Happy 100th Birthday, Owens Grove!

Hugh G. Owens and his wife Emma wanted to show their appreciation and love for the children of Apollo and the region by donating land to house a playground and recreation area. The Owens promised the land to Apollo’s Burgess and Council in 1921, in the Oak Hill neighborhood on the condition that concessions could not be sold for profit, no permanent buildings could be erected in the park except for a Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, and no alcoholic beverages would be permitted in the park. A caretaker would be named by the Council and maintenance would be provided. The park was named “Owens Grove Children’s Playground and Park”. In 1977, the borough, along with the Armstrong County Redevelopment Authority, secured block grant funding to build a new community building. The building, dedicated on October 22, 1978, was to facilitate community-based programs and events. The Borough provided the park’s equipment through several county and state grants. Since the park opened, it has served as the central meeting place for family, community, and class reunions, as well as many community events. (paragraph from the Apollo Bicentennial Committee 2016 book)

For more information and photos, please go to our Owens Grove page.

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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AAHS 50th+1 Anniversary Dinner

On Saturday, September 18, 2021, the Apollo Area Historical Society celebrated our 50th+1 Anniversary with a Banquet at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Apollo.  The dinner, catered by Tommy’s Catering, was delicious, as was the beautiful sheet cake donated by Held’s Shop ’n Save.  Pastor Phil Ramstad of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church gave both the invocation and benediction for the event. Bill Kerr, as master of ceremonies, gave a powerpoint presentation with highlights from the past 50 years, beginning with the restoration of the Drake Log Cabin and continuing through our programs, guest speakers, bus trips, W.C.T.U. restoration and displays, and so much more.  The Apollo Area Historical Society honored Tony and Rhonda Difillipo with a certificate thanking them for their many years of helping the society while owning Wyble’s Drug Store.  Tom Toland presented the Society with an “Heart Of A Lion” plaque and a proclamation was read by Apollo Mayor Cindee Virostek, congratulating the AAHS for our 50 years of service to the community.  Proclamations were also received from the Armstrong County Board of Commissioners, State Senator Joe Pittman, and State Rep. Jason Silvis. A great time was had by all.  Following are photos taken by Bill Kerr throughout the evening.

The tables set up & ready for diners!
The A.A.H.S. Officers and Board Members
We’d like to thank the following individuals and businesses for contributing door prizes for our banquet.  Thank you each so very much!  · Apollo Milling · Lackey’s Dairy Queen · Central Restaurant · Apollo Fox’s Pizza Den · Tuck’s Pizza Patrick’s Pub · Hoagie Shop · Held’s Shop ‘n Save · Dolly’s Guesthouse · Dot Doty · Bill & Debbie Kerr   And finally, thank all of you who worked behind the scenes to make our banquet such a success.  You are our unsung heroes!

First Hand Account of the 1961 Apollo Fire By Denise Shilling Flickinger

The date was March 30, 1961, a few short days before Easter Sunday.  Many folks were attending Maundy Thursday services. Most stores were closed for the evening.

The fire started in the rear of Sheplers Market which sat along Warren Avenue.  We lived in an apartment above the store & stockroom.  The occupants of the building were unaware of any danger.  We did not hear sirens, fire trucks or any of the noise that goes along with fighting a fire.

Many folks refer to the fire as the “bank fire” when in reality, the bank was just the largest building involved in the disaster.

I was sitting in our living room watching TV, along with my sister and mother.  My sister said it was an episode of “My Three Sons”. My younger brother was asleep in his crib.  My brother Tom was at camp with friends.

As we watched our show, my mother said she smelled smoke.  She asked us to go to the kitchen to see if our neighbor, Dorothy, who’d been over earlier, had left a cigarette burning. She had not. My mother decided to check for herself. Not finding anything in our apartment, she opened the door to see if the neighbor was burning something. That was when she realized our apartment building was on fire.

She immediately pounded on Dorothy’s door to alert her to get her children to safety.  She had 4 children, and like my mother, was raising them on her own.  Dorothy was crying over losing her belongings and my mother, not being a patient person, yelled at her to forget all that & worry about their lives.

The building housed 4 apartments.  Our two families occupied the 2 front apartments closest to the inside set of steps.  The other 2 apartments were unoccupied and at the other end of the hall was the door leading to the outside set of wooden steps.

My sister, being the oldest of all the kids, helped Dorothy by taking one of her sons. The oldest daughter took her brother and Dorothy took her other daughter.  My mother gathered up my brother and wrapped him in a bedspread. She told me to hold on to her and to not let go, no matter what.

She directed everyone to follow her and it was hard to see because the hallway was smoke filled.  We proceeded to the inside steps, which led to the alley known as Hildebrande Way. There were flames coming up through the steps! My mother told everyone to turn around and make their way to the end of the hall to the door leading to the outside steps. Finally! We could see and breathe again.

I can remember seeing many folks standing below watching the fire. I was barefoot and none of us had coats on. A man picked me up because I had no shoes. My mother was never one to mince words, and did ask why nobody thought to come in and warn the families.

According to my mother, it was a mere 5 minutes after we got out that all interior floors collapsed into the ruins.  We lost everything we owned, but we had our lives, thanks to my mother’s quick thinking and her level-headedness.

I remember walking out of our kitchen, seeing my mom’s purse hanging on the handle of the old refrigerator door.  But she had told me not to let go of her, no matter what. So I did not grab it, even though I wondered to myself if I should.

I remember we had new Easter outfits that we never got to wear; and how our apartment was set up. I remember going across Warren Avenue to Harry’s Place, probably for penny candy. I remember the opening of the new Apollo Trust. They had little souvenirs as you walked in to tour the grand new building.

What I don’t remember is the tearing down of the remains of the fire. I don’t remember if the buildings had wear & tear on them and weren’t pretty. They were an integral part of my hometown, my childhood ‘stomping’ grounds, such as they could be for a 1st grader.

I am thankful for all the pictures of that half block and the pictures of the fire being fought. I did not get to see that part of it since we were hustled away from it and taken to my aunt and uncle’s house on McKinstry Hill.  We had a great view of a huge orange ball of flame that would forever change lives.

This fire changed the landscape of the little town of Apollo. It started with the building of the new Apollo Trust that took up the half block that once housed a supermarket and various other shops. Our town was now on a new path. Years later it was decided to go with urban renewal grants and the Plaza was planned. The rest is history.

I loved the look of our little town, the main street charm. So I can’t help but wonder ‘what if’? Would we have kept our main street and been like so many other little towns that have old, but oh, so charming buildings?

VIRTUAL TOURS OF APOLLO

The AAHS is pleased to offer both a hard copy and virtual copy of “A Walking Tour of Apollo” featuring interesting historical buildings in Apollo. The virtual map will be updated periodically to include more building and locations. We hope you enjoy your tour of Apollo. Click Walking Tour of Apollo for the map.

For our first annual Apollo May Daze Celebration, we also have a virtual map featuring the food trucks, vendors, yard sales, and activities taking place all over town on Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2 from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. Our W.C.T.U. Building/Museum and Drake Log Cabin will both be open during these hours. Be sure to stop by! For the virtual map, click Apollo May Daze.

HAPPY 150TH BIRTHDAY, APOLLO TRUST COMPANY!

Apollo Trust Company, “A Bank You Can Believe In,” has been going strong for 150 years.  Organized and operated in Apollo, PA in an effort to help the borough’s people better manage and safeguard their money, the bank started after a meeting at Whitlinger’s Hall on May 16, 1871.  Originally named “Apollo Savings Bank,” its first president, J.B. Chambers, and secretary, S.M. Jackson, were elected during the first meeting.  The constitution and by-laws were drafted by Dr. William McBryar, S.M. Jackson and S.P. Townsend and on May 27, 1871, they were adopted.  The first Board of Directors included J.B. Chambers, Samuel Jack, William McBryar, John Morrow, S.P. Townsend, James M. Kennedy, David Kepple, W.C. Bovard and Adam Maxwell.

1876 Building on 1st Street

The bank opened for business on August 7, 1871 at 2 p.m. in a building that was constructed for $500.  Five years after opening, the first building was destroyed on January 19, 1876 in what was considered the worst fire in Apollo’s history.  Business had to be transacted in temporary quarters in a room rented from W.C. Bovard.  A new building, which still stands on First Street, was completed and ready for business on November 1, 1876.

Apollo Savings Bank operated as a private bank until 1895 when a state charter was obtained.  Capitalization then was $60,000.  In 1901 the bank changed its name to Apollo Trust Company, and the capital had increased to $125,000.

Apollo Trust Company purchased the assets of First National Bank of Apollo and assumed their liabilities in 1954.  In 1961, the recently purchased First National Bank building was destroyed in a fire.  Operations for that branch were conducted in two temporary trailers which were converted into offices.  After the fire, a new main office was constructed on the site of the destroyed building.  The work was completed in 1963, and the main office re-opened in its new building on September 23, 1963.

Over the next decade there was rapid expansion in the North Apollo Borough, Kiskiminetas Township and Washington Township.  In order to better meet the needs of their growing customer base, Apollo Trust Company opened a branch in North Apollo in 1962.  In 1975, the Spring Church and North Washington Drive Thru Offices opened.  A third Drive Thru location was opened in 1985 on North Second Street in Apollo.

Expansion continued in 1990 when the North Washington Office was expanded to a full service branch.  In 1996 another full service office opened in Allegheny Township.  The most recent expansion occurred in 2013 when a Loan Office was opened in O’Hara Township, Allegheny County.

Today Apollo Trust Company operates two offices in Apollo (the Main Office on North Warren Avenue and the Second Street Drive Thru) and has branches in Allegheny Township, North Apollo, North Washington and Spring Church, in addition to the Loan Office on Freeport Road in Allegheny County.

Information taken from the Apollo Trust Company website ApolloTrust.com and from Dr. T.J. Henry’s book “The History of Apollo, PA 1816-1916

From our museum display “Happy 150th Birthday, Apollo Trust Company!”

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.