my heritage; or, a brief history of hillsville, pa; or, the charms of western pennsylvania

Tonight I went to my dad’s hometown: Hillsville, Pennsylvania. (It’s so backcountry, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.) It’s just across the Ohio/Pennsylvania border — one of the places you can stand with one foot in Ohio and the other in Pennsylvania. The two bars we went to, Nite Trax and The Finish Line (formerly known as Chief’s), both had one half decorated in Steelers gear and the other half decorated in Browns gear. (But everyone wearing sports gear was repping the Steelers, duh.)

Nite Trax is so named because it’s right across from the railroad tracks that used to take the limestone mined in the quarries there at Carbon Limestone to wherever it needed to go in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and beyond. When my great-great-grandfather, Nikoli Zahaczewski (aka Nikolai ZohoŇ°evsky), moved to the United States in 1907 from Galicia, he worked at Carbon Limestone. Then, his son, my great-grandfather, John Dunchak, worked at Carbon Limestone. And my grandfather, Johnny Dunchak, worked at Carbon Limestone his whole life, too.

Somehow, miraculously, mysteriously, and somewhat sadly, my dad escaped having a Pittsburgh accent. Everyone we talked to tonight, including a few high-school friends of my dad’s, all had the accent to varying degrees. Since he grew up there too, he really should have one!! A few choice OHs:

  • “People kep’ thinkin’ I was Messkin ’cause I got dark skin, so I made sure I said ‘yinz’ a lot so dey knew I wasn’.” – patron at Nite Trax
  • “I couldn’ find ma Stillers lighter, and I go, ‘War’d I put it?’ An’ den I fahn it in my purse! Hah!” – bartender at Nite Trax

I always thought the town my dad grew up in was mostly Hunky, but I learned tonight that I was wrong — it’s overwhelmingly Italian. Eye-talian. Roman Catholic Italian. With lots of bathtub Madonnas (and my dad said he and his brother used to call them that). Nite Trax has homemade Italian food every Tuesday — the owner Gino’s mom comes in once a week and makes cavatelli, ravioli, meatballs, and her special spaghetti sauce. I got the cavatelli, and it was the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten, hands down. After dinner, we went on a little driving tour of the area and went through the cemetery — there was pretty much one Hunky name among the hundred-some Italian ones. (Though the family history goes that my great-great-grandfather Nikolai is buried in this cemetery, too, but no headstone remains.)

And more on the loophole in the PA smoking ban — you’re allowed to smoke in Nite Trax, in Pennsylvania, but not in Chief’s, a few miles down the road across the Ohio border. (Incidentally, Chief’s is a bar my mom and dad used to hang out at a lot when they were dating. Aww!) As the bartender at Chief’s explained, if you’re an eating-and-drinking establishment in Pennsylvania and more than 80% of your sales come from liquor, smoking is still allowed. This has been a death-sentence for Ohio bars, she said, especially ones in borderlands. (Indeed, we were the only people in Chief’s, wheras Nite Trax was packed.) A direct quote from her: “Smokin’ an’ drinkin’ — it’s the American way. It’s like peanut-butter and jelly.”

"smoking permitted" sign on the door of nite trax in hillsville, pa

"smoking permitted" sign on the door of nite trax in hillsville, pa

Whew. It has been a whirlwind week+ here in the Mahoning Valley. I’ve reminisced, reconnected with my past, gotten pretty nostalgic, and learned things I never knew. It has been a good trip. I like my roots.

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40 responses to “my heritage; or, a brief history of hillsville, pa; or, the charms of western pennsylvania

  1. I have lived here all of my life, just across the road from your Grandparents, Johnny & Marian. Johnny was in my parents wedding. It used to be a great place to live with most of us truly caring about each other.

    • Hi Marcy! How did you find this post? I asked my Dad about you and he knew exactly who you are! I had a really good time in Hillsville — I used to go more as a little kid, but I haven’t been back much as an adult. It’s fun to get in touch with my roots! :)

  2. Megan, I found you after typing Hillsville in Google looking for something else. You didn’t say which of the “boys” was your dad, Ted or Russ??? Oh if they could see their old house now. Possibly 10/12 people live there, some out in a camper on the basketball court. The garage roof now sits on the garage floor. Sad.

    • Megan,My dad also worked with your grand-father and your dad at Carbon.His name was also Bill.They would spend more time at my uncle Mike’s in Enon Valley.My cousin was good friends w/Russ.I was trying to find some old pictures of the Carbon Plant,Do you have any???,Bill

      • Is your cousin John Shulack? I know him! :) Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the Carbon Plant. . .maybe my dad does? I’ll have to ask. I tried to do some internet research on the Carbon Plant and was surprised that there wasn’t much out there!

    • Hi Marcy! My dad is Ted. We drove past the old homestead when we were driving around that night and saw the garage. It really is too bad.

  3. I am not real good at understanding who is who, but I am going to guess you are Marcy.

    Your father must be Teddy. I am your grandfather’s cousin, even though he was older than my mother, Helen Solvesky aka Zohosenvsky. Your uncle Russel was the same age as my brother and sister (paternal twins) and your father was several years younger than me.

    Where is he and where do you both live. I was supposed to go back this weekend to my 42/60 reunion, yes 42 years out of high school and 60 years old. Wow, what a bummer, a word from my generation, the late 60s. I have lived in CA since 1984, but I came back regularly visiting your aunt Mary, also my father’s sister (yes it sounds like WVA), and your great uncle, Andy.

    Well I hope you send me a note to my e-mail, gvolk@sbcglobal.net. We were considering a reunion.

    Oh, I have done a lot of searching, and found your great grandmothers landing records on ellisisland.org. I spend many many hours phonetically searching. I will explain how and who she came with when you e-mail.

    Good to find blood. The Solvesky family was quite large.

    George
    Your (some number) cousin

  4. I, like my brother George, am having difficulty understanding who some of you are. I remember a very attractive girl named Marcy Shulga (Maiden Name) from ‘Days of Yore’ in Carbon, PA and Bessemer High School.

    The Dunchak’s are cousin’s whom I haven’t seen in many years. I formerly worked for TRW, Inc., in Euclid, OH. Most recently I lived in Ghent, WV and worked in Bluefield, WV for many years. I presently live in Tellico Village in Loudon, TN and would appreciate hearing from you.

    I really think that most of you are considerably younger than I, who was born 1/21/1942.

    I remember Richard Druhuschak (Boom, Boom), Eddie Capusta, John Kotchmar, the Semonza’s, Tommy Shaluga, and many more.

    I would appreciate hearing from you if you have an opportunity.

    Warren

    • Warren,
      In your reply you spoke of Carbon, Pa.
      Can you tell me where exactly Carbon, Pa. is (or was).
      My Grandmother was listed as born there but I have yet to find it on a map or where it is (or was). I assume it would be close to Hillsville because her brother was listed as being born there.
      thanks for any help you can give.

      Tony Mastadonna

      • go east on 224 from Poland and at the PA border bare to the right and you are in Carbon. My dad worked for Carbon Limestone for his whole working life. His Name was Nick Semonza. I believe you are a cousin of my wife Connie (Briglio) Semonza. I believe your father or grandfather lived across the street from my wifes mothers parents (Pennel’s) .
        Nick Semonza Jr.

  5. Warren, just looked up my parents wedding picture and your Mother was in their wedding. If you email me, I will send you a copy of picture.

  6. Marcy:

    I would appreciate greatly; my Email Address is wavolk@charter.net.

    Thank you so very much.

    Warren

  7. Christina Pezzulo LaRooca

    I grew up in Hillsville and raised my family there until 2000. I had a great childhood and I have wonderful memories. Ted (Teddy) your dad, was a dear friend to me and I would like for youto tell him hello!

    I used to play on March’s porch with Shelly, Regina and Robbie and we would count the cars that would go down our street (which were very few and play Penney’s catalog shopping and also play in Eddie’s TV boxes. Ask your Dad about Eddie’s TV! He was an awesome TV repair man who actually came to your house and fixed your Tv. There were no online tech support back then and it was great!

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    Christina

  8. My grandfather worked there running the CLRR steam dinkies- his name was Tony Calabrese. My Great Uncle Joe DeOtto was a blaster there for many years and retired in the late 50′s. The brick house Joe built still stands right next to the road to the Mahoning Sportsmans’ Club (Crystal Lake). I grew up in the Akron area but my dad used to take my brothers and me there in the 60′s and we learned how to shoot and ride motorcycles in the abandoned parts of the quarry. Great memories. rob

  9. JOHNNY DIBERNARDO

    HEY THERE, i use to hang out at CHIEFS, I DRANK with TED and RUSS, they were a few yrs older than me.i know live in Boardman and once and a while drive thew hillsville to to see how it is now,,wow how it has changed.back then everbody knew everbody and looked out for each other it was a great place. TED and Russ are both great guys, tell them i said hi I think they will remember me

  10. Hi Megan, my name is Kim Heasley I lived in the house next to your dad’s and we grew up together, we played a lot of basketball there on the basketball court, even your Uncle Russ played B Ball with us believe it or not. Your Grandparents were great people always very nice to all the neighborhood kids. My Dad also worked at Carbon Limestone as an electrician for many years. It was a real surprise to see your story and brought back a lot of great memories, thanks for sharing it with all of us.

    • Hi Kim, thanks for your comment! I forwarded it to my dad and he got a kick out of it, too. His old house was just torn down this week, I’ll have to post pictures and an update on here. End of an era. Take care!

  11. Megan, Crazy but, I forgot to renew my membership for crytsal lake!! Or the Mahoning Co. Sportsmen club. I was looking for a phone number for there and thats how I came across your story. I lived in Youngstown, Oh. Moved to denver, Co. in 1983. No place like home. Did you by chance see the Waterfalls across from Trax? Well, if anyone could post the phone numember for the club, I would be a happy camper!!!

  12. This may be a random question and I am sorry but just very curious about the old cemetery that is located in Hillsville. Do any of you know about this, who is buried there and if it’s a family cemetery or if there was a church on the premises at one time? I’d really appreciate any information any of you may be able to help me with!!

  13. Marie, are you referring to the cemetary on East Main St. If you are, yes there was a church there. They have errected a stone to commerate the site. Cemetary is quite overgrown at this time.

  14. In 1907 Hillville was the regional headquarters for the Italian Black Hand society when it was infiltrated by the Pinkerton Detective Agency and its leaders arrested. The Black Hand in Hillville had been extorting wages from Italian laborers who had immigrated to the USA. A ‘training school’ was found nearby that was busily teaching new recruits the art of using the stiletto against a human target.

  15. Lori Funaro-Boyd

    I drove through Hillsville while on a trip to Lowellville, Ohio. I believe from what I have been told my family is from that area. Does anyone know of the Funaro family, some ended it with and i Funari. The same name just the difference between singular and plural. I believe I drove through where the cemetery was because there was a church there that i was told may have records. I was no longer open. Beautiful country though. My Great Great Grandfather was Pietro (Peter) and his wife Antonette Funaro. His son worked for the railroad then for the steellmills where he was killed in a tragic accident. His name was Nicola Funaro wife Virginia Vespasiana. He left behind three children, one was my Grandfather Augustine or (August). The family was also known to be in New Castle and in Lowellville, Struthers, generally the Youngstown area. Anything would be so helpful.

    Thanks
    Lori Funaro-Boyd

  16. My gr. gr. grandfather Samuel Murphy used to quarry near Carbon Limestone area called Quakertown. He was told to run but the explosion threw rock and he was killed at the quarry as my gr. aunt told me. I have a picture of the quarry with men and mules sstanding in front of it.Quakertown is now overgrown, but there is still a wall and a few tombstones at the cemetery there. At one time Youngstown State Univ. did a project and uncovered many foundations and wells.I believe it was founded by Cadawalder in the early 1800s. I have recently been to Hillsville Cemetery and he is buried there. He was in the Civil War and has been given a newer headstone. I believe his brother John Murphy and their family is also in that cemetery. His wife was Charlott Oliphant from New Castle.

    • so sorry about your great, great grandfather. many good men were killed or maimed in blasting accidents in the quarries. many more so in steel mill, production plant, and railroad accidents. even if they were lucky, they were often plagued by losses of limbs, vision and hearing problems, and many sicknesses, sensitivities, and cancers from the hazards, smoke, heat, and chemicals around them. today, we have rules and regulations concerning occupational safety and health, and those regulations (which sometimes seem excessive or niggling) were born of these great men (and women).

  17. Hi I worked with your Grandpa and am closer to your dads age about the same, I also worked with both your dad and Russ, but your Grandpa. was one of best people I have known and think of him every time i pass Carbon or where he lived. tell your dad Frank said Hi and Russ they will know me from the fertilizer plant.

  18. One of my grandfathers, James Willard Mayberry, was born in Hillsville on September 23, 1870. He, along with his family and some of the Kiddoos, later migrated to Kansas.

  19. Happy New Year to all you Carbonites. Or is it Hillsvillians? I just bought an excellent book, “Ghost Rails IX State Line Legends” by Wayne Cole that is a great history of Carbon, Hillsville and Bessemer. With pictures! http://www.atlasbooks.com/marktplc/10459order.htm At $45, I highly recommend it.
    Just a small correction to Megan’s original post: Nikoli Zahaczewski (aka Nikolai ZohoŇ°evsky) was Johnny Dunchak’s maternal grandfather, not his paternal grandfather.

  20. Dolores Jean Bell

    Now is the time to had flavor to the history of Hillsville, Pa. (Afro-American) along with the Italian American and German American desendents. I am Dolores Jean Murphy, and so happy to read some of the comments from folks with parents and grand parents who were living in that small town and worked in the limestone quarries. My grand father George Murphy and my father Richard Murphy and uncle Alex Murphy also were employee’s of the Limestone Company. They lived in the compamy housing, as it was called then around the 1930′s. Grand parents moved to New Castle, Pa and continued working for Carbon until retiring. My father also retired from there.
    Spending summers in Hillsville and seeing the beautiful gardens that every family had in their back yards and walking on limestone… I have wonderful memories of the limestone roads and my childhood playmate whose last name was Tanner.
    I would really appreciate hearing from any one who also remembers the
    Murphy family. Incidently…My uncle Alex and my father Richard both
    graduated from BESSEMER HIGH School, and played football in 1934, thru
    1937. …STEELER fANS FOREVER…
    I would appreciate hearing from any one who remembers the George &
    Cornelia Murphy family and sons Richard and Alex

    Dolores Jean Murphy / Bell

  21. Dolores Jean Bell

    I use to spend my summers in Hillsville with my grandparents George and Cornelia Murphy. Traveling from New Castle to grandma’s seemed like many many miles, but when we got there it was country and my sister and brother enjoyed the country side.
    Dolores Jean Murphy / Bell

  22. I found your story when I was looking up info on bessemer PA. I used to live in Coutryside Estates in Edinburg PA. I had friends who lived on Hillsville and Bessemer. I used to go to church in Lowellville OH. We moved to Ohio in 1988 but I still have fond memories of the area. Thank you for your story!

  23. So many replies for a post that was made in 2009. My dad was born in Hillsville in 1922, and his family moved to Mt. Jackson in 1937. Their name was Martin. He is still alive and well at age 91, and can tell lots of good old stories about those days. His dad worked in the limestone quarry. I still have “greats” buried in the Hillsville cemetery. Ann Martin Matthews

  24. hello, it makes me so happy to read this post of Hillsville PA. The owner of Nite Trax “Geno” is my uncle and the lady with the best sauce/ meatballs, oh and dont forget the wings and homemade pizza, is my grandma Rita.
    I have been away for almost 5years now, but i can still remember ever detail.

  25. jim jackintelle

    My mother and whole family was born on top of hill after railroad tracks . Last name Luscri , My Aunt Nena was last one to stay. Spent summers at quarrry swimming and best memories of my life, The Blackhand stold my aunts and mother for child brides

  26. my father was born in hillsville in january 1900. my grandfather worked for the railroad but may have also worked in the quarry. my dad was sam morrow. my grandfather was charlie morrow. lost track of that line long ago. I have never been to hillsville. sounds loke a nice town.

    • My grandparents and their family lived in Hillsville. Some of the names are so familiar. The last name is Meelich..My Aunt Anne passed a few years ago. I learned how to swim in the quarry, probably 55 yrs. ago. What wonderful memories of Hillsville!!

  27. Wow, quite a history. The Black Hand thing is a very big part of Lawrence County history. I have to say I would not have given up my childhood in Hillsville and Bessemer for anything. Also, Youngstown Ohio was a vibrant place in the 40s, 50s and 60s. I feel I am a better person for having grown up there. I left because I had yearning for something different. The son of an immigrant decided to marry one, and it now appreciate what prompted our parents and grand parents to come to the land of opportunity. I only pray that it remains the same the same for future generations.

    George (Solvesky, Zahaczewski, Zohohochesky) Volk

    • Hi George. Can you send me the Ellis Island information you have on the Solvesky family? I can’t seem to find my grandmother Mary Dunchak on the passenger lists.
      Thanks,
      Ted Dunchak

  28. My father, Tony Calabrese, jr. (he went by ‘junior’), was born in 1928 in a house right in Hillsville (where the post office now stands). i believe that house burned down in the forties. dad used to skip school alot and rode with my grandpa tony in whichever dinky he was running on that day. screwed-up word program!

    never worked for CL, but did work briefly as an inspector in the YS&T seamless mill in brier hill? after meeting my mom, they headed west to cuyahoga falls to raisemy brothers and me. better cut this off- this is screwed-up word

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