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Carnegie Steel Co. beam lights Mt. Pleasant area welder's way

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

As a state-licensed contractor, East Huntingdon's Carl Pravlik said he has torn down his fair share of buildings in Mt. Pleasant and surrounding areas.

“I quit counting at 100,” said Pravlik, 54, regarding the building razings he has taken part in from Ruffsdale to Laurelville over the years.

Pravlik said the buildings he deconstructs often contain items of true worth.

“Every building I tear down, I find something,” he said.

Such was the case earlier this year while Pravlik and his crew worked to reduce a century-old building to rubble in a 4,500 square-foot lot at 651-653 W. Main St. in Mt. Pleasant Borough.

It was inside that structure, which most recently served as the site of the Abromson & Abromson law firm for several decades, that Pravlik uncovered several beams produced by the Carnegie Steel Co., which was founded by Andrew Carnegie in the late 19th century.

Passerby makes a request

In late 2013, Doug Conn, 51, of Bullskin drove by the two-story, brick building as Pravlik and his crew were in the early stages of taking it down.

“We'd just taken the roof off and we were starting in on the second floor,” Pravlik said.

Conn, proprietor of Conn Mobile Welding & Services/Wrought Iron Railings by Conn, asked Pravlik if he had determined if any of the beams forming the building's frame bore the Carnegie brand.

“He said had not seen anything like that but that he would let me know,” Conn said. “Lo and behold, he called me like two weeks later to tell me he thought he found what I was looking for.”

Pravlik and his crew uncovered a total of six Carnegie Steel Co. beams, ranging from 13 to 31 feet long.

“I got to the first beam in between the first and second floor,” Pravlik said.

After that, Pravlik called Conn.

“He was down at the site in 10 minutes,” said Pravlik with a chuckle. “That told me they're worth something.”

Sure enough, all of the beams bore the iconic “Carnegie” inscription, the calling card for the company's product, Conn said.

“I do believe that these beams were made in the late 1800s, when Carnegie Steel was around before U.S. Steel was established,” he said.

Beams are relics from another age

What Conn sought and what Pravlik found are considered true relics in the world of construction, they both agreed.

“Those (Carnegie) beams are actually pretty hard to find now,” Pravlik said. “A lot of the old buildings are getting torn down, people don't know what they have, and a lot of them get sent along for scrap.”

Conn said he'd been working with metal for three decades before he learned of Carnegie's company and the beams produced there.

“I remember a time in the former home of my uncle, the late Joe Sankey, in Little Summit in Dunbar Township on the west side of Monarch and West Leisenring,” Conn said.

Conn said he spotted Carnegie beams supporting a room that was originally a front porch.

“That was the first time I'd seen them. I didn't know they existed. I just assumed it was always U.S. Steel,” he said.

Magnate made his mark

Born in Scotland in 1835, Andrew Carnegie's tale is well told as an iconic, American industrialist who forged a fortune in the steel industry then went on to become a major philanthropist before his death in 1919.

In 1848, his family arrived in America, after which Carnegie, who at the time had very little formal education, got a job as a bobbin boy at a cotton factory earning $1.20 per week.

While working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he rose to the position of division superintendent in 1859, Carnegie began investing in iron and oil companies, scoring his first fortune in his 30s before springing onto the steel business scene in the early 1870s when he co-founded his first company near Pittsburgh.

Over the next two decades, the Carnegie name became a dominant force in the industry, and in 1892, his primary holdings were consolidated to form Carnegie Steel Co.

It was during those years that Carnegie's company produced the beams, which framed many buildings throughout western Pennsylvania and beyond.

In 1901, he sold the Carnegie Steel Co. to banker J.P. Morgan for $480 million. That same year, Morgan merged Carnegie Steel with a group of other steel businesses to form U.S. Steel, the world's first billion-dollar corporation.

Carnegie then retired to devote his remaining days to philanthropic largesse, as he eventually donated more than $350 million to fund initiatives in science, education and world peace.

Land of log cabins crops up

Long before Carnegie and his family arrived in America, the land on which his company's beams were used to frame the recently razed building was already taking shape.

In the late 18th century, Alexander McCready, a fellow Scotsman, owned a large plantation near the mouth of Jacobs Creek, which he purchased from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, said Richard A. Snyder, a founder and longtime member of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society.

In 1797, there was a plan of lots drawn up where Main Street is that was all part of McCready's plantation, Snyder said.

“McCready was credited for laying out the early town and sketching out the plan of lots,” he said. “But that was all Mt. Pleasant Township until 1828 when Mt. Pleasant Borough was established.”

By 1810, most of the lots were sold, as 34 log and frame cabins were put up by tradesmen, tavern and inn keepers along the business district of Main Street, including ones at the building site in question.

“The town had a big celebration in 1910 called ‘Old Home Week' to mark the 100th anniversary,” he said.

Throughout the early-to-mid 19th century, ownership of the lot on which the building eventually was located changed hands several times, Snyder said.

It is unclear exactly when the structure was built, though Pravlik suggested the year of construction may have been 1874 based on an inscription on its bricks produced by R&O Brick Co., he said.

Site serves several businesses

In the early to mid-20th century, several businesses occupied the building, Snyder said.

In early 1975, late attorney Henry Abromson and his son, attorney Nathan Abromson, relocated their law office to the building's first floor.

“Not long thereafter, I purchased the building and maintained my law practice there until my retirement in 2012,” Abromson said.

The building remained vacant to the time of its razing.

Welder to work beam into commercial theme

Conn is currently transitioning his business to also offer a mobile crane service.

In the process, he is searching for a stationary site locally to base his headquarters.

Once he finds it, Conn said, he plans to incorporate the Carnegie Steel beam he procured from Pravlik into his business logo.

“I'm going to make an oval shaped sign and the beam will hang in the middle like a crane is lifting it up,” he said.

As for those 100-plus buildings Pravlik has torn down in the area, he lamented the fact that most of the spaces where they once stood remain vacant.

“The sad part is there are only seven or eight new buildings that have been built in their places,” he said.

As for the oldest building still standing in the borough?

“That's the brick one across the street from the Abromson building ... the Rupert building, where Doughboy Pizza is,” Snyder said. “It was built in 1812.”

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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