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Ellwood City

Milestones Vol 24. No.3

By Charles Moser

Contributed to Milestones By Bob Barensfield


This is a fairy tale of sorts. It's about a man and his dream. It's about a town called Eliwood City.

Some people said it shouldn't have happened, this town straddling the Beaver and Lawrence County lines in Western Pennsylvania, the town built in the middle of nowhere.

But, there were some people, in high places, who knew the time had come to transform the plateau above the beautiful Connoquenessing gorge from corn fields to factories and houses. In the board room of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the area was well known. It was the railroad's best bet for a route from Pittsburgh to Chicago through the industrial communities of New Castle, Youngstown and points west.

The B&O had a working agreement with the Pittsburgh & Western Railroad, which followed the Connoquenessing Creek from Zelienople to North Sewickley, Frisco, Wurtemburg, Hazel Dell and Chewton on its way to New Castle. The route appeared satisfactory with the exception of that part from Frisco to a spot above Rock Point Park, near the juncture of the Connoquenessing Creek with the Beaver River. That section was windy and hilly, much too difficult for trains pulling more than 20 cars. It had been proposed as early as 1885, that a bridge be built across the Connoquenessing at Frisco, a tunnel dug through the hill separating Frisco from the level plateau, a line laid across that plain of farmland, and another bridge built across the Connoquenessing about a mile above its juncture with the Beaver River, where it would connect with the P&W line.

Henry Waters Hartman, an industrialist from Beaver Falls, a partner of Andrew Carnegie in Hartman's early days in Beaver Falls and a business associate of Henry W. Oliver, president of the B&O, knew all about the railroad's plans. In 1888, when he took his friend and right-hand man, H. M. Whittaker, to the top of a hill in North Sewickley Township, overlooking the plateau, the winding creek gorge and a smattering of houses in what was called Hazel Dell on the other side of the gorge, the plans for the railroad project and the town were already well under way.

Mr. Hartman's plans for the erection of the town dovetailed so completely with the railroad's plans that it is difficult to know just when the parties got together on this massive venture. Mr. Hartman reincarnated the Continental Improvement Co., chartered in 1868, renamed it The Pittsburg Co. (no "h" at that time) and in 1889 began gathering options for the purchase of the necessary land. Mr. Hartman was president of the company, L. Halsey Williams of New Castle vice president and Merritt Greene, who was associated with Mr. Hartman as general manager of the Bridgewater Gas Co. in Beaver County, general manager.

Mr. Greene was also advance agent for the company. He began his work of getting options on June 1, 1889, at the time of the devastating flood in Johnstown. It was how the residents remembered the precise date.

The directors of the company, in addition to Mr. Hartman and Mr. Williams, were John W. Chalfant, Hon. E. H. Stone, George I. Whitney, Oliver P. Scaife and W. L. Standish, all powerful figures in western Pennsylvania's industrial circles.

Just a short side note about Rock Point Park, on the piece of land at the juncture of the Connoquenessing Creek and Beaver River. A popular picnic and fishing area for many years, the property was bought by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1880s, an amusement park built on the level strip of land between the rocks and the water ways and up the hill above that strip where the remains of the shoot-the-chutes can still be seen over 100 years later. The old Matheny Hotel, built in 1833, after the Beaver Division of the Erie and Pittsburgh Canal was opened, was used as a hotel in the canal days, a station in the railroad days and a center of operations in the park days.

The years from 1825 to 1835 should be remembered as years of progress in the history of the area. The village of Wurtemburg was begun in the late 1820s by the Liebendorfer family, in 1830 the canal was begun and the village of Chewton laid out by Benjamin Chew Jr., with streets named after members of his family, and about 1835 the public school law was passed and an education became available to all children.

In 1858, the Jones Bridge was built across the Connoquenessing from Hazel Dell to the plateau that was to become Bllwood City, and that same year the old brick school was built on the Ellwood side of the creek. The old covered bridge served until 1896 when the Sixth St. bridge was built, and the old school was the first school in the town.

The Pennsylvania Railroad began running trains up the east side of the Beaver River in the 1870s, and the P&LE up the west side in the early 1880s, leaving no room along the river for the B&O - which paved the way for the bridges, tunnel and a town. The town was named Ellwood in honor of Mr. Hartman's friend Col. Isaac L. Ellwood, a maker of barbed wire fence. It was changed to Ellwood City when it was discovered that there was another Ellwood post office in the state. It has been Ellwood City for over a century, but has never been a city.

So, the land was bought and the hordes of workmen, for the railroad project and the town, poured in. Housing was at a premium and Mr. Hartman's venture progressed beautifully. The builders of the town had overcome the mud, the slings and arrows of newspapers and parochial giants of other nearby communities, the many infrastructure problems associated with a new community and financial problems that arrived early and stayed on. Mr. Hartman, who had headed several Beaver County water companies and organized the first electric company in Beaver County, had the know-how and the people to carry it out. When the borough was incorporated in 1892, he was elected burgess and he had enough of his men on council to accomplish almost anything he pleased.

This giant of a man, although small in stature, was the mastermind of it all, with some help from powerful friends.

And then came the depression of 1894. Industries closed, commerce slowed down across the nation, the sale of lots and houses fell off to practically nothing in Eliwood City, and the payments for the huge loans that financed the project still had to be made.

It was also about this time that Mr. Hartmen's men on council were being replaced by others not so sympathetic to his cause and some of his original followers were becoming disillusioned. A great deal of animosity had grown among those who resented the power plays of the founder, and anti-Hartman factions sprung up.

But in that same depression year, 1894, came another man, who eventually replaced Mr. Hartman as the community's No. 1 citizen. R. C. Stiefel came to Eliwood City from Wales with a patent for the piercing of seamless tubing, and within a few years, the town was the seamless tube capital of the world. After that plant and many of the other steel and tube producing plants in the area were gobbled up by the big steel conglomerate that eventually became U.S. Steel, Mr. Stiefel's personal intervention kept the Ellwood City plant in the town, in spite of the corporation's decision to move it to Greenville. A powerful man he was, in the business world and the political world.

When the automobile owners of the town began a concerted effort to get the town's streets paved in 1902, they turned to Mr. Stiefel for leadership. They formed a new party at his request, the Citizens Party. Mr. Stiefel was elected burgess and the two Citizens Party candidates were elected to council, giving the street paving advocates enough votes to put the ordinances through and start getting the town out of the mud.

In 1896, another man came to town to open a law practice. Eliwood City had had two lawyers in its earlier years, but they had moved away, so Joseph W. Humphrey had a community waiting for his services. He remained a practicing attorney in the borough for nearly 60 years, many of them as borough solicitor. Twice he was the Democratic nominee for judge, but in his day Democrats weren't elected to high office in Lawrence County. He was associated with the leaders of the town from the days of Mr. Hartman to the days of Stephen Rubino, who emerged in the 1950s as a leader of opposition to the established powers of the community. Mr. Rubino was part of the changing of the guard from long-time leadership by the industrial and business leaders of the town to leadership by men who worked in the mills and at out-of-town businesses, and those with ethnic backgrounds who were not welcome for many years in the higher social and political halls of the borough.

Eliwood City has proved to be a microcosm of the country, changing with the times and as a result of major events around the world. It was built in a day of huge industrial growth, when company towns did spring up where commerce, steam and electric power and ready land were available. The laboring was done by immigrants from Europe's povertystricken nations and the families of those laborers were to form the bulwark of the community, remaining in the town long after the founders and early leaders were gone. It had its factions for every cause and against every cause. It had an antivaccination organization, a Ku Klux Klan movement, its residents survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the young men went to war in the 1940s, many never to return and those who returned establishing the right of the working man to a fair wage and decent working conditions. They came back to break down the ethnic lines that had been drawn by other generations, in Eliwood City and across the country.

In the beginning, however, the political power was held by the men with business and industrial power. They ran the mills and they ran the town. It was so from one end of the country to the other.

Early powerful figures in Eliwood City included H. S. Blatt and Captain A. C. Grove, who came to Ellwood City in 1891 as partners in a hardware business, turned competitors after a devastating fire destroyed their building at Lawrence and Seventh that same year and as opponents on many fronts in the years that followed. Mr. Blatt was a strong Hartman backer and the man who nominated Mr. Stiefel for burgess in 1902. Captain Grove and his sons and followers bucked the Hartman power. Although Mr. Hartman and Mr. Stiefel were victorious allies in the street paving movement, the animosity from that battle, especially from the Groves, and the rejection by a later council of Mr. Hartman's street railway plans, led to his departure from Ellwood City about 1908. He died Sept. 29, 1913, at the age of 62 in Denver, Cob., where he and his son H. W. (Waters) Hartman Jr. owned and operated a railway system.

His dream had not materialized, as he visioned it, but history has ruled differently. His dream town has survived the ups and downs of over 100 years, adjustting to the world's economy and customs, while retaining an individualism that is unique in today's world, a legacy of its founder, the natives of the area who added their own unique culture to that of the new town and the immigrants who came for a better life and although often suffering from hard times and prejudice retained a deep affection for their new country and city.

Those who would like a more comprehensive history of the town should read, "A History of Eliwood City, Pennsylvania," published by the Ellwood City Historical Association in 1942. This masterful publication was really the work of one man, Dr. A. E. Whittaker, who offered it to the historical assocation for the town's 50th anniversary. Other publications that might be helpful are "Eliwood City's Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Booklet and Program," published in 1967 by the Ellwood City Ledger, "Ellwood City's Bicentennial Souvenir Booklet and Program," published by the Ledger in 1976, and "Ellwood City Houses and the People Who Lived in Them," published by Robert Barensfeld, president of the Ellwood City Area Historical Society, and Charles R. Moser, former Ledger editor, who wrote the Diamond Jubilee and Bicentennial booklets.