Robert Davis Kroesen Interview, 1922
Quoted from his interview in the New Castle News, November 8, 1922 when he was 75 years old. "My father's name was William and my mother's name was Adeline. I was born in Allegheny County, PA, May 4, 1847.
When I was two years old (1849) my people moved to Mahoningtown and two years later, 1851, moved to Moravia Street in the vicinity of Big Run.
I attended the Pollock school. My first teacher, (1853) was George McAnlis. When I was seven years old, I started to carry staves and set up kegs. We had only three months schooling a year in those days. By 1861, when I was 14 years old, I had learned the trade of making kegs and barrels, called the cooper's trade and had become a journeyman.
There were no railroads in New Castle at that time. Passengers and freight not hauled by canal boat, were hauled by stage or wagon to Enon Valley which was the nearest point of connection with the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railway. Iron ore, limestone and much of the coal for the furnaces and mills, in fact, all kinds of freight that is now moved by railroad, was then hauled by wagon or canal boat. The New Castle and Beaver Valley Railway from Homewood to New Castle was built in 1863. The old mill was a rolling mill located on a point near the confluence of the Shenango and Neshannock rivers, a short distance from the old black bridge that was taken away by the by the big flood of 1913."
When asked for the layout of the canal system, Uncle Bob continued.
"The general route of the canal which extended from Erie to Pittsburgh was beginning at Sharon to South Street, New Castle. The very ground that is now occupied by the Erie railroad. Along every canal is a tow path, which is the road the mules traveled when pulling the boats. The railroad mentioned was built mostly on the tow path as it was already graded, ready for the ties. The canal bed was filled with cinder or earth. From Mill Street southward to New castle Junction the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie railroad is built on the old canal site.
Now I want to go back and explain about the canal from Harbor Bridge to the new mill. From a point about two miles above the Harbor Bridge to South street there was no canal but the boats used the slack water of the Shenango river. The slack water was the water backed up and deepened by the dam which was built across the Shenango river just below South street. The dam backed the water up to where the canal flowed into the river two miles above the Harbor Bridge, so that the boats would use the river clear down to South street"
Do you know, Uncle Bob how the Harbor bridge got its name?" was asked.
"I can tell you son, just exactly how it was. There was a regular harbor at that place and a number of boats would be tied up there all the time. It was something like a railroad yard. The farmers hauled their grain to that place and loaded it into the boats for shipment. So from that, the place became known as the harbor and the bridge being there also gave the complete name."
"When the boats were towed down the slack water in the Shenango river, to South street, where did they go from there?:"
"Right at the west end of Shenango street and right above the dam, was a guard lock into which the boats stowed and were carried along the canal on South street to the aqueduct which crossed the Neshannock river where the dam is now located. On the south side of the Neshannock the aqueduct led into the canal which came out onto Mill street where the little old mill was.
"The canal ran south along Mill street and down what is now the P.& L.E, R.R. clear to the junction."
"How did the mules get across the Neshannock?"
"There was no bridge across the Neshannock at Mill street at that time, except a narrow wooden exchange bridge about six feet wide for the mules to cross on. The people had to use that bridge as a foot bridge also but teams had to go to Washington Street, then called Pittsburgh street.
"Did the canal have any 'branch runs' here in New Castle like the railroads have?"
"Yes. The dam across the Neshannock created a slack water far up the river. The boats were towed up to the city wharf where the New Castle Dry Goods company store now stands and believe me that was some busy place. Boats were there at all times, loading or unloading. When you consider that the canals handled both passengers and freight, you will have a better idea of what was going on."
"How long did you work in the cooper shop making nail kegs?"
The Keg Factory stood on Jefferson Street, near Center. Later became the Carnegie Co. play ground. I stayed there until 1863, then went to Rochester, PA and made flour barrels. At that time, I was 16 and considered a good cooper.
December 2, 1863 I went to Youngstown and enlisted as a Private in Company N, 10th Ohio Cavalry and was mustered into the United States Service at Warren. In due time I joined the company at Bridgeport, Alabama and was given a horse and full equipment. My Captain was Henry Brown.
After camping at Ringgold until Sherman reorganized his army, the Cavalry moved forward to Tunnel Hill, Pickajack Gap, Rockafore Ridge, Snake Creek Gap, Reseca, Kenesaw Mountain and Atlanta. Then through Georgia under General Judson Kirkopatrick. The cavalry moved up the coast through South Carolina and to Durham Station, 50 miles above Raleigh, North Carolina where General Johnston surrendered April 26, 1865. I was mustered out in North Carolina and returned to New Castle, where I have been with few exceptions. I never lost a day while in the army because of sickness, never got hurt and was in three more battles than my company on account of being on detail.
Upon my return to New Castle, I was 18 years old and went back into the keg factory for several years, then went into the glass factory at Croton to learn the trade.
The factory was built in what was considered by some to be an out of the way place, in 1847, (the year I was born) by Anthony Henderson to manufacture window glass. There were no shipping facilities then as the railroads were not built. There was limestone, coal, sandstone and timber on the ground which was owned by Mr. Henderson. He had to all appearances everything at hand except the soda, which was shipped to Enon Valley on the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Rail Road and from there hauled by wagon to the factory. Some of the employees were Harrison, William and Edward Cooley, Samuel Williams,Joseph Miller, John Cline, Wes Ross, the Townsends, Nixons and Vandergrifts.
In 1880, I went to Baltimore and put in a year at the glass factory, during which time, my youngest daughter, Adaline, was born. Then John Knox sent for me to come and work in his new glass factory at Grant and Sampson streets in New Castle.
This was known as the Sampson Factory. I was with him for twenty years, or until 1901, when he sold out to the American Window Glass Co. After that, I went to Pittsburgh for one fire of ten months, then to Falls Creek for three months, then returned to New Castle and worked one fire for Ed Norris at the Lawrence Factory, which was located north of West Washington Street at the west end of the Shenango River Bridge. That factory was originally built by the men on the co-operative plan. Judge Hazen was superintendent. After the plant was destroyed by fire, Forby Holton re-built it and operated it for several years until it passed into the hands of the American Window Glass Company.
From the Lawrence, I went to Barnesville, Ohio and worked in the glass house there until February, 1907. William Hayes, a well known New Castle man, was manager of the plant. From Barnesville, I returned to New Castle and have not been working since. I worked as flattener at all the factories where I was employed.
My wife was Mary Elizabeth Pierce of Hickory Township. We were maried February 7, 1867. My family consists of seven children, Alvah, Frank, Myrtle, Louise, Belle, Retta and Adalene all of whom are living (1922).
My wife died in 1905.
[End of Interview]
Note: Robert Kroesen was born at Ninth street and Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA He died in New Castle,PA in 1923.
ADDENDUM TO ROBERT KROESEN'S LIFE
During the smallpox epidemic in New Castle, PA in 1872, Robert and his mother, Adeline Israel Kroesen, both of whom had already had smallpox, worked day and night to care for the suffering of those now afflicted.
Fortunately, none of their own family were involved. Bob and Adeline stayed with the families they nursed and were away from home for well over three weeks. They didn't go home at all during that time so they wouldn't expose their own family to the dread disease.
Robert's daughter, Louise, who was about seven at the time, remembers that they lived far enough away from the part of town where the eipidemic raged, that they prayed the dreaded pox would not affect them if certain precautions were taken. One of the most important was for ALL children to stay away from the affected area.
Curiosity got the better of Louise. She decided to stroll through the off-limits part of town. Who would know? She was startled to hear someone call her name. When she located the source, she saw her grandmother, Adeline, at an open upstairs window. Adeline asked Louise to please bring her some more sheets, or have her mother send them over.
Louise was so frightened and guilty that she almost choked. It was bad enough to have been discovered in the forbidden place, but her grandmother's apearance startled Louise so much that she ran all the way home. She thought that her usually neat little grandmother looked like either a devil or a witch. She was trembling too much to be able to think which.
Adeline, poor soul, had been on the go day and night for weeks, with little or no time for the niceties, such as neatly combed hair. Her hair was straggling in a way Louise had never seen before. Louise didn't realize at the time what a grueling ordeal Adeline was having. Louise, naturally, was afraid to reveal to her Mother that she had ventured into the infected area, so the message about the desperately needed sheets never got through. Unfortunately, the patients did not have the cooling and healing benefit of being wrapped in wet sheets to help bring down the high fever. Just of one of the many things Robert and his mother knew of the healing arts.
Ethel L. Winterhalter
3705 Rosebriar Avenue
Glenshaw, PA 15116