Town-Talk about Towns in Washington County PA
BENTLEYVILLE, PA - web page 2
Originally called Bentleysville
Somerset Twp., (some mailing addresses are in Fallowfield Twp.)
Genealogy and family history research in the area of
Little Washington, Washington County, Pennsylvania from 1700 to present.
Nearest cities are Ellsworth, PA (1.4 miles ), Beallsville, PA
(4.0 miles ), Cokeburg, PA (4.2 miles ), Baidland, PA (6.0 miles ), Centerville,
PA (7.0 miles ), North Charleroi, PA (7.0 miles ), New Eagle, PA (7.1 miles ),
Charleroi, PA (7.3 miles ). Latitude: 40.12 N, Longitude: 80.01 W
Bentleyville - Part Two
Coal and the Railroad
By the mid 1800s, the "stone coal" that Sheshbazzar Bentley mentioned in his lot sale notice was in high demand within the Washington County portion of the Pittsburgh Coal Seam. This bituminous field is the largest in the United States. Bituminous being a soft coal, it is good for a variety of uses, including that of industry and home heating. Small and large coal companies sprang up throughout the county. Miners were in high demand, with thousands of foreigners coming to SW PA for jobs in highly dangerous mines. Both men and boys worked in the depths of the earth or performed jobs on the surface. Like the oil derricks that stood high against the landscape in later years, wooden mine tipples and coke ovens marked the locations of two high-demand commodities: coal and coke made from coal.
In Bentleyville, there was primarily Acme Coke Ovens and Gibson Mine, with slate piles or "gob piles" accumulating near the mine and slag piles at the coke ovens. Past the current Best Western Hotel, on the left before Bentleyville is a little place called Acme where the Coke Ovens were still standing, unused, in the 1950s. The ovens were built up on the hillside. Kids used to crawl in and out of the cold coke ovens after they had been closed down. Acme ovens had been torn down long ago.
The Gibson Mine, owned last by Hillman Coal & Coke Co., and the Acme Coke Ovens, provided thousands of jobs to immigrant miners and coke workers, and jobs for hundreds of local families. The Hillman Company was part of the Pittsburgh based Hillman family's assets. Many members and several generations of my Lane family worked at Gibson Mine. Roy F. Lane I ran the tipple and hoist, and blew the whistle that signaled the changing of the shifts. One day in the early 1950s, a sign went up at Gibson that there was no work "until further notice." The "further notice" ended up being "forever."
Children of Bentleyville often tried to play on the mine property. One time, a fire threatened the tipple. In part because of safety concerns, the old wooden tipple was later torn down. Roy Lane got word of the demolition in progress, and went to the mine to watch the last demise of his old workplace. Today, no sign remains of the location of the Gibson Mine, where my grandfather Howard W. "Wib" McGary had been the mine Foreman for a number of years. I'm told that earth was brought in an the mine entrance was back-filled with dirt, until a semi-"mountain" was built over the mine entrance and grounds. Development is being encouraged on the site.
The railroad came to this section, in part to handle the movement of coal to markets. Passenger service quickly followed. The main street of Bentleyville in the late 1800s shows the railroad crossing cutting across Main Street. Actually, the tracks cut across Main St., then Washington St., and again across Main St. at a different location. The lights would go off at each crossing, and the whistle would be blowing as the train approached the intersection. Sometimes, the train was in all three intersections at the same time if it was a very long train.
In the 1940s, on average the train came through at least 4 to 6 times every day. Long-time residents can remember several accidents and near-misses involving the train and either pedestrians or automobiles. The Engineer blew the whistle three times before every crossing., but they'd keep blowing the whistle non-stop if someone or something was on the tracks. The cow-catcher on the front of the train, pointed in a triangle away from the engine, was a great thing to push cows to standing that had laid down on tracks out west, but it didn't work so well on people caught on the tracks. There were other times the train would stop on tracks and, instead of walking all the way around the front or back of the train, kids would cross between the cars. The train would jerk and lurch forward when first starting out - and luckily no children ever were between the cars at that moment. One local character, an man who used to always wear a trench coat, was very fortunate to avoid being killed; Although the train caught the edge of his worn, long coat, it came free almost immediately and did not pull the man under the train. Another man was not as lucky, and was hit and killed on the tracks at Bentleyville. Accidents like his, resulting in fatalities, was actually very common in other communities of the county between 1880s and 1950s.
The old station served many passengers and handled all the freight in and out of the town. Passenger service was the only way to get to Washington and other towns, unless you owned a personal car; few did; most people walked, even if it was many miles to and from the destination. The miner's union (UMWA - United Mine Workers of America) hired a train every year to take miners and their families from Bentleyville to Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh. Once a busy stop, by the 1940s the train station building was empty and thereafter was used infrequently for freight. The building had ledge around it [like a corner-piece] where the local kids would walk around the empty building. Finally, the Railroad Station was torn down by the mid-1950s.
The old tracks are still in use today. The biggest use of the railroad through the years has been to ship coal from mines to Mitchell's Station (located toward Pittsburgh on Rt. 847 ??). Mitchell's Station is an electrical power house where electricity is made for Mon Valley area. Today, that is where almost all trains that pass through Bentleyville come up from Ellsworth mine, and go to the Monongahela River for shipment. Now there is only maybe two trains each day, one in morning, one in evening, whereas in Waynesburg two trains run almost every hour or so.
The Caldwell Drug Store
Every Sunday afternoon after church, and shortly after the dinner dishes were done, Donnis' grandmother would say "Let's go have some ice cream." Grandmother never actually went, but the kids would be given money to go up to the Caldwell Drug Store to get ice cream cones. Nickle-scoops of ice cream (a scoop triple the amount of scoops now) were packed tightly down into the cone. They'd each have 20 cents to spend - for double-decker cone. Grandma liked black-raspberry or Whitehouse cherry ice cream that had big red cherries in it.
The kids would hurry inside the store to the ice cream bar/soda fountain, located in the front of the store. In the back, glass-topped tables were arranged, with 4 or 5 chairs around each. The chairs were so very unusual, with triangular seats that made sitting just a bit uncomfortable. Here the patrons would sit to eat their ice cream, or at other times, to wait for the pharmacist to fill a prescription.
Mr. Caldwell was a little, balding man with glasses perched low on his nose.
The druggist's area was a raised section in the back of the store, where patrons
could see him from the front of the store, and he could see everyone who
entered. But, once a customer got to the counter, the raised area was so
high that it was hard to see the pharmacist. For the kids, who could
hardly see over the high counter, the druggist would come down to the side of
the counter where it wasn't as high.
The Caldwell building was three stories high. The bank occupied one side with the pharmacy on the other side of the ground floor. The second floor was where the telephone company office was located, up a wide, big bulky long stairway leading to a very dark corridor. In the 1940s, the sole switchboard operator worked there in the daytime only; at night she went home and calls were answered by the Charleroi switchboard operator for the night. On the walls up the stairs and on both sides of the hall was graffiti made by unknown persons.
The Lane family was one of many who did not have a telephone in their home. Up on the second floor of the Caldwell building, a wood telephone booth was just outside the phone company office. Footsteps echoed on every stair and down the hall as a person walked along the top rail, going left back towards the phone company office. Inside the booth was a crank phone: a caller had to turn the crank and wait until the operator answered, then you gave them the phone number you wanted and the operator would connect you.
More than once Donnis had to go to the telephone booth to place a call for her
grandmother, up those dark creaky stairs where her steps echoed loudly, then
down the hall past the graffiti on the walls. It always felt like someone
might be inside the building, but no one was ever seen. She'd hurriedly
place the call, deliver her grandmother's message, and then quickly make her way
back home, admittedly just a little scared on dark nights.
After Mr. Caldwell died, the drugstore had a couple different owners. The
Caldwel building is still there -- down from the Roosevelt, across tracks, where
there is a parking lot, and then the drug store.
The Roosevelt Theater
Sitting just 10 to 15 feet to the right of the railroad tracks, between the tracks and the creek, is a solitary building that used be The Roosevelt Theater just across from Jet's Grocery on Main Street. Had there ever been a train accident, the train cars would have run right through this theater or would have tumbled on top of the building. Thankfully, there was never such an accident. But, theater-customers always knew in advance when a train was coming. A low rumble was felt through the shoes and inside the chests of dozens of customers, felt before it was even heard. But quickly, the rumble became quite audible, even when the train was still at a distance. Its whistle sounded, once, twice, three times, long before coming to crossing at Main St. The rumble grew louder and louder, until the building started to shake, rattle, and vibrate from the the passing train. Sargeant or "Sarge" as everyone called him, would automatically reach to adjust the sound so that the train did not drown out the movie. Sarge was the projectionist the whole time the Roosevelt was open, setting up the movies and making sure they started on time. Despite Sarge's best efforts though, when the train whistle sounded and the rumbling began, it overpowered the movie and nothing from the screen could be heard. For quite a while after its last car cleared the intersection, those in the theater, and indeed anyone who was within several blocks, could feel the train's rumble inside their own body and blasting in their ears.The family of Roy Franklin Lane (I - the first) lived in the current American Legion building. On Saturdays, Donnis and her brother would help their Grandmother Lane with household chores and cleaning. This was the kind of thing that many children did in the 1940s, helping grandparents or other relatives in various ways. Some children dusted and did light housekeeping while others helped with outside and yard work. For Robert and Donnis, Grandmother Lane rewarded them for their efforts with a quarter each. And, that quarter was already marked for a purpose! Every Saturday before 5p.m., The Roosevelt would be set up for its matinee showing! And Donnis and Robert's thoughts were on the Roosevelt the whole day.
The crowds of kids who had attended the earlier showing had all departed, and the adults wouldn't come until the evening movie time. Donnis hurried out the door with her younger brother, crossing the street in front of Grandmother's house. Then they'd walk quickly across the bridge to the Roosevelt (where they were now catty-corner from their house). Eight glass display panels 5x8feet donned the front of the Roosevelt, each one advertising an upcoming attraction. - "Coming Soon" some displays advertised, the words on banners diagonally across the bottom of still-shots from the movie. Kids could plan the next month of Saturdays by the date shown on the panels. Pictures of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, two stars who made the girls swoon, were bigger than life, enticing customers to hurry to the cashier.
The cashier's booth enclosure was after the 6th outdoor panel. Donnis would hand over their quarters, and their 10cent tickets in hand, they'd hurry through the door to the left of the cashier. The lobby they entered was filled with the sweet and distinctive smell of buttered popcorn that was made at the concession stand along the far left wall. The lobby was so small and short in length, had it been a drive-in movie, not even one car could have fit from the outside door to the inner movie entrance.
Most kids didn't have to even consider what they'd buy at the concession stand. There, in its regular place, was the Spiral brand candies with white on top that Donnis bought by the box and split with her brother. They'd buy one box of popcorn, two 5-cent candy bars, and two drinks, always sharing the candy for the evening. They'd spent 50cents total on their snacks and drinks. Nearer the inner door, the ticket-taker took the ticket, tore them twice, and Donnis led the way to the closed inner doors. Inside past those doors, seats went across the center, with two aisles (one on each side), and closest to the side walls were rows just 6 seats across. Donnis and her brother kept to their customary routine, always going down aisle on the right. And, always half-way down 30-some rows, they'd stop at their usual seats, always sitting side-by-side. Donnis was responsible for her little brother, who was 4 yrs younger. They'd settle into their red-leather seats, resting against the cotton-backs, oblivious to much else except what was on-screen. And there was plenty going on up there. First, there'd be one, maybe two, cartoons, followed by a newsreel. Then came the "short subject" which was just that, a short film on some subject that had been of interest to the person who filmed it. Then, finally, came two full western movies. Up there, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers held the attention of movie-goers of both sexes - the young girls smitten by these handsome stars, and the boys taken by both stars' skills and heroic roles. After the second western they showed the previews for the next week. Their dimes had been very well spent!
There were few interruptions inside the theater, except the train passing. It was the biggest interruption but like intermission, it was simply expected. During one movie, though, the electricity went out. Everyone waited, thinking the power would come back quickly. But, finally an announcement came that the theater was closing -- but if those present wanted their money back, they would be given a refund. Everyone filed out for the night and went home, disappointed but eager to return the next day. Although it didn't sit well with Grandma Lane, she allowed her grandchildren to return to the theater the next day to see the movie in its entirety.
One time the creek beside the theater over-ran its banks in the 1940s. The
boys bathroom down in the basement flooded up to the lowest step. So, that
day came the announcement that the ladies room on the ground level was
"closed" to females for a short period of time -- so the males could
use those facilities. But, few cared about these minor inconveniences, as
long as their Saturday movie continued.  The stars of that time
were like old friends, and the Roosevelt seemed to be their "Hall of
Fame." Children and teens spent many enjoyable hours at the
Roosevelt Theater. When the theater closed and was later torn down, it
represented a big loss to those who had grown up spending their dime on a movie,
plus 15cents for snacks and drinks. One Bentleyville resident was able to
obtain one of the off-white bricks from the theater, which she still has.
The Bentleyville Public Library
In another past-time, many children spent very happy hours browsing the shelves and reading at the Bentleyville Public Library, which was founded in 1941. The town of Bentleyville always centered around family, hard work, and community and people were dedicated to finding themselves a better future through those three things. After the mines closed, changes continued in industry in Bentleyville. New service-oriented businesses were established that now draw people to stop from the interstate that runs past town. Many people who grew up in Bentleyville still reside there, and many new families are moving into the area. Donnis continues to reside in Bentleyville (at the area of Gibson) and had raised her family there. Her brother Robert now lives in Canonsburg but still comes to Bentleyville often.
Note: Donnis is my mother's first cousin. When writing of Donnis's grandmother, this is my great-grandmother Lane.
~ ~ ~ Ray Anthony ~ ~ ~
My Lane Great-grandmother used to say that a Mr. Ray Anthony of Bentleyville was related to the Lane family. Indeed, our Lane ancestry begins with a Pees and Anthony marriage. But, the Mr. Ray Anthony referred to was born as "Raymond Antonini" and later took the last name Anthony. Born Jan 20,1922 in Bentleyville, musician and businessman Ray Anthony came to be known as the "Young Man With a Horn." His instrument of course was the horn, and he achieved some success and fame as a musician.
Better known was his
wife, actress Mamie Van Doren (nee Joan Lucille Olander, born 6-Feb-1931 in
Rowena, SD) whom Ray Anthony married 29-Aug-1955; they divorced in 1961 . Mamie
was a 'B Movie' Queen, who appeared in the Slackers (1-Feb-2002), Girls Town
(5-Oct-1959), High School Confidential! (30-May-1958), Teacher's Pet
(1-Apr-1958), and Francis Joins the WACS (30-Jul-1954). Maime's first
husband was Jack Newman (m. 1950, div. 1950), then Ray Anthony. The
"Man with the Horn" was followed by her other husbands: Lee Myers (m.
1966, div. 1967), Ross McClintock (m. 1972, div. 1973), Thomas Dixon (m. 1979),
and Bo Belinsky. She is said to have dated celebrities men such Joe Namath,
George Hamilton, Cary Grant, and Warren Beatty.
This additional information was found by Ruth Sprowls, on the Las Vegas Sun newspaper website. The article is no longer on the Sun's website.
"Recalling Ray Anthony at the Thunderbird, by Joe Delaney of the LAS VEGAS SUN
"Trumpeter Ray Anthony and his Capitol Records orchestra, playing the music of the late Glenn Miller, headlined at the Thunderbird -- later the Silverbird, now closed as the El Rancho. Anthony, born in Bentleysville, Pa. and raised in Cleveland, was a member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1940-1941. During the 1960s and 1970s Anthony and his group, the Book Ends, were a hot lounge act. Larry Storch's brother, comedian Jay Lawrence, was on the Thunderbird bill along with the Kathryn Duffy Dancers. At age 78 Anthony still plays trumpet and -- nearly 49 years later -- will lead his Ray Anthony Orchestra into the Stardust Hotel ballroom on Saturday."
In the 1950s, the Interstates were being constructed. Interstate-70 only went as far as the Carlton Hotel and Route 519. The once landmark American Truck Stop was always at Interstate 70, but is now Pilot Travel Center at Exit 32A for Bentleyville from the Pittsburgh Road to the Bentleyville Restaurant (or Exit 32B coming from East to King of the Hill Restaurant).
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Bentleysville Sesquicentennial 1816 – 1966
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This page was last updated on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 21:59
Judith Ann Florian
Girard, Ohio 44420
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The background was chosen specifically to emphasize the matriarchal role of women in "the life" of children and families, and the resilience of all the women of southwestern Pennsylvania.