News Column

Visitors can mine rich vein of history at Saltsburg museum

June 6, 2014

By Jeff Himler, The Blairsville Dispatch, Pa.

June 06--Downtown Saltsburg is blessed with an abundance of historic buildings, some of them dating back to the town's mid-1800s heyday as a stop along the old Pennsylvania Main Line canal.

One of those buildings, constructed from fieldstone in 1830, is the Rebecca B. Hadden Stone House Museum -- headquarters and public exhibition space for the Saltsburg Area Historical Society.

While the facade of the building at 105 Point St. contributes to the historic appeal of the community, its contents help document the lives of the residents and business owners who once inhabited the many stalwart structures that have survived over the decades.

Volunteer Dorreen Johns of Saltsburg serves as collections manager at the Stone House Museum. Though she's been volunteering at the facility for several years, she admitted, "Every time I come in here I see something I didn't notice before."

For just about every aspect of life, the Stone House Museum has a glass case, or at least a shelf, devoted to it.

One measure of a community's success is the variety of businesses it supports. Several of the museum's exhibits document prominent examples of private enterprise from the town's past.

One display takes visitors back to the midpoint of the 20th century, with advertising materials for Hollywood films like "All About Eve" and "Two Flags West" that once attracted townspeople to the Liberty Theater on Salt Street. A roll of leftover tickets from a slightly earlier time reveals that 3 cents of the 28-cent admission price were devoted to a defense tax. Built in 1923, the theater was operated by the Delisi family, which also owned a local fruit market. The building has since been converted into public housing.

One prominent business that was a fixture in town through many generations was the J.C. Moore Hardware store that also dealt in furnaces, stoves and other appliances.

According to a promotional book with testimonials from local homeowners who had installed one of the store's furnaces, J.C. Moore became owner of the business in 1894 -- following the death of William Moore, who had established it in 1861.

That store also was located on Salt Street, where an ATM machine now stands across from the Shop 'n Save supermarket.

The museum displays another promotional item that was used by the store's sales force -- a scale model of one of its Quaker coal-fired furnaces.

"My grandparents on Indiana Avenue had that exact model of furnace," noted Jack Maguire, treasurer and president pro tem of the historical society. He explained the furnace was fitted with "a chain to the first floor, so you didn't have to go to the basement to put the draft on."

Museum volunteer Roger Jordan, who grew up on a farm his father managed in adjacent Conemaugh Township, recalled the family turned to the Moore hardware emporium to obtain a grain drill -- a device for achieving uniform planting of seeds in a row.

Later, in the 1960s, Jordan worked in the store, which was still known as J.C. Moore though it was under new ownership.

"If they didn't have it, they'd get it for you," Jordan said of the store's varied merchandise. "And anything they sold, they repaired."

Among his duties at the store, Jordan was trained to service Maytag washing machines: "I knew how to take one apart and rebuild it from scratch."

One corner of the museum documents the history of those who served the community as barbers.

Pat Sullivan, the descendant of a family that operated a well-known barber shop in Saltsburg, has donated such fixtures from the store as a grandfather clock and a marble-top table where many a checker game was played. Now owned by Ron Mancabelli, the All American Barber Shop is still going strong at 222 Point Street.

According to Maguire, the shop's name reflects the fact that many of its customers have been teens attending The Kiski School, a boys' prep school just across the border in Loyalhanna Township, Westmoreland County.

As many of the students achieved success in athletics, Maguire noted, "They chose the name because they cut the hair of so many All-Americans."

The exhibit also includes an upholstered barber chair used in the 1930s by two barbers from nearby Nowrytown, Tony Gais and Vitale Vitali. Vitali also operated a dry cleaning and tailoring business in Saltsburg. The chair was successively owned by Mary Vitali and Luke Prenni before being purchased by Maguire for the museum.

The service and sacrifice of the town's veterans are acknowledged in displays of uniforms, weapons and other military items from major wars.

Among Saltsburg's Civil War veterans was Dr. James Crawford, who moved to town in 1868 after being wounded in the war. He took over the building that now houses the museum as his residence and constructed a two-story house next door, at 107 Point St., to serve as his physician's office.

The museum also features a display about John B. McGuire of Saltsburg, who served as a private with the 7th Cavalry during the U.S. Army's clash with Native Americans in the Battle of Little Bighorn. McGuire, who was not among the ill-fated troops who accompanied Gen. George Custer that day, survived the June 25, 1876 battle and was buried in Livermore Cemetery, upstream from Saltsburg along the Conemaugh River.

Other exhibits at the Stone House Museum focus on areas that run the gamut from the local history of transportation (the canal and railroad) to coal mining, schools, banking and medicine. Examples of ladies' fashions of yesteryear are scattered throughout the museum, ranging from wedding gowns to vintage swimwear.

As the society's collection of artifacts has grown, the museum has expanded with successive rear additions and an outdoor shed for housing antique tools and farming implements.

While Jordan has taken charge of the shed and the artifacts it houses, he confesses that perhaps his favorite item in the museum is a "spy camera" donated by relatives.

The item that most fascinates Johns is a small box containing an intricate decoration, complete with bow, that was meticulously crafted from human hair. It is displayed in the museum's front parlor.

"I can't imagine anybody sitting around and doing something like that," she said, marveling at the handiwork involved.

Those attending Saltsburg's annual Canal Days Festival can visit the museum to explore its many exhibits 5 to 8 p.m.June 6, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.June 7 and 1 to 5 p.m.June 8.

Regular hours at the museum are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday year-round and also 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays during the summer.

As a fundraiser, the historical society is selling raffle tickets for a restored antique trunk and a basket filled with more than $80 worth of items from the museum gift shop -- including a T-shirt, mugs, note cards, a limited edition plate produced by Wendell August Forge and copies of two local history books, "Salt in the Conemaugh Valley" by William Dzombak and "Welcome to Historic Saltsburg."

Tickets cost $2 each or three for $5. Tickets are available at the museum or from society members.

For more information, call the Stone House Museum at 724-639-9003.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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(c)2014 The Blairsville Dispatch (Blairsville, Pa.)

Visit The Blairsville Dispatch (Blairsville, Pa.) at www.triblive.com

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Source: Blairsville Dispatch (PA)


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