We lived in 1958-59 in one of the houses to the right along Shovel Row, shown in this photo circa 1895 taken during a flood along the Monongahela River in Charleroi, Pa. Photo courtesy of Charleroi Area Historical Society.
By Scott Beveridge
My earliest memories were born at age 3 on the wrong side of the tracks.
They come from 1958 while our family lived in a four-room, shabby duplex in Charleroi, Pa., beside an alley leading directly to the Monongahela River.
One involved a band of hobos that squatted on the riverbank, a story that came to mind after being shown last week the photo of Shovel Row, above, in the archives of the Charleroi Area Historical Society.
A few of the kids from the neighborhood sneaked down there one day and spied through the weeds on the homeless tramps gathered around a fire pit and drinking whiskey or moonshine in the mid-afternoon. Some were eating from tin cans while others hunched under lean-tos. The scene quickly scared me back home.
Mom hated that house from day one because it also was parked beside busy railroad tracks and she feared for the safety of her three young boys. Ours was a rental among a row of 10 double houses constructed in the late 19th century for workers of a nearby iron works that fed its shovel factory. Beyond, up the steep hills of the valley, sat the wealthy downtown district and mansions where the local merchants and bankers lived.
The Charleroi High School football field’s north end post was no more than 30 feet from the rear, second-floor bedroom window in our apartment. During each Friday night home game, we gathered at that window to watch the action on the field from what dad thought was the best seat in the stadium, especially because it was free.
Those in the paying seats of better means probably looked at us as white trash.
But it didn’t matter to us, especially one night when Charleroi’s Myron “Mike” Pottios kicked a scoring field goal and the ball bounced over the field’s tall wooden fence into our backyard. For a moment, it was almost as if a million dollars had fallen from the sky into our possession.
Pottios, a native of Van Voorhis, went on to be drafted in 1961 by the Pittsburgh Steelers and 12-year career in Pro Football.
In short order, we moved away from Shovel Row and the pesky, busybody landlady who lived next door in an identical clapperboard house.
Today, just two of them survive covered in vinyl siding, including the one where we lived. The stadium is still there, too, as is the brick shovel factory that became headquarters of the Model Cleaners dry cleaning company.
A business that deals in propane is situated closest to the river on land where the lower row of five worker houses once stood.
Trash is strewn around the path leading to the place where the hobos once sought shelter. The fire pit is still there in the center of a few concrete blocks that double as seats for the loafers who tossed their empty beer cans into the flames.
One two worker houses remain along Shovel Row in July 2009. We lived in the right side of the second duplex from the right.