Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Visit To The Former Stoney's Brewery, Smithton, Pa...Or, "For the love of God, drink more beer!"

      It was one of those mid December days in south western PA, cold.  We have been pretty lax on the posts lately, so we wanted to do something fun, something......we can relate to.  It's sort of been an unwritten rule w/ us at SWPARE.  We do a hit, then usually end it w/ a trip to the flea market and pizza and beers .  Today, we decided to mix it up a little and hit the beer first.

     Stoney's Beer.  Say that around your grandmother, and references to your pap, hanging out w/ his cronies down the local beer garden will soon follow.  Founded in 1881 by William "Stoney" Jones, the first brewery was in Sutersville, Pa and then moved to Smithton, Pa to these buildings in 1907.  There is an awful lot of history to this beer, and a lot of it interesting and amusing, as the story about Stoney winning the brewery in a card game,  but I'm going to let the official history page of the Stoney's website do that story telling.

One of my flea market finds from last year

  A short video below on some more Stoney's information

     We headed on down that Friday the 13th, just expecting to get some exterior shots for the FaceBook page, but quickly found out the gift shop/offices were open.  As we browsed the shirts and vintage collectables on display, we started talking to Joyce, who works for Stoney's,  and she she gave Chip and I a history of the brand.  Really nice lady.   She invited us back into the taproom, a large "entertaining room" of sorts, done up nicely w/ deep wood tones, to look around.  This is the room that would end the tour of the brewery, and you could sample a beer.  All sorts of cool old photos, memorabilia and signs adorn this room.  It's worth a trip down here just to check that out.   An interesting sidebar to this story is, is that Shirley Jones, from TV's Partridge Family, is the grand daughter of Mr. Stoney Jones, and paid frequent trips to the brewery.

They have a kick ass gift shop known as Stoney's Corner.  Great stuff and at a really nice price!

     Stoney's brand beers were produced on this site from 1907, until the plant became too antiquated to be profitable, and was shut down in 2001.  From there, manufacturing took place at another Pittsburgh favorite brewery, Iron City, in Lawrenceville, Pa, until financial troubles caused them to move all production to the old Rolling Rock plant in Latrobe, Pa. 

Old aerial shot hanging on the office wall.  Looks like from the 70's

The Tap Room.  After tours, we reckon you could have gotten a nice cold sample here.  It still functions. 
 Joyce gave us permission to walk about the site for pictures, and as we did, we ran into the current owner of the property, Bob.  Bob bought the property a few years back, and told us all the old equipment inside had already been salvaged, and nothing brewery related remains inside.  He is reluctantly (in time), tearing the old brewery down to make room for his current undertakings.   Before yinz hate Bob for doing this, we have to say, he seems like a really good guy, but as a business man, he recognizes the liabilities old buildings like these can pose. He related stories of people coming in, only to vandalize the place.   Places like this would make awesome loft type apartments in the right area but the sad fact is, you can build them but who is going to fill them?  It's the same old sad story that a lot of other old buildings and towns face. 

What is not to love about Stoney Jones, riding atop a keg of Stoney's beer?  We'd party w/ this dude.
This whole trip was so inspiring, that I decided that I am going to make Stoney's our official beer here at SWPARE and bought a case of bottles on the way home, one of which I'm enjoying as I type this.    I'm sure Chip won't mind.  Danielle? She's happy w/ a Sun Drop pop.Man, we gotta work on her!

More rich wood tones adorning the tap room

Stoney's sponsored stock car

Visit here!  It's great! Open M-F, 9:30A to 4:30P.  Just 2 miles off Rt 70

Bottling house and walkway

Walkway to bottling house

This speaks for itself.  15 seconds after I took the picture, these were whisked inside to the tap room, right behind the door.  MMMmmmmmmmm......Fresh Beer.....

Part of the old production line.  All I could think about was Laverne and Shirley.....

Back of the brewery, by the CSX tracks.  If you look at the old 1970's picture earlier on in the post, this is where the smokestack was.  Demo has begun.

Stoney's and my favorite, Stoney's Dark,  fresh on tap down Bower Brothers bar in Fredericktown, Pa

Hey!   Smithton has coke ovens too!  We need another visit!

Great old sign

A whole lotta love is what we'll be bringin'....... Stoney Jones' grand daughter, Shirley Jones.  We've heard she paid numerous visits to the brewery while it was in operation.

Your friend and humble narrator enjoying a Stoney's Dark down at Bower Brothers bar in Fredricktown.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Century III Mall...

 We haven't had any good old exploration posts lately. Mostly because Evan has been working away and Danielle has been bouncing between work and school. But don't fret! We have some cool stuff coming up very soon. In the mean time, we decided to do a little to speak. Our Washington Mall post was way more popular than we expected, so after hearing some stories about the alleged decline of the Century 3 Mall near Pittsburgh,we made a trip down to check it out.

 This post has been laying around in our 'to do' bin for awhile but with news of a new developer eyeing the massive mall, we thought now would be as good a time as any. This visit was done at the end of last summer and really wasn't planned out.We weren't even sure if we were allowed to take photos or video in the mall, so we kind of snuck around...which always makes it more fun.

 Like the Washington Mall, we heard through various sources that Century III mall was not doing too well. I had even heard a rumor  the whole mall was slated to be demolished. We are happy to report , it is nowhere near that bad. Like most malls,it is suffering from the recent economic issues. Many stores are closed and it even appears that one section of the mall has been sealed off. The day we stopped ,it seemed fairly busy with plenty of folks shopping.We shot a quick video and grabbed a few photos before hitting the cool comic book store. So,here is our Century III Mall trip and a few quick facts.

The Century III Mall planning began in 1976 and opened in 1979. It is located in West Mifflin,Pa along busy Rt. 51.The entire mall is constructed on a former slag pile known as Browns Dump. This is where the molten leftovers of steel production were dumped. To stabilize the site, concrete was pumped into the ground to fill abandoned coal mines near the dump site. Rumor is that the ground contains more concrete than the mall itself! One of the slag cars remains on display on the road that leads up to the Wal Mart behind the mall. Evan's Dad recalls watching the night sky light up from the train cars dumping the molten slag. (See,we did tie this post into our coal/steel heritage!)

When the mall opened,it was a big deal. People came from as far as Ohio and West Virginia to see it. By far the largest mall in the Pittsburgh area, it was certainly  the place to shop. The three level mall was 1,290,000 square feet and featured over 200 stores.All the major chains had a store in the mall. Gimbles, Kaufmans,Montgomery Wards as well as others have rotated through the mall's history (many in the same spot!).  The mall also housed Pittsburgh favorite National Record Mart as well as Camelot Music,Waldens Books and so many other great stores (back when we had things like record and book stores - damn internet!). C3 was the first mall I remember with an actual food court. We always parked near that entrance and it smelled so good when you walked in! Made you wanna spend money! In the 80s, C3 was Heaven on Earth for a teenager.Not bad for a former slag dump!

 I remember taking my first trip to the mall with my Mom,sisters and neighbor. Way before the new toll road,we took 21 to Uniontown and hit Rt. 51 to the mall. It seemed like it took forever to get there from Rices Landing! Getting to go to Century III was a big deal for us. Having grown up with Uniontown, Laurel, Washington and Franklin malls (now Crown Center) ,Century III was massive! We would have to pick locations and times to meet up so no one would get lost. I got my Dungeons and Dragons game there at a really cool hobby store on the first floor on the food court end. My other favorite,as mentioned in the video, was Cutlery World. A store where wanna-be ninjas,like myself,could by throwing stars and Rambo knives! Just what every kid needs! 

Years later, Century III was the cool place to go when we were old enough to drive. It was always fun when someone scored Mom's car for a  Saturday trip to C3. By then, we were more into Merry-Go-Round for parachute pants and the Art Explosion to check out the coolest Patrick Nagel prints. You could kill hours there, shopping,eating and never had to leave the mall. I remember a stage where musicians and dance schools would preform. The place was especially awesome at Christmas when it was fully decorated.There was a large sculpture that stood in the center of the mall that is now gone.I was told it was made from leftover signage,but am not sure if that is true. 

 for more classic shots of the mall.

So,although it is just an old shopping mall to some, Century III holds an important place in the hearts of us SWPA'ers! A place of great memories and a salute to the rich steel producing history of Pittsburgh. Stop by this holiday season and show the old girl some love. Lets keep our fingers crossed that she'll make a comeback! Please,share your Century III stories with us! 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Debbie Makel Murder Part 3

I'm going to apologize for part three taking so long.Its not exactly packed with new information. The old articles I have been using to guide me through this all seem have one thing in common; regardless if the article was written one day, one week, or one year after the incident,they all seem to jump from the events of Friday night's search straight to Sunday morning when Debbie's body was discovered. Little is mentioned about Saturday's search in any article. Although nothing was found,Saturday's search,provides one of the most controversial and oft discussed facts of the case,which we will discuss in Part 4. 

 As it was once told to me by folks who were there, every able bodied man in the area was searching for Debbie. Boy Scouts, firefighters, the State Police, local officials, neighbors, and concerned citizens all joined in the search. One article places the number of searchers at around seven hundred people searching a 3.2 mile radius.Most areas were searched multiple times by different groups.Bloodhounds were brought in to track sent.Road blocks had been set up and vehicles traveling in the area were checked late into the night.

  A command post was set up at the Rices Landing fire hall. The Lady's Auxiliary, as well as other women from the area, provided food for the family and search parties. Almost everyone in the area was somehow involved in the search for Debbie. As far as I know, this was the largest search in the town's history. Seven hundred people, more than the town's population, searched the area for one little girl. People who had lived their entire lives in the town and knew every facet of of its landscape found nothing. We will come back to this.

Since I have posted the first two parts of this blog, several local newspapers have printed articles on the case. While it is good the case is getting new attention, it also sad that other than this blog, a thread on, and occasional random conversations,the case seems to only be mentioned on a ten year anniversary cycle. One headline touted the case as being "closer to being solved",which is not necessarily true.

A new Trooper has been assigned the case; he is planning, per the article, to follow up on a few 'persons of interest' with DNA testing. For years now, people have wondered why DNA evidence was not introduced into the investigation. DNA testing was not available until the late 1980's and the techniques of evidence preservation have vastly changed in the forty years since the murder. These factors complicate what seems to most folks as a quick solution to the case.

DNA testing, from the way it was explained to me, is similar to fingerprints in that if there is not a sample in the database from a specific person, there will be no match. In other words, if you have never been swabbed for DNA and commit a crime, DNA evidence would be useless unless a sample is collected from you. Some believe that by simply testing a DNA sample, it will give you the identity of the culprit, which is not the case. Another problem with DNA testing in this case is the likelihood that the killer is dead. Forty years is a long time and anyone who was above their mid-thirties back then may be deceased. I seriously doubt a body would be exhumed for DNA testing. However, I suppose it can eliminate more persons of interest and narrow the field of suspects.

As I stated before, I plan on interviewing some folks who were there. People who actually had 'boots on the ground' as the media likes to say nowadays. I will post their thoughts and memories as I get them. I have also been contacted by some folks who were there but wish to remain anonymous. They have plenty to add to this story. We will continue with our fun-loving exploration posts soon but this series of posts is far from over. It will take time to write these posts as I want them to be written, so please be patient.

Before I sign off on part three..a few things. People are welcome to comment on the blog posts and we've received many so far. These comments and opinions are not ours but those of our readers. We will not edit or delete comments unless they are outright inflammatory or name a specific individual as a suspect.

As always, I welcome insight from folks who were there and wish to share memories either publicly or anonymously. You can email us at Also, if any members of the Makel family wish to contact me in regards to the posts, please do. I have thought about stopping by but wish to respect your privacy. I can be reached at the email address above.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Debbie Makel Timeline: Part Two

In my research, I've noticed that most of the articles seem to jump from Friday's announcement at the J-M football game to Saturday's massive search. From the stories I've heard and read, she was considered to simply  be lost at this time. Until her body was found Sunday morning, no one was aware they were dealing with the worst crime the people of Rices Landing would ever know. In the days before Amber Alerts, cell phones, and social media, lost children were simply searched for by friends and concerned neighbors. I am going to talk with some folks and will add to the Friday night details as I get more information. For now, I will use Part Two to look at some facts that were established from the time Debbie arrived at the house at or near 3:40. As I mentioned, at this point (Friday evening), no one was aware a crime had been committed. I can't help but wonder how many clues were lost due to people coming in and out of the house and joining the search. I guess hindsight is 20/20...

The Makels, like many other Greene County folks, raised coon dogs and an occasional bird dog. An October 1974 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article mentions a witness who had claimed to have stopped at the Makel house earlier in the afternoon to inquire about buying one of the dogs. This person says when they knocked on the door a curtain moved but no one ever answered the door. In the research I've done, this witness is never mentioned again and reports claim no one remembers having seen this person. One thing that is repeated from one article to the next is that no one remembers hearing the dogs bark at any time. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with coon dogs knows that they howl incessantly at anything that captures their attention. Cats, dogs, other animals, or people not familiar to the dogs can trigger quite a racket. No one reports having heard the dogs bark at any time Friday.

The story of the plums varies from article to article. A bowl of plums was left either on the porch and carried inside or left inside and moved to another location. They were allegedly moved by Debbie around the time of her entering the house from school, as her school books were nearby. Most stories mention that the plums were left by Debbie's grandfather, one mentions they were left by a neighbor. It is difficult to piece together a timeline from forty year old newspaper articles, but the plums being moved must have been a major factor as they were always mentioned. I would figure this establishes that someone knew the original location of the fruit in order to know they were moved.

Perhaps one of the most outstanding facts was that a basement door to the rear of the home, which was usually locked, was found to be open. No signs of a struggle or forced entry to the home were found. It seems strange to me how these facts are casually mentioned in the reports but seem like glaring red flags. But, I wasn't there. Writing this blog post, for me, is like watching a movie you have seen before and picking out details. It is easy to recognize things when you know the outcome. I am trying my best to stay in the mindset of the timeline, which is tough.  What exactly was known at any given time is almost impossible to say.

In retrospect, finding signs of a struggle would have clued everyone in to the fact that something bad did happen prior to finding the body. Maybe Debbie went out the basement door and left it unlocked? Not uncommon for a child. Maybe the dogs didn't bark because nothing out of the ordinary alarmed them? Maybe signs of a struggle didn't exist because she simply went outside to play? I can imagine as the night went on and local searches turned up nothing that a sense of panic sat in. The search continued but Debbie was not found.   

Continue to part 3

Continued from Part One of the Debbie Makel story.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

40th Anniversary of the Debbie Makel Murder

Blog posts on SWPARE are normally lighthearted adventures,documenting an old building or perhaps a video of a long forgotten industrial site. We like to keep the mood light and solicit memories of those who worked or lived there. This story,unfortunately,will lack our lighthearted approach. In fact, we debated on doing it at all. We have mentioned this case in passing on the blog before. We didn't, however, provide much story line to go with it, just a short video and a link to a ten year old newspaper article. We do, however, continue to receive emails and messages prompting us to continue to cover the unsolved case which is now four decades old. We decided to take another hard look the case and ask some questions.

This post is written from the assumption that the reader is at least vaguely familiar with the case. If you are not, it is pretty self explanatory. This is part one of several posts that will look at the forty year old unsolved murder. As you can imagine, putting this together accurately is quite a task. I am doing my best to eliminate hearsay. Some of the facts vary depending on which source is used, so I will try to provide as much of a complete picture as possible.

I would like to clearly state that we at SWPARE are not, in any way, trained investigators nor do we claim to have inside knowledge of the case. Our information comes from archival news articles and stories from our friends and neighbors who remember that weekend in 1973. Talking to people about this case often brings about speculation and elements of rumor, which I will not include here for obvious reasons. We welcome everyone's comments and opinions, however, we must insist that if anyone has information they believe to be relevant to this case to contact the Pennsylvania State Police and not to post names on the blog or Facebook as they will be deleted.

Part 1

Many tales of murder start out with a description of the town in which they occurred All too often the town is described as an idealistic place where "nothing like that could ever happen". Rices Landing, Pennsylvania is no different. Having spent the first thirty years of my life in the quiet river town, I can assure you that most 1970s residents of the town would have thought the same way. However,in October 1973 an eight year girl named Debbie Makel was sexually assaulted and murdered, her tiny body left in a pile of brush near a stream only a short distance from her home. An arrest was never made in the case and forty years later, it appears we are no closer to knowing the identity of someone who could commit such a heinous act.

The questions we mentioned above are not new. Sadly, almost nothing about the case is. Our questions revolve less on the identity of the culprit and more on why the incident is so seldom discussed. One would think that an unsolved murder, leave alone that of a child, would be fodder for discussion for years and years but in Rices Landing, that is not the case. A friend and fellow blogger commented on how tight lipped the townsfolk can be regarding the case. Even I can say, with a degree of certainty that when Debbie's murder is discussed, it is behind closed doors or in a whisper. I'm not sure why that is. Are there fears of retribution? The case is forty years old. The chances of the culprit being alive or a threat are limited, wouldn't you think? I can tell you that the case is taken very seriously by those who were around at the time. Those folks seem to have a personal connection to the case, being so it is such a small, seemingly close-knit town.

A 1974 newspaper article describes the case file is "as thick as the Pittsburgh phone book". Hundreds of interviews with the people of Rices Landing fill that file. The details of the story, as released to the public, however are far less plentiful. Of all the articles sent to me, it is more or less a repeat of the timeline of events and pleas for information. The case remains open to this day so any sort of access to that file is impossible. I can't help but wonder if releasing some of the then unknown (to the public) aspects of the case wouldn't be helpful after a certain amount of time? After forty years, either not enough is known... or someone isn't talking. It is hard to tell. For now, let's stick with what we know.

The Makel children, like my sisters and later, myself, attended the recently demolished Dry Tavern School. For those not familiar with the area Dry Tavern is a town along PA Route 88 in Jefferson Township. Although they share a post office, Dry Tavern and Rices Landing are actually two separate towns. The Rices Landing Borough settles along the Monongahela river with Dry Tavern located just slightly to the west. Two roads connect them: Ferncliff Road and Rices Landing/Dry Tavern road, depending on which end you are on. In 1973, the school housed first through sixth grades for the kids in the Rices Landing/Dry Tavern area. Mr. William Phillips was the principal at the time and Mrs.Litten was Debbie's third grade teacher. Debbie's brothers were Duane Jr. and Vaughn, both were older.

On Friday, October 5th,1973 the buses loaded up from the circular drive way in front of the school. Duane, 11, and Vaughn, 10, were permitted to walk home so they could sell magazines (or candy) as a school fundraiser. It was common for the kids within walking distance from the school to head home on foot but the Makel boys would have ordinarily rode the bus. Debbie, being a third grader, was not allowed to walk home with her brothers. A few friends of Debbie's I've spoken with who were on the bus that evening, remember her being unhappy about it. What is known for sure is that Debbie did take the short bus ride home and got off at their stop.

Until recently, a wooden bus stop stood at the end of the then unnamed road which lead to the Makel home. Reports state a jogger saw Debbie sitting in the bus stop with her head in her hands as if she was upset. Her brothers report they were able to see her exit the bus from further up Ferncliff Road. Neighbors saw her enter the house at approximately 3:40 where her books were found inside and a bowl of plums left by her grandfather had been moved. Shortly afterward, at or near 4:00, the boys arrived home ,followed soon after by their mother, Charlotte, who worked in a garment factory in Nemacolin, Pa. When they arrived home and Debbie wasn't there, they figured she was out playing. When she didn't come home for supper, her mother began calling around to find her.

My mother told me she remembered being at my aunt's house visiting when the phone rang. It was Debbie's mother looking for her. My aunt had the last name as one of Debbie's close friends and she figured they got the call by mistake. Mom said she remembered thinking, "Shouldn't that little girl be home by now?" Several minutes later, the fire whistle blew. An announcement was made at the Jefferson-Morgan football game a few miles up the road. Crews made up of the areas volunteer firemen began searching for Debbie.

Continue to part two.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Win a Guitar!!!

This Saturday, we here at SWPARE are donating a J Turser  Electric Guitar to be raffled off at the SkyView Drive-In Fundraiser!! More details here:

 Southwestern Pennsylvania Rural Exploration ....the blog that gives back!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Farewell to Fred. Last day of the Fredericktown ferry.

History of 'Fred' the Ferry

The Fredericktown Ferry is the last of three original ferries to run across the Monongahela River in Washington County. It was the last (or at least one of the last) of the cable-driven ferries east of the Mississippi River. The ferry, affectionately called "Fred," operated under private ownership until 1969, 
when it closed. In 1979, the ferry was re-opened, through the efforts of the community and a Ferry Boat Commission, formed during its period of closure. For the ferry to remain open, both Fayette and Washington counties would contribute 50% of the costs using Liquid Fuel dollars, with the Fayette side in charge of operating and maintaining the ferry. This agreement was later amended in 2003.

"Fred" is located in Fredericktown, Pennsylvania. The ferry boat landing is located near the Bower Brothers Bar. While it is suggested that passengers remain in their cars, the ferry does offer pedestrians and bicyclists the ability to cross the river between Fayette and Washington Counties without a vehicle.

The ferry is large part of history, playing an important part in cross-river traffic for residents and the coal mines, as well as allowing employees of local businesses a faster way across the river.The purpose of the ferry is convenient travel across the Monongahela River.Due to an increase in maintenance and operation costs, the loss of a federally-funded grant, the closing of surrounding mines, as well as the opening of a new bridge spanning the river about five miles away causing a decline in ridership, the ferry has closed, possibly forever, after its last ride on August 28, 1:45pm. The future of the ferry is up in the air; will it be sold for scrap? Face life as part of a museum dedicated to "Fred" and others like it? Or just be dry-docked and left to rust? 

The 'Farewell to Fred' party on August 28, 2013 brought riders from all over the are, wanting one last ride on the ferry before it was taken out of operation. One couple traveled to ride the ferry as part of their anniversary celebrations. Others just came to relive some of their favorite moments and reminisce about ferry memories and discuss what it meant to them. Some expressed sadness that their children and grandchildren would have such a short time to have been able to ride the historic ferry, and other children would never get the chance. Reporters from the Herald-Standard, Observer-Reporter, and Tribune-Review all arrived with photographers to capture the last hurrah of Fred and his loyal fans. 

The local police provided traffic control 

Both the Trib and Herald-Standard reporters

Luzerne Twp. supported the ferry on its last day

Happy Trails To You.....