At the beginning of 1897, the newspaper was still published twice weekly, but it became daily at the beginning of November as economic conditions continued to pick up. A change in ownership mid-June once again changed the tone of the paper, diminishing the social column where I used to see lots of newsy mentions about members of our community, so 1897 does not include many specifics about our community beyond a scandal and business notices.
You may recall I was wondering in the 1896 entry in this series what the true economic conditions were like in the town. In 1897 it is clearer that conditions are truly on the upswing. On January 30 the paper reported that Andrew Carnegie predicted a period of prosperity, as he had apparently predicted the hard times in 1893, and he was right again. Indeed, throughout the Mon valley heavy industry ran steadily throughout the year. Over the summer the Homestead mill began a long stretch of all departments operating in full, and by October the mill was setting records for the site of its pay days. In November people complained that passenger trains were delayed because so much freight was passing into and out of town. The paper reported that the iron and steel market was strong, which translated down to the town, though on June 12 the paper wondered, ”Why is it that the return of prosperity is so delayed? The feeling of disappointment over the failure of business to revive in the manner predicted before the [November 1896] election is widespread…More or less contradictory statements are being made in regard to the revival of business. Some claim that is continues to grow worse, while others assert that the tide is turning.” As there were so many indicators to the contrary within Homestead itself, such as the amount of advertising in the paper and building activity in the town, I have to rely upon the paper’s April 10 assessment that the Mon Valley was returning to prosperity faster than other regions in the countries.
That said, life in Homestead continued to have its rough aspects. In July scarlet fever ran through the town, and typhoid in September. A Board of Health was finally organized, though it mostly seemed to concern itself with issues of food quality, and a desperately-need dog catcher began work. New battles about odors coming from the slaughterhouses along the riverbank arose, and old battles over speakeasies, peddlers, temperance, street refuse, and working on Sundays continued. The paper complained about crowds of men on the corners spitting phlegm and tobacco juice on ground and boys playing too much football on the streets. Articles like these give the feeling that Homestead was a sort of frontier town.
Perhaps it was in part, but it was also center of heavy industry, whose growth enabled both its waywardness and stability. And as always the paper contained a good deal of news related to the area’s industries. The stand-off in armor plate prices between the steel industry and Congress got a good deal of coverage, as did the Mon being fully opened to navigation, though the successful coal miners’ strike got comparatively little… lest the local steelworkers get ideas?
In the midst of all these goings-on was our community. The articles I found about them and their activities are organized in the sections linked below:
Though this development had little affect on the Jewish community, this story dominated the paper in 1897, and I find it fascinating as a forgotten historical precedent. The repercussions of the destruction of “the ward,” the lower part of Homestead, in the early 40s to expand the steel mill for the war effort can still be perceived to this day, but this wasn’t the first time the steel mill expanded by taking over land occupied by the town (as opposed to other expansions in which they acquired former farmland). It turns out that in 1897 Carnegie bought property south of 2nd Avenue (see map at left) to expand the steel mill. It didn’t affect very many people (see map at right), but it created a good deal of controversy and resentment as to whether the town had been dealt with fairly by the steel company on which it was then entirely dependent.
In early September the Carnegie Company requested to purchase the land — which is to say, it had purchased the lots owned by private individuals outright, and now it was requesting that the borough vacate the streets and alleys connecting those lots. The paper, known for its loyalty to the steel company, felt the company would more than repay the favor were the borough to grant it. However, the borough ran out of cash in July. Could this opportunity help then regain their financial footing? The 1898 news clippings have the exciting conclusion to this saga. Actually, anyone who knows anything about Homestead’s history already knows the ending, but how it happened is the interesting part…
For a few years now we’ve seen the town’s business district migrating away from Sixth Avenue towards Eighth Avenue. By April 3, when the paper wrote the following, the situation was extreme: 1
For more than a year the once busy block on the north side of Sixth avenue had been on the decline. There are twenty seven business stands in the block, including one let now vacant on account of a recent fire. At this writing, fourteen are vacant and about a half dozen are occupied at a merely nominal rental….this bunch of vacant business places looks ominous…. It was not very long ago the leading business block, and it was full. New stores and those needing more room were forced to seek it elsewhere. This was the beginning and took away several leading stores. Naturally they went to Eighth avenue, which for abundant and obvious reasons, destined to become our leading business street. Had times been good and new people going into business, these vacant places would have been quickly filled… To sum the whole matter up, there is nothing wrong Sixth Avenue. All that it need is for … stores to be occupied with enterprising business people and as much business as ever could be done on the block. In a short time, all the available sites on Eighth aveneue will be takne up and held at enormous figures, and then Sixth avenue will come into favor again.
At the same, though, the paper crowed about Eighth Avenue’s success over the past three years.
From a mud road without sidewalks and scarcely a store, it has suddenly become our main thoroughfare and business centre. It is an eighty foot street, the sidewalks being fourteen feet, well paved and sewered, traversed by two electric railways, lined by electric light and telephone wires, and built up more or less on both sides by the largest and finest buildings in the town. Recent sales of property–a 40 foot corner lot for $12,500 and a 45 foot front lot for $7,000–indicate better than anything else the importance of Eighth Avenue as a business centre.
It was a good time to be a merchant in Homestead, and more opportunities were in store. As of the March 10 article quoted above, more building was happening on Eighth Avenue than anywhere else in the borough and still the street wasn’t even half built up. On April 10 the paper wrote of a “happy change” taking place: “fewer people than formerly now went to Pittsburg to do their buying.” These changes translated into opportunities for the current and incoming merchants of Homestead. Here are some specifics I found that related to our community:
- February 3: “I.S. Grossman, the clothier and gents’ furnisher of Eighth avenue, is making arrangements to move into his new store on Eighth avenue between Ann and McClure street.” (See related ads in the Ad Gallery at the end of this post.)
- February 17: “Joseph Lasdusky, who conducts a dry goods and millinery store at No. 219 Sixth avenue, is commencing a great removal sale beginning of Saturday, February 20th. He has leased the store room now occupied by Philip Starke, on Eighth avenue, and on April first, will occupy the same. Mr. Lasdusky has been in business for a number of years, and built up a good trae. He feels the importance of being in line with the times, and intends ere long to erect a building of his own. The new quarters will be fitted up modernly and will be stocked with an entire line of new goods. The store has been operated under the title of The People’s store. Read Mr. Lasdusky’s advertisement in another column of this issue.” (See related ads in the Ad Gallery at the end of this post.)
- March 17: “The interior of Segelman’s jewelry store on Sixth avenue, has been repainted and papered. New lights will be put in a little later which will add much to the appearance of the place.” Seems like Mrs. Segelman was sticking to her Sixth Avenue location, but trying to make it more appealing?
Naturally these opportunities attracted new merchants as well, as of whom set up shop on Eighth Avenue. All of these men — Cohn, Goldston, Mervis, and I. Grossman — would become members of the synagogue, three eventually becoming officers.
- May 1: “Philip Cohen, an experienced tailor of Michigan, has rented a storeroom, at the corner of Eighth avenue and Heisel street where he will open a gents furnishing and merchant tailoring house.” He published the first ad on May 9 and ran the second ad May 19-June 9:
- New clothiers Mervis & Goldston opened their clothing and gents’ furnishing store on September 11. They announced themselves with these two giant ads that spanned the full width of the newspaper page (published Sep. 8 and Sep. 11). 2
- December 9: “I. Grossman has opened a new novelty store in Eighth avenue and has one of the finest displays of holiday goods in town. See his ad on last page.” Recall that he was previously working as a clerk in his older brother’s store. Here is the ad, which he ran December 9-11, about how he finally was striking out on his own:
- January 23: “Five arrests have been made in the Ratttigan robbery case already described in these columns. Phillip Starke, the proprietor of the Eighth and Sixth avenue stores was located and arrested last evening. His wife was also placed under arrest, and his nephew Louis Starke, Max Klein, and Sam Markowitz, who had charge of the Sixth avenue store. Heavy bail was required in all cases. A hearing will be held on Monday before Squire Holtzman, of Braddock.”
- February 27: Meanwhile, two of these guys, plus another man, were arrested for unrelated charges! “Word was received from Squire Holtzman’s office at Braddock, this morning, that warrants were out for the arrest of Phillip Starke and Max Kline of Homestead for alleged conspiracy to defraud. Two charges are against them made by creditors. Ben Feldman of this place was arrested on the same charge yesterday and gave bail for court.”
- April 28: “Yesterday the case of John J. Rattifan against Philip Stark and others came up in the Criminal court. Readers of THE NEWS are familiar with the circumstances on which this prosecution is based. The testimony taken did not show that any of the defendants had been seen stealing any of Rattigan’s goods, but cross-examination developed that both the prosecutor and defendant bought from the same wholesale dealer and that the defendants undersold the plaintiff in some articles. The developments to-day promise to be very interesting.”
- May 1: “In the case of John J. Rattigan against Philip Stark and others for larceny, nothing not already familiar to our readers developed at the trail. The case was very important and attracted a good deal of attention. The Jury brought in a verdict finding Stark and his wife and Samuel Markovitz guilty as indicted. Samuel Markovitz, Samuel Safira and Lewis Stark were cleared. Mr. Stark says he will apply for a new trial.”
- May 5: “In publishing the person involved in the Rattigan case, an error occured (sic) and we have been requested to republish them correctly. Phillip Stark, Mrs. Stark and Max Klein were convicted. Samuel Safira, Samuel Markovitz and Lewis Stark were acquitted.”
- June 9: “Philip Stark who was sentenced Saturday last to two years at the workhouse for connection with the Rattigan robberies, will appeal his case to the Superior court.”
On February 17, the list of license applicants was published, with Max Klein making his latest attempts. On March 6 the paper reported that “there was no license remonstrance filed against Homestead applicants this time.” On April 3 the list of licenses granted was published, and once again Max Klein struck out. It seems that the process primarily led to the renewal of old applicants, with just four new licenses granted. Also, as you saw above, Max Klein had a variety of legal troubles going on around this time. There’s no way to know if these played a role in the process against him, though.
On July 10 the paper reported that $4487.30 was Homestead’s percentage of the liquor license fees.
Alas, as you can see, we’re getting many details about those at the top of the community and none about the rest. The newspaper indicates in smaller ways the obstacles they were up against. Hucksters still required licenses, and peddlers were still criticized for their “great injustice perpetrated on home merchants who pay taxes and help to keep up the town to allow these people to come in and injure their business by selling worthless goods at a price a legitimate dealer cannot compete with,” as well as their alleged deceitful business practices and unwelcome persistence. Those who tried less disdained professions ran into new problems. In early July the paper reported that a “new law levying a tax of 3¢ for each working day upon foreign born unnaturalized male persons over twenty-one years of age, took effect on July 1st. The tax is to be paid into the County Treasury… Employers of unnaturalized persons are required to deduct said taxes from wages when notified by the tax collector. Allegehney county employs several thousand of these unnaturalized foreigners.” (It is unclear how this law affected the employment of immigrant laborers or the wages they received.)
As I noted earlier, there are very mentions of the sort of personal notices we’ve seen in earlier years due to the paper’s change in tone. Here’s what I could find:
- August 11: “Isadore Grossman of Eighth avenue, yesterday accompanied his wife to Pittsburg and saw her off for Long Branch. He will follow Sunday.”
- September 11: “David Skirboll of Eighth avenue, returns to Western University next week. He is a junior this year. Mr. Skirboll will be remembered as the young man who won the literary prize in the contest last term.”
- November 15: “Peter Skirboll was arrested Saturday night by Officer Cush on the charge of being drunk and disorderly. He was given the minimum fine, $3.00 and costs, by Burgess Kennedy Sunday morning.” (Who is this?! It does not appear there was anyone by that name.)
- November 16: The houses that were in the area below Second Avenue, which the Carnegie Steel Company purchased, are themselves being purchased and moved! “Markowitz, of Heisel street, has purchased two of the three twelve-room rows on Dickson street, for $475 each, and will move them to Second avenue, above City Farm lane.” After listing all the transactions, the article summarizes, “The houses on the property that is to be cleared brought uniformly better prices than the bidders expected, but this was due to the fact that there were so many after them.”
As discussed earlier, many of the ads that appeared in the paper this year for Jewish-owned businesses related to their removal sales as they moved locations (included in the gallery below) or to the grand opening of new stores (included earlier in this post).
Otherwise there were not a lot of ads for Jewish-owned businesses, except around the holidays. The one exception was Segelman’s jewelry store, still run by the original proprietor’s widow, which ran text ads throughout the year. Some examples:
- February: “When you need a good watch come to us, when you need a ring come to us, when you need a good substantial clock come to the us, when you need anything in the jewelry line come to us, when you want your watch repairing come to us. When you want something cheap, not endurable go to somebody else. Mrs. R. Segelman Sixth avenue.”
- March: “Tick! Tick! Tick! What does that signify. It means you can buy a clock of any kind from us on the easy installment plan. Segelman’s Sixth avenue.”
- August: “Segelman’s old reliable jeweler store. Come young men and see our silver and gold watches. We have cut the prices in two. The special sale will not last long.”
- November: “Everybody Is Wearing a Watch. Do you know where they go it? Segelman’s is the place. They are clearing them out and knocking the down at low prices. Come before the push.”
Skirboll also ran a text ad — just once, though, on April 10: “Come in and inspect our great shoe department at No. 513 Eighth avenue; kept busy all the time. Shoes the best and prices the lowest. Skirboll’s.” As you’ll see in the gallery below, though, they ran quite an impressive ad around holidays, which was the only time I saw ads for most of the merchants I’ve been tracking (though, interestingly, not for Lasdusky or I.S. Grossman, who had advertised a good deal in the past, or for Cohn or Mervis & Goldston, who had only recently opened their stores).
A month later, on May 15, the paper reported that vacant store room on Sixth avenue were being rented out and converted to dwellings, which is an early indicator of the entirely different and unwelcome character the street would take on… ↩
Klondyke refers to the Klondyke Gold Rush, which was big news when it went on during 1896-1899. Some theorize that this gold rush was one of the things that helped alleviate the “Long Depression,” the economic problems in the U.S. that were taking place on and off between 1873-1896. ↩