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The Justice Bell, used by members of the suffrage movement (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

“Freedom Fighters” of the North Hill District

This tour of select properties in New Castle’s North Hill Historic District tells the story of New Castle citizens who helped defend American freedoms, and to expand access to freedom and equality for all.

Historic events like the Civil War, European immigration, and the women’s suffrage movement changed American society in profound ways. The growth in rights for African Americans, women, and European immigrants helped fashion a new idea of America – a country diverse in culture, language, and experiences.

Each site on this tour contains introductory information on residents at those addresses; click the “Learn More” on each stop to explore their lives and activities in greater depth.


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The Berry and White Families

The Berry House in the 19th century (courtesy of the Lawrence County Historical Society)

African American Leaders and the Abolitionist Movement

While the original home at this address is no longer extant, this site was home to the Berrys and the Whites, two families who played an important role in advancing freedom and equality for African Americans during the 19th century.

The Berry Family

Thomas Berry, the first successful barber in New Castle, built a brick home at 305 North Jefferson around 1841. Following Mr. Berry’s death in 1853, his son-in-law Thomas Johnson took over the barbershop. Mr. Berry was survived by his wife Mary and their six children, including P. Ross Berry.

African American P Ross Berry
P. Ross Berry
(courtesy of the Lawrence County Historical Society)

P. Ross Berry, born to Thomas and Mary Berry in 1835, rose to become an influential figure in the city’s African American community. By the age of sixteen he was a master brick and stonemason, and at that age received the contract to complete the brickwork on the Lawrence County Courthouse. A prominent bricklayer in both New Castle and Youngstown, Ohio, his building projects also included the Disciples of Christ Church on Kennedy Square and the Lawrence County jail.

After the Civil War, he employed numerous Union Army veterans, many of them Black, as bricklayers in both New Castle and Youngstown. Ross supervised the building of dozens of churches, schools, opera houses, hotels, and private homes throughout the Mahoning Valley.

Joseph and Adaline White

Joseph White married Adaline Pollock in 1841. The White family originally lived on North Street until they moved to the brick home built by Thomas Berry sometime in the early 1850s.

Mr. and Mrs. White were important in establishing the Free Presbyterian Church of New Castle in 1851 (known as Central Presbyterian today) after facing censure for voicing anti-slavery views in the First Presbyterian Church. Mr. White also condemned the “careless or sinful voting of church members” who supported slavery.

In addition to supporting abolitionism, Joseph and Adaline White were among several Lawrence County residents directly involved in the Underground Railroad. In one letter (part of the Siebert Collection), Mr. White recalled the North Jefferson Street house as the site of his first efforts to aid a refugee, describing it as “ the brick house near the big willow tree.” After harboring a few individuals, the Whites became further involved in aiding larger numbers of runaways.


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The Ehrlich Family

Jewish Immigrants Find Refuge, Build Community in New Castle

Norman Ehrlich and his wife Blanche Ehrlich lived at 340 Laurel Boulevard with Blanche’s father, Nathan Strauss, during the 1910s and 1920s.

The Ehrlichs were active participants in New Castle’s Jewish community, serving as founding members of the city’s Temple Israel in 1926. Mrs. Blanche Ehrlich was also a founder and leader in the city’s section of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Mr. Ehrlich was born in Lututow, Germany (modern-day Poland) on June 9, 1879 where he lived until his family emigrated to the United States in 1891. Many Polish immigrants left Germany during this time due to persistent religious and ethnic discrimination. Though Germany removed all legal discrimination against Jews in 1871, widespread anti-Semitism persisted. Persecution of Jews increased in the 1870s and 1880s, as a series of economic crises were blamed on Jews. Major boycotts on Jewish businesses, removal of Jews from political office, and even violent attacks on Jewish people resulted.

Once settled in New Castle, Mr. Ehrlich owned a men’s clothing and furnishing store on 111 E. Washington St. For many years, weekly ads urging men to “Be Sure It’s Norman Ehrlich!” were a staple in New Castle newspapers.

Advertisement for Norman Ehrlich
Advertisement for Norman Ehrlich’s Store
(courtesy of the New Castle News July 6, 1923)

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Dr. Eliah and Ina Kaplan

Respected Physician and Local Leader in Zionism

This site served as the home and medical office of Dr. Eliah Kaplan, a Jewish immigrant born in Russia (modern-day Poland) on October 12, 1884. He arrived in the United States in 1903. After graduating from New Castle High School in 1909, he went on to medical school in Philadelphia, then returned to New Castle, where he became an esteemed physician. In 1917, he married Ina Rabinowitz, and the couple had four sons, Sherman, Joshua, Bart and Yale.

The Kaplans were part of a large number of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe escaping ongoing state persecution and violence in Russia. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Pittsburgh became a hub of Jewish immigration, which also extended to nearby communities like New Castle.

Jewish American Eliah Kaplan
Eliah Kaplan
(courtesy of New Castle News December 9, 1963)

The Kaplan family became involved in Zionism, a political movement to bring about the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Many American Jews were strong supporters of the Zionist movement. In 1947, Dr. Kaplan was honored by the Hadassah Medical Organization for being the “first active Zionist in the New Castle community.”


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Joseph R. White, Civil War Veteran

Joseph R. White moved to the house at 22 East Grant Street around 1900 with his wife Mary McClymonds White and their adult children Florence and Charles. By that time, Joseph was a prominent businessman in New Castle; in his younger days, however, he served with the much-celebrated “Roundhead Regiment” in the American Civil War.

Seventeen-year old Joseph White enrolled at Greensburg, Pennsylvania on January 12, 1864. White joined the 100th Pennsylvania “Roundhead Regiment,” a volunteer infantry from western Pennsylvania.

The Roundhead regiment saw combat throughout the war, beginning in the fall of 1861 until the war’s end in 1865. Some of the largest battles the Roundheads saw include the Battle of Antietam, the Second Battle of Bull Run, and Vicksburg. The Roundheads lost over 400 men throughout the war, with almost half of the deaths due to disease.

During Joseph White’s time with Company K, he served under the command of Ulysses S. Grant during the Overland Campaign involving the siege of Petersburg, Virginia – one of the central conflicts that helped bring about the surrender of Confederate rebel troops and the conclusion of the war in April of 1865.


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Morgan Hofius, Civil War Veteran

Morgan Hofius enlisted at the age of 18 on September 6, 1864, as a private in Company D of the 211th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. Hofius fought in the siege of Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia in the late months of 1864. He was wounded on the final day of the siege of Petersburg, April 2, 1865.

In 1871, Mr. Hofius married, and his wife Clara Hofius later became a member of the Grove City branch of the Women’s Relief Corps, the ladies’ auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, whose mission was to preserve the memory and legacy of Union soldiers.

In 1900, Morgan Hofius, a supervisor for coal mines, his wife Clara, and their adult children Harry and Bessie, lived at 124 East Wallace Avenue.

The brutality and extensive loss of life made a vivid impression on Mr. Hofius. He frequently wrote of his experiences to his parents, in one letter recounting, “There has been a big fight here since the war broke out and the graves are thick as can be. In some places the dead men’s feet is [sic] sticking out of the ground. It is a sickening sight. God grant it will soon be over.”

Petersburg soldiers at rest
Infantry resting from drills at the Siege of Petersburg
(courtesy of the National Archives)

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Sarah Sankey, Activist for Woman’s Suffrage

Sarah Sankey lived at 301 East Wallace with her father Charlie Sankey, her mother Lavinia Sankey, and her sisters Margaret and Marian throughout the 1910s.

An educator for many years, Sarah Sankey played an important role in the women’s suffrage movement, perhaps the most significant political cause of the Progressive Era.

Sarah Sankey was in regular contact with Liliane Stevens Howard, the general organizer of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, helping to improve the League’s ability to pursue progress for women. In July 1914, Sankey hosted a meeting at her home at which Howard began the process of organizing the suffrage movement in New Castle.

In February 1915, the local suffrage party staged a highly-successful production of “How the Vote Was Won” a pro-suffrage play performed around the country, in which Sarah played the role of “Lillie, maid of all work.”

Newspaper headline about suffrage meeting at home of sarah sankey, new castle herald, july 21, 1914.
Newspaper headline about suffrage meeting at home of Sarah Sankey
(New Castle Herald, July 21, 1914)

Such local efforts were essential to a political strategy that focused on advancement through grassroots organizing. National suffrage organizations like the National American Woman Suffrage Association had headquarters in New York, but depended on state and local chapters to advocate for the the suffrage movement. Miss Sankey followed these methods by organizing public campaigns and pushing for the Democratic Party to make women’s suffrage one of its campaign goals.


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Thomas W. and Pamphila Phillips

Postcard of the Phillips residence, date unknown

Thomas and Pamphila Phillips lived at 455 Highland Avenue before moving to 905 Highland Avenue in 1910. Mrs. Phillips continued to live at 905 Highland Avenue following Mr. Phillips’ death in 1912, until her own passing in 1933.

Pamphila Phillips was a strong advocate for women’s suffrage and the social advancement of women broadly. She was the President of the Women’s Suffrage Organization of Lawrence County and also used the local media (the New Castle Herald and New Castle News) to help promote the suffrage movement to the public.

In addition to Mrs. Phillips’ advocacy for women’s suffrage, Mr. Phillips was also a prominent citizen of New Castle. He served as the president of Citizens National Bank, and was the Congressional representative for the 25th District of Pennsylvania from 1893 until 1897.

After Pamphila Phillips’ passing in 1933, the property remained in the family until 1963. It was purchased that year by the Christian Assembly Church from Mrs. Grace Phillips Johnson, and the current structure on the property was completed in 1968.

The “Justice Bell”

In 1915, suffragists in Pennsylvania waged a statewide campaign to support an amendment to the state constitution giving women the right to vote. To draw attention to the campaign, leaders in the movement created the “Justice Bell” a replica of the Liberty Bell, one of the nation’s most enduring symbols of freedom. Cast in bronze, weighing 2,000 pounds, and with its clapper symbolically shackled to its side, the Justice Bell (also called the “Woman’s Liberty Bell”) toured through all 66 counties in Pennsylvania in 1915.

The Justice Bell
The Justice Bell, used by members of the suffrage movement
(courtesy of the Library of Congress)

It arrived in New Castle on the afternoon of July 2, 1915 where it was the centerpiece of what the New Castle Herald proclaimed “the biggest political rally of its kind ever in New Castle” on the city’s Diamond. Mrs. Phillips marched with the Justice Bell through downtown New Castle, and vocally supported any politicians who pushed for state and federal women’s suffrage.

The referendum failed in 1915 in Pennsylvania, but the determination of the women who traveled some 5,000 miles across Pennsylvania endured, and ultimately met success with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

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