Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



“Downtown” in the 1940s
March 02, 2017



The Bridgeville Area Historical Society “Second Tuesday” workshop for February focused on “downtown” Bridgeville in the 1940s, an effort to document the businesses, institutions, and residences on Washington Avenue during the War Years.

The facilitator established the mood for the program by reading an eloquent document written by Jane Patton for the Bethany Church Servicemen’s Newsletter in August, 1944. The Newsletter was sent monthly to Bridgeville area servicemen all over the world in an effort to let them know the folks on the Home Front were thinking of them.

In this issue Jane recorded a hypothetical walk up Washington Avenue on a summer Saturday evening, identifying places (Weise’s, the Rankin Theater, etc.) and people (Sam Fryer, Chief Myers, etc.) whom one was apt to encounter on such a venture. Many of the places and people she mentioned were remembered nostalgically by members of the audience.

The format for the discussion was a detailed map of Washington Avenue in 1931, derived from the Sanborn Fire Insurance map for that year. The west side of “Main Street” between Chartiers and Hickman Streets was easy – the Presbyterian Church, the Manse, Dr. Fife’s house, and the Post Office.

The east side was more difficult. Miss Patton had mentioned Ray Trimmer, and we concluded that his family lived in one of the first two houses close to Chartiers Street. It was agreed that the historic duplex at 745 was occupied by a Franks family in those days. With the exception of Fryer’s Funeral Home, the next five houses remained unidentified. Don Toney suggested we dig out the 1940 Census for help on them. A good suggestion and a project to be implemented before next month’s workshop.

Sam Capozzoli reported that the Socony Mobil gas station on the corner of James Street was owned by John Miller. My brother reminded us that Louie Dernosek’s produce store was in the first building on the other side of James. Then came an electrical repair shop operated by Joe Sarasnick. Then came a small bar run by Al Ross. The L & R Bowling Alleys occupied the large building next door to it. Dr. McGarvey’s house was next, on the corner of Bank Street Extension.

Back on the west side, the original location of E A Motor Company was on the north corner of Hickman Street. We were unable to identify the occupant of the building next to it. Bernhart Motor Company occupied the next building at some point. Then came the large building that eventually housed Capelli’s; in the early 1940s someone reported it was a night club called the Zanzibar.

Pepe’s Bar and Grill was in the next building. Saperstein’s haberdashery was in one of the next two buildings; Bard’s Dairy Store was probably the other one. Then came Weise’s News Stand – a popular hangout for the younger set. Between Weise’s and the Central Restaurant was a small shop that someone suggested handled ladies’ clothing. That took us up to the bridge over the B & M branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Back across the street Bonnett’s Restaurant occupied the building on the north corner of Bank Street Extension. Then came the Rankin Theater, followed by two Harmuth establishments, a ladies clothing store and a butcher shop. I remember Pete Conroy’s barber shop being in that area at some point, but am puzzled about its specific location.

On the other side of the bridge was the C. P. Mayer Building. The Lutz Lumber Company office was in the first storefront, followed by Pete Strasser’s Jewelry Store, and Wilson’s Drug Store, on the corner. On the other side of Washington Avenue, Sarasnick’s Hardware Store was at the bridge; the next five storefronts, up to Station Street are mostly a mystery.

There is general agreement that the store on the corner was originally Butler’s Grocery and eventually Isaly’s. Some folks believe there was an A & P next door to Butler’s, and that Tom Thomas had a restaurant in one of the storefronts.

Time ran out before we were able to cross Station Street – we will pick up there next month, at 7:00 pm on the “Second Tuesday”, March 14. Perhaps some of the questions we uncovered in this first session will have been resolved.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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