Thursday, May 17, 2018

South Connellsville in Fayette County, PA

                                                          



 White Rock

   We begin by briefly referring to a hoary tradition. The old story has it that a German trapper had built his solitary cabin at what is now the end of the street car track line in South Connellsville, Pennsylvania, a very long ago. I also read that he was the pioneer that rather mysteriously, and suddenly, disappeared. Interesting aside.

   Yes, this is going back about as far as is possible. A part of this particular area was later called Gibsonville, while another of the old, quaint monikers was "White Rock." A description fairly named for the light color of the quarry stones nearby. There was once a schoolhouse with that name also. That brings us to a roundabout segue for the Casparis Mines, or somewhat more correctly - what became the well known quarry. Though there were earlier owners, the lower location came into its own with the third quarry of Ken Casparis, in the year, 1916. As far as I recall, for quite a few decades it might be looked on as trespassing to head down inside the 'caves' as when we were nearer to being teenagers and there were occasional parties with alcohol and the sweet smell of burning tires which there was a large stack of near one of the entrances. Those times are gone and so is the assumption that taking your chances with safety is something taken for granted. It is believed there is a route through that comes out on an air shaft of one of the caves to the surface nearly a mile away, but am not certain if this as true and have not noticed any documentation.

   The old lake that was at Soisson Park goes way back too to the 19th Century. In fact, it was located at Park and Dushane Avenues. This was a very popular destination for recreation.

   There are so many great houses, banks, stores and impressive buildings with interesting architecture and furnishings it would, unfortunately, be beyond the scope of this article to catalog them all. This is referred to in more in depth on the main Connellsville post from some years ago. Also, here's a link to the Connellsville Canteen post. Next, we will highlight a few of the most prominent industries and facilities here and there.
   


 South  C' Ville

    A place like this can be overshadowed by larger cities like Connellsville itself. There are less than 2,000 residents here nowadays that have hung in there through some rough times,yet, by 1970 there were 2,394 persons listed within the borough which is located at 39.998007, -79.586127. Unfortunately, I had my own photos connected to a defunct type of camera, but these are hardly possible to access any longer, so I must reluctantly leave my photographic memories of Anchor Glass behind. More's the pity. For this reason alone, if there are few photos accompanying this article as it is published, maybe you can understand why I didn't really bother.

   On August 14-17, 1905, Connellsville celebrated it's Centennial. Well folks, in the late 1800's to early 1900's they had a popular military band to play for holidays and important celebrations. Interestingly enough, the borough of South Connellsville was incorporated in 1911. Once upon a time, these good folks could experience the Newmeyer Opera House. By most accounts, quite a fancy establishment. There was, and still may be, swimming down on South Connellsville beach. I remember the fun had amid the rocky shore in the 70's there. We simply went down on our own. Which reminds me of the stories of the old lake that was at Soisson Park going way back toward the 19th century at Park and Dushane Avenues. The Union School next to the Carnegie Library, which was built in 1901 partly with funds from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, of course. He provided $50,000 toward construction of the Library and it is one of 3,000 such designed and built between 1885 and 1919.

   There are so many great houses, banks, stores and impressive buildings with interesting architecture, it would, unfortunately, be beyond the scope of this article to catalog them all.

  A few places 'Up North' 

     
   Just to mention a few items 'up north' that were lost in the shuffle - in 1866, Samuel Crossland began the manufacture of fine wagons on the left bank of the Youghiogheny River near Broadford. There was the largest lock factory in the world which was established at South Connellsville in 1896 and operated steadily and successfully until the fall of 1898, when it was almost completely destroyed by fire.

  The Union School further north was next to the Carnegie Library, which was built in 1901 partly with funds from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, of course. He provided $50,000 toward construction of the Library on an old burial ground and it is one of 3,000 such designed and built between 1885 and 1919.

Broadford also had the Morgan Mine and Store there, one among many. Then, there was the Orpheus on N. Pitt., a beautiful theater, so they use to say. Troutman's, Aaron's and Levin's had the furniture stores...there was the terrible burning of the McCrory's five and ten in the early 1900's, and by Liberty Square was the old PA RxR station and depot. An old suspension bridge spanned Connellsville to New Haven at one time where there were some unusual walking rails and stairs there, while, in catching up, the Connellsville Post Office originated in 1913 on Apple Street. Alright, that takes care of the flashback!

   In 1866, Samuel Crossland began the manufacture of quality wagons on the left bank of the Youghiogheny River near Broadford. Closer to the subject of this blog post, the Slayer-Barry Company had the largest lock factory in the world which was established at South Connellsville in 1896. This business operated steadily and successfully until the fall of 1898, when it was almost completely destroyed by fire. Another important one was Humbert Tin Plate Company. Under the aegis of the Connellsville Extension Company's efforts, (created to expand businesses in the region), between those two factories at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, there was employed almost 600 people. (source-The Connellsville Coke Region: it's Past, Present and Future, 1898).

   Getting back to our main subject of interest, in the olden days, there existed the huge Colonial Theatre complex, with the Windsor Apartments where the South Side Grocer stands now. Ringer's lumberyard on Pine Street, as well as many may remember the old staples like getting their groceries from Ringer's Store also which, according to the Connellsville Historical Society, was established in 1904.

   South 'C'ville' was served when people wanted to be moving around and in and out of the borough, by the Connellsville Suburban street car line. Of course, that was until modern cars took over around the 1950's.

    Before Anchor Glass was such an imposing employer, locally, Ripley Glass was established since 1866 (believe it, or not! Nah...not THAT Ripley!) over on Pine Street, by Daniel C. Ripley. He left the lucrative position with U. S. Glass at Pittsburgh originating from his father and struck out on his own. So he formed his own company on the same grounds where Anchor would later be built, and this took place in 1909.

   Anchor Hocking

    Certainly, this factory, bordered on the west by the Youghiogheny River and partly surrounded by dense mountains, has seen it's share of industry of all types. Including,  lumber companies, paper mills, movie theaters and pool halls; you name it.

   The 'Capstan Glass Co.' of South Connellsville has quite a history, and is the one remaining shining star from the past. With hindsight, some of it is sad, and even tragic, which, if you haven't already known of this information, it will be revealed below.

                                                        
The Anchor plant from an old postcard.
                      

    Beginning operations around 1918, starting out as the Ripley Co. back in 1911, the name changing every so often, there was a peculiar mark or embossed insignia used. Many of them were baby food jars, though tumblers, tableware, and other somewhat high end stuff was made here over the decades. The items were usually with the anchor, that identifies the era manufactured in. A reopening in 1941 included the twin plant beside it on the Youghiogheny River.

  A Personal Note

    I had a close relative who worked there, (as many of the locals probably did), on the east side at the 'Cap' plant and also retired from there, recently. He could and did, hopefully, with his pension intact! There has been some problems in that area, so we've heard talk of.

   Conveniently, for about four years, I lived in Connelsville, not more than two miles from the plant while working for a time at the Glass factory in a different capacity. I want to relate something of that to help enlighten visitors a bit. Sadly, for the cost of a lot of jobs, the Anchor Glass Container Corporation closed its doors initially, between 2004-2005. It existed in an alternate, more low-key form under another name for some years thereafter. That was when I was employed there.

    Tragic Shooting at the Glass Factory


   Frankly, there was some hesitation and trepidation when it came to discussing this event that took place in at the glass bottling plant on a spring day in 1985 that so raised eyebrows and shocked the local community.

  Apparently, according to the sources, (one from the Pittsburgh Press article of Sunday, May 19, 1985, by journalist Douglas Root), the time management 'experts' were a big issue in forcing their brand of improvement, (as happens at every large workplace at some time or other), that can have sometimes an opposite effect on the very morale they are supposed to be addressing, along with the attitude toward the policy of a quickly replaced plant manager that raised questions that will probably go unanswered, yet this complicated an already stressful situation into further perplexity.

  One Erma Fabian stated, "The transfer was announced as a change that was in the works for some time, but that was a joke. Everyone knew what was going on." There are hardly any excuses conceivable for the kind of shocking behavior that was experienced that day. Hopefully, no one is making any for the disgruntled employee that shot four people to death and wounded one, or maybe two others, but, there is some natural tendency to try to grasp what drives this kind of fatalistic rage, nay near insanity, in the workplace as well as other locations with such a savage mass killing. It is debatable that behavior of this caliber can really be well understood. That sober a conjectural subject is surely not within the scope of this article, thankfully. The armed guards that were immediately installed, were finally removed from roaming the grounds, to the relief of the workers.

    The following is not an easy paragraph to read, so please skip to the next one if you feel any qualms about it.

    What I was personally witness to, long after the circumstances took place, near the partly cordoned off break area, not far from the main entrance, was an obvious attempt to remove the worst of the evidence. I could only wonder what was thought of the unsuccessful use of red paint, which, unfortunately, did NOT cover the grisly blood stains that trailed off to where it was all too clear exactly where the supervisors died, and the spot in which I was told, (almost, breathlessly) in which the killer then extinguished his own life. Something I failed to be ignorant of, in spite of initially requesting not to have the story explained.

   Gossip is an addictive habit and this will, of course, take place regularly in connection to news of this sort. But, in the dingy evening warehouse itself, the silence still reverberating of torrid feelings and echoing in point blank murderous resolution, I would rather not of known all the sordid details that weren't likely to be spared. I can't imagine what those who were in the vicinity and knew these bosses felt, and can only sympathize with their plight.

    An upset Sonny Hammett, of Dunbar, an assembly line worker, when chastised for taking too much time talking to his wife in an adjacent department, losing his temper even more visibly, was then taken into the office, reprimanded and suspended.

    You know, I once had a private conversation with the Globe Security man, Jim Silbaugh who felt he would immediately be looked on by Hammett as an armed target. He was partly blamed for the returning entrance of the employee a few hours later. He had told the authorities someone hit him on the head with a weapon and had his own lawsuit to deal with later. His further ideas and testimony will stay discreet, as it should. Regardless of the exact details concerning the situation, a fuming Hammitt came back at 10 a. m. packing a loaded .38 caliber revolver and preceded to use it. All too effectively, killing his shift foreman, Don Abbott.

   Eventually I was planning a brief editorial discussion on the overall import of these most difficult situations. Something of the type could be produced in the future, nevertheless this may well be too touchy a topic for the content of the "Fayette/Westmoreland Forgotten History" blog, especially considering the times we live in.

   Apparently, that first shooting didn't seem to be enough to spend his revenge. In the swirling confusion engendered, he then furiously attacked and in cold blood, murdered three other managers, and shot and badly wounded another in the process. Then, walking off a distance of 20 yards or so, the horror ended abruptly as he took his own life. A few meaningful words will end this segment; God rest the souls of Paul Gabelt, Donald Abbott, John Coligan and Ralph Tomaro.
 
    So, the bottom line is that, sadly, the glass plant laid off a lot of people, like at the old Sony Plant near New Stanton. With mortgages and mouths to feed, itfinally, closed its doors in 2004, though the place lingered on for a few years under various management and does have businesses to this day. Thus a greater depression ensued affecting the rest of South Connellsville particularly hard. There was talk of endeavors for opportunities to lease the plant, but nothing came of this and most of the old buildings were torn down and sold off, a few years ago. Many have vivid memories of heading down the wide walkway of South Pittsburgh Street to their jobs every week day to punch the clock. They still do at the cap plant!

Summing Up

   Lastly, I wouldn't forget a notice of the fine Veterans Memorial at the intersection of S. Pittsburgh St., Allegheny Avenue and Searson St. A most solemn and dignified addition for the heartfelt recollection of those that fought, and those that died honorably, for this hardy, striving community.

  You never know, some surprising information may be just 'around the corner'. We can be optimistic and hope for better days, and a change in the way things are done too. Let's celebrate the past heritage while we keep an eye to the future. As I attempted to capture the gathering when visiting the Braddock Crossing and Art on the Yough festival in late June, now years ago, it wasn't that hard to do once I made the attempt. Let's remain positive and get the historical news that is needed.

  

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