Hometown: New Castle, PA
New Castle is located in the northwest section of western Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles south of Erie and 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. With a population under 24,000, they take pride in being a friendly, family-oriented community. I had the chance to interview Joe McMichael, and Steve Chisholm about their hometown, here is what they had to say.
Where do you live, and how long have you lived there?
Joe: I have lived in the North Hill area for 19 years, and I have lived within the area for 37.
Steve: Neshannock Twp since 1976
What is your favorite thing to show visitors to your town?
J: The way out? I’m only slightly kidding. My wife and I play a game of “I Remember.” We try to remember the oldest tenant in certain businesses. (I remember when Giant Eagle was Valu King…Kroger…Fishers Big Wheel…etc.). Many businesses have come and gone. Unfortunately, no sights stand out.
S: New Castle M@P Coney Island Chili Dogs
What is a fun fact about your hometown?
J: It is the Fireworks Capital of America. Zambelli and Vitale / Pyrotechnico call New Castle home. These companies have performed their art all over the world. These two families learned under the earliest licensees in Pennsylvania in during the 19th century.
S: Was once home to more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city
What is your town famous for or known for?
J: Fireworks and Hot Dogs. Now I know that there is some argument here. But New Castle Chili is unique. Let us all shed a tear for the P.O. Lunch, a landmark that has closed. The key with the chili is that it is no beans, no bread filler, no tomatoes. It is meat and seasonings. The secret ingredient….used coffee grounds. Trust me on this one. For me, it’s chili and the infamous melted cheese sauce, and you better heap some on the fries too.
S: Fireworks Capital of America, home of both Zambelli and Pyrotecnico
Where is your favorite place in town?
J: We used to have an awesome Irish Pub downtown. It was completely redone. You could get boxties, bangers and mash, a nice hearty Guinness stew, and wash it all down with a pint of Killkenny, Guinness, or Murphy’s. Unfortunately, like many things, it has become a memory.
S: Neshannock Creek
Is anyone famous from your hometown?
J: Two come to mind. The first is Chuck Tanner. We still have a restaurant that bears his name, and his grandson Matt is a successful chef. Even while he was coaching, Chuck still lived in his home in nearby Neshannock. The second is King Cool himself, Donnie Iris. Yes, he was born here. He moved down the way to Ellwood City, but we can still call him a New Castle Son.
S: Chuck Tanner, Manager of the 1979 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates
Are there any annual events or festivals held in your town?
J: We don’t have “big fireworks” until a week after July 4th. Since all the companies are usually away, they rotate responsibility for the “Fireworks Festival” each year, putting on a huge light show.
Also, the food festivals. We have a large Greek population, and all of the churches have different food festivals. They are a true delight. Take a $10 bill and enjoy some great homestyle cooking. And now I’m salivating.
S: Balloon Quest, Ethnic and Firework Festivals
Where is your favorite place to eat?
J: Middle Eastern Food – There are several restaurants that specialize in the cuisine, each with a different regional flare. For chicken, I pick Elham’s. For lamb, it’s Mary’s. I’ve gone a couple times and have seen Mary up on her patio, rolling grape leaves and chain smoking.
Mays Donuts – This place is an institution. They may still even use lard in their fryers. Get there early for the freshest donuts. They even use the real fillings. You won’t find canned whipped cream here.
S: Nahla’s Middle Eastern Restaurant
What is your favorite town attraction?
J: The Hoyt, and their contributions. They Hoyts had donated both their home and a significant amount of finances to Lawrence County. In the years following, the Hoyt Mansion has become a home for the arts and children alike. They also set up a weekend downtown, closing off the streets, for an Arts Festival. During this, there are many free activities for kids to be creative.
S: Cascade Park
What do you think is the most interesting thing about your town?
J: I still have a couple of plates from Shenango China. This factory was the “gold standard” for a long time, and, albeit a dilapidated shell, still stands over the hill from my house. This factory produced plates that went into circulation around the world, including several designs for the White House. Another tidbit, my father-in-law, or “Pa” as everyone knows him, used to work at the factory.
S: Many historical buildings tied to the Underground Railroad
If you had to move, what would you miss most about your town?
J: I would miss seeing it turn around. This town holds a lot of memories for me. I’ve watched it flourish, then flounder, only to flourish again. In time, all things come full circle.