own story. According to John Zavinski’s article, “Fraternal Group Rose From Ashes of ’36 Sharon Fire,” in the April 2011 issue of Life & Times, an original yellow-brick castle-like building of the same height was destroyed by fire on April 21, 1936, after just 33 years of existence. Exactly a year later, on the same East State Street location on the Shenango River, a cornerstone was dedicated to the construction of today’s art deco building.

As of the early 2000s, after a change to mutual life insurance and a short-lived merger, the PHC company is no longer in operation. Today the building, now known as River Walk Place, is owned and occupied by Gilbert’s Risk Solutions, a venerable local firm that also sells insurance.

The Protected Home Circle (PHC) Building and the Shenango River, Sharon, PA. Source: http://www.tara-inn.com, accessed 2019-04-28. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Michael’s little black tuxedo also had a second life. Almost ten years after the Tom Thumb wedding, it was worn by my younger brother, Patrick, in Sharpsville’s annual Halloween parade and afterward in a costume contest that was held at Angel’s Casino. He was awarded the prize for wearing the Best Costume on Boy Under Six.

 – Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Phoenix, AZ


For more information, see:

Benjamin, Melanie. “America’s Royal Wedding: General and Mrs. Tom Thumb.” THE BLOG on Huffpost Style. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-benjamin/royal-wedding_b_850540.html (accessed 01-30-2016). Internet resource.

Benjamin, Melanie. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel. New York: Delacorte Press, 2011. Print.

Weeks, Linton. “The Wondrous World Of Tom Thumb Weddings.” http://www.npr.org/sections/theprotojournalist/2014/11/15/363787614/the-wondrous-world-of-tom-thumb-weddings. Internet resource.

Zavinski, John. “Fraternal group rose from ashes of ’36 Sharon fire.” Life & Times, April 2011, page 22. http://www.zavinski.com/columnnowthen/pages/1104-nowthen.pdf (accessed 01-30-2016). Internet resource.


PINE HOLLOW

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Wild violets. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt.

Wild violets. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt.

Memories of my childhood hikes at Pine Hollow bring to mind a thick dark forest carpeted with purple and white violets and an occasional jack-in-the-pulpit…and the time my girlfriend and I dared to go skinny-dipping in the inviting cool waters of the winding stream. Of course, we were caught in the act by my brother and his entourage who were also exploring Pine Hollow that day. The group of delighted spectators included my cousin, who has never forgotten the episode and has never let me forget it. 

Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Source: Pixabay.com

Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Source: Pixabay.com

We unofficially called the area “Pine Hollow” although it may have actually been a part of Pine Hollow Run, which is located in one of several watershed basins that supply Sharpsville with tap water. Carrying our knapsacks filled with snacks, pencils and sketching pads, and other “emergency supplies”, we would follow the narrow creek that wandered through the woods, teetering over the flowing water as we crossed on a huge decaying log, occasionally stopping to search for crawdads, minnows, interesting stones, and frogs. My brother Pat recalls that he “accompanied Mom to Pine Hollow once on an excursion to hunt mushrooms. Fond memories of that place for all of us.” 

As the sun lowered in the sky and a towering railroad trestle came into view, we sensed that we should start back home. We did so either by walking for about a mile along the Erie Railroad tracks or backtracking to the main road (Route 518) until we returned to our small-town lives in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.

pmss_image_hill house woods1

Forest view. Photo by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Irene Caldwell O’Neill, the originator of this series of Sharpsville memories, shares similar recollections of Pine Hollow during the 1940s and 1950s in the following essay.


OUR RIVER
by Irene Caldwell O’Neill

The Shenango River was always a method of transportation and the reason several towns had grown along it. Starting in the mid-1800s a steel industry flourished along the banks, bringing jobs to the area but also polluting the air and river water. In the 1950s the river didn’t look as polluted as it certainly must have been. The PCB level had yet to be measured, so locals swam in the water and ate the fish they caught without worry.

The Shenango flowed gently most of the time, curving here and there through lush farmlands and isolated forests until the series of small steel towns appeared, beginning with Greenville in the north and ending with Farrell, Sharpsville being in the middle. In each town, tall black furnace towers spewed dark smoke in long plumes that stretched for miles across the valley.

The river had once been part of the Erie Canal system and the crumbling walls of lock number 10 are an easy walk from the edge of town. My last visit to number 10 was in 1957 with D___ M____, innocently holding hands as we looked down from the tree-shaded path.

Camping at Pine Hollow

A tributary of the Shenango River flowed through an area called Pine Hollow, where thick green woods grew along sloping hills. In the summer of 1947, my family camped in those woods. For two months we lived in a large brown canvas surplus army tent and slept on folding GI cots.

Every night we cooked over an open fire, ringed with big white rocks. Mom would set her coffee pot or frying pan on a steel rack laid atop the rocks and turn out great bacon and eggs or hamburgers. I ate a lot of hot dogs speared on sharpened sticks and cooked until the blackened skin burst and juice sizzled in the flames. Or potatoes we coated with mud and buried under the firewood until done.

Beside the tent, in the tiny pool of an icy spring, Mother submerged bottles of milk, jars of butter, eggs and other perishable food. Long yellow streamers of sticky flypaper interspersed with drying towels, bathing suits and underwear hung from the rope strung from big tree to big tree around our campsite. The flies got stuck but didn’t die and those yellow ribbons seemed alive themselves, with constant buzzing and wing-flapping as the bugs tried mightily, but fruitlessly to escape. More than once my long hair got stuck as I walked by. I still shudder at that.

We bathed, swam and played in the river the whole day wearing bathing suits even to bed if they had dried. My always bare skinny legs and arms were covered with mosquito bites that I scratched until they bled, but that was better than the poison ivy rash my brother Jack had all over his body. He had only to get within a foot of the plant, which grew everywhere in those woods, to soon have a rash. Flaking layers of pink calamine lotion coated his limbs giving him a weird splotchy appearance.

On the log dining table sat canning jars full of river water and the tadpoles we’d caught. None of them ever quite made it to full frogdom. I now realize they died because we didn’t know what to feed them.

Dad worked at the railroad yard during our campout and would ride to our campground on an outward-bound train at the end of his day. We’d hear the afternoon train coming and walk toward the tracks to meet and escort him home. He’d carry the evening paper, the day’s mail and a bag of whatever he’d been told to pick up. At night we sat around the fire watching the flames and talking about our day. Sometimes Mom and Dad would tell stories about the world of their childhood while we listened intently before falling onto our cots for a sound sleep.

On Dad’s days off he joined us in the river and would swim across, back, and then against the current in the middle. He showed us how to skip stones and look for fossils in the rocks. Mother mostly hung around the campsite, seldom walking down to the water. She had never learned to swim, and, like Jack, had a major sensitivity to poison ivy, always afraid of coming near it. I hope she was reading a lot and enjoying the freedom from housework drudgery.

Hiking in Pine Hollow

We never camped in Pine Hollow again or anywhere else for such a long period. There were a few shorter trips to Cook Forest [State Park] but never anything to compare with that wonderful summer. In later years, my brother, sister, and I would often walk through town to the river and turn into those woods for a day of peaceful adventure. We wore surplus army rucksacks filled with towels, bathing suits, sandwiches and fruit to allow for long hours in the “wilderness.” We followed the trails of many, many years and knew our way well enough to never get lost even when we strayed off the path to dig flowers for our yard. Mother loved jack-in-the-pulpits and lilies-of-the-valley, so we brought them home to plant, hoping to please her.

We weren’t the only children exploring the woods so meeting others we knew while swimming or hiking was expected, but it was sometimes nicer to enjoy the deep quiet alone.

Tragedy on the Railroad Trestle

Children moving along the river paths would sooner or later have to cross the river if they wanted to stay in the woods that were farther from town. The shortcut was via the railroad trestle bridge which had no pedestrian walkway. Walkers had to step from wooden tie to wooden tie the length of the bridge. Most were at least a little afraid and hopped across quickly trying not to look down at the drop to the river. We nervously talked about how easy it would be to slip between the ties and fall to our death, at the same time listening for the sound of approaching train whistles and planning our escape.

One June day in 1957, as two children were midway crossing the trestle, a fast and long freight train approached, whistle blowing loudly. G___ F____, a classmate of [my brother] Jack’s froze in fear and despite the urgings and tuggings of her companion could not be led from the bridge. She was finally abandoned as her friend ran for safety.

A photo of the trestle with an arrow indicating the exact spot she was struck appeared on the front page of the next day’s Sharon Herald. Jack and I stared at that photo for a long time trying numbly to absorb the reality of the event. All who knew her and all who had walked those ties were completely stunned. This tragic loss of a peer brought a terrible sadness to our river playground and many of us could never return.

– Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA. April 2012.

sharpsville_map_pinehollow3

Topographical map showing Shenango River’s tributary, Pine Hollow Run near Sharpsville, PA. http://www.topoquest.com


PYMATUNING: Camping in the 1950s

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

Pymatuning Lake and State Park, on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Source: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/

Pymatuning Lake and State Park, on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Source: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/

The Shenango River affected our family in two major ways, one bad, one good. The bad time was in the spring of 1948 when the river rose high enough to surround our little frame house on Third Street in Wheatland, Pennsylvania, with several feet of murky water. It was enough of a disruption in our daily lives that Mom and Dad moved to a house on higher ground a block away.

Then there were the good times our family had when we camped along the western side of the Pymatuning Reservoir, a 16-mile-long serpent-shaped reservoir of water that straddles the border between western Pennsylvania and Ohio. It was formed by a dam built in 1933 to control the errant waters of the Shenango and Beaver rivers. Not that the dam held back regular flooding in the areas of Wheatland or Sharon. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the Sharpsville Dam was built and put a stop to that.

Today, Pymatuning State Park provides programs and exhibits at the Wildlife Learning Center and a nature trail for visitors to enjoy. But the park had no such amenities in the 1950s, during the early period of the state park’s development. In those days, we often drove the approximately 20 miles on country roads from our home in Sharpsville, passing through Greenville and Jamestown, for Sunday picnics at the park. We took visitors to the spillway near Linesville, Ohio, to feed the carp. We would stand on the causeway bridge to watch what we thought was a remarkable sight: The carp were so numerous in their wide-mouthed feeding frenzy that the ducks would walk on their backs to compete for the pieces of stale bread visitors threw into the water.

It was in July 1953 when we began setting up tents at Pymatuning Campgrounds. The Korean War had just ended, the Cold War was continuing, and Dwight David Eisenhower had been recently elected to the U.S. presidency. Newspapers and radio programs informed us of these and other events at the time, but our focus was on our quiet daily lives in our small corner of the world.

Camping was originally Dad’s idea, but much of the preparation was on Mom’s shoulders as she packed food, clothing, cooking equipment, and whatever else she could predict our group would need. When our light blue 1949 Ford pickup truck was loaded with everything, we probably resembled Okies from the Dust Bowl years. Since there were five of us — Mom and Dad, Mike (age 11 in 1953), my baby brother Pat (age 4), and me (age 13), Dad surely made more than one trip to move everyone and everything.

I don’t know which of today’s three campgrounds was the one we used in the 1950s, but I do remember that it was primitive. When we first arrived at the campgrounds, Dad emphatically stated, “The only way to have a genuine camping experience is to cut our own space out of the brush and trees.” And, using a saw and an ax, he did just that. We kids weren’t much help. We were more interested in running down to the lake and jumping into its cool water.

In Mom and Dad’s thinking, it was only appropriate the campground had no electricity, phone, television, or flush toilets. (I don’t know whether the campgrounds provided shower facilities, but I do recall washing at hand pumps and in the lake.) Our parents liked to prove to themselves that they could survive any hardship. And so far, after coming of age during the Great Depression, enduring the impact on their lives by World War II, and starting from post-war scratch in Wheatland, they had done relatively well. Also, I think they were reacting against the rampant consumerism of the 1950s and wanted us children to know and appreciate the difference between having all the comforts of life and privation. At Pymatuning, however, we kids were so busy enjoying our playground we paid little attention to most discomforts.

It’s a good thing the park officials eventually designated specific spaces for tenting or the whole area would have been denuded as camping grew popular. In fact, the park’s campgrounds have many restrictions in place: no tree-cutting, no alcohol, no pets, fires only in provided fireplaces.

The plan was that Dad would stay at home on weekdays to work at The Sharon Herald newspaper plant during the daytime and at his print shop and Angel’s Casino in the evenings, then join us on weekends. Sometimes, after a week or so at camp, we would ride home with Dad for a day to shower, wash clothes and help at the record hop, then return for another week.

When Dad showed up at camp, he sometimes brought along one or more friends or relatives to join our camping adventure for a few days. Also, loaded in the truck bed were items from home, such as extra cots and food, our bicycles, a portable radio that faintly brought in stations from Sharon and Youngstown. My diary described one item that was for Mike alone — a beat-up bugle Dad bought for $8.85. Mike, a born musician, quickly learned to play the instrument but, as I wrote in my diary, “Every time Mike blows his bugle someone protests.”

Once a week, a park ranger would walk around the grounds collecting fees from the campers. It was a tradition to put the required few dollars in a glass Mason or mayonnaise jar and hang it from a tree or tent pole where the ranger could find it whether any of us were around or not.

sharpsville_photo_pymatuning camp

The Angels at Pymatuning Campgrounds near Jamestown, PA, 1953. Left to right: Susie, Ann, Patrick, Michael.

Food

One of the few concessions to civilized life was a little store on the campgrounds we called the “trading post.” Since Dad was at work during the week, we had no transportation or any way to communicate with him, so we depended on this store for camping and fishing supplies, food, ice, and firewood. When Mom sent us to the store to purchase an entree for the evening meal, we would return with the requested pork chops, hamburger, or steak selling at a price of 49 cents a pound. These cuts were not wrapped in the usual butcher paper but coated with a glossy layer of paraffin wax that Mom would peel off before grilling the meat on the campfire.

The best parts of our days at camp were eating and swimming. Mom was often working over a hot fire pit instead of a hot stove, but she seemed to enjoy our outdoor living as much as we did, perhaps because it was an escape from cleaning house and assisting Dad in the print shop and dance hall. She was an expert at jerry-rigging a little kitchen out of stumps and boards for work surfaces, scavenging rocks and twigs for the fire place, and devising a cooktop out of a sheet of metal.

There are two things about eating out-of-doors: One’s appetite is felt more acutely and food smells and tastes extra delicious. My favorite was a potato baked in the glowing embers of a dying fire. After about an hour in the fire, the potato would form a thick black crust that gave it a smoky taste. At this point, I would dig it out of the coals with a stick, slice it open, and slather melting butter on the steaming halves.

Roasting marshmallows on sticks was popular with the others, but I would have nothing to do with those gooey, overly sweet, tongue-burning little white cubes blackened by the flames. Hotdogs were much more to my taste. I haven’t eaten one in years, but my mouth still waters as I recall wrapping a bun around a juicy roasted frankfurter, pulling it off the stick, then dousing it with mustard, catsup, and sweet pickle relish to create a partly-burnt, sweet-spicy concoction for my eating pleasure.

Each evening after sunset our family and assorted friends, relatives, and neighboring campers would sit on makeshift benches around the fire pit, dodge the eye-stinging smoke, and watch the wood slowly burn down to a pile of hot ashes as we told amusing stories, playfully bantered with each other, and sang the usual camp songs as Mom cooked us a batch of popcorn over the coals.

Swimming & Fishing

“This is the life!!” – Diary entry for Tuesday, July 14, 1953

Wow, the freedom to jump into the lake whenever we wanted during the hottest months of the summer was the equivalent of being in heaven! The beach of trucked-in beige-colored sand was within a short walk from our tent, making it easy to go swimming, return to campsite to eat lunch, then swim again. And swim again after the sun went down. Among my happiest memories are those of lying on the beach in the dark, listening to the water lap against the shore, studying the sky full of stars and contemplating the vastness of the universe. The sounds of swimmers talking and splashing in the water seemed different to me at night, sort of contained, as if I were enclosed in a soundproof room.

A small island visible from the shoreline seemed to beckon to my brother and his buddy until one day they finally gathered enough courage to try to swim to it. Whether they reached their destination or not is lost to memory, and I’m not sure whether my parents were ever told of their daring venture.

One summer Dad had somehow acquired several huge inner tubes that we would stack up and use as a platform for jumping into the water or use to lie across as we lazily rode the gentle waves. Those were the only water toys we had, but we didn’t require much equipment to have fun in the water.

Exposing our fair skin to hours of the sun’s rays wasn’t very smart at a time when we didn’t use sunscreen. Coppertone was about the only suntan lotion available and I probably used it at one time or another but I didn’t like its greasy feeling. In any case, sun lotion certainly wasn’t used during our Pymatuning days and the result was a bad case of sunburn after the first day or two. My face, arms, and back were so painful, I couldn’t sleep at night and had to hold off swimming until I healed.

Besides sunburns, I wrote in my diary about other downsides of camping as well, such as having almost “froze to death” one night, discovering that our tent leaked during a downpour another night, quarreling with each other and our visiting cousins, and enduring noisy neighbors and the dusty gravel roads. However, those adverse events were easy to dismiss when we could play all day, eat and sing together in the evenings, fall asleep to the sound of crickets and frogs at night, and wake in the morning to a symphony of bird songs.

Occasionally, Mom and Mike would go fishing at the lake and bring back carp to fry over the campfire. The first time Mike caught a fish, he proudly brought it back to the campsite to show the family. I felt so sorry for it as it flapped on the ground that Mike reluctantly returned it to the lake to live out its life in its natural habitat. To this day, I have regretted that I caused Mike to give up his very first catch.

Packing Up

“Hate to leave but glad to get back home again.” – Diary entry dated July 24, 1955

Evidently, I had mixed feelings about breaking camp, but I can imagine that clean clothes and a warm shower made it worth returning home. It would take all day for Dad to move our accumulation of camping supplies back to Sharpsville.

Before I left home for college, our family had spent three summers at Pymatuning, from 1953 through 1955. To this day, the smell of wood smoke and sounds of kids splashing in water take me back to those times when we would laugh and tease and sing together. Our Pymatuning days allowed us to shed the stresses of life at home, at work, and in school. In that rustic setting, we learned to live minimally and in the moment, to be attuned to our natural surroundings, and most importantly, to sit back and soak up the joys of being with family and friends.

 Ann Angel Eberhardt, Goodyear, AZ, April 2013.