Our Society’s Rich History

APOLLO AREA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Founded 1970                                          

On August 18, 1970, a group of interested citizens met in the conference room of Laird Boarts’ insurance office to discuss and plan a procedure by which the log cabin at the south  end of town could be bought and restored…

After much discussion about a name for a corporated group the name “The Apollo Area Historical Society” would cover any other project of this nature along with the cabin restoration.

Thus began and ended the first minutes of the newly formed Apollo Area Historical Society.  The first officers were (pictured above)  Mr. Farrell Bash, Mrs. Virginia Seevers, Mr. Laird Boarts, and Mr. Howard Fulton.

By the 10th anniversary, our mission was made very clear in our Statement of Purpose:  “To bring together people interested in history and especially those people interested in the history of the Apollo Area; with the major purpose of discovering, collecting, and preserving materials of an historic value to the Apollo Area thus making accessible such materials at times and places for the development of historical interest.”

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Held’s Shop N Save Fire

Clair Held owned the Held’s Shop n Save on April 18, 2001.  On that day, a garbage man, picking up the town garbage, noticed flames coming out of the roof in the back of the store.  Around 4 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the family got calls from the neighbors.  All they could do was watch the building burn.

Clair and his grandson were at camp.  The State Police woke them at 5 am to come home, telling them the sad news.  Of course they had KDKA on the radio and heard more news on it as a reporter was on-site.

The building was a complete loss. Clair wanted to rebuild for the town people.  The family has had a store in North Apollo since 1936.  His two daughters who worked with him decided to start planning and checking things out. 

A new Shop n Save opened on August 15, 2002. The owners are Connie, Karen, and Scott, 3rd generation Helds.  Of course Clair is there every day, straightening shelves and having coffee, talking to old friends, and putting in his 2 cents worth, according to his wife Pearl.

Bank Fire

     Hundreds of people came to witness one of the worst fires in the history of Apollo.  The day was Maundy Thursday, March 30, 1961 and the time was 9:00 p.m..  The fire started at Bryan Shepler’s Supermarket and seemed to leap across the brick and wood frame structure.  The fire engulfed the entire block with flames nearly 100 feet high.

     Firemen from Apollo Fire Dept. No. 2 and No. 3, Vandergrift Fire Dept. No. 1 and No. 2, North Apollo, Kiski Township, Oklahoma, and Parks Township fought to contain the blaze.  The lack of water pressure hampered their efforts.  The main power line was downed by the flames, leaving the town in total darkness.  The glow of the bright red fire was seen for miles around.  Volunteers came from all over the Alle-Kiski Valley, while Verona had a truck stuck on Oklahoma Hill because of traffic congestion.  Arnold also had a truck on 1st Street near the Chambers Hotel.

    Among the buildings which were destroyed by the roaring flames were: Shepler’s Market; Dr. J.M. Mumaw’s dentist office; the office of Laird Boarts, district director of State Farm Insurance; the State Farm Agency of Henry Egley and Glen Helman; Dom’s Beauty Shop; Jackson and Russell Men’s Clothing Store; Zula Smith’s Dress Shop; Walter Kunkle, public accountant; Riverview Cemetery Association; and the First National Bank.  The bank was constructed of heavy thick concrete.  The building was thought of as the last building to ever be engulfed by flames.  Even though the electricity was cut off, the large clock in front of the bank kept ticking off the seconds until 11:35 p.m.. This was because the clock was controlled by a central box located above the vault in the heart of the roaring flames.

     The effect of the fire reached beyond the charred block.  All roads leading to Apollo were jammed.  Many motorists were stopped on the hill in Oklahoma as they gazed down at the darkened Apollo, now lit up with flames.  Roads leading to North Apollo and Spring Church were also jammed with cars watching the brightened town of Apollo.

     Three families had to flee for their lives that night.  Mrs. Shilling and Mrs. Wiser rented apartments above the supermarket.  Both had to run with their families from the flames which quickly engulfed the building.  A house next to the State Farm Insurance office was heavily damaged.  Smoke and water damage was confined to the downstairs, but the second floor in the rear was badly burned.  Homes were drenched for protection.

     Among the injured were Dom Gabrelli, who fell off a ten foot wall, suffering a broken jaw; Don Morgan had minor burns; Al Porrecca, along with many other firemen, were overcome with smoke; and Ernie Uptegraph was hit by a car while directing traffic.  Al Porrecca and Dom Gabrelli were taken to Allegheny Valley Hospital.  Several other firemen were treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries at the scene by first aid crewmen at the squad wagon.  Ambulances from Oklahoma and Vandergrift No. 2 fire depts. were also stationed at the scene.

     Apollo No. 2 Fire Dept. nearly lost their brand new fire truck because of the intense heat of the fire.  The truck was pumping from a fire hydrant directly in front of the bank.  Since several lines were stretched from the truck, it could not be moved, and as a result, was badly scorched and covered with tar and dirt.

     The blaze was considered to be the most destructive fire in the Kiski Valley’s history with an estimated damage of $350,000.

     After the fire, the Apollo Trust Company bought the land and constructed the new modern building.  The construction fo the bank actually marked the beginning of the Apollo Redevelopment Program.

The Sloan Fire

On March 26, 1952, Apollo Hose Companies No. 2 and No. 3, North Apollo, Kiski Township, and Vandergrift George G. McMurtry Fire Departments were called to fight the stubborn blaze of Sloan’s Five and Dime Store and Armitage’s Grocery Warehouse.  Six other buildings were also damaged, resulting in total fire damage of $100,000.

     The blaze completely wiped out the entire variety store which was operated by Harry and Edward Sloan at 117-121 North Warren Avenue.  The warehouse of E.B. Armitage was partially destroyed.  Other buildings damaged were the Blumenstein residence, Johnston Insurance Office, and Dixon’s Bakery, Lew’s Dairy, Beamer’s Cleaners, Apollo Boot Shop, and Nell’s Beauty Shop, all located across the street from the fire.

     A 1950 Nash sedan, owned by Rowler Coulter, was parked in front of the Sloan building and was extensively damaged by the intense heat which also shattered nearby windows and melted siding on two businesses across the street.

     After the fire, the Sloan building was nothing but smoldering ruins.  Walls of the store were completely down.

     Three fireman, Paul Heckman, Erwin Householder, and William Fishell were injured during the fire.

     The Sloan building was 65 years old and was once owned by Henry D. Bellas who operated a print shop on the second floor and rented the first floor to Saul Blumenstein for a department store.  The building also once housed Rudolph’s Cobbler  Shop years ago.  Mr. Sloan purchased the building 26 years before the fire.

Armitage Fire

On Friday, April 17, 1941, at 12:30 a.m. fire struck the Armitage Super Market at the corner of North Warren Avenue and North Second Street.  Discovered by the Armitage family who lived in the house adjoining the store, a night watchman and a passerby, at about the same time, turned in the alarm and the Apollo Hose Companies No. 2 and No. 3 responded.

     The fire originated near the meat cooler where the motors were housed.  It was assumed that the motors stalled and the insulation burned out starting the conflagration.

     The leaping flames spread to the adjoining house, damaging much of the contents.  The Armitage family escaped injury.  The flames spread to the next building, the Famous Store, where the rear corner of the building was badly damaged and stocks ruined from the smoke and water.  The apartment above the store was also heavily damaged.

     The center of the Armitage Store was completely ruined with nothing but charred framework remaining.  The merchandise was damaged by smoke and water.  Mr. Armitage reported that only a portion of the building was insured.

Wallace Lumber Company Fire

 On April 22, 1936, the main building at the Wallace Lumber Company was completely gutted, leaving an estimated damage of $25,000.  Paint and oil among other things added to the inferno which the smoke eaters of the Apollo Fire Companies and George G. McMurtry Fire Department of Vandergrift battled to control.  Plate glass, electrical supplies, plumbing, and hardware supplies, salvaged from the March 17 flood only a month earlier, were destroyed by the flames.  A frame house across the alley at the rear of the building was endangered by the fire and the family of Mr. & Mrs. Dominic Gabrielli were forced to move across the st5reet.  Several sections of hose were destroyed by the fire, but were replaced by Apollo Borough Council.

This picture shows the flood damage of the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood

The Working Men’s Store Fire

On Friday, December 22, 1933, the Working Men’s Store in the Campbell building on North Warren Avenue, was completely destroyed by fire.  Flames spread rapidly over an entire block and were stopped only by a heavy brick wall on the McLaughlin building containing Rubin’s Department Store.

     Firemen from both Apollo and Vandergrift Fire Departments battled the blaze for over three hours.

     The Working Men’s Store occupied the first floor of the Campbell building and the Apollo Realty Company, W.E. Orr Real Estate, and Charles Reilman Law Office were housed on the second floor.  Adjoining the Campbell building were Charlie Carr’s Confectionary and Billards Parlor on the first floor with apartments on the second floor.  The third building burned was owned by R.S. Johnston and was occupied by Joe Solene’s Shoe Shop and George Uptegraph’s Barber Shop.  All the buildings were completely gutted.

Racket Store Fire

On Friday, October 20, 1911, W.B. Miller’s Racket Store was completely destroyed by fire.  A delay in the central alarm system hampered a more effective response to the fire.  By the time the Apollo Fire Company arrived on the scene, the fire was completely out of control.  Assistance was needed, therefore the George G. McMurtry Fire Department in Vandergrift was activated.  The extensive heat from the fire ignited the Guthrie residence located on the corner, causing great damage.  With great effort the Guthrie residence was saved from total destruction, although all the furniture and household goods were ruined.  Total damage of the fire was estimated at $25,000 with both the Guthrie and Miller building insured to half their value.

The tree located across the street from the Racket Shop was destroyed by the flames. The AAHS has a ladder that was made from the wood of that tree on display at our museum.

Vintage Toys

Our 2020 display theme in the W.C.T.U. Building/Museum is Vintage Toys. Since we have not yet been able to open the museum, I’d like to give our readers a sneak peek. Thanks so much to Alan Morgan and Denise Flickinger for the great set-up. And thank you to everyone who donated or loaned these great toys. Brings back some wonderful memories. I hope it does for you too. Please comment about any of the toys you see or post some pictures of your favorite vintage toys! Be sure to stop by the museum when we open…these toys are so much fun to see in real life.

Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

Apollo Lodge #386

The Apollo Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was chartered on September 16, 1897, about 30 years after the national organization started. Apollo’s lodge was founded by W.F. Pauly, a Mercer County man who moved to the borough to open a pharmacy.

The Order of Elks is dedicated to providing service to its community through various types of work, such as offering help to veterans, caring for the needy, drug awareness programs, law and order, community affairs, helping handicapped children, sponsoring PA Home Services nurses, and funding scholarships, youth sports, and charities. Elks invest in their community through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, by undertaking projects that address unmet needs, and by honoring the service and sacrifice of our veterans.

The Elks used to sponsor a Flag Day Ceremony to demonstrate love for country and love for the U.S. flag that symbolizes liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Elks bought property and a building from Walter and Bella Guthrie in 1904 on the corner of North Warren Avenue and North Fourth Street. This building remains standing today and was sold in the 2000’s to the Fraternal Order of Eagles.