Small Town Memories

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

Tag: Welch House

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.

[Above: 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:

[Above: 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 yard…. [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:
The Two George Mahaneys Part I (“Old” George D.)
Walnut Street Businesses II
Walnut Street Businesses III