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July 24, 2013

Bessemer at 100, Part 2: From baseball to education, residents recall borough’s history



Grebenz was also the last class — 1963 — to graduate from the building that was once Bessemer High School but became known as Mohawk High School, in 1958.

It’s a vacant lot, now — the space across from Bessemer Presbyterian Church.

Grebenz, who now lives next door to the house he grew up in recalls going home for lunch everyday.

H. Ralph “Chutty” Cunningham graduated from the former Bessemer High School in 1952. He recalls it was a three-story brick building and the brick came from Bessemer Paving Brick.

“That was the number one brick in the country,” Cunningham said.

The first educational institution was a one-room schoolhouse located in the center of town. About 1890, it was replaced by the Bessemer Public School on North Main Street near the intersection of Poland Avenue.

In 1919, a new school at the intersection of Poland Avenue and Main Street was opened.

As class size grew, a junior-senior high school building was constructed in 1925 on North Main Street between Roosevelt and Bestview avenues. The older one became known as Bessemer Elementary School.

A jointure, which included the schools in North Beaver and Mahoning townships, resulted in the formation of the Mohawk Area School District.

At that time the old Bessemer Elementary School on Poland Avenue — the site of the current fire station — was mainly used as a library and for kindergarten class. The former Bessemer High School on North Main Street became the home to the Mohawk Elementary School at Bessemer and students from not only Bessemer, but also Mount Jackson and Hillsville attended classes there.

Finally, though, in 1966 the Poland Avenue School closed and 11 years later, the building was razed.

Grebenz attended Bessemer Elementary and so did Tenhula. He was in grade six at the school on North Main.


“That was a beautiful time,” Tenhula recalled. “Those were years of innocence.”

Tenhula, retired from WFMJ-TV where he was a television studio technician, lives in a home that was built in 1908 by Sears-Roebuck Co.

A special part of growing up was going to the F.D. Campbell Memorial Library on North Main Street.

The library was originally the Belco Hotel and was a three-story building with a front porch in the 1900s, said Lorena Williams, executive director of the library. Belco was an abbreviation for Bessemer Limestone Co.

According to Williams, the library got its start in 1920 but had several different locations including both Bessemer elementary and high schools.

After the hotel closed, it became the offices of Dr. F.D. Campbell, another beloved figure in the community, and for whom the library is named. He died in 1961.

“Everyone knew Dr. Campbell,” Tenhula said.

The library moved to that location in 1970.

Frazier said, “When I was 7 or 8, I would sit in the library for hours and read books, and I spent a lot of time there through my teens.”

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