In 1902, the Standard Steel Car Company opened its factory in Butler, right on top of the old fair grounds and the surrounding meadows. The Butler plant would one day set the record for the highest production of steel rail road cars in the United States, produce its own eight cylinder car, and become the largest factory of its type in the world. The plant estimated the need for 2,500-3,000 employees at opening day. These men were predominantly immigrants, and needed somewhere to live.
Eighty-thousand dollars worth of land was purchased with plans to build a neighborhood consisting of one thousand homes. The new neighborhood, "Lyndora," was touted as “an ideal steel town,” consisting at first of two-hundred houses, 125 of which had six rooms and one bath. The neighborhood came to be known as Red Row for the color of the houses. The idealized steel town fell far short of its goal.
Conditions in the factory were dangerous, as was all industrial work at the turn of the century. Machines could easily behead a man who was less than completely careful. Conditions in Lyndora were dangerous as well. While Butler journalists questioned sanitary conditions, Lyndora was largely spared from the Typhoid Epidemic that racked Butler in 1903-04.
Violence was the real danger in Lyndora: domestic, racial and ethnic, and even purely criminal. The Butler Eagle reported a man who was violently knocked over, and had his jug of liquor stolen out from under him by two young men. Austrians attacked Arab traders, “the swarthy race,” on the streets. Incidents of husbands attacking their wives were common. When a Red Row resident was asked why he murdered his wife, his reply was “she was my woman, and I could do as I pleased with her.” Although racial violence was reported less often, one incident led a young black woman to declare that Lyndora was “no good for colored girls.”
The wider Butler community had mixed feelings regarding Lyndora. A reporter from the Butler Eagle declared that the immigrants in Red Row were “excellent workmen, industrious, economical, and nearly all of them intend to become citizens of this country.” Others were far from complimentary. Articles came out commenting only on the poverty, hunger, and filth in “the little suburb of Lyndora.” The little suburb expanded rapidly over the years, as did the Car Works. Company housing was rarely able to keep up with demand.
Lyndora wasn’t all crime and poverty. The residents were religious people, erecting churches throughout the early 1900s that still stand to this day, including St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church and St. John’s Greek Catholic Church. Butler reporters loved seeing the pure frivolity of wedding celebrations and Christmas traditions. In 1906 a Butler Eagle reporter attended a wedding ceremony, saying “it is a little bit of sunshine in a great deal of darkness… dance on you poor exiles.”
The Butler Eagle praised Lyndora schools for their intelligent and creative students. The Butler Library hosted a reading room where adults could come to further their education in English as well as their native language. Immigrants Americanized themselves by taking great interest in national pastimes like baseball, basketball, and boxing. As World War I came and went, more and more Red Row workers took up American citizenship.
However, the shadow of the factory always loomed over the neighborhood. Troubles began in 1902 when a grocer from Butler tried to deliver to Lyndora. A company store already provided for Lyndora's needs, so there was no need for outside goods. In 1906, a terrifying riot took place at the Lyndora Hotel. Last call was sounded, and one man refused to leave until he had one last drink. A company security officer took hold of the man, and in the struggle, hit him over the head with a club. Violence erupted as workers came to the man’s defense. State troopers had to be sent in to calm the riot. There were many injuries, most of them obtained by police or company security. State Troopers took up permanent residence in Lyndora after the incident. Investigations revealed the discontentment of workers, who felt they were consistently abused by company police. The Butler Eagle reported one worker as saying “a uniform does not confer unlimited powers to the man who wears it.”
Lyndora began with promises bordering on Utopian, and devolved into a controversial neighborhood, separate yet entwined with greater Butler. Today, no one calls it “Red Row,” “Hunky Town,” or even “the little foreign city,” and the Standard Steel Car Works is now a K-Mart. Looking at the neat rows of cookie cutter houses, one can still see the remnants of a steel town, poverty, and the changing America at the turn of the century.