New Castle, a city in transition

for Postindustrial Magazine

Located in the heart of the Rust Belt, New Castle, Pa., has been struggling ever since the decline of the steel industry.  Losing its industry brought hard times as people lost jobs and, eventually, businesses closed.  Population began to drop in the 1960s and continues to decline — New Castle, after all these years, remains a shell of a city just waiting to be reborn.

New Castle holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in Pulaski, just 10 miles away. After graduating from college, I worked as a photojournalist for the local newspaper, New Castle News, for a year before moving to the Washington, D.C., metro area.  Each time I visit my hometown, my heart breaks for New Castle. 

Considering all that New Castle has lost over the years, in every direction, there is potential.  Empty storefronts; aged, ornate buildings; and tattered park facilities all could be reimagined for a new era.  These transformations will not come easily.  There is a lot of work to be done if New Castle is to shake off the past and see its own resurgence.  It needs a new industry — something to give the city a heartbeat again and pump life back into its streets.  City leaders should fight to bring big retail back into its storefronts to revitalize the local economy and existing small businesses. Recreation options need to be developed for residents and their neighbors. 

Regardless, I hold onto hope for New Castle. 

The Lincoln-Garfield Elementary School opened in 1954 and taught grades one through six until it closed in 1988.  The school was then occupied by New Castle Family Development Center from 1988 through 2008 and Family Worship Center from 2008 to 2010.  On March 9, 2022, work began to remove asbestos from the school, and the building was demolished.

In 2014, plans were developed to restore Cascade Park's swimming pool. After six years, minimal funding, and some progress, the project was suspended in 2020.

Tiffany Natzik, 36, moved back to her hometown of New Castle to help her family after living in Michigan for six years.  Since returning, she started a cleaning business that serves a 45 mile radius.  Talking about New Castle, she was quick to criticize the city she calls home again.  "Schools suck.  Put money in something other than dollar stores."

At a time, East Long Avenue in New Castle, was lined with storefronts selling clothing, furniture, groceries, and hardware. It was also home to a movie theater and eateries making it one of the busiest streets in the city. Now only a few storefronts remain as buildings have been boarded up or demolished. In 1987, the movie theater was purchased by New Castle Playhouse where the theater group continues putting on productions today.

Inside Cascade Galleria, all but one storefront sits empty.  Built in 1970 and then known as the Towne Mall, there is nothing there but potential to revitalize the vacancies.

Philip Victor Sunseri opened this New Castle barber shop in 1935. His son, Philip Salvatore Sunseri, took over the shop in 1961 and is still cutting hair today in the same location. At 83, Sunseri has lived in New Castle his entire life. From his shop window since 1961, he has watched New Castle transform from a once-bustling city to one of despair. Discussing the lack of industry there, Phil Sunseri recalls, “At one time in this town, you could quit your job in the morning and be working somewhere else in the afternoon.”

Shenango China Company opened its New Castle location in 1912 and closed after 79 years in 1991.  While in operation, it produced dinnerware used by both Roosevelt and Truman presidencies.

Dorian Stewart Sr., 49, sits in his 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS in New Castle, PA on November 9, 2021.  A lifelong resident of New Castle and father of seven, Stewart was raised by his great grandmother and graduated from New Castle High School in 1990. Today he is self-employed working in landscaping.  When asked about New Castle, Stewart replied, "There's nothing here. Nothing for kids to do. Anyone to do."

Known as Hill's Beach and later El Rio Beach, this once dammed section of Neshannock Creek in New Castle, PA offered a place to cool off during the hotter months. The beach was operated from 1917 until it was sold to the city in 1967.  Now, foundation remains of the beach's bathhouse are all that is left of the recreation hotspot.

One of several historical homes in New Castle, the Raney mansion was built in 1890 on North Jefferson Street.  Over the years, it was used as a private residence, both a college and nurse dormitory, and most recently a personal care home before being damaged by fire in 1998.

In 2011, Joe and Zenia Goodge purchased the Raney mansion.  The couple are currently restoring the mansion to its original condition with plans to rent it out as an events center.

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