Robert Wallace Clendenin – usually referred to as R. W. Clendenin – was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, in July 1824. He was one of five children born to William Clendenin (1785-1835) and Mary Wallace Clendenin (1800-1886). His family was of Scottish descent and his ancestors had come to this country as early as 1740.
When Robert was about ten years old his father, a farmer by trade, passed away after a lingering illness. His mother and siblings soon moved off of the farm, while a sister named Isabella died soon after. About four years later his mother and siblings relocated westward to New Castle, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather Robert Wallace resided. Wallace was an early settler of New Castle and owned a great deal of property along the north side of the public square in downtown New Castle. He had operated a tavern at the northwest corner of East Washington Street and Mercer Street from about 1807 until the early 1840’s.
Robert, as a young teenager, stayed behind with friends and began working with a retail company in Carlisle. In September 1840, when he was sixteen, he made his way out to New Castle to rejoin his family. He worked as a clerk in a local store for about six years, and then opened his own dry goods store in Portersville. In about 1846 he was married to the former Belinda Pollock, the daughter of Dr. James K. Pollock – an esteemed doctor and member of the pioneering Pollock family. Together they had five total children. Two died young but three survived into adulthood – Wallace William Clendenin born in 1847, Wells Bushnell Clendenin born in 1851, and Mary Clendenin born in 1856. His mother remained in New Castle for the rest of her life and passed away in 1886.
R. W. Clendenin returned to New Castle in about 1848 and started his own retail business, known as R. W. Clendenin Dry Goods, in a new wooden frame building located on East Washington Street. It was located on the former site of his grandfather’s tavern. The old log cabin structure at that location had previously burned down.
R. W. Clendenin built one of the first homes in the rural area along what later became Clen-Moore Boulevard. In fact the name “Clen-Moore” is named after R. W. Clendenin and Adam Moore, both early residents of that section of the city. In 1867 Clendenin had a beautiful 10-room Victorian mansion, designed by architect Edwin M. Butz, built closer to the downtown area at #302 N. Mercer Street.
His business thrived and Clendenin, known for his friendly demeanor, became one of the most well respected merchants in the city. In 1873 he replaced his downtown building with a new three-story brick structure known as the Clendenin Block. His store occupied about half of the ground floor, but he eventually expanded and took over the entire floor in the early 1800’s. Other businesses leased and occupied the upper two stories. His two sons – known as W. W. and W. B. – joined soon him and in about 1883 the business was renamed as R. W. Clendenin & Sons.
Both of his sons became well respected civic leaders in their own right. Wallace W. Clendenin served in the Civil War as a teenager, subsequently attended college in Pittsburgh, and then became associated with a dry goods business in Philadelphia. He generally split his time between that business and his father’s store in New Castle. He married Marguerite Fairfax of Philadelphia, who was a dedicated humanitarian and heavily involved with the American Red Cross during the Great War (World War I). Wallace was a close personal friend and confidant of Robert E. Pattison, the Governor of Pennsylvania from 1883-1887 and 1891-1895. That relationship benefited New Castle and helped finance the building of the Shenango Valley Hospital in the early 1890’s. Wallace was a well-known world traveler and was Pennsylvania’s official representative at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
Wells B. Clendenin, who attended college in Cincinnati, Ohio, married Mary Boyles, the daughter of local industrialist George V. Boyles. The couple resided on Clen-Moore Boulevard and Wells was known for his intricate flower gardens. He led a group of fifteen businessmen that financed and founded Graceland Cemetery in 1899-1900 and served as the first ever president of the cemetery association. Wells was also the driving force behind the establishment of the Old Timer’s Picnic, an annual event for pioneering citizens held at Cascade Park beginning in 1907.
R. W. Clendenin, at an advanced age, continued working throughout his life. He was very ill for a time in early 1904 and entered a sanitarium in Mercer to recuperate. He soon returned to working in the store until he took ill with a severe cold in January 1905. He developed pneumonia and passed away at home on Tuesday, February 7, 1905, at the age of eighty-one. A funeral service was held at the Clendenin home and he was laid to rest in Graceland Cemetery. Among his pallbearers were such prominent men as George W. Johnson, Capt. James H. Cooper, Samuel W. Dana, and William Patterson. His wife Belinda passed away two years later and was buried next to him.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, February 8, 1905, reported, “No man was better known or more highly respected than Mr. Clendenin, and the sorrow for his death will be very general and sincere. He was typically a gentleman of the old school, and his courtesy to all with whom he came in contact was ideal in its reality. His was a remarkably friendly disposition, and he delighted to greet all with a pleasant smile and friendly word of recognition, and always kept in touch with the rising generation, so that his acquaintanceship was wide and varied.”
The historic Clendenin mansion on N. Mercer Street passed to his daughter Mary (Clendenin) Ward. When Mary Ward died in 1930 the property passed to her own daughter Helen (Ward) Stevens. It was sold in 1938 and years later – in 1970 – became the new home of the Eckles Architecture firm.
After the death of R. W. Clendenin his two sons continued to run the business. Wells died in February 1919 at the age of sixty-eight. The eldest son Wallace continued on, but he passed away soon after at the age of seventy-three in early January 1920. R. W. Clendenin & Sons, in business for seventy-two years, was closed down for good. The family sold off the assets of the store, but maintained ownership of the Clendenin Block and leased it out.
The former R. W. Clendenin business, under new ownership and management, was reopened at the same location as the Union Store in July 1920. It remained in business for over a decade, until it closed down in about 1931 during the Great Depression. Various businesses occupied the building in the coming years. The historic structure was ravaged by a devastating fire on the afternoon of Monday, February 27, 1950. It was a total loss and was razed beginning the very next day. At least eight tenant businesses, including Butz Flowers, the New Castle Drug Store, and the Davis Barber Shop, were forced to relocate. The property, located at the northwest corner of East Washington and Mercer Streets, was eventually converted into a parking lot. Today, the location is the site of the drive-thru teller for the First Commonwealth Bank.
To read the obituary for Robert. W. Clendenin that appeared in the New Castle News in February 1905 click on: R . W. CLENDENIN OBITUARY.
R. W. Clendenin had this 10-room mansion, designed by architect Edwin M. Butz, built on N. Mercer Street in 1867. An addition was made to the house in 1893. After Clendenin passed away in 1905 his daughter Mary Ward and then his granddaughter Helen Stevens lived there. The house was sold to plumber William M. Clark in 1938. In 1970 the Eckles Architecture company, having purchased the home, moved its offices into it. They company initially leased out much of the space but later occupied the whole mansion. (c1940) Full Size
An advertisement for the R.W. Clendenin & Sons store. (Sept 1914)
After the R. W. Clendenin & Sons store closed in early 1920 the business was sold off and soon reopened as the Union Store. That business closed in about 1931 and the stock was sold off. (Feb 1921)