*** ONLINE AS OF AUGUST 5, 2011 ***
    



Crescentdale Housing Area - Wampum PA

In early 1907 the Crescent Portland Cement Company formally purchased the cement works in Wampum, Pennsylvania, which had been in operation since 1876. The company completely rebuilt the old plant and made a host of modern upgrades. The area the plant occupied and the few scattered homes around it soon took the name of Crescentdale – which was technically just south of the Borough of Wampum in nearby Big Beaver Township. The company started building a few homes near the plant, which it rented to its employees. A Pennsylvania Railroad depot at the plant also took the name of Crescentdale Station.

In about 1910 the Crescent Portland Cement Company purchased the nearby William Davidson farm to enlarge its property around the plant. William Davidson (1822-1895) was a member of the pioneering Davidson family who first settled the area in 1796. The property was located just along the New Castle-Beaver Falls Road just west of the cement plant. The company planned to utilize the Davidson property to erect a small subdivision of some sort for its employees.

In the summer of 1916 the cement company, which was experiencing rapid growth, began building low rent housing on the former Davidson property. The apartment-style homes were erected along both sides of the New Castle-Beaver Falls Road, which was the main north-south route through the area. A total of about twenty-five multiple family units eventually made up what became known as the Crescentdale housing area or Crescentdale apartments. When “new” Route 18 was eventually built just to the east the stretch of road through the housing area – which was bypassed – become known as Crescentdale Road or Drive.

Two rows of homes were eventually erected, one of wood and one of cement made by the plant. Water for the development was pumped in from the cement plant, but there was no indoor plumbing. Residents utilized outhouses in addition to outdoor wells to carry water inside. The first fully-functional indoor bathroom was not installed until 1946, and eventually most of the cement homes were so equipped. A ballfield was also built next to the apartments and was the scene of many thrilling softball games for kids and adults. Children living in the apartments attended schools in the Big Beaver Township School District. With the low cost of rent and good paying jobs at the cement plant many of the residents were quite well off.

In December 1933 the Borough of Wampum, led by Burgess Benjamin T. Braby, touched off a bitter fight when it filed a motion to officially annex 174.5 acres of property in Big Beaver Township, which included the cement plant (acquired by the Medusa Portland Cement Company in 1929) and Crescentdale housing area. This was apparently done to increase its tax base. State laws actually allowed a “borough” to annex property from a “township” so little could be done by authorities in Big Beaver Township. I believe the annexation, which involved a separate fight between the school districts, was approved sometime in 1935. Pennsylvania Department of Education officials and Big Beaver Township school board officials protested the move. In a weird quirk Crescentdale residents now paid taxes to Wampum, but their children continued to attend schools in Big Beaver Township. Later, to avoid further annexations of this type, Big Beaver Township reinvented itself as the New Beaver Borough in November 1959.

Medusa, no longer in need of supporting a company housing project, sold off the Crescentdale apartments to A. H. McMinn of Beaver Falls. McMinn, and partner John Dukovich, maintained Crescentdale as a low-rent housing alternative for area residents. In 1960 Wampum officials were seeking to gain approval for a 50-unit low rent housing complex to be funded by the Lawrence County Public Housing Authority. The project, which would see the old Crescentdale homes demolished and replaced, needed approval by New Beaver Borough officials and that apparently never came.

The housing area, which got quite run down over the years, was the center of much controversy in the 1960’s. Many people from Wampum considered the houses are blight on the community. The owners faced numerous complaints from the residents and also various inspectors of the lack of suitable living conditions. Crescentdale’s owners and residents also felt neglected by the officials of the Wampum Borough and disputes ensued over street lights, electric power, water supply, road maintenance, speed bumps, septic tanks, and other issues. The desire for a modern sewage system seemed to be the main wish of most residents.

Despite all the negative attention it seems most residents were actually content to live there, especially due to the low cost of rent. A sort of self-imposed segregation line ruled as African-Americans – many of which were longtime residents – generally resided in the wooden homes, while the more transient white residents occupied the concrete units. This arrangement was not by any official design and seems to have just developed over time. Anyway, residents say there was really no racial bias prevalent in the tight-knit housing area and everyone got along regardless of race.

McMinn sold the housing area to James Shipley in 1968, who took on the responsibility of overseeing the fifty-five families residing there. About four years later he in turn sold the property to JRE Enterprises Inc., jointly owned by Ed Dawson and John Naugle. Several of the wooden homes were demolished as renters for these old units, which were never upgraded with indoor plumbing, became more and more scarce.

Despite the changes in ownership the long-running issues continued unabated. An article in the New Castle News on Tuesday, December 9, 1975, reflects on Wampum’s opinion of the issue. “You can’t put sewers in up there,” Aiello (my uncle and Borough Council President Robert Aiello) said, “The ground’s too hard. And the places are in such bad shape. Actually they ought to all be condemned.” Ferrucci (Wampum Mayor Ralph Ferrucci) said the way the project looks, “it’s a disgrace to the borough.” But Ferrucci admits the problem is an odd one. He can’t justify in his mind the expense of installing electric lines for street lights or building speed bumps. And, he can’t consider installing sewers because the ground is too hard and wouldn’t accept a system. Yet, he’d like to see the people happier. “You have to remember,” he said, “those people up there are human, too. I’d like to see them living in better conditions but there’s only so much I can do.”

As you can imagine Crescentdale residents (numbering twenty-eight families in late 1975) had little love for Wampum – and vice versa. I think people stayed mainly because of the low cost of rent, which in 1975 was only $65 per month for the concrete homes and $45 per month for the wooden homes. Despite its bad reputation it was not the “welfare colony” some people envisioned, as I found a report that indicates in late 1975 only six residents were on state-sponsored welfare. It seems that in late 1984 most of homes, in an increasingly serious state of disrepair, were finally abandoned. Wampum officials pressed the owners of the housing area to demolish the homes and threatened legal action. On Monday, August 14, 1985, the razing of the homes got underway. A handful of former residents showed up to witness the event. Most of the rubble was carried away within the next few months. Some reports indicate a few of the homes might have remained intact and were torn down over the next few years.

Today, the area is barely recognizable from Crescentdale Road or Route 18 as trees and brush have overgrown the area. A closer look at the site reveals full basements and foundations on the west side of Crescentdale Road, and piles of broken up concrete on the east side of the road.

In October 2002 about six dozen former residents of Crescentdale gathered at the Chewton Fire Hall in a reunion of sorts. They reminisced about the good ole’ days and caught up with old neighbors. Crescentdale may be nothing more than a pile of rubble these days, but the memories of its former residents reveal that the once lively little community is dear to their hearts.


To read an article about the Crescent Portland Cement Company purchasing the old Davidson farm in 1910 click on: TO INCREASE INDUSTRY AT WAMPUM ARTICLE. To learn more about plans being formulated in 1915 and 1916 for building projects at Crescentdale click on: NEW ADDITIONS ARTICLE and EXPECT MUCH BUILDING AT WAMPUM ARTICLE and CRESCENT CO. BUILDS HOMES ARTICLE.


In 1907 the Crescent Portland Cement Company purchased the cement works in Wampum and started building a few homes for its employees in the immediate area. In 1916, after additional property was acquired, the company started construction on a low-rent employee housing area that became known as Crescentdale (shown above). (c1984) Full Size


A total of about twenty-five multiple family units eventually made up what became known as the Crescentdale housing area or Crescentdale apartments. (c1984) Full Size


Crescentdale homes, vacant for about a year, being demolished on Monday, August 14, 1985. The rubble was slowly carted away. (Ellwood City Ledger photo) Full Size


Willie “Sonny” King of New Beaver Borough, a longtime former resident of Crescentdale, poses in front of the rubble of the wooden home where he lived from 1930-1956. King was one of a handful of former residents who showed up to watch the homes being demolished on August 14, 1985. (Ellwood City Ledger photo) Full Size


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013) Full Size


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013) Full Size


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)


(Mar 2013)

---

Comment