Copyright © 2017 John F. Oyler
March 30, 2017
“Downtown” in the 1940s – Part Two
The Bridgeville Area Historical Society “Second Tuesday” workshop for March was a follow-up to the previous month’s project, an effort to document the businesses, institutions, and residences on Washington Avenue during the War Years.
During the February session a suggestion was made that the facilitator refer to the 1940 U. S. Census for information regarding families that lived on Washington Avenue at that time. This was done, and revised copies of the map of the area between Chartiers Street and Station Street were passed on, showing this information.
This was effective for the stand-alone residences, but generated a new collection of questions regarding the large number of persons who were registered as residents of the apartments above the various commercial establishments. The fact that many of the names shown (hand written) on the Census form were either illegible or obviously misspelled continues to be a problem.
We did make some progress identifying commercial establishments. The previously unidentified storefront between Saperstein’s clothing store and Bard’s Dairy Store was determined to be the location of Dr. George Rittenhouse’s office and that of (Dentist) Dr. Carman. Tom Thomas’ Restaurant was located in a storefront between Sarasnick’s Hardware Store and Station Street, by virtue of the Census location of his residence.
One of the persons identified by the Census was Alphaeus Bell, living upstairs over Bard’s Dairy Store. My brother reminded me that the first name of our neighbor on Lafayette Street a few years later, “Bud” Beall, was Alphaeus.
Pat (Mrs. Ron) Otrocelli reported that the residence adjacent to the L & R Bowling Alley was occupied by Bonnie Baird. Ralph Weise reminded us that “Izzy” Miller’s furniture store was next to Weise’s News-Stand. He also reported that Pete Conroy’s Barber Shop was on the other (north) side of Weise’s. In February someone had located it in the L & R Building. Another addition was the West Penn Power Company office next to the Rankin Theater, in the building occupied by Bonnett’s Restaurant.
Nancy LaSota brought in the 2010 Historical Society calendar, which included a photograph of the “Danzibar” night club (identified a month ago as the “Zanzibar”) and reported that the “Dan” in the name of the club was Dan DeBone. The photo, not surprisingly, raised another question. In the background, several storefronts up the street toward Station Street, is a large vertical sign with the letters “R O S S …”. There also is an automobile in the foreground with a visible license plate. One wonders if the original photograph is sharp enough to read the year on the plate.
Once the “old business” portion of the workshop was disposed of, the facilitator passed out a map of “midtown” – the area between Station Street and the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad Trestle. More than a few tears were shed when we discussed Washington Grade School, which most of us still call “the old school”, to differentiate it from Lincoln High School (the “new school”), although both of them have been gone for decades.
The house south of Washington School was shown as the residence of the Bingham family. Larry Godwin reported that the Binghams were related to the Poellotts, and then added the information that that house was one of three identical Bridgeville houses, the other two being on Bank Street and on Elm Street. Another interesting project to investigate!
The final portion, of course, was “Lower End”, and a similar annotated map was passed on showing the available information on businesses and residences in the area between the railroad trestle and the bridge over Chartiers Creek. Here, too, it is remarkable to realize how crowded some of the houses must have been, with three or four families in a single building.
The next step in this process is for the facilitator to morph into a cartographer and prepare a proper map recording the information as we have it today. Based on our experience with Baldwin Street, this must be done in a format that is appropriate for frequent revisions, as more people come up with corrections.
The April “Second Tuesday” workshop will time travel to 1901 and examine the Borough of Bridgeville when it seceded from Upper St. Clair Township and became an autonomous community, with special emphasis on the individuals who were responsible for this momentous event. We will re-convene at 7:00 pm on April 11, 2017, at the History Center.