Stories of River Ridge Farm

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This page contains stories of River Ridge Farm relayed to me by people who have spent time on the farm or have had other experiences related to the farm.  I would like to invite anyone to submit their River Ridge story to me by emailing it to: wpas@verizon.net

Note: I reserve the right to edit any story submitted for content and readability.

A Birthday Party

By: Melissa Jacobs

I worked and lived in Oil City the year after I graduated from college (1992-1993). I was slightly obsessed with the beautiful mansion I could catch glimpses of from the highway.
I spent a good bit of time driving or hiking around trying to see as much as possible. At the time, I believe that it was unoccupied.

One of the women I worked with, who was in her 80's shared an interesting story with me. She told me that as a young girl she attended a birthday party for [one of the] Sibley's daughter[s]. All the local children were invited. There were pony rides and all kinds of treats. It was a very special memory to her. She told me that each child was given a sterling silver cup as a party favor and that she still had hers.


Thank you,
Melissa Jacobs

 

 

Car Club Organization and Drag Racing on River Ridge Farm

By: Larry A. Morris


I sent the following e-mail to about 60 of my classmates at Franklin High School who graduated in 1958. We had a car club organization in the ‘50’s, sponsored by the Franklin YMCA and were known as the Road Angels. We spent many a day & evening in the [River Ridge] Blacksmith Shop which we rented from the owner of the property at that time, The Hammermill Paper Company in Erie. We also used the large field between the river and the shop for drag racing (mostly) old jalopies. I say mostly because one of our members’ Mother had a brand new Chrysler which ventured out to the dirt field, only to return with wrinkled quarter panels after flying over the bumpy field and hitting bottom. We also had a modified (cut the top off) ’42 Nash and a ’47 Buick that we had lots of funning running around the area. I think one of them went over the side of the hill by the river as we ventured a little too far down the path! Probably rusted away by now!

Anyhow, congratulations on the great site and I thoroughly enjoyed looking at it. If I find a couple of the old Road Angels photos, I’ll pass them on.

Regards,
Larry A. Morris
 

Grandmother worked at River Ridge during its construction

By: Jack T. Weiser


My grandmother, May Snyder, was the daughter of Minor and Elda Snyder who owned Snyder Brothers roofing in Oil City.  I do not know if they roofed the property or not.  My grandmother told me that she was a secretary or office worker at the construction site.  She either worked for Mr. Grandelis or one of the foremen.  She told me that she rode the train to work and back every day.  At the completion of construction, her boss came to her and told her that he wanted her to have a personal tour of the farm which she did.  Unfortunately, this is all the information I have.

Thank you again for your efforts in creating this site.

Sincerely,
Jack T. Weiser

 

A Child's Memories

The following is from Homer Shay:


I am now 85 years of age.  When I was a boy, I should have listened better to stories about River Ridge.
I have a connection of sorts to River Ridge; my Grandfather, John Davis worked
on the farm.  He lived in Reno and crossed the river in a rowboat to get to work.  My Uncle Eli Davis
worked in the Telegraph Office there, my Mother, then Laura Davis was a school teacher there,
my father, Alfred Shay, worked on the farm.  In my early days working at Franklin Steel there was a
group leader by the name, Clair Kirkpatrick, who had been Sibley's butler.  A cousin by the name, Pizor,
was a blacksmith there.
I have read Jack May's Destiny's Gentleman.  Several years ago I had the privilege to visit the mansion
at River Ridge, I was amazed at the beautiful stone work.
Hope you keep up the good work you are doing.
Homer Shay
 

The River Ridge Chauffeur

The following images and most of the text were provided by Karen S. Golden Rodgers.

A special note:  Thanks to Jonathan Daniel of Pittsburg, PA and the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society (SVVS) http://www.svvs.org/help48.shtml

we have been able to identify all of the vehicles in the photographs found on this page. 

Select an image to expand it to full size.

James Earnest Mitchell was the exclusive chauffeur for the Sibley family from 1909 until October 1941.   "Earnest" worked for Polk State Hospital from October 1941 until February 1943

when ill health caused him to retire.  Earnest died on 06 May 1943 at his home in Polk, PA.  He is standing in front of the River Ridge Farm garage.

Vehicle Information:  This one is difficult to see being in the dark so we are guessing it is a sedan. Grille looks like the cca 1941 Buick Special Sedan but as not visible, difficult to be precise on model.

 

Mr. Sibley's second wife, Ida L. Rew, the family dog, Beatrix Stevens, Louis Stevens' wife, and the chauffeur James Earnest Mitchell in 1915. Louis Stevens, the architect of the River Ridge mansion is believed to be the photographer.

Vehicle Information: Transverse spring, rounded side lights, narrow edge to the radiator, square edged bonnet, all suggest this is a criteria 1915 Ford Model T Touring. Interesting suspension.

 

The following is from an email sent to this site by the granddaughter of Louis Stevens:

 

You can't imagine how delighted I was to be sent a link to your site by one of my cousins [don't know how he found it...]

I am a granddaughter of Louis Stevens, the mansion's architect. The information you collected about him is much more than we really knew. Growing up, I certainly knew what my grandfather did, and occasionally for whom, [the Sibley name was very familiar in our household], but mostly I wasn't smart enough or old enough to really appreciate him and his work at the time. He died when I was 18, and most of his drawings and building plans were dispersed among the families of his five children, and nothing has come to me.

However, in looking at the site, I laughed with great pleasure to see in the chauffeur section a photograph of Mr. Sibley's 2nd wife Ida Rew with the "family nurse" and chauffeur in one of the Sibley cars. That "nurse" is actually my grandmother, Beatrix Stevens, Louis Stevens' wife. I know this original photograph exists among the disbursed collection of my grandfather's effects. My grandfather was an avid amateur photographer, and I suspect it was he who actually took that picture.

Wonderful of you to have an interest in the Mansion, and that you have been so diligent as to collection so much information about it. It is most often the case that the architect of such a property is long forgotten [as seems to be so with many of the other properties that Louis Stevens designed], so I deeply appreciate your work to keep his name associated with River Ridge.

If I can manage to pry from the hands of another family member anything associated with River Ridge, I will do so!

Sarah Hartwig [daughter of Beatrix Stevens Brinkerhoff, Louis Stevens' oldest daughter].

 

James Earnest Mitchell was born 04 Jun 1880 in Polk, Venango Co., PA the son of Martin David Van Buren Mitchell and wife Rebecca Cook Clinefelter Mitchell. James was married on 21 Nov 1905 to Grace Paden daughter of Huston and Ann McCarthy Paden.  While Earnest worked for the Sibley family, he and his family resided in the garage apartment of River Ridge Farms and is found in the census records there for 1920 and 1930, listed as a chauffeur for a private family.

Vehicle Information: Four bar bonnet louvers, chrome headlamps, only two windows per side, twin external horns; all suggest a cca 1935 Buick Club Sedan, either a model 60 or a model 90.

   

Anna Mitchell                                                                            Harold G. Mitchell

       

Mildred Ruth Mitchell

Vehicle Information: Difficult angle but our friend Lief spotted the make. This looks like a cca 1925 Buick Master Six Enclosed Touring, touring bodies but with fixed tops.

Anna Mitchell, Pauline Anderson, Unknown child, Thelma Anderson and Thelma Louise Mitchell with the garage and the garage apartment seen in the background.

James and Grace were the parents of Anna Mitchell who married Leonard Beebe, Harold G. Mitchell who married Pauline Anderson, Mildred Ruth Mitchell who married Norman Waid Smith and Thelma Louise Mitchell (Thelma M. in the photo) who married Harold Nicklin. They were also foster parents to Clara Gessner who married Burl Lucas. Earnest and Grace are both buried in the Franklin Cemetery. Earnest's family is all gone now, only a few grandchildren and great grandchildren are scattered across the United States. Karen Rodger's grandfather, the late Clyde W. Golden, Sr., talked about Uncle Earnest many times and said he was always so proud of the cars he drove, not only for the Sibley's but the ones he owned himself. His son Harold carried on that tradition and always had the newest shiniest car every time he visited Franklin.

The River Ridge Mansion Fireplaces

    The following is a story from Carol (Baker) Boyle concerning the fireplaces in the mansion: "Back in the late thirties or early forties, my mother-in-law,  the late Helen Boyle, volunteered at the White Fathers of Africa Center when it occupied River Ridge.  While working there, she observed the fathers removing some of the ornate mantles from the fireplaces in the upstairs rooms.  Not understanding the removal of such beautiful additions to the rooms, she questioned them as to why they would do such a thing.  The removal was part of an effort by the brotherhood to create austere spaces for prayer and mediation.  Completely amazed that the beautiful works of art where being discarded, Helen ask if she could take some of them.  That is how we ended up with three of them.  One is in the Boyle home of Maple Avenue, one is in a Brownstone in Manhattan, N. Y., and the third is the centerpiece and our pride and joy in our living room in our home on Grandview Road."

The River Ridge Bells

    My name is Ila Friggle Burlingame. I currently live in Cooperstown, PA and I'll be 88 years young in February 2010.  My father was Edward James Friggle.  He and his three brothers owned the property joining the Sibley property [River Ridge Farm]. They worked an oil lease on the farm.  As a child, living in  Cooperstown, PA, I remember hearing the Bells of River Ridge while Mother was hanging up her wash in the back yard. This occurred when the wind was blowing in the right direction. I assume Mother did the cloths washing in the morning and hung them on a line in back yard. I remember going through the [Franklin, River Ridge Farm] Gate House many times and see Edith Grandelis’ smiling face. (Ed. Note: Edith Grandelis was my wife's (Suzanne Grandelis Passauer's) grandmother.)

Living on River Ridge Farm

My name is Carol Zeller Pedley.  When Mrs. Heathcote was the owner of River Ridge my grandparents worked on the farm.  Grandpa was the dairyman and Grandma did the laundry for the big house.  They lived in the double house over the garage across from the greenhouse.  I was born there in 1938.  A few years later my parents moved into the other side of the same house.  We later moved into the house across from the barn below the office.  When I was about 12 we moved out to the gate house on the Franklin end of the road. We lived there until I married and my folks moved to town.  My grandparents names were Charles and Altha Amon.  My parents were Rodney and Evelyn Zeller. 

Old Electrical Switches

 I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your website!! A friend of mine discovered it and sent it to me.  I have always looked for stuff on the internet about River Ridge and usually found nothing, as you say on your site.  At any rate, I have a large affection for the place, as I went to school there (Christian Life Academy) for 11 years.  It is a shame that someone did not purchase the place and leave it as it was as a museum, which the White Fathers certainly did not.  I do not fault the present owners for anything, they keep up the place as best they can, in fact, it looks nicer than when I went to school there.

  I did donate about 20 light switches (the old push button kind) to their cause after I gutted the inside of a 100 year old house that was located next to me.  They were certainly happy to get them, as the maintenance man (Howard) told me they were down to their last spare. 

  Again, thanks for the site, I know I certainly do appreciate it and will be forwarding it to friends of mine who live in England.  They were here last year visiting, but we didn't get a chance to go visit the house and they really were interested in it.  Thanks, Shawn in Franklin, PA

A Rock Band and Living Room and Dining Room Painted Murals 

The site is absolutely fabulous!  I just now found out about it and I'm enjoying ever single page, image and word.  You are inspirational to us local history buffs who enjoy these things and have toured and sought out info about that wonderful, semi-mysterious place.

Attached is one of several "publicity shots" [of] my rock and roll band from the 70's (see below) used that were taken at River Ridge, to take advantage of that fantastic stone work and whatever is might say about us "rockers"!  The article tells of us making a 45 rpm record, circa 1977.  In the photo are Frank Feroz (currently in the popular Oil City band "Southern Knights"), Chuck Morgan, currently living in Maryland, Lee Green, the late Dave Balot and Al Whren.

Another note, from my personal knowledge of River Ridge over the years was that the White Fathers, as part of the "humbling" of the site for their own needs, removed or covered over a number of grand murals that graced the dining room and I believe the living room.  The murals as I recall were very romantic in nature, with nature scenes and even semi-nude figures reminiscent of classic artworks.  The White Fathers found them either too racy or too luxurious for the residents of RiverRidge at that time.  This information came to me from a tour or two that the White Fathers allowed during their tenure.  I also recall the bedrooms being converted into austere "barracks" style sleeping arrangements for the many novices and traveling brethren that passed through to and from overseas missionary assignments through River Ridge.

 Chuck Morgan

Catonsville, MD

The Fair-Way band at River Ridge Farm 1977.