The first settlement was established in 1795 when Benjamin Bentley came from Washington County, Pennsylvania, and explored the region along the Shenango River. He set up a “tomahawk claim” of over 400 acres on the east side of the Shenango River, and south of what is now State Street. The next year he brought his wife and six children to Sharon in a canoe, having erected a rude log cabin the year before. In 1798 William Budd and Charles and Frances Reno came to Sharon.
A great deal of the downtown section of the city now covers what were the farms of these early settlers that lay on a flat plain bordering the Shenango River. According to local legend, the community probably received its name from a Bible-reading settler who likened the location to the Plain of Sharon in Israel.
Sharon grew very slowly. At the time of its incorporation as a borough in 1841 there were about 400 inhabitants; in 1850, 541; and in 1860, still only 900. But things were about to change. Coal was first discovered by accident early in 1835, cropping out of the hillside west of Sharon. Charles Meek opened the first mine on the property. This was the beginning of the famous Mercer County block coal. Because the coal possessed a peculiar structure, and because it retained its shape until it fell into ashes, it was especially fitted for the manufacture of pig iron. Pig iron made from this coal in 1876 was claimed to be the best made in America. From 1835 to 1876 more than fifty mines were opened.
Mercer County block coal did not run in veins but was deposited in “basins” or “swamps,” varying in thickness from five to seven feet in the center. It tapered off into rock at the edges. The coal was removed usually from drift mines. The mine cars, of about 1200 pounds capacity, were pulled from the mines on wooden tracks by large dogs.
Due to these large coal deposits, Sharon became a beehive of industrial activity, with rolling mills, boiler and machine shops, furnaces, flour mills, ordnance works, and manufactories of explosives, nails, horse collars, spokes, chains, stoves, and lumber products. By the time Sharon was incorporated as a city in 1917, the population had swelled to more than 20,000, the largest city in Mercer County.
Sharon remained a booming steel town into 1960s. The Malibu division of National Castings, Sharon Steel Corporation and Westinghouse Corporation were all major employers. Most of the plants have shuttered and industry moved on. Today, Sharon is best known to outsiders for its quirky Big Three - a trio of stores that bill themselves as the “World’s Largest,” selling candy, shoes and discount clothes.
Our walking tour will begin atop the Shenango River that dissects the town and we’ll move from the recently rehabilitated State Street Bridge aways up those hills that cradle the town on both sides...
WALK EAST ON EAST STATE STREET.
River Walk Place
30 East State Street
The most dramatic of several Art Deco era structures on State Street, this gray brick office building is constructed directly on the Shenango River.
TURN LEFT ON SHENANGO STREET. TURN RIGHT ON PITT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON RAILROAD STREET.
47 Vine Street, at southwest corner of Pitt Street
Built in 1909 as a lodge for the local Masonic chapter, the building was renovated in 2002 to enter its second century as a banquet hall. The grand ballroom can accommodate 380 guests and encompasses both the second and third floors.
TURN LEFT ON EAST STATE STREET.
Buhl Community Recreation Center
28 North Pine Avenue
After traveling down State Street in 1900 and seeing so many people standing on the street corners, industrialist Frank H. Buhl began to worry that there was no place to go to spend an evening in town and very few places that could keep a young man from “falling into devious ways.” On September 19, 1903, he delivered the deed of the F. H. Buhl Club to its directors and officers. The club flourished and by 1906 it was known as “the finest equipped club of its kind in the world.” For five dollars a years members had full use of music rooms, educational classrooms, game rooms, a gymnasium, a library and a bowling alley. More than a century later the center continues to offer recreation and educational activities to the citizens of Sharon.
422 East State Street
Frank Buhl, a native of Detroit and graduate of Yale, came to Sharon in 1869 and became manager of the extensive Sharon Iron Works, a concern co-founded by his father. Buhl left town for ten years in 1878, returning to Michigan to take charge of the Detroit Copper and Brass Rolling Mill. When he returned in 1888 he to oversee the operations at Sharon Iron Works and marry the daughter of Sharon scion Henry Forker. Buhl Steel Co. was formed in 1896 with Frank H. Buhl as its president. Three years later, Buhl Steel was absorbed by the National Steel Co. After the merger Buhl, often referred to as “The Father of the Industrial Shenango Valley”, co-founded Sharon Steel Castings and Sharon Steel. After U.S. Steel absorbed both National Steel and Sharon Steel, Buhl retired from the industry. The Buhls were childless and devoted much of their fortune to the betterment of the community, contributing to hospitals, parks, libraries and churches. One of the stipulations in his will provided for the perpetual maintenance of a 9-hole golf course; thus, Sharon has the only free golf course in America. Ironically, one thing his legacy did not provide for after his death in 1918 was upkeep on the magnificent castle he lived in for three decades. Charles Owsley, a Youngstown architect, designed the rough-hewn Richardsonian Romanesque building. Construction on the native ashlar sandstone mansion began in 1890 and was completed in 1896 for a total cost of $60,000 - at a time when the average worker pulled in about a dollar a day. After Frank and Julia passed away, the property changed hands many times and was stripped of many of its spectacular architectural features including all the staircases, chandeliers, many door and window casings and all but four fireplace mantles. After years of abandonment and neglect, the house has been privately restored to serve as a guesthouse and spa.
Daffin’s Candy Store
496 East State Street
The original family store was started in 1903 by George Daffin in Woodsfield, Ohio. The business wound through the family and across northeast Ohio until it landed in downtown Sharon in 1947. It was here that Pete and Jean Daffin created their now famous Peter Rabbit - a solid chocolate Rabbit sold during the Easter season. As demand for Daffin’s candy soared, the couple moved their location to a bigger 20,000 square-foot store in Sharon. Still a family-run business - each piece of candy continues to be hand-decorated - Daffin’s bills itself as the World’s Largest Candy Store. Inside, the “Chocolate Kingdom” features remarkable sculptures of chocolate animals - some weighing over a quarter ton.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN EAST STATE STREET. TURN LEFT ON DOCK STREET.
52 Dock Street
Today’s Sharon Herald has its roots in three local papers. R.C. and James Frey founded the Herald, a weekly newspaper, in 1864. It became a daily in April 12, 1909. The newspaper’s office at the foot of Pitt Street in Sharon was washed into the Shenango River during a flood in March 1913. The newspaper missed only four issues and resumed publication with temporary production for about a month at the printing plant of the New Castle News before a new office and pressroom were set up on Chestnut Street. The Herald merged with its main competitor, the Sharon News-Telegraph, on May 13, 1935. That paper had incorporated the old Farrell News (founded 1925) and Sharon Telegraph (a daily since 1893). The new newspaper kept the Sharon Herald as its name but production moved to the News-Telegraph building two blocks away on South Dock Street.
TURN RIGHT ON CONNELLY BOULEVARD. TURN RIGHT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
Quaker Steak & Lube
101 Chestnut Street
The Quaker Steak and Lube opened here in 1974 when two friends came up with the idea of preserving the culture of old gas stations by setting up a restaurant inside an abandoned one. The idea took off and the chain now boasts 38 locations throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania. A 1936 Chevy that was inside the original garage hangs from the ceiling.
TURN LEFT ON EAST STATE STREET.
69 East State Street
Reyers was founded in 1886 by a German immigrant shoemaker, John A. Reyer. Six decades later, John’s son Carl sold the small, 1200-square-foot family shoe store to Harry Jubelirer, himself a second generation shoeman from Pittsburgh. Harry moved his small family 60 miles north to Sharon. At the time, there were six other shoe stores in the downtown area. The main store, still family owned, is now located in an old grocery store on South Water Street and lays claim to being “The World’s Largest Shoe Store.” The store encompasses 36,000 square feet and has more than 100,000 pairs of shoes in its inventory. Reyers fits women sizes 4 through 14, from AAAA to EE, men’s sizes 6 through 22 available in AA through EEEEEE. The remodeling of this downtown outlets store dates to the 1950s.
CROSS OVER THE SHENANGO RIVER ON THE STATE STREET BRIDGE.
First National Bank
7 West State Street
The First National Bank of Sharon, one of the oldest and most reliable banks of western Pennsylvania, was founded in 1868, John J. Spearman, the iron manufacturer of more than sixty years standing and one of the most influential men in this part of the state, having been one of its incorporators and its president since January, 1872. There was but one other incumbent of that office, George Prather, the first president, who died in the latter part of 1871. In 1875 the bank erected an excellent building on State street, which, with alterations and improvements to conform to modern requirements, is still occupied.
WALK BACK DOWN TO MAIDEN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
32 West State Street
Housed in an 1888 building, The Winner, “The World’s Largest Off-Price Fashion Store, opened in 1989. The Winner boasts “four floors of savings ... great customer service ... better than outlet prices ... over 100,000 square feet of merchandise ... no seconds or rejects.”
62 West State Street
The Columbia Theatre first opened on November29, 1922, as part of the Columbia Amusement Company’s system of company-owned vaudevillefacilities. New York architect Arland W. Johnson designed the 1,732-seat performance hall with imported marble staircases to the balcony, ornate plaster medallions and grillwork, fullstage, orchestra pit, and seven dressing rooms The Columbia was hailedas the “finest theatrebetween Pittsburgh and Erie. On January 29, 1981, while operating as a single-screen movie house, fire started in adjacent Morgan Grand building that had one been a Victorian-era opera house. The Morgan Grand was destroyed and the Columbia heavily damaged, and closed. In 1984, on the 62nd anniversary of the once-majestic theater’s opening, it was purchased by Sharon native Tony Butala, founding member of The Lettermen vocal group, at a tax sale for $10,500. Since then, despite volunteer efforts at restoration the Columbia, now owned by the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, co-founded by Butala, has resisted efforts at re-opening.
St John’s Episcopal Church
226 West State Street
The formation of a community of Episcopalians in and about Sharon took place in the 1860s, and the first public service of the church was held by Reverend Thomas Corlett, on December 10, 1865. The cornerstone of the first parish church was laid some eight months later. The present church, built in a Norman Gothic style, dates to 1895.
Sacred Heart Church
40 South Irvine Street at State Street
During the building of the Pittsburgh & Erie Canal a large number of Catholics were employed on that public work, and missionary priests made periodical trips along the line of the canal to hold services and minister to the spiritual wants of the members of that faith. Sharon being one of the principal points on the route, was also one of the places where mass was occasionally celebrated. It was, however, some years after this period before the town possessed any Catholic settlers and it wasn’t until 1864, when the cornerstone of the Sacred Heart Church was laid, that a proper church was built for services.
First Baptist Church
301 West State Street
Reverend David Philips came to the Sharon community as a missionary in 1802, and after working in this vicinity about two years gathered the Baptists into a regular organization in April, 1804. William Budd donated a lot for a church and graveyard, and the first building to be erected there was a log church twenty by thirty feet in dimensions. This was in 1807. The log church served for 36 years until it was removed and replaced with a frame church. The current brick structure, erected at a cost of $15,000, was dedicated in 1884.
Donald V. Sawhill Memorial Center
300 West State Street
Donald V. Sawhill arrived in Sharon in 1935 as a receiver to close out a tube mill, which had 50 employees. Instead, within a few months he had the plant making money, eventually employing 1,200 workers. His grand symmetrical Colonial Revival home, rife with Palladian windows, is now the home to the United Way.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS DOWN THE HILL ON WEST STATE STREET BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.