Petey Semenick Sr. talks Manville History

Hey everyone. So I’m in the middle of digitally archiving lots of old “original manville residents” interviews. This one with Petery Semenick Sr. is absolutely incredible. Petey surely needs no introduction to Manville folks. For starters, he founded Petey’s bar & Casino, he was a fireman, founding member of the Rod & Gun Club, and original resident before Manville was even a real town. The interview was done by Stuart Crump, former Managing Editor of the Manville news back in March of 1979. Thanks to Petey Semenick Jr. for giving me his blessing on posting this, because it’s incredible.

Petey has a tremendous memory and his narrative of Manville history is amazing. I edited this a little bit, cutting out just the names, addresses, and really personal stuff thats really not anyones business. This interview is pretty long, but it’s a really great look at early Manville. He discusses early JM, Manville Farms, The Manville Gypsies (seriously!), the original Main St. buildings Elmcrest and Greaseheimer hotel (Chester House) Harmony Plains school, all of the Petey’s businesses, bootleg whiskey, the Rod and Gun Club, Fire Co. number 2, instructions on how to craft a baseball from scratch, the Manville Saw Mill (pictured in the video) and so many more random nuggets of great info. It’s totally worth a listen.

Main Street • Vintage Views

Hello everyone, I was just checking out my buddy Gary Carmon’s Manville site and noticed he put up some great new photos. While we were on the topic of old signs and storefronts I decided to lift a few. These all came from Neal Ranauro’s Manville photo archive, and I’m not sure how I missed these when I was looking through them, but they are great. You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

First is this great photo of the Chester House. If you enlarge it and go to the right of the photo you can see the old Gamby’s Diner at the future site of Quick Check, and Charlie’s Resturant in the back there.

This next photo is a little further down Main St. Starting at Quigleys Bike Shop. The Quigley’s building in now the home of The Grub Hut, but back in the day it was like the great bike shop in town that was famous for the giant tangled bike heap that sat in the middle of the front room. As a kid I remember being slightly afraid to go in there in fear of a bike avalanche and a slow agonizing 8 year old death. I’m still looking for good photos of that place if anyone has any. Anyway you can see the great Liccardi Motors lot in the back there. I’m not sure what year that disappeared, but I totally do not remember it. Looks awesome though. I’m sure it was an asset to an evening drive down the strip in it’s day. You can also see the old corner Sunoco Station way in the back there. Oh and speaking of great advertising… how about the 24 hour milk dispensary. I wonder whatever became of those amazing old signs.

The next photo is more of a birds eye, and was taken out of one of the JM office windows, where Ranauro worked as photographer. This is the corner of Knopf and Main. You can see Lebbings Garage, Shop Rite, and the Esso station, which I believe may have been run By the Manna Family. This is just a great view of Main St. with plenty to look at.

Remember if you have any photos you would like to share please get in touch with me so we can help preserve our towns history. I can help you get them scanned and digitally archived as well.

Petey’s Films • Random People

This is another film clip from the legendary Petey Semenick film collection. This is another clip transferred off of a VHS tape to digital video by Gary Carmon. I believe a lot of people are familiar with these films, as there were shown frequently at Petey’s bar back in the day. Frankly a lot of these clips are a mystery to both myself and Gary, so if you recognize anyone in the films, please leave a comment. Gary has a lot more great Manville history on his website as well so if you can’t get enough of this head on over there. There will be plenty more of these to come, so stay tuned. And please if you are in or can identify anyone in the videos let us know!

Johnny’s Hillbilly Haven

Click Photo to Enlarge

So this week has been great for submissions. This great photo of Johnny’s Hillbilly Haven  Is from Diane Stefanchik Hvasta, who’s family owned the bar from the 60’s to the late 80’s. Like many other Manville Main Street buildings, it had one of those great marble storefronts. I wonder why those all came down, seemingly all at the exact same time? If you look on the right side of the building you’ll see an old phone booth… man, those things are antiques now!

Here is the original cation she sent with the photo… Thanks Diane!

My dad owned Johnny’s Hillbilly Haven on Main Street (the Chinese Restaurant now at South Main and Dakota Avenue) from 1962-1989.  Here’s a photo from 1979, possibly the Memorial Day parade.  The bar was bought in 1961 when it was called Max’s or Maxie’s. 

I’ve also got another great submission coming up tomorrow. Stay tuned.



Manville buildings 1969-1970

The Elmcrest Inn, Feb. 1969 • Click to Enlarge

Hey everyone. So it’s been a busy few weeks for me, but I finally got around to scanning this envelope full of Manville photo slides that were recently unearthed from an old dusty cabinet in the Somerset County Historical Society. It was pretty frustrating trying to get nice scans of these, but after much rigging I got clean prints and the fruits were pretty amazing. First of all you can see above I got a nice transfer of that Elmcrest Inn photo… which I’m probably most excited about out of the bunch. Here are the other good ones… these will all enlarge a bit if you click on them. The second scan is another Manville favorite place which still exists. The Chester House.

This one is sort of a bad photo, and a little blurry, but people ask me about it alot. And it’s really the first good color photo on this site of The Polish Home. The polish home is also a defunct Manville building, which was located right across from Roosevelt School.

Just got an update on the following building from Antoinette (Rogalski) Vinciguerra! She says…  “The house was over 200 years old when it was demolished, a very sad day for my family. My grandparents Joseph and Loretta Rogalski, moved to the US from Poland and purchased that house which was also a place of business known as the Roadhouse. It was also larger than in the picture. One third of it burnt down in a fire. The Roadhouse was a happening place from what I hear back in its day. It had ballrooms, a saloon and was an inn. The front side of it, not pictured, had a large wooden porch with several large columns. It also had a stepping stone in front of the porch which was used by stage coaches.”

This next one caught me really off guard, and I feel so dumb for never paying attention to this, despite seeing it so many times in my life. I always heard that Camplain Rd. was so named “Camp Lane” because it literally was the campsite of the Continental Army. It’s a little hard to read in the photo, but this sign that sits right outside of Classical Glass on Camplain Rd. reads.. “Encampment area for Pennsylvania troops of the Continental Army from about December 15, 1778 until June 1, 1779.” If anyone in Manville tries telling you nothing ever happened in Manville you bring em here.

Ok. this next one is another mystery house, although it is entitled “The Fiero House” taken Feb. 1969. I’m not sure if this still exists or what the signifigance is but here is a photo.

And last, but most definitely not least is this great photo of the Main Street School (formerly located at the site of the Main St. parking lot). A lot of folks on here attended this school, and I know it’s been a fan favorite on here. The is pretty much the best color photo I’ve seen of this place yet.

I’m not sure who took these photos, so I cannot give a proper credit. If you took them let me know and I’ll be sure to get your name on them. Also, a huge thanks to the Somerset County Historical Society for trusting me with these slides, thinking of me when they were unearthed, and inducting me a trustee. If anyone out there is interested in getting involved with the society, we are looking for fresh faces & ideas. Please get in touch!

Oh, one last thing before I leave you alone. I’ve been talking to some great older folk who keep telling me about some friends around town that have these incredible photo archives, who would be dying to show them off. If you are one of these people, please get in touch with me I would LOVE to come hang out, have about 10 cups of coffee and chat about Manville… AND see some great photos. If you would like to share photos on here as well please get in touch with me. I will credit everyone, I have all kinds of digital archive technologies, and I would be happy to print extra copies or provide you with the digital versions of your photos on a disk. Please help preserve the history of this town. Also, I have specifically heard the name Smolinka as a person who has a great archive of photos. If anyone knows them or anyone else with photos please communicate to them about this site. I know a lot of older folk don’t like to, or are unable to use computers, which pretty much cuts my lines of communication to them. Thank you.

The Elmcrest Inn

The Elmcrest Inn • Click Photo to Enlarge

Well two fun things happened today. One, I was officially inducted as a Somerset County Historical Society trustee. The other thing happened right after, when another member of the society opened up a dusty old cabinet revealing a shoebox full of photo slides, including some 1969 shots of Manville. “I think there might be some stuff in here you’d be interested in” Being Ill equipped at home to handle any decent slide scans, I still couldn’t console my urge to post up this one great shot of The Elmcrest Inn, so I went ahead and popped in my crappy flatbed scanner. There will be more of these to come, and I wont even have to use any fancy Iphone filters to make em look old and scratchy. For now though you’ll just have to settle for this one great photo of one of my favorite defunct Manville establishments.



Camplain Road 1937


Click Photo to Enlarge

This is a reprinted photo from the November 7th, 1985 issue of the Somerset Messenger Gazette. Here is the original cation…

“There was but one home and one business on Camplain Road, near South 20th Avenue in Manville, when this picture was taken in 1937. Abestos Inn in later years became Pal’s Inn. The house at the right has also withstood the test of time. Ernest Rosebrock of Bridgewater submitted this picture to the Gazette.”

This photo is just so awesome, and just goes to show that there some amazing photos of Manville that we just havent seen yet. If I find them, I’ll be sure to share.


Joe Patero’s Manville Memos • Sea Capt.’s Mansion

Dan Nebb

Manville Memos was a great column that appeared weekly in The Manville News in the 80’s. They were written by Joe Patero after some of his interviews with folks from around town. This particular one from 1983, is the last part of a three part interview with Dan Nebb who’s parent’s owned Capt. Frederick Davey’s old Manville estate, which later became The Elmcrest Inn. If you missed part one you can click here.

Dan Nebbs • Part 3 of 3 • “Sea Capt.’s Mansion”

If you have ever seen the movie classic, “Gone With the Wind” you are familiar with the fabulous ante-bellum mansion, known throughout the Sout as Tara, the legendary home of Scarlett O’Hara.

One Hundred years ago, the existed, in what had not yet become Manville, another Tara. But this one was for real!

It was the mansion of a retired U.S. Navy captain, Frederick Davey, who was its designer and builder.

It was the showplace of the area, according to James P. Snell, in his “History of Hunderton and Somerset Countys,” published in 1881.

Only the “cream” of Somerset County could consider itself fortunate enough to even be invited to one of the captains parties.

The front porch faced south on the enormous residence, while the huge barn where the horses were stabled was between the railroad tracks and the house itself. The entire property was surrounded by several hundred feet of immaculate picket fencing.

Shortly after the turn of the century, Captain Davey sold his pride and joy to J.J. Becker and son, who changed the name to “Elmcrest Park”

Then in 1922, Louis Nebozinsky purchased the entire property for $24,000, a tremendous amount of money in those days.

By that time, yet another name was beginning to attach to the site, this time the “Weston Hotel.” Louis’s son, Dan, is quick to explain that “it was never really a hotel at all. It was the home myself, my brother Bill and our eight sisters grew up in and loved.

”We rented rooms only one time to a touring Vaudeville company who had just finished a performance at Charlie Mazur’s theater in Manville. The actors had apparently no other bookings because after an extended stay, one morning they were suddenly gone, not paying their bill and leaving all their luggage behind.

“On top of the house there once was a glass cupola. As a kid, I loved to climb up there and see what I thought was the whole world. ”

The big horse barn behind the house was totally destroyed by a fierce fire in 1931.

“After the Prohibition Era ended, my father applied for either the first or second liquor license in Manville and converted the downstairs or the home into a place where drinks were served to the general public. Looking back at that decision, I realize that in my father’s mind it was the correct thing to do, but I really wish the borough would have purchased it for municipal offices. Manville would’ve had the most magnificent Borough Hall in the entire United States.”

In the late 40s the Nebbs sold thier mansion to Charles Esterhoy, then followed Nick Lebedz, Joe Cimino and Jim and Joan Wirzman as owners.

Additions have been made and at the same time items such as the once famous cupola and the front porch have been removed, and yet dominating essence of the structure remains today as Wirzman’s Inn.

“It’s quite a place,” said the Wirzmans’ in a recent interview. “It’s history and background are extremely interesting. We are trying to restore some of the old class that was here over a century ago. ”

Once in a while, after we close up, we leave a drink of brandy on the bar for the captain and in the morning the glass is empty.”

This illustration appeared in the original Manville News article. Click to Elnarge

Joe Patero’s Manville Memos • “Liberty Hall”

Dan Nebb

Manville Memos was a great column that appeared weekly in The Manville News in the 80’s. They were written by Joe Patero after some of his interviews with folks from around town. This particular one from 1983, is part 2 of a three part interview with Dan Nebb who’s parent’s owned Capt. Frederick Davey’s old Manville estate, which later became The Elmcrest Inn. If you missed part one you can click here.

Dan Nebbs • Part 2 of 3 • “Liberty Hall”

An old building used to be on the east side of South Main Street. Now there is a bank there, but Dan Nebb, the son of the builder of that old building remembers it vividly.

“Liberty Hall was located to the rear of the present site of the Manville Savings and Loan on South Main Street. My father, Louis, built Liberty Hall in 1922 at a cost of $4,700. There were no zoning ordinances or building permits in those days. You merely built anything you wanted, anyplace you wanted,” said Dan Nebb from his present day home in Middlesex.

“It was really not well built because much of the lumber was greatly undersized. It had a ceiling that was 16 feet high and trusses that spanned over 20 feet. It had a raised stage area, ticket booth and a maple floor for dancing. The exterior sides each had four large windows and two doors. At maximum capacity it would hold 1,000 people. It had no indoor plumbing and the only facilities available was a two seater outhouse.

“But,” Dan Nebb continued, “in it’s heyday, it was without question, the center of all social life in Manville.”

Much of it’s sucess was attributed to Prohibition. All the taverns were closed and you couldn’t go to them to drink and dance because it was against the law. The only place for a get together of any size was at Liberty Hall.

“My father would charge between $30 and $35 to rent the hall for a function. That was, all things considered, a lot of money in the late 20’s. But, it was booked every Saturday night as well as an occasional Friday or Sunday for a dance, wedding or party.

“The stage was used by politicians running for office who held rallies. However, more often it was used by various ethnic groups like the Polish, Ukranians or Hungarians who would present ‘Folk plays’ which were demonstrations of each nationality’s culture and heritage.

“There was an extremely popular group named, ‘Allie Maiden and His Jazz Band’ which played at least once a month at Liberty Hall. It was amazing to see the place packed to the ceiling with people who loved the music but had a very limited knowledge of English.”

Dan served as the clean-up man whose function was to make Liberty Hall available for the next event.

“They used to have a Grape Festival there every September sponsored by the Hungarians. Wires would be strung at a height of seven feet throughout the ceiling, and bunches of ripe grapes would dangle from them. Designated persons would dress up as policemen. You would dance with you partner and the object of the whole festival was to jump up and grab some of the grapes off the wires without being spotted. If you were unlucky and got caught, the police ”arrested” you and your partner and marched you off to “jail” where you had to pay a fine.

“the next morning was a tremendous job trying to get the grape stains out of the floor.

”In 1932 Roosevelt became president and soon prohibition was repealed. The taverns reopened and people resumed their old patterns of drinking and dancing. This was the death blow to Liberty Hall and soon it lost its popularity.”

Dan changed the function of the building to a furniture store which lasted for several more years. In 1964, Nebb sold the building which was thereafter demolished, thus ended a glamorous era in Manville.

But, legends do not die so easily. “I took the famous chandelier that hung in Liberty Hall with me when sold,” said Dan.

“Even today, I can see hundreds of people laughing, singing and dancing in Manville over 60 years ago, as if it were a Saturday night.”


Polish home bar

Polish Home bar, circa late 1940’s • Click photo to enlarge

So I got some great photos emailed to me a couple weeks back by Tom Kopczyk, and I’m just getting around to posting them now. These are a great peek into everyday life for Manville folks in the 40’s. And Im going to post them one at a time over the next few days… since I feel they are best digested slowly and individually. This particular one is of the bar in the old Polish Home, where Tom’s father Mike Kopczyk tended bar… also in the rear against the wall in the dark fedora hat is his uncle, Steve Perun Sr.