Saturday, September 23, 2017

President Monroe in the Chartiers Valley September 21, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

September 21, 2017

President Monroe in the Chartiers Valley

It has been our opinion that the only visit of a sitting President to the Chartiers Valley was the trip President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife took to Washington, Pa. to visit relatives of Mrs. Grant. Recently I learned that I was grossly mistaken and that President James Monroe had indeed visited Canonsburg on September 5, 1817 and then gone on to Pittsburgh.

It turns out there is a monograph by a gentleman named S. Putnam Waldo, entitled  The Tour of James Monroe, President of the United States, through the Northern and Eastern States”, which describes a remarkable trip Monroe took during the first year of his incumbency. He left Washington early in June 1817, travelled up the East Coast through New England  then through upstate New York to Buffalo.

At that point he boarded a sailing vessel and traversed Lake Erie to Detroit. He then came back through Ohio, visiting Lancaster, Delaware, Columbus, Pickaway County, Circleville, and Chillicothe before arriving at Zanesville on Friday, August 29.  A week later he arrived in Canonsburg where he was met by a company of mounted militia and escorted to Emory’s Tavern for refreshments.

Following the repast a reception was held where he met the President of Jefferson College, students of that institution, and other local citizens. At that time Jefferson was by far the largest college in the state and one of the largest in the young nation. Monroe praised it as the center of literature in the West. The militia then accompanied him on the Black Horse Trail to the Allegheny County Line where he was met by Allegheny County officials who went with him on to Pittsburgh.

During this long trip the President travelled on horseback and by coach. We presume he came to Canonsburg from Washington, Pa. although the monograph is silent regarding his activities during the previous week. It appears that the author relied heavily on direct quotations from local newspapers; apparently none were available between Zanesville and Canonsburg.

It is intriguing to imagine Monroe’s trip down the Black Horse Trail from Canonsburg into Pittsburgh. He certainly would have been curious about Morganza, Colonel George Morgan’s plantation. The Colonel had died in 1810, but Monroe would have been well informed about Aaron Burr’s visit to Morganza in 1805 and his attempt to recruit Morgan for his scheme to set up an empire in Louisiana. Morgan reported this incident to President Jefferson and testified as a witness in Burr’s treason trial.

If the President inquired about local residents when they reached the county line, one presumes the Boyces, Fawctts, and Lesnetts would have been mentioned. As the trail descended from the ridge toward Chartiers Creek, someone would have pointed out the Wingfield Mills complex and the small Hastings community. Assuming he was travelling by coach, they would have stopped at Harriotts’ Inn briefly before continuing on to “the Bridge” over Chartiers Creek and Colonel Noble’s storehouse there. His escorts would have pointed out Noble’s Trace leading west to Noblestown and east to the Youghiogheny River.

The next landmark would have been Woodville Plantation, by now the estate of Christopher Cowan. Monroe would have been quite familiar with the Whiskey Rebellion although he was in France as our Ambassador when it occurred. I am sure he would have asked to have someone point out to him the location of Bower Hill, before the rebels burned it down.

After passing St. Luke’s Church the Trail slowly climbs Greentree Hill before winding its way down to what we now call the Old Stone Tavern. In 1817 it might have been Elliot’s Tavern or Coates’ Inn; at any rate it was a major watering hole for travellers heading into Pittsburgh on the Black Horse Trail. It too had already seen a lot of history by the time President Monroe passed by.

The more I read about Monroe, the more obvious it becomes that he is the most under-appreciated of the Founding Fathers. The fact that he chose to visit the West during his first year in office and get a feel for his constituency is especially impressive. One wonders where he went during the week between Zanesville and Canonsburg – probably Cambridge, Ohio, Wheeling, and Washington.


The Log home Tour September 14, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

September 14, 2017

The Log Home Tour

I received a message recently from the Pioneers West Historical Society regarding their Annual Historical Log Homes Tour on Saturday, September 16, 2017, from 10 am – 2 pm. They thanked me for attending the event last year and devoting a column to the Walker-Ewing Log House, and invited me to come back this year. Unfortunately that event conflicts with another commitment for me; nonetheless the tour merits mention.

Pioneers West is a wonderful organization of dedicated people committed to the preservation of the Walker-Ewing Log House, which is located at 1355 Noblestown Road in Collier Township. The house was constructed late in the eighteenth century and has been well maintained ever since. It is a remarkable example of the way people lived over two centuries ago and well warrants a visit.

Pioneers West sponsors a tour of their property and of four other nearby log houses each year. Festivities at Walker-Ewing this year include a performance by a folk music club, craft whiskey sampling, a demonstration of a metal detector, and a display of vintage clothing.

One of the other houses on the tour is Killbuck Lodge in Oakdale, a rebuilt structure that is maintained by the Friends of Killbuck Lodge and is used by Boy Scout Troop 248. The McAdow-McAdams Wilson Log House, at 100 Bruno Lane in Imperial is now owned by West Allegheny School District and used as an historic learning center by Wilson Elementary School.

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, 799 Pinkerton Run Road in North Fayette, owns the restored Walker-Ewing-Glass Log House and uses it as the centerpiece of its Heritage Homestead project. The Moon Township Parks and Recreation Department owns and maintains Coventry Log Cabin in Robin Hill Park, 949 Thorn Run Road. It is used as a resource by the Moon Township Historical Society.

The variety of organizations involved in these five properties is impressive; their common denominator is their passion for preserving our history and heritage. Somehow we need to find a way to support the efforts of such organizations. At the very least we need a bulletin board that keeps track of all the relevant events of all the local historical groups. Sounds like a good project for the Bridgeville Area Historical Society website.

One group of such organizations are those, like Pioneers West, that are focused on a specific facility – Woodville Plantation, Old St. Luke’s Church, the Oliver Miller Homestead, the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, Gilfillan Farm, the Thomas Espy Post (Civil War Room), the (Arden) Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, etc. Each of these facilities offers programs and open houses throughout the year, including many attractive events that history buffs miss merely because they aren’t aware of them.

By the same token the various local historical societies offer a broad spectrum of programs focused on history in general rather than on a specific facility or event. Our Bridgeville Society has an excellent series of monthly programs each year, bringing in knowledgeable outside speakers who cover subjects as varied as “The Great Castle Shannon Bank Robbery” and “Origins of World War II”. In addition they sponsor a monthly workshop focused on Bridgeville history; the current topic is the history of Bridgeville High School.

Nearly every neighboring community – South Fayette, Collier Township, Carnegie, Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair, etc. – has a historical society with some level of activity. Add to that the historical programs that are sponsored by and presented at the various libraries and you realize that the history buff has access to far more events than he or she could possibly attend. It would indeed be beneficial if all of them were advertised in one clearinghouse, so the history buff could take advantage of all the opportunities available.

We history buffs who live in the Chartiers Valley have access to a remarkable variety of relevant historical sites and events. It is unfortunate when we fail to take advantage of them.


The Eclipse September 7, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

September 7, 2017

The Eclipse

I thoroughly enjoyed the eclipse. However before I get into that I must apologize for an error in my column on the last “Second Tuesday” workshop. The correct date for the next workshop is September 12, not 19 as reported.

I initially made myself a small pinhole projector from a cracker box, but was disappointed in the size of the image. Consequently I fabricated one about forty inches long from a box that originally contained a vacuum cleaner. This was much more successful and I was pleased with the photographs I was able to take of the images.

The children next door had an abundance of special glasses which they shared with me, so I was also able to see the eclipse first hand. It was quite cloudy but the sun kept coming out briefly, just enough for us to keep track of the progress of the eclipse. Coupled with the excellent television coverage of the total eclipse it was a very interesting experience.

I was initially impressed with the fact that some people are smart enough to be able to predict the timing of eclipses precisely until I learned that people have been doing that for several millennia. So then I began to wonder if that is something I could do. After all, civil engineers of my era were automatically surveyors and surveyors of my era were automatically astronomers.

I have concluded that a capable surveyor with an accurate timepiece, a surveyor’s transit (theodolite), a clear view of the east and west horizons, and a lot of time could develop enough information to predict the occurrence of eclipses. The first task is to determine the direction of true north. This we do by observing Polaris (the North Star) sufficiently to average out the variance from its small orbit about the true North Pole. This is something we did at Surveying Camp at Penn State sixty five years ago.

Our next step is to determine the latitude of our observation station. This can be done on either the vernal or autumnal equinox, when the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to its orbit about the sun is negated. It is accomplished by taking a sun shot with the transit, another skill we mastered at Surveying Camp. The angle between the sun’s position and the zenith is the latitude of the observation station.

Now we must observe and record the passage of the sun and the moon through the sky for many days, probably several years. If we didn’t already know the magnitude of the tilt of the earth’s axis (about 23.5 degrees) we would soon discover it, as the sun’s position at Noon varies from our latitude plus or minus 23.5 degrees between the summer and winter solstices. This gives us the ability of predicting the position of the sun at any time in the future.

The moon is more complicated because its orbit about the earth is tilted a little more than five degrees relative to the ecliptic (earth’s orbit). Consequently its path through the sky varies plus or minus five degrees throughout a lunar month (one orbit about the earth), which is about twenty seven and a quarter days. By taking enough observations at night, shortly after sunrise, and shortly before sunset we can learn enough to predict the position of the moon at any time in the future.

For a solar eclipse to occur the moon must pass between the earth and the sun. This requires the moon to be in a vertical plane containing the earth and sun, perpendicular to the ecliptic; and in a horizontal plane containing the earth and sun (the ecliptic). The moon automatically satisfies the first requirement once each lunar month and the second twice a lunar month. The frequency of their occurring simultaneously is miniscule.

The factor that allows eclipses to occur relatively frequently is the fact that the earth is so much bigger than the shadow the moon puts on it during an eclipse. For this summer’s eclipse the umbra had a diameter of seventy miles passing over a disc with a diameter of eight thousand miles. Even if the moon is as much as a degree out of the ecliptic, its shadow can still hit the earth, dramatically increasing the probability that an eclipse will occur, and making it much easier for the amateur to predict its occurrence.

Unfortunately a search on the Internet for “How to Predict an eclipse” sends you to a website with a “fill-in-the-blanks” screen that provides that information for any location on the earth. This highlights my concern that future generations will trade the ability to derive something for the ability to look it up.

Seventy Nine North! Augyst 31, 2017



Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 31, 2017

Seventy Nine North

Most of the time I have to put a lot of effort into writing this column, but sometimes the columns write themselves. This was the case today. I had to drive up to Conneaut Lake and meet with a handyman who is doing some much needed work on our cottage. I haven’t spent much time there since my wife died, and the place desperately needs a caretaker; fortunately my neighbor there found just the right person for me.

Consequently I found myself heading north on I-79, a trip I have made many times in the past. It was strange this time not having, at least, a dog and my wife as companions. When we were first married, my wife’s mother and Aunt Gladys were living in Grove City, and both of her sisters and their families were in Meadville.

Our route in those days was up Route 8 to Harrisville, then west on 58 to Grove City. To proceed on to Meadville we took 173 north through Sandy Lake to Cochranton, where we picked up 322 on to our destination. When construction of I-79 began, we switched to Route 19, taking advantage of each portion of the new highway as it was completed. By 1980 when we purchased our cottage, I-79 was done, providing us an easy route to Conneaut Lake.

It takes me about twenty minutes to get across the Ohio River; this part of the trip is close enough to home to be completely routine, especially since my daughter Elizabeth and her family are living in Sewickley. The drive up to the intersection with 279, which is the one quarter point of my trip, is also without incident.

I have given up trying to find acceptable music on the radio when I drive north, so I reverted to CD’s. First was Mozart – “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, the “Haffner” Symphony, and “Serenata Notturna”. Then a collection of Baroque – Pachelbel, Vivaldi, and Corelli – which suddenly sounded trite when Bach’s “Air on a G String” raised the bar abruptly.

Suddenly I realize that I am not alone in the car; as we pass the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex I imagine my wife commenting on the probability that this has forced the Penguin hockey players to all move to the North Hills. She also has something to say when we pass the rest area that was never completed.

“License Plate” is a popular Oyler family car game. In our version you attempt to make the shortest possible word out of the three letters on the Pennsylvania plate. The letters must appear in sequence. “GRN” yields grin, for example. The recent plates all begin with “J”, which is particularly difficult.

Soon we pass the large auto storage area where radio controlled model plane enthusiasts used to be evident whenever we passed. Then we come over the crest of a hill and see the lazy “S” curve the highway takes as it crosses the Conoquenessing Creek valley before ascending the next hill.

Past the Portersville interchange is a spot where we broke down on the way home one Sunday, losing the transmission in our Dodge Caravan. We had just celebrated passing 100,000 miles on the odometer, which unfortunately was the mileage for which the transmission was covered by the warranty. We were rescued by AAA and had a nice ride home in the tow truck. The bad news was that our dog had to ride alone in the towed van, an experience she didn’t enjoy.

A short distance north of there we pass a lovely farmhouse/barn combination to the east. Years ago we stopped to photograph it and make it a subject of a pen-and-ink sketch. It still is picturesque.

Beyond the 422 interchange we pass Cooper’s Lake Campground. It is late enough in the month that all the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) folks are gone. This is a group of people re-enacting the Middle Ages “as they ought to have been”, who congregate at Cooper’s Lake early in August each year and dress up in Renaissance costumes. They are from the kingdom of Aethelmearc, which encompasses western New York, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Just north of Cooper’s Lake is the summit of a large terminal moraine which marks the southern edge of the area covered by glaciers in the last Ice Age. Consequently it is the boundary between two geological regimes, and indeed the terrain is dramatically different. North of here the hill tops are a little lower, the valleys a little shallower, and the highway grades are much flatter.

“JDI”!          “Twelve!”            “Jurisdiction!”

Next we pass a large pond completely covered with algae and my companion makes her obligatory comment about people who don’t take care of such things.
At the Grove City interchange she shouts “Turn on the rice, Aunt Gladys” in tribute to the many Sundays we stopped at her house with a car full of kids for supper on our way home from the cottage.

Passing an old barn we have sketched in the past, now covered with vines and in late stages of deterioration, we get another complaint about “those people”. Nearby is the site of another sketch subject, a wonderful old coal tipple that was torn down years ago. Fortunately we had photographed it extensively and were able to produce one of our all-time favorite sketches to record it.

“I wonder whatever happened to Peggy Baldwin” signals our reaching the I-80 interchange. Bob and Peggy Baldwin were great friends of ours who eventually moved to Clarion. When we visited them, we left I-79 here and took I-80 east to their home. After Bob died, much too young, we lost track of Peggy and their children. That suggests another Internet search for me.

I-80 is, of course, another well-known boundary. How many times have we heard the weatherman say “Look for heavy rain, changing to snow north of I-80”? Sure enough just as I passed through that interchange on this trip, the clouds broke up and the sun came out.

Next we cross the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad and I look in vain for a train. Another picturesque vista that needs a locomotive and string of cars to be complete. We are now into an area of what appear to be very prosperous farms, with big barns and tall silos, another area that has produced a number of sketch subjects.

As we cross Lake Wilhelm, “I wonder if Paul has fished here recently?” My brother and his son Paul enjoy fishing in this area. Paul likes Conneaut Lake because there are more fish there; Joe likes Wilhelm because it is so natural, with no buildings in sight.

“DJB!”         “Ten!”        “Adjustable!”

As we get close to the Geneva interchange I slow down and start looking for state troopers. In 1980 as we were hurrying to Conneaut Lake for the closing on our cottage, I got a ticket right there from a trooper sitting in a car hidden behind a small ridge in the median strip. I cannot pass that spot without inspecting it carefully.

The Geneva exit features Aunt Bee’s restaurant and truck stop; someday I will investigate it. There is a gas station where we cross Route 19; my imaginary companion announces “$2.59”, laying the groundwork for our comparing the price of gas there with that at the Sheetz super complex in Conneaut Lake.

Many years ago an enterprising farmer tried to make a go of raising sunflowers along the Geneva Road. We took a beautiful photograph of a large field of sunflowers against a threatening sky; I saw a copy of it in Sara’s home a few weeks ago.

Next comes “Worms Last House”, a roadside sign that immediately suggested to me something from one of Tolkein’s novels. Of course we eventually realized that it marked the place where a fisherman seeking live bait could turn down Marsh Road and stop at the last house to make a purchase.

“JCT!”         “Seven!”      “Adjunct!”

Another memorable barn was located where Town Line Road intersects the Geneva Road. We sketched it years ago when it was in its prime and several times more recently in decrepit shape. It was finally torn down last summer, leaving its silo as a monument.

It appears that this has been a good year for corn; all the fields look quite healthy. A few years ago one farmer on the Geneva Road converted his corn field into a Corn Maze (maize maze?). We went through it with Jonathan and Marsha Maddy and would probably still be trying to find our way out had Jonathan not advised us to keep our left hands on the left wall – a strategy that enables one to exit a dead end successfully. Apparently his entrepreneurial effort was no more successful than his neighbor with the sunflowers; there is no sign of a maze this year.

It is fascinating that a simple two hour drive can be embedded with so many memories. There seems to be a story around every curve and at the top of every hill.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bridgeville High School History, Part four August 24, 2017

Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 24, 2017

Bridgeville High School History, part four

The August edition of the Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s “Second Tuesday” workshops covered the history of Bridgeville High School from 1927 through 1934. The facilitator began the program by reviewing the popular culture of 1927 –  the first talking picture, Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer’; Lindbergh’s flight to Paris; and Gene Austin’s big record hit, ‘My Blue Heaven”.

He then showed an updated set of sketches of the floor plan of the new, at that time, Lincoln High School. We are still seeking input on that topic.

The first two classes covered overlapped our previous workshop, as these students had been discussed as underclassmen during our review of the Class of 1926.

The class of 1927 graduated thirty three students, including siblings Tressa and Walter (Bumpy) Petrick and Dewey David.  An operetta, “Naughtical Knots”, starring Mary McCloy and Robert Hughan, was the highlight of the school year.

There were thirty seven graduates in the 1928 class, including Nelson Rothermond, Pete Cherry, Helen Cox, and George (Googie) Dresmich. Dresmich went on to have a long career as an educator in Scott and South Fayette Townships. The football team won four games and lost five, including an exciting 7 to 6 win over Carnegie. The class’ senior trip to Washington, D. C. was a fitting climax to an exciting year.

The twenty nine graduates in the Class of 1929 included Mary Capozzoli and Esther Petrick. The only highlight of a two wins, seven losses football season was a 12 to 0 win over South Fayette in the inaugural meeting of that hard fought series.

The Class of 1930 was the largest yet, with forty six seniors graduating. Familiar names included were Lucy Capozzoli, Samuel Fryer, Tola Poellot, and Alma Weise. The football team won three and lost six, but did manage to beat South Fayette 6 to 0. The superintendent of schools at this time was Mr. Liggett; his son William, who would be principal of BHS eighteen years later, was a student. A newspaper clipping of a 20 to 12 basketball loss to Carnegie has Alpheaus (Bud) Beall at forward. He was our neighbor on Lafayette Street in the late 1940s. A photograph of the 1930 high school band includes several faces that would be familiar to BHS students two decades later – Jane Patton and William Liggett.

Forty five seniors graduated in 1931. The football team again won three and lost six, despite the presence of Vic Vidoni. He went on to have an impressive career at Duquesne and then to play two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates (before they were renamed the Steelers). A newspaper clipping reported that Rooney had signed Vidoni to a healthy contract in 1936 for his final season; Vidoni’s employer had granted him a leave of absence to play football.

Also in this class were James Hoston, Charles (Buzz) Mayer, George Rittenhouse, and William Vosel.

Graduating classes continued to grow – in 1932 the class had grown to fifty five. It included William George, Ralph Host, Charles McCool, Arthur Partee, and Thomas Toney.  

The senior play that year was “Honor Bright”, starring Dorothy McMillen and Frank Corey. The football team went two and six that year, including a galling 3 to 0 loss to South Fayette.

An interesting clipping from the Pittsburgh Courier in 1932 reported that Clarence (Grinny) Simpson had signed a contract to play baseball for the Cleveland Giants in the Negro National League. The Giants had been the Columbus Blue Birds before moving to Cleveland.

Forty three seniors made up the graduating class in 1933. One of them was James McMahon, a name that also showed up in the 1932 list. Was this a mistake? Or were they two different persons? We are sure about one of the members of the class – Helen Colussy. Her daughter, Patti Grossi Gratton, brought her mother’s 1933 class ring to the workshop and proudly passed it around for inspection.

Another member was Elizabeth Strain, whom we knew as Lib Beall when she and the aforementioned Bud Beall were our neighbors. It is quite a treat to come across names of folks whom we knew in later years in these classes. Makes us want to know more about them.

It is also interesting to read about sports that we didn’t know Bridgeville participated in. In May 1933 a BHS volleyball team made it to the WPIAL playoffs at the University of Pittsburgh. I wish I knew more about that team. The same year coach John Graham took “crack high jumper Pete Bennett” to an interscholastic meet in Chicago. Several other clippings report that Bennett was indeed the class of the local track and field high school athletes.

The football team continued its streak of losing seasons, this time winning two and losing five. Fortunately Leetsdale and Findlay were victims, both by a score of 7 to 0.

We were surprised to turn up a newspaper clipping reporting that BHS teacher Miss Speakman had just returned from a trip to Europe. One wonders how a school teacher was able to afford a trip abroad at the height of the Depression. She was met in Pittsburgh by her father and “brought out in a machine”.

The roster of graduates in 1934 consists of an astounding eighty names, nearly double the total of the previous year. Our source for these lists is information in the 1960 Yearbook; it would be interesting to determine where they obtained the lists they published.

The May Queen in 1934 was Mary Elizabeth Vidoni. When she died, earlier this year, at the age of 100, her daughter, Marie Smith, gave the Historical Society a copy of the program for the coronation of the May Queen, the first ever at Bridgeville High School. She and her brother came from Ohio for this specific workshop.

The program is quite impressive and suggests that the coronation ceremony was much more formal than it became in later years. It is written in “olde English”. For example, “Ye Plaice of Coronacion is Ye Greate Hawle of Lincoln”. She was crowned by “Alma Mater”, Jane Patton, supported by “Ye Spirituall Tutour”, Catharine Vidoni, who was the Queen’s twin sister.

One puzzling thing is the fact that Mary Elizabeth Vidoni is not included in the class roster published in the 1960 Yearbook. Catherine Vidoni is listed, as is Giovanni Vidoni, who Marie thinks was a cousin.

The football team beat Bethel and East Pike that year, and was held scoreless in six other games. The soccer team lost the inaugural WPIAL soccer championship game to South Fayette, 3 to 2. The BHS center forward in that game was Peter Pawlik; his son Ron was at the workshop, hoping to learn more about his father. I was surprised to learn that BHS fielded a wrestling team that year. They were shut out by Canonsburg. The Bridgeville heavyweight, Wight, was pinned in two minutes and eight seconds. Perhaps that is why we didn’t have a wrestling team in the mid 1940s when Jack Wight was our primary coach.

“Once in a Palace” was the class play that year. Among the cast were Audley McFarland, Alice Weise, and Jack Skelly. The high school band provided music for the production.

We had promised Marie Smith we would get as far as 1934 if she and her brother made the long trip here for the workshop. We made it, just barely.

Our next workshop will be at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, September 12, 2017. We will pick up with 1934 and try to finish off the 1930s. This will move us into the Neil Brown era, when BHS’ results on the football field took a turn upward.

chool History, Part four

Alexander Fowler August 10, 2017

Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 10, 2017

Alexander Fowler

In a recent column regarding a 1797 map of Pennsylvania I mentioned my puzzlement about the term “Fowler’s” appearing on the east side of Chartiers Creek south of the present location of Bridgeville. The mystery has been solved by one of my ex-students at Pitt.

I was delighted to receive an email from Sonya Gray, a 2010 graduate from the University. She reported that she had found a copy of the column in my blog and, being “a bit of a local history and map nerd”, had decided to investigate my question.

She obviously is as good a historical researcher as she was a Civil Engineering student, finding a warrant for “Wingfield” assigned to Alexander Fowler in the Warrantee Atlas of Allegheny County in the plate for what is now Upper St. Clair Township. The location is north and east of the large meandering loop Chartiers Creek makes where Mayview formerly existed. The plot of land consisted of 402 acres.

The property directly north of “Wingfield” was warranted to Henry Evault and then transferred to Alexander Fowler, as “Fowler’s Grove. Its 344 acres extend along the east side of Chartiers Creek into what is now Bridgeville

Apparently Mr. Fowler at this point owned well over a square mile of property along the east side of Chartiers Creek, from the Washington Pike in Bridgeville all the way to Mayview. The portion of Bridgeville included all the land east of the Pike and south of Station Street.

Traditional Bridgeville history lists this land as belonging to Moses Coulter and passing eventually, in parcels, to John Herriott, John McDowell, and Samuel Collins. We presume that Mr. Coulter acquired it from Fowler early in the 1800s.

Lieutenant Alexander Fowler came to North America in 1767 as a member of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. Initially posted to Fort Pitt, the Regiment eventually went to the Illinois territory where Fowler served as commandant of the post at Kaskaskia.

When it became obvious that the dissatisfaction of the colonists with Mother England would eventually lead to war, Fowler elected to cast his lot with the Americans. He resigned from the army and became a citizen of our new country.

By 1793 he was operating the Wingfield Mills and Distillery. The mill consisted of two water wheels, two pairs of millstones, and a saw mill, all under one roof. Located “in the heart of wheat country, it was capable of manufacturing twenty barrels of superfine flour every twenty four hours”. The distillery included two stills with a combined capacity of twenty gallons of whiskey per day

By 1800 Fowler had been given command of the Allegheny Count Militia brigade and the rank of General.  He died in 1806.

Fowler appears to have functioned favorably in several significant public roles. I suspect he was the most important resident of what is now Upper St. Clair Township in the early days of our country.

I am grateful to Sonya Daley Gray for solving my mystery and introducing me to an intriguing person who certainly left his mark in the Chartiers Valley.

Family Vacation August 17, 2017

Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 17, 2017

Family Vacation

I am safely home from a family vacation in the Wild West. It began with a flight to Denver where my daughter Sara and my twelve year old grand-daughter Nora met me and drove me to their home in Fort Collins. The big excitement there was the appearance of Nora’s siblings, fifteen year old Ian and nine year old Claire in four performances of “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Ian was cast as Lazar Wolf, the village butcher whose arranged marriage to Tevya’s daughter Zeitel is scuttled. Adorned with a long gray beard he was a very credible sorehead once the wedding was called off. Claire performed as “Man number two”, a very active villager who was a significant participant in many of the group scenes. The entire production was quite impressive for a group of very young actors and actresses.

They took me to the airport for my flight on to Reno, then returned home to pack their van and begin the same trip in it (fifteen hours on the road!). My flight into Reno was about an hour ahead of one that my daughter Beth, her husband Mike, and thirteen year old daughter Rachael were on from Chicago. Once they arrived they rented a car and we drove to our destination, a “ski house” on Donner Lake, about forty five minutes away.

When our son John was living in San Francisco he was part of a group of young people who regularly rented a ski house so they could ski at Squaw Valley. Eventually he and another young man decided it would be better to build a house than to continue renting.

The house is on a narrow steep lot on the south side of Donner Lake and actually is within the jurisdiction of the community of Truckee, California. It contains six large bedrooms and can easily accommodate a dozen or fifteen people at a time. Its location on the lake makes it as attractive as a summer recreational spot as it is for winter sports.

Sara and Jim and their three children arrived right after lunch the next day. John was fifteen minutes behind them, having flown from China, via San Francisco. Unfortunately Victoria and Lai An were unable to accompany him.

The ski house has a captive fleet of three paddle boards and two kayaks, sufficient for everyone to get out on the water several times a day. Donner Lake is almost three miles long and three quarters of a mile wide at its maximum. It is a classic montane glacial lake. During the last ice age a glacier cut a narrow valley between two steep ridges and deposited a moraine at one end when it receded. The moraine created a dam that in turn created the lake. Its water is crystal clear and warm enough to permit swimming.

On several occasions we supplemented the paddle boards and kayaks by renting a powerboat and a three person tube that it can tow. Jim is a master skipper and was able to maneuver the boat skillfully so that the thrill (and challenge) of hanging onto the tube as it crisscrossed the boat’s wake was just right for the people on the tube at that specific time. We all concluded that he couldn’t go slow enough for me to venture onto the tube.

One day the family humored the feeble octogenarian railfan by taking a train ride on Amtrak. Sara drove John, Beth, me, and the four grandchildren west to Colfax,  a delightful little town about fifty miles west of Truckee. The Colfax Chamber of Commerce boasts that their town is in a perfect location, “above the fog and below the snow”. We had lunch at CafĂ© Luna and then went to the train station to await the eastbound California Zephyr.

A major feature in the station is an excellent museum and gift shop, operated by volunteers from the local historical society. Lots of interesting exhibits related to building the Central Pacific Railroad and to supporting gold mining and timbering in Sierra Nevadas.

Once the train arrived we immediately made our way to the Observation Car where we found two adjacent tables with excellent views in both directions. The current railroad follows the alignment the Central Pacific built one hundred and fifty years ago, an alignment later paralleled by the Lincoln Highway and eventually I-80. Leaving Colfax it takes an “S curve” to gain altitude at a practical grade, then runs along a ridge line just north of the north fork of the American River.

The canyon of the American River is spectacular and apparently is a popular destination for fishermen as well as for white water rafting and kayaking. It certainly is an area I’d like to explore in the future. Eventually the railroad goes through Emigrant Gap, the summit between the American River watershed and the Feather River watershed to the north. Before long it passes Soda Springs and approaches Donner Summit.

Originally the Central Pacific went through Number Six (also called Summit) Tunnel; the current alignment goes through a new tunnel to the south. Two summers ago we hiked through Number Six and located a letterbox at its eastern end. When the current route exits the tunnel it is high on the ridge above Donner Lake. It passes through a snow shed directly above the ski house.

Because the railroad is so much higher than Truckee village, it must negotiate a long horseshoe curve to descend. The curve actually begins inside a tunnel and extends several miles down one side of a valley before crossing it and returning on the other side. It comes into the village right on Main Street. Sara was there to retrieve us when we arrived. A wonderful trip – next time we will take Amtrak from Truckee to Reno.

The highest point visible from the ski house is Castle Peak, so named because from the south it does resemble towers on a castle. From our vantage point, south south east of the peak, however, it looks remarkably like Snoopy asleep on top of his dog house. We named it Snoopy Rock long before finding out its official name. I am waging a campaign to have the name changed.

Family vacations always involve board games. This time it was Risk, the Game of Life, and Sheriff of Nottingham. Risk and Life are well known games; Sheriff deserves equivalent popularity. It mimics a group of smugglers trying to get contraband goods through a customs inspector. Each player gets a chance at being inspector of the other four players’ goods. Consequently it depends heavily on bluffing. Age and wisdom are no advantage – Claire was better at it than I was.

Dinner on the upper deck of the ski house, in the summer, is always a treat. The chefs bring the meal up from the kitchen on an elevator. Beth commented that the deck was one of her personal favorite places for a family meal. We also have a couple of favorite family restaurants in Truckee village. One is “Jax at the Tracks”. It began as an authentic diner, one that was transported from Pennsylvania to California, and has been expanded. A meal there is never complete unless a long freight train goes by while we are eating.

Smokey’s Kitchen is another favorite, a local barbeque venue. We had our farewell supper there on Sunday, after which Sara’s family left for their long drive home. The next morning the rest of us got up at 3:00 am and drove to the Reno airport. John and I were on the same flight to Denver and enjoyed sitting together. Beth’s family left a few minutes later on a flight to Chicago. John and I separated in Denver. He went on to New York, while I came home.

It was wonderful to be able to spend so much time with my family. It was our first trip to the ski house since my wife died; we all miss her terribly. Travelling is always a treat, but I still endorse the sentiment on a sampler Nan’s Aunt Gladys made as a child – “East, West, Home’s Best”.