Memories of West Aliquippa

When I began photography of this project in 2015, I decided to start in the steel town where my parents were born, Aliquippa, Pa.

The part of the town that fascinated me the most was a neighborhood now called West Aliquippa. This was where my father was born.

West Aliquippa is the original Aliquippa. The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad named the town for a Native American Indian personality arbitrarily chosen in 1878, as it did for many stations along its route.

Once home to an amusement park built by the railroad, Aliquippa took on a whole new life when the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp., looking to expand downriver from Pittsburgh, demolished the park and began erecting what would become the largest, integrated steel mill in the world. In the process, homes and businesses were erected in Aliquippa and the nearby town of Woodlawn to accommodate the influx of steel workers from other countries.

In 1928, Aliquippa and Woodlawn were consolidated and the Woodlawn name was dropped to match with the name of the railroad depot. The former Aliquippa became known as the neighborhood of “West Aliquippa,” which I always thought strange since it is actually located almost directly north on the Ohio River.

Almost 90 years later, the mill is now an empty lot and West Aliquippa is a shell of its former self. Virtually all of the businesses are gone and all that remains is a couple of hundred homes.

One of the first people I met when I began to explore West Aliquippa was George “Blackie” Miller.

Miller, who changed his last name from Dokmanovich years ago, was born in West Aliquippa and lived there all of his life. He has seen the town go from boom to bust along with the steel industry.

Miller owns a bar called Mahoney’s West in the town and is quite the no-nonsense character. When you first meet him he can come across as gruff and his language can be quite salty at times. But after awhile you realize that he really is a kind man that loves his town, but is really nostalgic for the old days.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down with “Blackie” in his bar, in West Aliquippa, PA. and have him tell me what it was like when then mill was operating and the town was thriving.

Listen to Blackie talk about West Aliquippa (Language not suitable for children or workplace):

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19 comments

  1. I’m from West Aliquippa, went to St. Joseph’s. Catholic school, I grew up on Beaver Avenue, I got bullied because I had a sick mother and lived in a not so prefect house. But I’m still proud to say that my hometown is West Aliquippa.

    1. Ms Grgurich, would you know anyone I can ask that would know about businesses in the early 1920’s?

      My father Joseph Bubonic was orphaned along with his 3 brothers and sister about 1915 or so when their mother died in Washington PA. His uncle saw that the kids were in an orphanage there and found people to take them in. My dad was taken in by a shoemaker in West Alliquippa. Unfortunately I do not know his name. I was hoping someone would know of a Slovak shoemaker at that time. My dad went to St Joseph grade school until 8th grade. I imagine that school is gone but I was also hoping someone knew if records were available somewhere of the students. Thank you got “listening” to my request. Joseph Bubonic
      jbubonic@yahoo. com

      1. I still live in Beaver county, and St. Joseph Church and school in West Aliquippa have been closed since the early 90s. They demolished the church last year, but the school building is still there, albeit abandoned and decaying. I’ve actually been inside the abandoned school to take pictures and there are still some textbooks laying around.

      2. Hi Joe, I’m not on FB, but my husband was born in 1945 in West Aliquippa and said to try Tito D’Atri’s family ( no idea where they are) but said he was the west shoemaker. 🙏that works for you. There was a D’Atri beer distributor in Aliquippa ( unsure if still there or if they are related) God Bless you in your search and good luck . P.S. records from ST. Joes probably at the Pittsburgh diocese 🤷🏼‍♀️

      3. Joe, I’m the granddaughter of Tito D’Atri who had a shoe repair business (Tito D’Atri Shoe Repair) in West Aliquippa from the late 1920s until his death in 1986. I don’t recall any mention from my father of my grandparents taking in an orphaned child. The timing doesn’t seem right since you mention this occurred in the early 1920s by a Slovak shoemaker. My grandfather was Italian. I also want to confirm that the beer distributor business was owned by Tito’s brother, Carl. I think it still is owned by the family to this day. If you recently Googled Tito D’Atri, you my have discovered that my own father, Anthony, passed away in January at the age of 94. He ended up with dementia, but his strongest long-term memories were of his wonderful childhood in West Aliquippa.

      4. Joe,
        You might want to try the PIORKOFF”S from West Aliquippa.
        I was born and raised there 1948, move south in 1964. But they had a shoe store and repair shop across the street from the fire department. (3rd. St. between Main Ave and Beaver Ave)….Best of my knowledge they were Slovak as they attended the same church as we did. St. George’s Greek Catholic Church. Hope that helps.
        Charles V. Campbell (Chuck)…Wilmington, N.C.

      5. Joe,
        I mis-spelled the name I gave you, the correct spelling is POIARKOFF. I believe the son that worked the stors name was John,
        his sister Virginia was my 4th grade search and her had another that was a nurse. If I can remember more I will contact you……
        Chuck Campbell

    2. 1961 was born in West also went to st Joseph was an alter boy was taught by sister asumta love west always will paiches carpenters my family on both sides every one was friends as a little boy I would come home and mom new every where I was she said little bird told her moved out in 69 but hung out their for ever was close to blackie my dad lived above the bar great people each and every one of them

    3. Cool. My mom and dad lived in West Aliquippa after they got married in 1933. I believe my brother William (Bill) was born there. They later moved to a garage apartment I Sheffield, I think that was the area). Unfortunately I don’t know the street or their landlords name. In late 1940s/early 1950s they moved to Hopewell township on Euclid Ave where I grew up and Bill lives. Unfortunately he HS not doing well health wise. He was born in October 1934.

      If anyone else has info about my folks etc in West please email me at jbubonic@yahoo.com. Joe

  2. My Name is Terry Johnston, Everyone knows me as TJ. as well, I’m 48 yrs young.
    Like blackie, I also grown up in West & I remember Alotta things that my friend Blackie is talking about, the grocery stores, the mill, post office, my late Grandfather, Mr. Steven W. Harvan, had a TV repair shop in West Aliquippa back in the day, I was 4 Yrs Old when he closed up shop in the early 70’s. Like everything else, shit just comes & goes. I hung out at Blackies alot, up until he closed up from an illness. His bar/building is still there and It used to be a bank, the men’s bathroom was the vault, lol. The walls are made of steel, which was probably made by J&L steel.. He was a hell of a man. Anyone who knew Blackie would tell you the same. If you had a chance to hangout with him and tilt a few back, then you know that in Blackies you always had a good time and he’d make you laugh, He was a character..
    But there is Alotta history down here in West Aliquippa, Alot of it is still here for you to view, empty buildings and such. But I loved growing up here and still live here. Like the town, I’ll probably die here.. God bless & Rock & Roll… ?

    1. TJ,
      My name is Chuck Campbell and I grew up with your Dad, (we called him Butchie, and his brother Terry) Also know your Mom??, her twin sister and her brother Pauly Harvin. You grandmother Harvin was one of my cubscout Mom’s back in the 50’s. Your Uncle Pauly and I hung around some and went to Wahington Public Scool together. Last time I heard about your Uncle Paul, was that he lived in Philadelphia and believe he worked for DuPont there as I also worked for Dupont in Wilmington, N.C. Say hello to all for me. Thanks

  3. My folks were born and later met again as adults in West Aliquippa. Dad was Adolph Dioda, a sculptor, and Mom was Anita Cicchini, daughter of Luigi and Argentina (DeFelice). I remember visiting Dad’s family during summers, spending time with many relatives on both sides who still lived in neighboring areas, New Sheffield, Clairton…. In West Aliquippa, I’d spend mornings with my cousin Debbie, going to the pool, and afternoons with Grandmom Alice playing 500 Rummy on the front porch while sipping ginger ale. (Grandmom did all her chores in the morning.) Grandpa Tito was a cooper, later a bartender, and bought the brewmaster’s old home at some point. That’s the only home of theirs I ever knew. It was a big old place with pocket doors and push button light switches. And a laundry chute I think we all slid down. Once. My grandparents lived downstairs and my aunt and uncle and cousins lived upstairs. Dad still had dear friends there when he started work at Tyler School of Art, in Philly. I remember him taking me in to visit someone in a nearby beer garden, it was smokey and darkish, and smelled warmly of cigars and beer. It contained a small bowling alley and a bar with a high counter. Another time we visited Dad’s friend who lived in a house with a duck outside. He warned me against it, as it chased and bit children. His kitchen floor was covered in patterned linoleum, his home was tidy and bright, and his wife was weaving a multi colored rag rug on strings stretched between two chair backs. The constant noise of the furnaces and trains, the horn blasts for shift changes, the spewing of multicolored smoke, the black glistening soil are still vivid in my memory.

  4. Looking to find Barbra d I was injured and she would come and hang with me .. I remember the mottes family prettiest girls toughest boys great people . always a great little town 1960s never forget.

  5. The battalinies also made that town what it is tough Italian family great people will always remember them played baseball with them on the street in front front of Annie mancines store

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