Sunday, July 11, 2010

More Clairton History

Clairton Crucible; Clairton Cobras

The evolution: Although there was a lazy settlement in the nineteenth century where Clairton now stands the city did not start to blossom until the turn of the twentieth century. Indeed, it was in the early 1900s that Clairton became incorporated as a city. What many of us remember as the weekly newspaper The Clairton Progress, was not so named until later. It would be the third and final name of the local newspaper and would wither and die about the same time the steel industry did the same.

Crucible Steel: The Crucible Steel Corporation was formed in 1900 and was one of the earliest, if not the earliest steel mills in the area. Crucible owned Clairton Steel Company. The company was civic minded enough to begin a newspaper in about 1903 and name it after the corporation and the community it served; hence, the Clairton Crucible. A cursory review of the Clairton Crucible did not uncover any items detrimental to the steel company. In October 1903 United States Steel made an offer to purchase Crucible but backed out at the last minute. Clairton Steel tried to go it alone but had difficulty raising money to continue operations and by January 1904 was forced into receivership.

From whence it came: Crucible Steel organized St. Clair Steel and St. Clair furnace Company then merged them to become Clairton Steel Company. U.S, Steel played a game of Chicken and the result was they took over Clairton Steel Company in 1904. It is unclear when the Clairton Crucible stopped publication but the next title was the Greater Clairton Progress that started in 1918. It altered its name in 1925 and became the Clairton Progress until publication ceased in 1067 then published as The Progress until the mid 1970s.

A proud sports tradition: The Clairton Cobras became the Clairton Bears in 1941. I am unable to discover the reason behind the name change and invite any reader to offer one. The 1931 Clairton Cobras finished the year as WPIAL champs and boasted a record that included only one loss in six seasons – a 7-0 loss to Duquesne in 1930. It was not uncommon for crowds that neared 10,000 to watch the CHS teams. The game against McKeesport set a record attendance of 15,000 in 1931.

Football heroes: Over the years Clairton has been the starting point for many outstanding football players. All Americans Andy Berchock (played college at University of North Carolina) and Jim Kelly (was also All American at Notre Dame) were but two from the past but there was also Clairton Mayor Ken Stilley who starred at CHS then Notre Dame. The quality continues. Superstars Kevin Witherspoon and Eddie Ball helped take the Bears to their first state championship last year and quarterback/linebacker Desimon Green was recently named the Daily News Male Athlete of the Year. Desi has another year to help the Bears as he won the honor as a junior. We’ll be keeping tabs in him and will keep you informed.

The Great Depression in Clairton: Both my parents came of age in Clairton during the Great Depression. My mother often told me how during the 13 years her father was mostly out of work the family of four girls and two boys survived by keeping chickens, a cow, and raising their own food in the huge garden next to the house. She and her brother Mike also worked after Grisnik’s Bakery closed, cleaning up the place, the dough and flower on the floor and machines needed to be cleaned for the following day’s baking. In lieu of pay they would receive flower that my grandmother used for baking.

She also told me of how my grandfather repaired the boy’s shoes with slices of discarded tires and the girls often wore dresses made from flour sacks. The story came back to me in a recent email I received about flour sack dresses. Please enjoy and appreciate the fact that today’s economic crisis does not compare with the Great Depression.

The Flour Sack
By Colleen B. Hubert

In that long ago time when things were saved,
When roads were graveled and barrels were staved,
When worn-out clothing was used as rags,
And there were no plastic wrap or bags,
And the well and the pump were way out back,
A versatile item, was the flour sack.

Pillsbury's Best, Mother's and Gold Medal, too
Stamped their names proudly in purple and blue
The string sewn on top was pulled and kept;
The flour emptied and spills were swept.
The bag was folded and stored in a sack
That durable, practical flour sack.

The sack could be filled with feather and down,
For a pillow, or t'would make a sleeping gown.
It could carry a book and be a school bag,
Or become a mail sack slung over a nag.
It made a very convenient pack,
That adaptable, cotton flour sack.

Bleached and sewn, it was dutifully worn
As bibs, diapers, or kerchief adorned
It was made into skirts, blouses and slips
And mom braided rugs from one hundred strips
She made ruffled curtains for the house or shack,
From that humble but treasured flour sack!

As a strainer for milk or apple juice,
To wave men in, it was a very good use,
As a sling for a sprained wrist or a break,
To help mother roll up a jelly cake,
As a window shade or to stuff a crack,
We used a sturdy, common flour sack!

As dish towels, embroidered or not,
They covered up dough, helped pass pans so hot,
Tied up dishes for neighbors in need,
And for men out in the field to seed.
They dried dishes from pan, not rack
That absorbent, handy flour sack!

We polished and cleaned stove and table,
Scoured and scrubbed from cellar to gable,
We dusted the bureau and oak bed post,
Made costumes for October (a scary ghost)
And a parachute for a cat named Jack.
From that lowly, useful old flour sack!

So now my friends, when they ask you
As curious youngsters often do,
"Before plastic wrap, Elmer's Glue
And paper towels, what did you do?"
Tell them loudly and with pride don't lack,
"Grandmother had that wonderful flour sack!"

A little blogging music Maestro... “Busted” by Ray Charles.

Dr. Forgot

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Clairton's first Mascot was the Bear. Ken Stilley was the fullback in a championship team that included Andy Berchok on the line and John Snizik who later coached and was the best gym teacher a non-athletic boy could ever have through the 1950's and 1960's, was the quarterback. I was told that when that team beat McKeesport for a championship in 1930, the students held a parade and walked to McKeesport, through another rival Glassport!

The football coach in the 30's also taught Chemistry and any graduate from the 40's 50's and 60's may remember the team roster's etched into the glass fronts of the built in cabinets in the the classroom.

The stadium was named for Neil Brown, another coach of champions throughout the 50's who was the Clairton Jr High School principal. That school was located on the 3rd floor of the yellow brick buiding that formed the bulk of the current education complex. Then, when he was promoted to the Senior High School principal, he left coaching and was succeeded by his Defensive Coordinator, Jim Campalongo.