King of the Hill. Lord of the Manor. The guy who acts like he owns the place.
David Stawovy became all that when he and his siblings inherited the Village of Reduction in western Pennsylvania. The whole town: houses, lots, roads, water main, the works.
Now they’re looking to sell the keys to their city.
The Stawovy’s tell their story on the FOX Business Network series “Strange Inheritance” with Jamie Colby. The episode— “Our Town” — airs Tuesday, January 16 at 9 p.m. ET.
Reduction was one of some 2,000 “company towns” that popped up across America after the Civil War. Wholly owned by one corporation or another, these communities made it possible for workers to take jobs in the emerging industries of the Gilded Age, invariably located near natural resources, like coal, lumber, iron and oil.
“You came on the railroad, got dropped off and went to work,” says Ed Meena, a history professor at Park Point University in nearby Pittsburgh. “The company got a steady force of workers at their disposal and the workers an opportunity to find their own life and their own future.”
The Village of Reduction got its name in 1907 when the American Reduction Company decided to build one its plants there, which recycled and “reduced” garbage. Pittsburgh was the big account, and Reduction swelled to a population of 400.
This company town, however, never had the sort of “company store” made notorious by the Tennessee Ernie Ford song “Sixteen Tons”:
You load sixteen tons, and whattaya get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter don'cha call me, cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.
Instead, an adjacent dairy farm supplied milk, eggs, cheese and produce to residents. It was owned by David’s grandparents, who sent their son John to Reduction’s one-room schoolhouse.
The Stawovy farm thrived even after Pittsburgh got its own garbage plant, and the American Reduction Company shuttered the one in Reduction, which became a ghost town. By 1948, John, David’s dad, was a newlywed looking for a starter home. He approached the company to purchase one of the houses in the vacant neighborhood.
“The company said to my father: ‘Instead of buying one, why don’t you buy them all?’” David tells Colby in the program. So John secured a $10,000 loan and purchased the whole spread, which then consisted of 18 houses (and outhouses), roads and a few other structures.
Reduction quickly filled back up with renters, while landlord John took on the mantle of town engineer, sewage officer, public works chief and unofficial mayor. His four kids — David plus his brother Jan and sisters Jacqueline and Cheryl — recall an idyllic small-town childhood.
“We loved to ice skate on the pond that was right next to the dairy. Before we went ice-skating we would go into the dairy and get hot chocolate,” recalls Jacqueline.
Other Reduction residents remember it as fondly.
“There was never a street light here,” says Willy Klorczyk, who grew up in the village in the 1950s. “I remember one time we laid down, and looked up at the sky and realized there’s more than just a few stars up there.”
When John Stawovy died in 2016, David -- now a retired school teacher -- inherited Reduction with his siblings.
They learned that heavy are the heads that own the town.
“You’re tied down. You’re never at peace,” David says. “I do probably 90% of the work myself and my family helps also. One of the worst things we had recently, one of the main water lines broke in the middle of the road.”
Hoping for a travel-filled retirement, the heirs decided to sell, asking $1.5 million. They were dismayed when it became clear that any buyer of the hilltop property along a scenic river would likely raze the homes to create a breathtaking estate.
David Stawovy hates the thought of uprooting the 60 current residents of Reduction.
“I promised them if I sold that I would give them one year to find a place to live,” he says.
That might make it harder to find a buyer, but he feels it’s something he must do for the company town his family has kept going for 70 years after the company left.