Working Women in Indiana County

“In those days, women didn’t go out to work.”  This statement, often made when speaking of the first half of the twentieth century, was for many quite true.  It was a time when women were less likely to be involved in unions than in clubs; significantly, these were concerned less with labor and political activities than social etiquette and hygiene.  For example, the Indiana Evening Gazette reported on a 1905 club meeting where women discussed the problems of “expectorating on the streets” of Indiana.  Newspaper advertisements directed at women then were less concerned with promoting the image of a competent workwoman than with beauty and how to get rid of “sunken eyes and hallow cheeks…and the ravages of dyspepsia.”

jane leonard
Jane E. Leonard – Preceptress at Indiana Normal School

While much of this public image is true, underlying the illusion of women at leisure was the basic reality that many if not most women had to work, especially before marriage or in the widowhood.  The penury of some might be dramatized by tragic news headlines as “Woman Killed on Railroad.”  In December 1905, a 35 year old childless widow of one week was struck and killed instantly while picking coal along railroad tracks near her New Florence home.  In that very year another news release reported the tragic suicide of an unemployed manicurist, a 25 year old Blairsville “girl” [woman] who drank carbolic acid in her room at the YMCA. Of course these were exceptions, but there were many, many women who had to find work, and only a few could find employment in the two occupations generally believed to be most desirable for young women – teaching and nursing.

Other occupations were available to women in the Indiana area. Young girls from the farming community or from town often found plentiful work as cooks, waitresses, chambermaids, upstairs girls and laundry girls.  Though hard and heavy, this work was quite respectable female employment. For many years, the Normal School and the town of Indiana itself offered a large number of such jobs.  Insurance maps of the town dating from the turn of the century attest to the existence of hotels and restaurants for both mealtime and overnight guests, and at these women could find work.  Occasionally some women tested their entrepreneurial talents if they and their husbands were proprietors.  Mr. Long, a native Indianian, recalls with obvious admiration how his mother once helped in directing the West Indiana House, later the Houck Hotel.  While his father took care of the office, buying merchandise and paying bills, his mother interviewed, hired and directed the chambermaids, waitresses and cooks.  Her managerial duties were demanding for the business was extensive.  Mr. Long remembers that “…if they didn’t have 100 at noon, they thought it was a poor day.”

Work as governesses and live-in maids also existed, but its desirability naturally varied according to the attitude of individual employers.  While at times a live-in maid could be treated as a family member, she could also find it was lonely, demanding, and tiring work.  One Indiana woman remembers cooking and making bread for an entire family, while simultaneously acting as a governess for eight children, including infants.  Years later she still remembers the consternation of her employer when she asked for so high a salary – $8.00 a week.  Seamstress skill also offered extremely good employment for those with the necessary skills.  Some women were so expert that they undertook the task of outfitting entire families, perhaps even spending a week or two in homes of well to do citizens of Indiana until the season’s outfitting was done.

Less skilled jobs as “Hello Girls” or telephone operators were equally acceptable for women.  “Hello Girls” were aware that they had important jobs in maintaining communications, especially in emergencies.  When in 1904 the gas in Indiana was shut off for two hours, the news reported “Hello Girls Swamped.”  All of Indiana’s 200 switchboard plugs were flooded with calls of inquiry, the board becoming “…a veritable cobweb of connections.”  For a long time telephone operators also sounded the town fire alarm.  Mrs. Huber of Fulton Run Road, for a time an operator during the 1920s, recalls with amusement how lines were always jammed with calls from the curious asking for information about the fire.

Most of these jobs fell into traditional patterns of occupation, but occasionally even at the turn of the century female stereotypes were shattered much to the surprise of the community.  In 1904, a Miss M. Margaretta Hodge, a resident of Blairsville, was certified to practice pharmacy.  The following winter a news story in the Indiana Evening Gazette praised Mrs. DeVers, a Blairsville rural delivery carrier who was sometimes assisted by her daughter.  The article commended her for she had not missed a single day’s delivery throughout a very severe winter.  Expending the ultimate praise, the article noted that she made “…as good time as her male colleagues.”

head nurse
Head nurse’s private apartment – Indiana Normal School

As the Indiana business community expanded during the 1910s new jobs as clerks and salesgirls became available to women.  Stores such as Bon Ton, Troutmans, Luxenbergs, and McCrorys placed help wanted ads for “girls,” often specifically demanding “good girls.”  In fact in 1917 one ad for a female clerk required that she still be living at home with her parents in Indiana.  Heavier factory work also employed women of the area but only on a limited scale.  Women worked at the Dye Works, the Indiana Candy works, the Diamond Glass Company, the Macaroni Factory, the Indiana Steam Laundry, and King Razor Manufacturing Company, all during the 1910s.

Surprisingly, World War I made no perceptible impact on either the labor market or on attitudes about working women.  At most, news items urged women to do volunteer work to help the war effort.  On May 10, 1917 the Indiana Evening Gazette printed an article encouraging “girls” to make sacrifices for their country.  Here was no call for bravery, or even the study of nursing, or perhaps the replacement of draftees in the labor market.  Instead the article praised one young woman for rejecting five proposals of marriage and then encouraging her beaus to join the service.  The final admonition, “It isn’t fair to remain idle….Every woman worthy of the name will offer her services.”  Now was a call for service without pay.

While the postwar period, especially the 1920s, is touted as an era of economic and political emancipation for women, locally there appeared to be little change in basic attitudes.  The short dresses and bobbed hair of women of the county projected the image of the modern female, but both men and women continued to view women’s work as, at best, a temporary situation filling the hiatus between school and marriage.  However, while the county job market underwent no dramatic change, some companies such as the Diamond Glass Company, King Leather Company and the Indiana Textile Mills did need an increasing supply of working women.

For forty years the glass company in Indiana had been absorbing women into its work force.  During World War I, glass production had boomed.  In the 1920s the Diamond Glass Company employed almost 100 women, or girls as they were then called.  Women inspected the glass, polished, painted, and packed the product which Indianians still remember with great pride.  One former Indiana resident remembers the summer months when she and other youngsters walked across the fields from Wayne Avenue just to watch the young ladies at the factory.  Each woman with a small turn-table in front of her decorated glass with pretty leaves and flowers.  Unfortunately, this employment ended abruptly in 1931 when fire ravaged the plant.  If men found it hard to replace their jobs in those depression years, it was extremely difficult for women.  Some area employers openly discouraged married women and those under eighteen years of age from seeking jobs which men might otherwise take.

Another long standing company, the King Leather Factory, supplied much of the growing market for female workers in the 1920s.  In operation since 1910 it had produced a variety of leather items ranging from money belts to pocketbooks employing primarily women.  In the decade following the war approximately 50 to 75 women were employed at its barn-like factory on North 10th Street.  Only three men worked there; one owned the company and the other two were supervisors.  It was essentially women who produced the product.  On the lower level of the plant where the leather was stored, cutting machines were operated.  On the upper level the process was divided into different rooms where women operated electric sewing machines, stamped the product with gold lettering, and then sorted and packed the final product.

Women learned the different jobs quickly, even without past experience.  As Mrs. Zellman of Ernest remembers, even the sewing “…didn’t take much training.”  As in most firms of the time, few women aspired to managerial work, but those who had long been at the factory were sometimes assigned to supervise the training and work of the younger girls.

The atmosphere at the factory was described by a former worker as “…just like a family.”  Much credit for this was attributed to Mr. King who gave treats to the women at holidays, even joining them in song during those festive times.  In addition to the paternal atmosphere, a pleasant lunch break also stimulated the feeling of togetherness.  A newly widowed woman who lived near the factory began selling vegetable soup and crackers in her own home.  It soon became so popular that instead of bringing lunches, many women ate at her house.  They enjoyed her expanding menu of baked beans and sandwiches, as well as her hospitality.

The newest job opportunity of the Post World War I period was at what longtime residents still call the silk mill, the Indiana Textile Mill, which began operating in the late 1920s.  Probably influenced by the changing market of the Flapper Era which revealed women’s legs, silk mill produced top quality, high fashion stockings.  Unlike today’s stretch stockings, the high fashion stocking was sewn from separately woven pieces and made exactly to the size and shape of the leg.  In this company, as in the Leather Factory, the basic work force was women employed as seamers, loopers, and inspectors.  Business was so good at the silk mill that it operated on three shifts.  Former employees estimate each shift consisted of about 75 to 100 people, ¾ of them women.  Employees enjoyed working there too and felt that job conditions were good in spite of minor problems such as cotton dust from threads.  Though it was an exception for anyone to develop an allergic reaction to the silk itself, it could occur.  At least one woman’s hands became so sensitive to the material that they actually began to bleed, requiring profuse use of ointment every evening.  In spite of the pain, this woman continued to work at the silk mill for she had a family to support.

World War II dramatically reshaped the attitude of many Indianians, male and female, towards working women.  Suddenly, women were encouraged to work in civilian and especially in defense industries.  They entered the work force with renewed self-esteem for as one former defense industry supervisor notes, “They knew they were needed.”  In fact, women were so much in demand that companies such as Acme Dye in Latrobe provided buses to transport women from Indiana and Clymer to its Latrobe factory where they worked with explosive powders and bullets.

In Indiana County itself, defense industry work was soon underway at Federal Labs in Tunnelton, and at Indiana on Indian Springs Road and at the newly opened plant near South 13th Street, in the same building that had previously housed the silk mill.  Work plans for the South 13th Street plant illustrate the new trends at Federal Labs which moved quickly to mobilize the female labor force.  As William Durno, a long time superintendent there notes, the company immediately began “…gearing up for the high speed production.”  Original plans called for one shift of 64 “girls” and five men plus about 6 guards and some government employed inspectors who were usually women.  Soon this was expanded to a three shift operation.  Women worked on the production line, mixed and handled explosives and assembled hand grenades.  They did everything which once only men had done, unless restricted by state law.

shorthand students
Shorthand students at commercial college during World War I.

Indiana women quickly learned of the new opportunities available at Federal Labs and as William Durno smilingly recalls, “If they walked in breathing, we hired them.”  As far as testing goes there was only one primary question, “Are you afraid?”  A timid person was a hazard.  However, during World War II, women maintained a good safety record.  In retrospect, women don’t remember trying to conform to a Rosie the Riveter image.  It was just common sense to wear overalls and wrap one’s hair in a bandanna.  All jewelry was expressly forbidden – static electricity would set off explosives.  One person remarked that it could be difficult to convince some women to take off sentimental jewelry such as wedding rings.  Most interviewees remember that workers were well aware of hazards and quickly complied with safety regulations.  A couple of Indiana women recalled an incident in which one worker let wisps of hair show only to lose some hair and even skin when the hair got caught in the machinery.  An accident such as this was an exception.  Throughout the course of the war, there were no major injuries in Indiana County war industries.

Besides convincing both men and women of the abilities of working women, the war years were responsible for other attitudinal changes.  A new consciousness you might say, had been raised and new expectations developed.  One satisfying aspect of work was the new sense of camaraderie among the women.  Mrs. Goral of Indiana remembers that when her mother worked at a defense plant the factory women associated more even during off hours.  Another more practical change resulted in new perceptions of unions.

Many local women who worked in the early period had expressed some hostility to unions.  They perceived union leaders as either troublemakers or meddlers.  Yet the women who had become involved in the large scale concerns of war industries often discovered that tan active union was a necessary ally.

Even more significant than the satisfactions of new interests and friendships outside the home was the impact of the paycheck itself.  For many women this was the first time extra cash filled their pocketbooks and as Mrs. Ila Murdick comments, it may not have been a great deal of money “…but it was big for them.”  In fact some women dared to suggest that the monetary motivation, not patriotism, was of paramount significance at that time.  As Mrs. Mabel McQuown, herself a former defense industry employee, remarks on the primary motivation of the women, “For most it was the money.”

Yet, in this picture, basic patriotism was not to be discounted.  Though women in the county were working in different jobs and in larger numbers than ever before, their ultimate goal was the war’s end and return of the soldiers.  Again and again patriotism is mentioned as the common denominator among them.  When the war ended they knew they would be out of a job.  As one former war worker said, “I don’t think anyone felt bad about losing a job.  They were happy that the war was over.”  Mrs. Carrolton Philippi of Marion Center remembers a story of one Indiana County woman who took a job replacing a man.  She used to joke that when he returned she would gladly give up her job and then marry the returning soldier.  That was exactly what happened.

For many women giving up their jobs was achieved just as smoothly and as happily. But there were others who felt differently.  They hoped to continue to work somewhere, somehow.  Unquestionably, the 1940s had altered the consciousness of Indiana Countians just as it had nationally.  The former attitude that women should work only before marriage or in widowhood had clearly diminished, to be replaced by a new appreciation of what women could contribute to the labor force.  Surely, a contemporary might report of that period if questioned “Yes, a lot more women went to work in those days.”

Black History Month Program

On February 27, 2020, the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County presented “Less Known Stories of African Americans in Indiana County.”  The program was a collaborative effort between the Indiana County NAACP and the Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center.  The program began with some brief remarks by Mr. Jonathan Bogert, the Executive Director of the Historical Society, followed by an Address from Dr. Carolyn Princes, the President of the Indiana County NAACP.

The program continued with some comments by Dr. Lori Woods from St. Francis University who presented “Student reflections of the Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center.”  On February 8, 2020 students from St. Francis University visited the Blairsville Underground History Center for an interactive tour.  Following their visit, the students wrote about their experience.  The students found the tour to be very moving, and also an important aspect of our history that more people should learn about and understand.  This understanding of history helps us to improve society today and move in a positive direction.

Denise Jennings-Doyle, President and co-founder of the Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center, introduced two historical figures who visited and told their story of their life in Indiana County.

Anthony Hollingsworth was a 12-year-old freedom seeker from Virginia, was seized by slave hunters on the Simpson Farm, near Homer City.  He was bound to a horse and taken to the Indiana House hotel at Philadelphia and Sixth Streets.  There was a large crowd that gathered to protest his capture and stormed the hotel to free him.  Dr. Robert Mitchell and newspaper editor James Moorhead, ardent abolitionists, intercepted the enraged citizens and persuaded them to allow the courts to decide the young man’s fate.  The following day, Judge Thomas White asked the slave catchers to produce written evidence that slavery existed in Virginia; when they did not, Judge White set Hollingsworth free.  Several young men hoisted Hollingsworth onto their shoulders and paraded him through the streets.

Hollingsworth settled in Stratford, Ontario, where he was employed, according to the 1863 County of Perth Gazetteer, as a “hairdresser and shampooner.”  Hollingsworth never forgot the kindness and support he was shown by the local residents.  He mailed a letter to Dr. Mitchell, who briefly gave Hollingsworth shelter on his property near Diamondville, thanking him and the “good folkes” of Indiana County for their assistance.

Jane Brunson Johnston, was the wife of Lewis Johnston.  Together they were conductors in Blairsville and Allegheny City (North Pittsburgh), PA.   It’s believed they transported freedom seekers between Blairsville and Hollidaysburg.  Freedom seeker Richard Newman was living with the Johnston family on West Campbell Street in Blairsville when his attempted kidnapping occurred on April 1, 1858.  The Johnstons raised six children.  Their son Lewis Johnston, Jr. became the first black Covenanter Presbyterian preacher in Pennsylvania.

The evening concluded with musical selections by Anthony Frazier – singing and providing a history behind “Wade in the Water” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”  Patti Holmes also provided musical selections of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “The Greatest Love of All.”  Audience members were encouraged to join in singing with the performers and the Armory was filled with song.

Coming up in March the Society is hosting two programs.  The first will be an Irish Sing-a-long held on March 20, 2020 from 6-8PM in the Clark House.  If you love traditional Irish sing-a-long songs or find yourself singing classic tunes your grandparents sang for you, then you are going to enjoy the Irish Sing-a-long.  We will play and sing around the piano in the Historic Clark House.  Musical guests Allen Krynicky, Mike Busija, Scott Neuroh, Ken Black, Hazel Johnston, and Bruce Jenkins, will lead you in singing Irish tunes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, as well as classic favorites from the 30s and 40s.  This event is an OPEN FUNDRAISER with no entrance fee or ticket cost, but donations will be gratefully accepted, with all the proceeds from this event going directly toward repairs needed for the Chickering Square Grand piano that was recently donated to the Historical Society.  For more information, or to donate to the Piano Fund, call 724-463-9600.

Our second event will be held on Sunday March 29, 2020 – the 2nd Annual National Vietnam War Veterans Day Program.  Doors will open at 5:30 PM with the program beginning at 6:00 PM.  The event will feature guest speakers, music of the era, and a historical display relating to “The Wall That Heals.”  Commemorative pins will be awarded to Vietnam Veterans by Christina Lonigro.  Refreshments and hors d’oeuvres will follow the program.  For more information and reservations please call 724-463-9600.  This event is sponsored by: The American Legion Auxiliary Post 141, the VFW Post 1989, the American Legion Post 141, and the Indiana County Historical Society.

Finally join us on Saturday April 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm in the Armory for our 3rd Annual Spring Swing.  Dress to the nines and put on your dancing shoes, it’s time to Swing!  Don’t know how? No problem! Lessons begin at 7:00pm, the dance will follow at 7:30pm.  Maybe this year we’ll try a little West Coast swing to spice things up a bit.  Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door, and are available at the HGSIC or through Crisp Entertainment. Call 724-463-9600 for more information.

Dr. Fairfield: First Principal of Indiana Normal School

Rev. Dr. Edmund Burke Fairfield was a pastor, educator, politician, theologian, diplomat, and world traveler.  He was also the first principal of the Indiana Normal School.

The Rev. Dr. Fairfield was born April 21, 1821, in Parkersburg, (West) Virginia, to the Rev. Micaiah and Hannah Wynn Fairfield.  While he was still a boy, the Fairfields moved to Troy, Ohio, where he grew up.  He attended Denison University and Marietta College before enrolling at Oberlin College.  He received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1842, and Oberlin Seminary granted him a B.D. in 1845.

As a student in the Oberlin Seminary, Fairfield was exposed to the institution’s strong emphasis on ethics and sanctification, which stressed man’s capability of reaching his highest objectives as an individual and of building a nearly perfect society on earth.  He also followed the teachings of Rev. Charles G. Finney, the great proponent of revivalistic theology.  Fairfield’s emphasis on enthusiastic preaching, the lack of which in Indiana bothered him, seems to have developed from his experiences at Oberlin.  Oberlin’s sympathy with abolition may have provided the stimulus for Fairfield’s anti-slavery views since his mother’s lineage was Virginian.  Following his graduation, he moved to Canterbury, New Hampshire, where he appears to have been ordained in both the Free Will Baptist and Congregational Churches and seems to have served both congregations.  At Canterbury he served as minister and teacher, remaining from 1845-47.  Soon he moved on to accept a charge in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  Then he entered higher education, accepting the presidency of the Free Baptist College, Spring Arbor, Michigan in 1848, which was relocated and renamed Hillsdale College in 1853.  During his 21-year tenure, Rev. Dr. Fairfield took the struggling institution and built it into a small, but respected liberal arts college.  The student enrollment grew from less than 50 to over 500 during his presidency, and he also actively raised money for the college and its endowment.

fairfield

It appears that he combined public appearances on behalf of the temperance movement with his fundraising efforts on behalf of Hillsdale in western New York in the fall of the early 1850s.  During this period, he entered politics in Michigan and helped found the Republican Party there.  From 1857 to 1859, he served in the Michigan Senate.  His first speech, “Slavery in the Territories,” attacked the extension of slavery, and it was printed for wide distribution.  In 1858, he won the election for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan and served one term.  Following the completion of his term in 1861, he devoted his attention to administering Hillsdale College, teaching, traveling, and lecturing.  When he left the presidency of Hillsdale College in 1869, he accepted the pastorate of the First Congregational Church, Mansfield, Ohio, where he remained from 1870 until April 1875.

At its March 10, 1875 meeting, the Board of Trustees of Indiana Normal School (now IUP) chose Rev. Dr. Fairfield as the institution’s first principal (president) at a salary of $2,250 per year, later raised to $4,000.  He came to Indiana with a national reputation as clergyman, educator, and lecturer, but how he came to be selected is unknown.  His previous activities in the building of Hillsdale College, in the temperance cause, and in the church certainly made him an appealing candidate.  His high salary and perquisites say a lot about the ambitions and plans for the normal school held by John Sutton and his colleagues.

Prior to moving to Indiana, Fairfield paid a visit to the town, during which he presented one of his most famous lectures, “Tent Life in Palestine.”  The lecture was given on the evening of March 24, 1875, and it drew a large crowd in the courtroom of the newly opened Indiana County Courthouse.  Admission was 25 cents per ticket, the proceeds being a benefit for the soon-to-open normal school.  The local press gave enthusiastic coverage to the event.  The Indiana Democrat reported, “if this lecture is a fair sample of his learning and ability, he is the right man in the right place. He is a pleasing off hand speaker and possessed of great descriptive powers.”  The lecture was partially drawn from Rev. Fairfield’s personal observations, for he had toured Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey as part of an extended trip to Europe and the Near East from July 1863 to June 1864.

In May, Fairfield arrived in Indiana and took up residence in the recently completed John Sutton Hall.  On May 17, the first term opened at Indiana Normal School.  Over 200 students attended, including some of Fairfield’s children.  His daughter May and his son Edward Minor were enrolled in the Classical Department of the College Preparatory Division.  His other sons George D., John M. and Charles T. attended the Model School.  May, the eldest child still at home, took courses in penmanship, drawing, natural philosophy, Latin, grammar, Greek, and American history during the 1875-76 terms.

Part of the initial staff was recruited by Rev. Fairfield.  From Mansfield, Ohio, Fairfield brought Mr. and Mrs. Rowley, who served as steward and matron of the school respectively.  Professor Hiram Collier, who taught chemistry and physics, came from the Pennsylvania College of Agriculture (no Pennsylvania State University), but before that he had served for several years on the faculty at Hillsdale.

Rev. Dr. Fairfield remained in Indiana only one year. During his tenure as principal, French was added to the curriculum.  According to the local press, Fairfield taught Latin and Greek in addition to the subjects listed in the 1875 catalogue, Mental, Moral and Political Science and the Theory and Practice of Teaching.  The first literary society was named for Rev. Dr. Fairfield, but at his request it was renamed the Erodelphian Literary Society.  During the first year two faculty members, Miss Mary Bradley and Miss Ada Kershaw, were dismissed in mid-term.  The Board of Trustees acted on complaints filed by the principal for himself and other members of the faculty.  The charges accused Misses Bradley and Kershaw of “conduct unbecoming a teacher, in interfering with the harmony of a faculty and interfering with the success of the school.”  Their appointment, for which they received two months’ salary, terminated in July 1875.  The remainder of the Fairfield tenure appears to have gone smoothly until near the very end when a delayed state appropriation caused a budgetary crisis.

During their residence in Indiana the Fairfield family participated in community affairs.  Mrs. Fairfield and their children, Mary, Emma, May, and George joined the Presbyterian Church in the fall of 1875.  Because of his ordination Rev. Fairfield could not officially join the congregation, but he undoubtedly participated in its activities.  In March 1875, Fairfield again lectured at the Court House; the subject this time was “Personal Observations of the Vienna Exposition in 1873.”

In March 1876, he announced his resignation to become the second chancellor of the University of Nebraska.  In December 1875, he had explained his reasons for leaving to his friend, Congressman James Monroe of Ohio:

Now I will tell you frankly how the matter lies in my mind.  I am here in Pennsylvania, and can stay, if I choose.  At least so it looks.  My salary is $4000, but neither Mrs. F. nor myself feel at home here. We are in the midst of little else but blue Presbyterianism.  Pennsylvania is in mts. [mountains]. The West suits me better.  But I wish simply to do the work assigned me by the master.  It looks to us as though this might be it, in connection with Nebraska Uni. [University].

Fairfield served six years as chancellor of the University of Nebraska, following which he again traveled abroad, served as pastor to several Congregational Churches, and from 1889-1893 was U.S. Consul-general in Lyons, France.  He returned to the United States and again returned to the ministry, retiring in 1900 to Oberlin, Ohio, where he continued to serve as a trustee of Oberlin College.

Although Rev. Dr. Fairfield possessed a “reputation as a political liberal and reformer,” he was a conservative in the field of education. Fairfield family tradition characterizes him as being stern and “a very strict disciplinarian,” and his philosophy bears this out.”  In his inaugural address as Chancellor of the University of Nebraska, Fairfield discussed his educational philosophy.  The American university, he believed, existed “for the study of all science; for the most liberal learning, and the most generous culture possible.”  The traditional liberal arts and sciences provided the core of a university education.  According to Fairfield, “a young man, at the end of his university education… [should be able] to make something of himself, and to do something to lift up his country and his race to a higher plane of true living.”  As was to be expected of one ordained by two churches, the chancellor believed strongly that Christian principles were basic to a university education.  Despite his religious background and his strong religious convictions, Fairfield did not believe that theology should be taught in a public institution of higher education.  Christian ethics and morals certainly belonged in public higher education, but denominational and sectarian religious views had no place there.

When the Board of Trustees of Indiana Normal School chose the Rev. Dr. Edmund Burke Fairfield as the first principal, they obviously fulfilled their apparent desire to have someone of experience, energy, strong Christian convictions, and wide learning.

Silas M. Clark

One of the most distinguished citizens of Indiana was Silas Moorhead Clark. He was born January 18, 1834 in Plum Creek Township, Armstrong County. He was the son of James and Ann Moorhead Clark and came from a long line of notable ancestors on both his parent’s sides. On his maternal side was his great grandfather, the pioneer, Fergus Moorhead. Mr. Moorhead was one of the first persons to settle near Indiana in 1772. It was in 1777 that Fergus was captured by Indians and taken to Canada during the Revolution. Not long after, Mrs. Moorhead, while alone in the wilderness, gave birth to Fergus Moorhead, Jr., Silas Clark’s grandfather. His paternal great grandfather, Captain James Clark, was among the defenders of Hannastown when it was attacked in 1782 by Indians and Canadians and burned it to the ground.

The Man behind the House: Silas Clark
Silas M. Clark

Silas and his family moved to Indiana when Silas was about a year old. His father was in business for 37 years as a tannery operator and held the offices of school director and justice of the peace. Silas only received a basic education in the public schools; at the age of 14 he began attending the Indiana Academy, which was the first institution of learning equivalent to a high school. His classmates included: Matthew S. Quay, who later became Pennsylvania’s Republic “boss,” and Harry White, later serving as judge and Congressman. Not only was Clark studying at the Academy, he also worked on his father’s farm and carried the mail for a year between Indiana and Blairsville.

Once his education was complete at the Indiana Academy, Mr. Clark entered Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Washington County (now known as Washington & Jefferson College). In 1852 at the age of 18 he graduated fifth in a class of sixty people. Following graduation, he became a teacher at the Indiana Academy, for two terms, instructing 45 young men.

It was in 1854 that Mr. Clark began the study of law at the office of William M. Stewart, an Indiana attorney who later became Solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1856, Clark founded, along with Joseph M. Thompson and John F. Young, a Democratic newspaper, The Democratic Messenger. After a few months, Clark sold his interest in the paper, which later became the Indiana Messenger.

In September 1857, at age 23, Clark was admitted to the Indiana County Bar and the following year he became a junior partner of attorney Stewart. The firm of Stewart & Clark was said to have had the “largest and most lucrative practice in Indiana County.” The partners are believed to have never had a written agreement and never had a disagreement. Their association continued for sixteen years until 1873 when Stewart moved to Philadelphia; Clark continued the practice alone. His office was in the Edward Nixon house, North Sixth Street, which is now the Delaney automobile lot.

Clark’s next move was into the political world, being elected to Indiana Borough Council in 1859, and he was reelected in 1861 and 1865. In 1869, he was elected a school director for the borough and continued to hold this position for many years. It was said, “To his [Clark] judgement and energy are the public schools (of Indiana) are largely indebted for their prosperity.”

His law practice quickly attained a reputation as “a strong and logical reasoner and an eloquent advocate.” His personal inclination was to shun litigation wherever possible and settle cases peaceably out of court. It is claimed that Clark never sued anyone himself nor was he sued by anyone. Much can be said about Clark as a lawyer by the following quote, “Whether arguing questions of law before a court or questions of fact before a jury, the strong points of his case were so forcibly presented that the weak ones were likely to be lost altogether.”

In his personal life, Clark married Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead on April 26, 1859. She was not related to Silas’ mother’s line.

The Family behind the House
Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead Clark

Clark’s political career continued, on July 4, 1862 while in Harrisburg attending a State Democratic Convention, he was elected chairman of the Indiana County Democratic Committee. Now during this time, the Civil War was raging, and many people looked upon Democrats with suspicion as “Secessionists” and “Copperheads” allied with their rebellious brethren in the South. Clark made a proposal that both Republicans and Democrats of Indiana County, who had previously announced public meetings for the same day, cancel the meetings and campaign without political meetings; Clark pointed out that “the present is indeed no time for partisan strife.” The Republican candidate for Congress, was Clark’s law partner, William M. Stewart. But Clark received no reply to his proposal, so he suggested a joint meeting of both parties, but I.M. Watt, the Republican chairman, declined to consider either idea.

As Clark’s professional and political career prospered, he began the erection of his mansion in 1869. During construction, a newspaper item in October mentioned that he had been struck on the head by a failing brick and he was somewhat stunned for a few hours. The location of the home was on the site of the old academy, where Clark had attended as a boy, and had burned in 1864. The house was said to cost $12,000 and was completed in 1870. It was during this time that, without his knowledge, Clark was nominated by some friends at the State Democratic Convention for Justice for the State Supreme Court. He received forty or fifty votes, but the choice of the Convention was Cyrus L. Pershing.

This was just the beginning of Clark’s career in the judicial-political sphere. In 1871, he was unanimously chosen as the Democratic candidate for President Judge of the Tenth Judicial District – consisting of Armstrong, Indiana, and Westmoreland Counties – but Clark was defeated by James A. Logan of Greensburg. Logan was a solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and on Election Day trains were sent out along the PRR lines in the three-county area to haul voters to their polling places free of charge. Even though these tactics were employed, Logan only had a majority of some 400 votes. In the years that followed Clark declared “Judge Logan was a good, able and just judge.” By this time, Attorney Clark was considered one of the best attorneys in Indiana County.

Clark did not give up running for office, he was successfully elected on October 8, 1872 as a delegate from the 24th Senatorial District to the Convention which framed a new Pennsylvania Constitution. As a member of the Convention, he was named to a committee to make rules for governing the Convention; he also served on the Declaration of Rights Committee, Committed on Private Corporations, and the Revision and Adjustment Committee.

Again in 1874 Clark was nominated for the State Supreme Court, receiving 41 votes, but he was once again defeated with the nod going to W.J. Woodward.

Clark continued to be active in both business and politics. He was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis in 1876, in which Samuel J. Tilden for President. It was said “Silas M. Clark is not one of those men who avoid politics as a filthy pool in which honest men should not dabble. He holds it the right and duty of every good citizen to vote; he recognizes that good men should not shirk their share in party management.” In 1879, he was elected to serve as president of the First National Bank. He also served several terms as president of the Indiana County Agricultural Society.

In 1882, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania, unanimously chose him as its nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Following the Election of November 7, 1882, the entire Democratic ticket has been elected. Clark was elected, and surprising had won Indiana County, breaking a rule since the days of Andrew Jackson that no Democrat could carry the county.

Once the Indiana County Court adjourned on December 23, 1882, the members of the Bar organized and passed resolutions “highly complimentary of the character and ability of Judge Silas M. Clark” who severed his long connection with the county attorney’s association. On December 28, General White entertained the members of the Bar and other guests at an evening party in honor of the Supreme Justice-elect. The following day, Clark left to take his seat on the bench of the high court, with a salary of $8,000 per year.

Clark was highly esteemed on the bench, “his opinions, always brief, were couched in the simplest and choicest language, and were as readily understood by laymen as by lawyers.” Clark was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Lafayette College in 1886. However, there was sorrow during his term as Justice, with the death of his wife, Clara, on January 17, 1887.

Following the death of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Morrison R. Waite in 1888, many Pennsylvania newspapers pointed to Justice Clark as being qualified for his replacement. However, this was not meant to be.

Clark House
Silas M. Clark House

Late in September 1891, while holding court in Pittsburgh, he suffered from a large carbuncle on the back of his neck, but he continued to sit on the Bench until early November when he was obliged to come home. His physicians could not do much and gave up all hope of his recovery. On November 20, he lapsed into a coma and died about 9:15 p.m. at the age of 57.

Funeral services were held at the Presbyterian Church Monday afternoon at 2:00 pm on November 23; this was a remarkable demonstration of respect and affection, and it is likely that Judge Clark would not have wanted all this fuss. The Courthouse was draped in black; business establishments were closed until 4:00. John Sutton Hall was also draped in black and the bell tolled during the services. The church was overflowing, every available seat upstairs and down was occupied, there were many standing in every possible space, and there were more than a hundred waiting outside. At 11:20 a.m. a special train arrived in Indiana carrying Governor Pattison and five of Clark’s fellow judges, plus attorneys, county and state officials and other judges. At the conclusion of the service, the processional to the cemetery was delayed permitting Normal School faculty and students to file by for a last farewell. Afterwards, hundreds of others who had been patiently waiting outside walked silently past. Justice Silas M. Clark’s final resting place in Oakland Cemetery is marked by a simple stone bearing the words “S.M. Clark.” This was fitting for such a humble man as Silas.

In 1893, a boy’s dormitory was built on the Normal School campus, and it was named “Clark Hall,” in Silas’ honor. After it burned in 1905, another was erected and rededicated on January 12, 1907. After an “open house,” there was a ceremony held in the chapel of John Sutton Hall where a large portrait of Justice Clark, festooned with carnations, hung on the wall above the rostrum. Attorney J. Wood Clark, a son of Clark, presided.

Members of the Clark family continued to reside in the house until 1915 when J. Wood Clark moved to Pittsburgh. The house was rented to F.M. Fritchman, General Superintendent of the R&P Coal Company, until January 19, 1917, when the surviving Clark heirs sold the house to the County Commissioners for $20,000 less $1,000 which was donated by the heirs. The intention was for the house to be a veteran’s memorial and so it was known for years as “Memorial Hall.” It served various veterans’ groups, patriotic organizations, the Red Cross during World War I and II, as civil defense headquarters, and the Historical Society; it was also used as a polling place.

The Clark House continues to serve the community as a museum for the Historical Society. It serves as a “time capsule” a look into the past to see how the Clarks would have lived. Come visit us for one of the many events held at the Clark House or set up a tour of the Clark House to learn more about this fascinating and interesting house.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

What a debut!  The biggest star in the history of American entertainment was born onstage at the Fourteenth Street Theater in New York on October 24, 1881.  Though she died in obscurity some fifty years later in Hollywood, most radio, film and TV greats to this very day acknowledge their debt to the star whose stage name was Voix de Ville . . . “Vaudeville.”

An eclectic mix of music, comedy, drama, dancing and circus-style acts, vaudeville was developed as a family-friendly alternative to the more bawdy saloon and burlesque entertainment of our post-Civil War era.  The secret of its longevity lay in both the ever-changing variety of its acts and the invention of the theatrical circuit by vaudeville promotor Benjamin Keith.  Acts would get their start in the catch-as-catch-can world of small venues, and if successful, were signed to a contract by one of the national circuits.  The 400 theater Keith Circuit, ancestor of RKO Pictures, was the biggest.

Vaudeville came late to Indiana County.  At first our towns just weren’t big enough to be worth a troupe’s while; after all, Voix de Ville meant “voice of the city.”  Besides, nearby Punxsutawney had more full-size theaters than our entire county AND was on a circuit.  But as our population grew in the 1890s, professional acts began to be hired for charity events, private functions and even the County Fair.  The curtain went up on big-time vaudeville here on September 6, 1899, when the Gazette announced: “The theatrical season in Indiana will be opened by the Russell Brothers Vaudeville Company, which will play Library Hall.  The troupe numbers 29 people and carries its own brass band and orchestra.”

Located behind where Indiana’s post office now stands, Library Hall (later called the Auditorium) was one of just two venues large enough to host such a full-size troupe.  Einstein’s Opera House in Blairsville, “unquestionably the largest and best theater in the county” when it opened in 1904, was the other.  So even counting the tent-shows that occasionally passed through, Indiana County vaudeville remained sparse until a certain technology changed everything….

Silent films became available to small towns about 1905, and they began to form an unexpected symbiosis with vaudeville here almost immediately.  Public demand for “flickers” caused the opening of at least eight nickelodeons (movie theaters) between 1906 and 1913, and even roller-rinks showed films after hours.  Managers needing to fill the rewind-time between films began hiring non-circuit vaudevilleans to share the bill.  It worked.  From tiny Dreamland to the spacious Globe, business boomed, and THAT caught the big boys’ attention.  The Keith, Nixon and Polock circuits started booking acts that fit on our nickelodeons’ stages (Dreamland’s was only 10’x15’) and sent the bigger ones to Einstein’s and the Auditorium.  The golden age of Indiana County vaudeville had begun.

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Ad for vaudeville at Indiana’s  Star Theater (1909)

The sheer number of entertainment choices was now staggering, a sudden increase analogous to the coming of cable TV in the 1980s.  On any weeknight through 1918, an Indianan could see six vaudeville acts between three movies at one of up to five theaters . . . all for a dime.  To name just a few: The Lilliputians, midget acrobats; Harry Martine, the Juggling Jester; The Rockwell Minstrels; The Great Lamar, King of Handcuffs; Fairy Plum, the Dancing Comedienne;  Crighton and his Trained Roosters; The Mysterious Henrello; The Four Mirrors, mimics;  Valmore the Human Orchestra.

Vaudeville even did its patriotic duty in 1917 when our boys enlisted to go “Over There,” as vaudvillean George M. Cohan’s song put it.  Troops of the 110th Infantry, sent to train at Fort Lee, were entertained there by troupes hired from the Keith Circuit.

You may recall from a previous article that our county was a morally stringent place in those days.  There were no Sunday shows, nor any alcohol backstage or front.  Ads went to great lengths to assure the public of a vaudeville act’s good character.  A typical 1916 Gazette review found the Sunny South Company’s show to be “good, clean comedy . . . free from any suggestion of vulgarity.”

The one big gap in vaudeville’s character was its caricatures: ethnic and racial stereotypes formed the core of many a vaudeville comedy routine.  But there were also ethnic circuits from which small town immigrant groups sometimes hired acts for special occasions.  Heilwood’s Star Theater hosted just such a “Yiddisher troupe” during the 1916 Jewish War Sufferers fund drive, and Il Patriota gushed proudly when maestro Pietro Pastori played the Strand.

Then came Intermission.  The Colonial and the aged Auditorium closed in early 1919.  National circuits, learning of the Auditorium’s pending demolition, had withdrawn all future Indiana County bookings well in advance for want of a large enough anchor theater (Einstein’s had closed in 1916), and the remaining nickelodeons found it hard to attract independent acts.  Vaudeville all but vanished from the county for five long years.

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Heilwood’s Town Hall hosted vaudeville shows.

Two full-size modern theaters rose to fill the void in 1924: the 1,200 seat Ritz and the 1,100 seat Indiana, within a block of each other on Philadelphia in our county seat.  National circuits resumed bookings, finally sending us their biggest and best thanks to the opulent new movie palaces and some theatrical mergers.  From Blairsville’s Richelieu to the Knights of Pythias Hall in Clymer, vaudeville was back!

Three years later, the old vaudeville/flickers alliance made the next great leap when vaudeville star Al Jolson appeared and sang in the 1927 film  The Jazz Singer.  But instead of benefiting both parties as the silents had, “talkies” cleared vaudeville from most movie houses nationwide by the end of 1929, and the Great Depression did the rest.

The curtain came down on professional vaudeville in Indiana County in the early 1930s.  Half the theaters on county tax rolls in 1927 had closed by 1932, and one by one, those that remained stopped featuring live variety between movie times.  The last troupe took a bow on March 19, 1932 at the Ritz in Indiana: between showings of the film High Pressure, the Vanity Fair Vaudeville Revue presented “8 BIG TIME ACTS—30 Minutes of Comedy, Singing, Dancing!”  In the corner of their Gazette ad was an unintentional but fitting obituary: Last Times Today.

There was a curtain call of sorts thereafter.  Catering to nostalgia for the good times before the Depression, some radio networks featured travelling vaudeville teams making broadcasts from local venues what we now call “remotes.”  One of those shows came to Indiana in 1935.  For three days in July, episodes of the sitcom/variety show Salt and Peanuts NBC Revue  were broadcast live from the Ritz.

And then they were gone.

Pennsylvania’s love affair with vaudeville was a passionate one, immortalized long afterwards by George Burns’ famous tag-line, “They still love me in Altoona.”  So if there are any remaining vaudevilleans out there who remember playing the Ritz . . . we still love you in Indiana!

Portrait of an Indiana Community

1655 to 1900: Chapmen and Merchants

Though  Jews have been in our state from the start – the first were river traders in Peter Stuyvesant’s time – it wasn’t until the early 1800s that sons of Abraham settled in western Pennsylvania.  Their numbers were at first few; there were just 4,000 Jews in the entire United States at the time, and only seven US cities had a Jewish population greater than one hundred by 1830.  But events in northern Europe would soon cause the first great wave of Jewish emigration to the New World.

A series of failed revolutions compounded the effects of famine and economic depression already underway in the German Confederation by 1848.  The least privileged suffered most, and it was these – the Jews of Prussia, Hanover and the Slavic territories among them – who fled to America.  In a few short years, major coastal cities like Philadelphia had absorbed more immigrants than they could employ.  To make matters worse, Jews were often excluded by law from many professions and by custom from many of the rest.

Word soon spread that for those willing to work hard and take risks, there was opportunity in the hinterland.  But few of the new Jewish citizens had the means to buy or rent land.  What to do?  What outsiders so often do best: adapt.  They became itinerant peddlers, scrapmen and rag recyclers, independent trades needing little capital investment beyond a pack or a horse.  These “huxters” (as the term then was) served the remote coal camps in our area, where immigrant miners spoke the same Silesian dialect of German many of them did.

The life of a huxter was not easy, and not without risk.  Some were robbed, and a few even murdered.  They looked different and often spoke limited English and so were viewed by some with suspicion.  Yet these Jewish peddlers also brought news of the outer world to an eager audience.  When at last they were able to save enough to leave the road, they set up shop in small towns where the demand for their goods was high and competition was low, then sent for their families.   As historian Deborah Weiner observes, “For immigrant Jews, the American Dream revolved not around economic success or owning a piece of land, but around achieving self-employment . . . owning and operating their own store.”

By 1878 there were a quarter million American Jews, and of all the thirty-eight states, none had  more Jewish communities of over one hundred than Pennsylvania.   In that year, a certain town  which would one day join the ranks of “hundred-plus” had just three Jews in residence.  It was Indiana.  But change was in the wind for our county, in the number of its Jewish citizens and in the small-town suspicions of at least some of their neighbors.

In one of history’s great ironies, it was anti-Semitic atrocities halfway around the world that paved the way for better relations here.  Speaking from the Courthouse steps in 1882, Kiski School founder A.W. Wilson addressed Indianans:

“Whereas, we read with horror . . . of the oppression and cruelties perpetrated by the government and people of Russia on its own Israelitish citizens . . . we hereby express our sympathy for the suffering of persecuted Jews, welcoming them to our own hospitable land, in the hope that this age of advancing civilization may no more witness proscription of peaceful and law-abiding citizens anywhere on account of race or creed.”

The ancestors of most present-day Pennsylvania Jews came as refugees from Russia between 1880 and 1910, fleeing pogroms in the wake of Czar Alexander II’s assassination.  Those who settled in western Pennsylvania often came by “chain migration,” having first come to larger communities elsewhere and later to small towns at the invitation of relatives or friends already there.  And unlike the early peddler, the late-century Jewish newcomer often found a social network already in place; the traditional Hebrew concept of  TZEDEKAH, a communal obligation to help others, meant that he would seldom go hungry or homeless while he sought employment.  Thus, by the dawn of the new century, the stage was set for Indiana’s Jews to take their place – and set the pace – in retail commerce, and through it to gain the social acceptance so long denied them in the Old World and the New.

1900 – Present : Foundation, Floruit and Fade

The third and final wave came from Poland, Russia and economically-distressed Lithuania.  By the time WWI ended the Great Migration of 1900-1914, most members of Indiana’s Jewish community were of Lithuanian descent.  Many of its institutions were born in that period’s final years.  Hebrew Unity Club, chartered in 1914, would become Hebrew Unity Congregation two years later; both the Hub and Bon Ton, founded in 190708, would surpass the twentyfive year record set by Noah Adler’s clothing store (1867-1892) to become future Indiana icons.

The signal event in the community’s history took place on October 20, 1916 – the 23rd day  of Tishri, 5677 by the Jewish calendar – with the founding of Hebrew Unity Congregation.  Each of its thirty-eight charter members represented one of the twenty-five Jewish families of Indiana or one of thirteen in towns nearby.  They began meeting and worshiping in homes, then in rented rooms.  The new White Building’s third floor was finished in accordance with the congregation’s needs, and it remained their home for the next thirty-six years.

The word “Unity” in their name was neither incidental nor coincidental.  Many smaller Jewish communities of the time had split into separate congregations over differences in ethnic tradition or denominational practice; with its members representing four ethnic groups and all three traditions of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform), Hebrew Unity’s founders could not afford to let those differences count more than their common heritage.

Terrible events on the world stage would once again broaden Indiana’s acceptance of its Jewish citizens as they matched their community’s response to World War One.  Joint committees of Jewish and Christian leaders spearheaded at least four war-relief drives through 1919, and Hebrew Unity’s young men enlisted to go “over there” alongside their gentile age-mates.  Lieutenant Charles LeVine, who would join the Red Cross at war’s end, survived artillery barrages, air strikes and even a submarine attack, but his Blairsville kinsman Mayer LeVine was one of many Indiana County doughboys who never came home.  Death is the great equalizer.

Indiana grew rapidly in the postwar boom.  Jewish retailers opened stores along Philadelphia Street in such number that they were in the majority there by 1929.  Yet beyond their entrepreneurial skills, it would be thrift and sacrifice – virtues on which immigrant Jews had long relied – that would see them through the Great Depression to come.

Radio and newspapers were at their zenith in the 1930s.  Hebrew Unity members unable to attend Sabbath services listened to WCAE’s broadcast from Rodef Shalom synagogue in Pittsburgh, or read that city’s Jewish Criterion for inspiration and information.  Locally, former pro basketballer Dave Abrams coached Indiana’s Cardinals in the Inter-County League, a source of pride and welcome distraction in those hard times.

Pearl Harbor changed everything, from economics to attitudes.  Looking back, men like Dave Luxenberg – then an Army battalion commander – would identify WWII as the turning point, as the military and humanitarian involvement of Indiana’s Jews proved their mettle beyond any doubt.  Eighty percent of the boys in Hebrew Unity’s 1941 Confirmation class were in uniform a year later, and the salvage business, once held in low esteem, was so crucial to the war effort that half the men in that typically Jewish profession were granted exemption from the draft.

Like much of small-town America, Indiana’s Jewish community began its Golden Age in 1946.  For a quarter century, their second generation rode a rising tide that lifted institutions of local business, nuclear family and post-secondary education to heights not seen before or since.  Social and religious groups like Hadassah and B’nai B’rith flourished.  Now over sixty families strong, Hebrew Unity became Beth Israel Congregation when the cornerstone of its new synagogue was laid in 1952.  The lot was purchased, design commissioned and building constructed WITHOUT  DEBT  OR  MORTGAGE  – a remarkable feat for a congregation of any size, much less for one of 300 souls.

All good things must come to an end.  With the opening of Regency Mall in 1969, the first of three changes that would close the Golden Age struck family-owned retail businesses.  As Stan Luxenberg would say of Indiana in Roadside Empires, “Franchised outlets now lined the highways leading to town.  Downtown stores that had once flourished closed or moved to the three malls….”  Then came the wave of outsourcing in the Eighties and the rise of E-commerce in the Nineties.  The educated children of small town Jewish families dispersed to population centers where professionals were in demand, and by 2000, Beth Israel Congregation was too small to support a full-time rabbi or even to hold regular Sabbath services.

What to do?  What the children of Abraham have always done best: adapt.  No one knows the future, but given history’s example, it would be a mistake to count out the Jews of Indiana.

Fire at the Moore Hotel

It was the early morning hours of October 22, 1966 when a devastating fire tore through the iconic Moore Hotel, leaving one person dead and the Indiana landmark in ruin. 

At the time of the fire, there were forty guests registered at the hotel, but fortunately not all were in the building at the time of the fire.  The blaze broke out around 2 a.m. in the vicinity of room 323 which was occupied by Ron Logan.  Thankfully Logan escaped but was hospitalized for treatment of shock. 

The Pennsylvania Railroad crew and a truck driver for Railway Express Agency, discovered the fire.  The trucker, quickly stepped into action by going into the offices of the Indiana Evening Gazette to turn in the alarm. 

Flames tore through the upper floors of the hotel and were out of control before the firemen were able to reach the scene.  Indiana firemen were assisted by Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, and Plumville, and thankfully they were able to contain the fire to the brick encasement of the building. 

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Hotel key from the Moore Hotel

The only person that was not able to make it to safety was James Bollman, who was on the fourth floor.  Those on the upper floors were rescued via ladder trucks from the windows.  For those who are not familiar with the area, the Moore Hotel was located on Eighth and Philadelphia Streets, directly across Eighth Street from the Courthouse.  The building not only served as a hotel, but also housed seven business establishments on the Eighth Street side. 

Those businesses included; Valenti Shoe Repair, Swisher’s Sweeper Sales, Alvin Almes Realty, Ruth Knupp Beautry Salon, Lieb’s Appliances and Grundy’s Sports Shop, and a basement barbershop. 

William Bagley, the night deskman on duty the night of the fire and he was first informed the fire by Wilson Lydick, one of the guests.  Bagley went upstairs to check on the situation and upon seeing the fire immediately went back downstairs to phone emergency personnel but the police had already arrived.  Between the night deskman and the police, they went through the hotel warning guests to evacuate the building. 

The hotel was an iconic landmark in Indiana, dating back to the 19th century when it had containing 100 rooms.  It was first purchased around 1920 by Joseph Stern; and his son Morris operated the hotel for many years.  The hotel was at a prime location being across from the Pennsylvania Railroad passenger (located at the site of the present day courthouse). The site had been a hotel since around the end of the Civil War.  

Early records show that Solomon and Martin Earhart, brothers who were originally from Saltsburg, were in the livery stable business in West Indiana prior to 1865, which is the year Martin left that business and started a hotel in West Indiana. 

Apparently, Solomon started a hotel on the site of the Moore Hotel prior to 1876 because it was in that year that Martin purchased Solomon’s hotel, the Continental, and continued its operation. 

Martin had added a rear wing to the four story structure and then renamed it the American House, becoming a familiar landmark to the public traveling in the area. 

Martin passed away in 1913 and H.C. Moore acquired the hotel property, and subsequently renamed it the Moore Hotel. Mr. Moore added the brick shell to the building and a fifth floor. 

About 1920, Joseph Stern, the father of the owner at the time of the fire, acquired the property and completed the renovation and the fifth floor. 

As the years progressed, hotels were losing their original purpose and by the 1960s the hotel was being used for rooming house purposes rather than the typical hotel purpose.  Many of the guests at the hotel at the time of the fire, were actually permanent residents, many acquiring the living quarters in the Moore Hotel following the Indiana Hotel fire, which occurred on February 7, 1962. 

The Moore Hotel was the largest remaining hotel in Indiana, and had the structure not fallen victim to the tragic fire in 1966, it may have had a chance to regain some of its former elegance, especially when the new courthouse was built in the 1970s. 

Welcome 2019!!

Happy New Year!! Just last week we rang in 2019, and this new year is looking to be very exciting for the Indiana County Historical Society. The first event we have coming up in the new year is our second annual trivia night. If you or someone you know is a history buff and you think you can answer any question about Indiana County’s past then you should join us on Friday, February 15, 2019 from 6pm to 8pm to test your knowledge. Tickets are $15 and will be available in advance starting on January 15, 2019. Prizes will be awarded to the most knowledgeable players. Please call the Society at 724-463-9600 for more information and to purchase tickets. We hope you can join us for this wonderful event; rumor has it that this makes for a wonderful Valentine’s Day outing for couples.

We also have some exciting news regarding our blog. Over the next months we will be introducing our Board of Directors; these introductions will give you a chance to get to know those in charge at the Historical Society.  Stay tuned for further events at the Society so you can be involved in all the exciting events that are about to occur over the next year.  We hope you come and visit us this year, whether that is to see the exhibits in the museum, do some family research, or just some research regarding Indiana County.

A programming note for 2019 is our annual closings:

April: Closed Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th

May: The Society will be open from 10 am to 12 pm on Memorial Day

July: Closed Thursday July 4th

November: Closed Thursday the 26th through Saturday the 30th, reopen December 3rd

December: Closed Saturday the 21st through Monday the 31st, reopen January 2nd

Annual Christmas Open House

Last week was a busy week at the Historical Society as the holiday season is in full swing.  On Wednesday afternoon the public was invited to join the Historical Society to view recent interviews of long-time residents of Indiana County conducted by students from IUP’s history department. It was a great afternoon as we got to experience what life was like during the first half of the 20th Century through individual stories.  These stories ranged from life in the coal towns, to time at the University, and military service. We would like to thank everyone who came out and shared the afternoon with us along with the students from IUP’s History Department who completed the interviews, and of course the residents of Indiana County who shared their memories.

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IUP Community Choir

Then on Friday evening the Historical Society welcomed the community to celebrate the Christmas Season.  The weather was perfect, as the rain held off for most of the evening. The community came together to tour the festively decorated Clark House while enjoying holiday refreshments and to tour the museum. There were even gifts in the gift shop for people to do some holiday shopping for family and friends.  Our guests enjoyed holiday music provided by the IUP Community Choir, afterwards guests made their way to the Clark House for a holiday sing along around the piano in the parlor. If you were lucky you got to have a conversation with some historical figures, including Harry and Anna White who were in the Clark House. Thanks to all who came out to celebrate the season with us and to the Evergreen Garden Club for decorating the Clark House for the holiday season.

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Harry and Anna White

As a reminder the Historical Society will be closed from December 22, 2018 through January 1, 2019. We will reopen on January 2, 2019. We are excited to see what the new year holds in store, stay tuned for future events such as programs and fundraisers, or just come in to visit the museum or do some family research in our library. Whatever the reason for your visit we can’t wait to see you at the Society. We wish everyone a happy holiday season and a happy new year.

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Clark House

Labor Leader: William H. Sylvis

William H. Sylvis, future labor leader, was born in the town of Armagh on November 28, 1828, to Nicholas Sylvis, a wagon maker, and Maria Mott. The Sylvis family moved to Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe, PA), his father worked for a boatbuilding relative and then moved to White Deer Valley, where he began his own wagon shop in 1835.

A faltering economy forced William Sylvis, 11-years old at the time, into indentured service on the land of a wealthy farmer and state legislator from the Philadelphia area. His father’s wagon-making business began to grow again, and his father wished that young William would work for him when he turned 16, but William went to work for the Forest Iron Works instead.

During this time, the common practice for businesses was to pay their employees only enough to survive from week to week, and the remainder of the wages would be paid at the end of the year. Sylvis worked for nearly a year, but before he received the bulk of his pay, the company went out of business.

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William Sylvis

From Philadelphia, Sylvis moved to Curwensville, Clearfield County to work as a foundry apprentice. He also taught Sunday school in Hollidaysburg and worked in Johnstown for a short time before he married. In 1851, he married 15-year old Amelia A. Thomas; the following year the newlyweds along with their infant son moved back to Philadelphia in 1852 and worked in the Cresson, Stuart and Peterson Foundry. Sylvis soon learned the hardships of a low paid worker, as he struggled to provide for a second son born in 1854.

In 1854, tragedy struck in a work-related accident at the Cresson Foundry. Sylvis was working as an iron molder among fellow workers who were casting molds in sand. Another molder was carrying a long ladle of melted iron, stumbled, and the ladle spilled into one of Sylvis’ boots. Sylvis became crippled in that leg. This was before disability benefits, so Sylvis knew that such an injury would likely lead to begging on the street or selling pencils, just to survive.

Despite his injury, a year later, Sylvis returned to work at the foundry. During the Panic of 1857, the company wanted huge wage concessions, and a fledgling union struck; although Sylvis was not a member of the union, he picketed with the members. Sylvis soon became secretary of the union and probably its most active member. Two years later, Sylvis founded the Iron Molders Union and became the president of the National Labor Union (NLU) (a predecessor of both the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor). As president of the National Labor Union, Sylvis supported the right of women to vote (this was 54 years before women had the right to vote in the United States).

During this time, Sylvis not only worked his regular 10-hour shift at the foundry, but also the workload of writing union reports. He also started to deliver speeches to his fellow laborers. But with the quick rise to influence and his sharp tongue, there were enemies. Those enemies were behind charges that Sylvis embezzled union funds. Sylvis provided a full accounting but was still voted out at the 1861 convention.

The Civil War caused a boom in production and there was no shortage of jobs in molding or other trades, but the unions’ power declined because of their members joining the ranks of draft dodgers fleeing to Canada. Sylvis opposed war because he realized that a division of the nation would undermine labor’s progress, because of this Sylvis favored a compromise that would divide the west into a northern free area and a southern slave zone. Sylvis did serve briefly as an orderly sergeant in the fall of 1862 by leading a group of men in pursuit of Lee as he withdrew from Antietam.

The Molders were revived in Pittsburgh and added the tag “International” in recognition of Canadian locals. Sylvis was exonerated from the charges and was elected president. The only issue was that the union did not have money and few members, so Sylvis embarked on three organizing tours to the west, and his work paid off. Two years later, the International Union boasted 122 locals with a membership nearing 7,000.

In 1865, tragedy struck the Sylvis family; typhoid fever claimed his wife in October. Sylvis swifty wooed and wed Florrie Hunter, whose family he had befriended in Hollidaysburg. The following year, there was a fifth child added to the Sylvis family.

Sylvis also founded the International Journal, a union periodical; it was through this periodical that he helped start “Reading Rooms” for the general public. He also helped obtain an eight-hour work day law for federal employees.

Sylvis was ahead of his time in his calling for social reforms and the extension of union benefits to women and African-Americans. In fact, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was accepted as a delegate at the 1868 NLU convention. It should be noted that Sylvis had a continued prejudice against African-Americans; however, he wanted them included in organized labor to prevent their use as strikebreakers.

Sylvis dedicated his life to labor, at the expense of his health; and on July 22, 1869 he was stricken by inflamed bowels and five days later he died, at the young age of 41. He left behind his wife and five children with less than $100. The NLU appropriated money to cover his funeral, and there was a 10 cent tax collected from all members to help the family. After his death, the NLU severed its ties to the women’s movement, and in three years disappeared altogether.

*Sojak, Frank, Indiana County labor group works to honor Armagh native, Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. May 20, 1990.; William H. Sylvis Pioneer of American Labor.; William Sylvis: A forgotten hero of labor. Himler, Jeff, Marker Pays Tribute To Armagh Labor Leader, Blairsville Dispatch, June 7, 1990.