Celebrating 100 years of Farrell Pennsylvania History — 1901-2001

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History of Farrell Pennsylvania
Table of Contents

Part I

History of Farrell Pennsylvania
Part I

(The following article appeared in the 1951 Farrell Golden Jubilee issue of Farrell High School's Reflector.
It was written by Mrs. Elizabeth Heinze Broderick and Mrs. Betty Rose Broderick Gibbs)

[Fruit Avenue, South Sharon, Pa.] They dubbed it the “Magic City”, this infant community of the Twentieth Century. Wrought of steel, it had erupted with the roar of the blast furnaces under reddened, smoke-filled skies. A smoldering melting pot had spewed its living contents on the eastern slope of the Shenango River a mile south of Sharon. Farrell had been conceived. Skeptics watched and waited during the first years of the Twentieth Century for the decline and sudden death of the little “boom town” which had appeared in the midst of the Shenango Valley's established communities of Sharon, Sharpsville and Wheatland.

Because it had been denied the luxury of a slow and methodical growth — settler by settler, cabin by cabin, farmhouse by farmhouse, business by business — there were those who thought that South Sharon would vanish as quickly as it had appeared. They underestimated the strength of steel and of the men who make it.

Two World Wars, a nationwide depression and fifty years later this community is stronger than it has ever been. [Sol Gully's Store] The Tongues of over a hundred nations have been fused into a speaking voice of democracy that daily records its chapter in the proud journal of American freedom. Although it was a herculean challenge, it has been well met by a stout-hearted citizentry bent on survival and determined to leave their children a heritage full of the dignity of honest labor. How, in a mere half-century, the efforts of a people united have raised their home town's status from the small borough of South Sharon to the thriving, third class city it is today is the history of Farrell.

An Indian warrior named Shenango

Late in the 1890's the land that lay south of Sharon was almost virtually as rustic and untamed as it had been as Indian Territory. Shenango, the Indian warrior who once had held dominion over all the hunting land along the river which now bears his name, would have evidenced little change. A few farmhouses marked the beginnings of human habitation, but the hillside with its trees and the river valley with its swamplands were still very much subject to the dictates of Nature.

Perhaps someday it would become surburban, an extension of the residential areas of bordering communities, or perhaps it would further develop as farmland and a source of produce in the valley. No one really knew and there was little warning of the bombshell that Frank H. Buhl and his associates would drop in their midst at the turn of the century.

Frank H. Buhl and the Sharon Steel Corporation

In February of 1900 ground was broken for the mills of the Sharon Steel Company which was organized by Mr. Frank H. Buhl and later joined by John Stevenson, Jr. That the ground-breaking was on formerly undeveloped land south of Sharon was the factor that set up a chain reaction of progressive events. The Beechwood Improvement company of Pittsburgh had been called to lay out the streets and properties of South Sharon. Under the direction of Peter Shields, the Improvement Company opened an office in the original farmhouse of this vicinity, the old Spearman homestead at the corner of Broadway and Adams streets, and plans for the new town moved rapidly. Lots, mostly of 25 and 30 feet, were staked out, street lines were made, and sewers and some sections of sidewalks and curbing were laid.

[ South Sharon Fire Department] With this much of the settlement's groundwork in readiness and the steel mill nearing completion, an extensive advertising campaign began. Workers were wanted and lots were for sale. The results were gratifying, for within the first few months workers had answered the call and most of the lots had been sold. However, when the first millmen, many from parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, arrived in South Sharon, they were hard-pressed for living accommodations for their families. The first boarding houses had been quickly filled to capacity. Many newcomers had to find temporary quarters in nearby Sharon. Others, especially the single men and those who had come “pioneering” ahead of their families, met the housing shortage with an alternating work-shift and bed-shift arrangement at the local boarding houses. In the shadows of the steel mills, the Italian immmigrant workers had housed themselves en masse. First settlers referred to this crowded group of dwellings as “Little Italy”. As soon as better housing was available for these immigrants to America, this section was absorbed by the mills.

In October of this first year of a new community and a new century, the Sharon Steel Hoop Company was incorporated with Morris Bachman, the organizer, as President. Although this industrial plant lay north of the Sharon Steel Company, it was to fall within the corporate limits of the bustling new town. Here was the beginning of the industrial might that forty-five years later became the life and blood of Farrell as a steel center, for this was the company that in 1936 changed its name to the Sharon Steel Corporation.

The American Sheet and Tin Plate Company and the American Steel and Wire Company quickly entered the industrial picture to absorb the output of the steel mills. These plants brought added demands for workers and housing.

First home is built in South Sharon (Farrell)

[The 'Hollow' which divided Farrell] Building boomed. The Steel Company office was erected. Miles J. Patton built the first house in town at the corner of Emerson Avenue and Haywood street. The Buckley Hotel and ten brick homes in Darr Avenue followed. The steel company built severty-five houses to aid in housing their employees and the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company followed with seventy-five additional homes. Contracts for these buildings went to the Nicola Building Company of Pittsburgh with Frank C. Jones as general manager and E. E. Cleper as architect. Many individual residences also began to mushroom on the hill. building blocks were in the making with such new edifices as the Morgan Hotel, the Mischler and Beck building and the Miller and Mason building.

With building construction going full-speed ahead, the influx of millworkers and businessmen and their families created new demands. These were a spirited and civic-minded people. They wanted their own governing body, independent of Hickory Township jurisdiction. They wanted police and fire protection, They wanted schools and they wanted churches. They attained each of these goals in a surprisingly short time.

South Sharon Incorporated as a borough - 1901

South Sharon became an incorporated borough on November 21 of 1901, less than two years after ground had first been broken for the steel mills. William Mason was elected the first burgess; William Magan, tax collector; Cornelius Maxwell and Peter Cook, justices of the peace; and Benjamin Lewis, Charles Atwood, John J. Nolan, Peter D. Cameron, John C. Mahoney, Bernard Cain and John Matta, councilmen. [ South Sharon Fire Department] The first school directors were C. M. Kester, August Daurelle, E. E. Clepper, W. T. Anderson and C. H, Ingles. W. H. Carlin took office as the first borough secretary as Attorney Edward Bartlett became the city solicitor and James H. Nichols, the city engineer. J. R. Latimore was later to become the borough's first treasurer.

Farrell's first jailhouse is built

Council held its first meeting in the Beechwood Improvement Company office and initiated police protection for South Sharon with the appointment of David James as Chief of Police. William Hanlon was the first policeman. These two men became law enforcement officers without benefit of a jailhouse. For four months, until a police station could be erected in Peach Alley between Negley and Adams streets, all offenders in South Sharon had to be taken in custody to the Sharon jail. In 1910, with the completion of the South Sharon City Building on Spearman Avenue, the police station and the then borough jail moved to their present location. With Chief James still in office, the force then boasted thirteen men.

[Carnegie Steel Works]

Sharon Steel sold to Carnegie Steel

On the heels of the borough's incorporation came the sale of the Sharon Steel Company to Carnegie Steel in 1902, a transaction that opened the door to “Big Steel” holdings.

Volunteer Fire Department forms

Economic stability was in the making and expansion programs for civic development surged ahead. Late in the fall of this second year, a group of citizens met at the Police Station in Peach Alley to discuss the formation of a Volunteer Fire Department. [ South Sharon Fire Department] In cooperation with the desires of the residents, the steel company placed hand-reels with firehose attached in small frame buildings at designated points in the borough. This was the extent of South Sharon's fire-fighting equipment until the following year when Borough Council okayed plans for the erection of a fire station at the exact location of the present enlarged Fire Department on Wallis Avenue. Council approved and named C. B. Carrell as assistant chief. By 1910 the department had eighty-two men and was equipped with a large combination hose and chemical wagon, a new hook and ladder truck and two horses.

Farrell's first bank - The Colonial Trust Company

[Old Colonial Trust Bank]Chartered in April of 1902, the Colonial Trust Company with John Stevenson, Jr. as president was elected by the first council to act as treasurer for the borough. The Trust Company was the first of four banking institutions to locate in South Sharon, but it, as well as The People's Bank, was forced to close its doors when the market crashed in 1929. Today, the Sol J. Gully Bank, one of the most modern in the valley, is the only survivor.

Farrell's first newspaper is published

It was in May of 1902 that Burgess William Mason and W. F. Miller published the first edition of the South Sharon News. Mr. Miller was to feature even more prominently in the town's growth when in April of 1903 he became the first postmaster. It was under his direction that free delivery was estabished here in 1907.

Farrell's first schoolhouse

Education for the children of the mixed population of this community began with the opening of the mills. Under the supervision of Hickory Township, two one-story frame schoolhouses were built; one near the corner of Haywood street and Spearman Avenue, the other on Idaho street. A third school was later erected by township officials at the corner of Fruit Avenue and Kishon street. North and south locations were chosen to facilitate attendance by students on either side of the mammouth hollow which almost severed the town.

The original schoolhouses were to enjoy but a very temporary period of usefulness. In January of 1902 the first school board moved to secure a $2,500 loan to purchase the Northside School building which was then under construction by the Beechwood Improvement Company. Later this two-story brick building became known as the Lincoln Building. With its completion the board selected Professor C. G. Canon as supervising principal under the direction of the county superintendent. The census of 1905, showing the borough of South Sharon with a pupulation of 5,000, prompted the State Department of Education to grant the board the privilege of choosing their first superintendent of schools. Professor Canon was immediately selected and remained in this capacity until his resignation at the end of the 1907-1908 school term.

Farrell's first High School

[Map]No sooner had the Northside Building been completed than plans were drawn for a Central Building on the south side of “The Hollow”. This school, later the Washington Building, went up on Wallis Avenue near Haywood street and served also as the first high school. In 1904 Grace Brauchle, Frank Clepper and Florence Harry had the distinction of being the first graduating class of South Sharon High School.

Coping with a fast increasing enrollment, Superintendent Canon placed the problem of overcrowded schools before the school board in 1907. Prompt action was taken and the new South Sharon High School was ready for occupancy by November of 1908.

[Greek American Progressive Association]

Farrell — A city of Churches

One day to be called a “City of Churches”, South Sharon's earliest spiritual guidance stemmed from Sunday school meetings and services in two township schoolhouses. Rev. J. S. Frantz, organizer of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, conducted the first Sunday school services in the Idaho Street School while Rev. J. R. Green, first pastor of the United Presbyterian Church, was in charge of mission services in the schoolhouse near Haywood street. It had been from a union Sunday school meeting in the Idaho Street School on July 6, 1901 that the Methodists, Congregationalists, United Presbyterians, Baptists and Lutherans had emerged to organize their respective churches.

Earliest Roman Catholic devotions were conducted by Rev. Father Dennis O'Hearn in Sieg Hall on Broadway. This was the congregation that organized St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church early in 1901. Jewish pioneers in South Sharon organized the B'Nai Zion in the fall of 1901 and held their first High Holiday services in what was know as Pythian Hall over Hart's Drug Store on Broadway.

By 1910 South Sharon was a literal interpretation of the freedom of worship with over fifteen houses of God. One of the churches then standing was the first colored church in town, the First Baptist Church with Rev. S. C. Coleman as pastor. It had been organized to fill the needs of a growing negro population.

South Sharon renamed Farrell, Pennsylvania

[Old Street Car] [Photo of James A. Farrell] Only ten short years had passed, but South Sharon with over 10,000 inhabitants was a recognized link in Shenango Valley's chain of industrial communities. Miles of paved streets and sidewalks had replaced dirt roads and double-lined boardwalks. Trolley connections could be made to any town within a radius of a hundred miles. Electricity was fast ending the gaslight era. An abundant supply of pure water, a good sewerage system and telephones were already bywords of convenience. The first peoples of South Sharon had worked for a high standard of living and they were enjoying it.

In due recognition of the importance of the steel industry to the borough's progress, South Sharon changed its name to Farrell in 1912 in honor of James A. Farrell, then president of the United States Steel Corporation. The name was selected from hundreds entered in a contest during Old Home Week celebrations in July of that year. Mrs. Jack Leyshon, formerly Nell Miller and daughter of the first postmaster, had suggested the new name. Further honor went to Mr. Farrell in 1914 when the new grade school at the corner of Staunton Street and Spearman Avenue was named the James A. Farrell Building.

The Shenango Valley great flood of 1913

Farrell's residents were thankful early in 1913 that their homes and many of their businesses had been built on the hillside for beginning on Easter Sunday torrential rains doused the Shenango Valley for four days. By Monday night the swollen Shenango swept over her banks in a flood that left downtown Sharon devastated. By comparison, Farrell suffered little far-reaching destruction. Broadway businesses counted losses, as did the mills, but the town and its industries returned to almost normal operation within a few days. However, the threat of recurring floods was of constant concern to the Valley until the Pymatuning Dam was completed in June of 1933.

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