Thursday, December 29, 2016

Skip Colussy December 29, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

December 29, 2016

Skip Colussy

Curtis Copeland Jr. did a fine job convincing us that his father was indeed “Bridgeville’s Favorite Son”; the passing of Skip Colussy has me wondering if there is room for more than one person to claim that distinction.

I was three years behind Skip at Bridgeville High School, a Freshman when he was a Senior. I remember being particularly impressed that someone I knew was on the football team. His mother sponsored some sort of youth group at the Bethany Church, and we occasionally met at the Colussy home, so it was easy for me to consider Skip a friend.

The expression “easy for me to consider Skip a friend” could be his epitaph. Throughout his long, productive life he was typified by his easy going manner, his constant grin, and his inherent capability of making everyone feel he was their friend.

Skip went off to W and J after high school and then into the Army for a tour of duty in Korea. Upon his return from military service he married Virginia Keefner and went to work in the family business, Colussy Motor Company. In 1968 he took over the business from his father and shepherded its transition into one of the largest auto dealerships in the area. He was certainly the antithesis to our stereotype automobile salesman. Skip retired in 2000, turning the business over to his sons Tim and Jonathan.

Virginia was the perfect mate for Skip, his soulmate for fifty nine years until her death in 2012. She was a great lady and the perfect matriarch for that branch of the Colussy clan. I knew her when the Keefners first moved to Bridgeville and she became part of our Bethany clique. In fact I believe I took her to her first formal dance at Bridgeville High School. I remember feeling overwhelmed that my date for this affair was this beautiful, gracious young lady.

Folks of our generation are well aware of the popularity of nicknames in those days. I suspect a lot of people would have difficulty remembering that Skip had been named for his grandfather, Louis, and I am not sure he would have responded automatically if someone had addressed him as Louis.

There is a theory that the nickname Skip refers to a skipped generation, a situation like this one in which a grandson inherits his grandfather’s name rather than his father’s. It does seem logical.

Among the poignant photographs and artifacts at the funeral home for Skip’s viewing was a manikin dressed in an Army Sergeant’s uniform. The campaign ribbons were familiar to me. At the time Skip was coming home, I was going into the service and eventually ended up in the Far East. Although the cease-fire in Korea had occurred, those of us with cushy assignments in Japan still qualified for the same campaign ribbons.

Skip’s Korean service ribbon, however, also included three battle stars. I have no knowledge of his experience in Koran during the war; legitimate service heroes are consistently reticent about such events. According to the “News Obituary”, Skip ran a motor pool in Korea. I suspect there is a more significant story behind those three battle stars.

After his active retirement from the auto agency Skip continued his service to Bridgeville, including a term on the Borough Council. I was fortunate to have considerable contact with him related to his involvement in the Bridgeville Area Historical Society. His chairmanship of the Society’s Board of Directors brought a much needed business perspective to a struggling non-profit organization.

The last time I saw Skip was at the “Second Tuesday” workshop on the Greenwood neighborhood. We will miss his cheerful demeanor and relevant comments.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas at the Neville House December 22, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

December 22, 2016

Woodville Plantation

I have been aware of the Neville House since I was a child and have visited it many times since it became available to the general public. Nonetheless I seldom pass up the opportunity to go there. Their pre-Christmas Open House this year, “Christmas through the Centuries” was such an opportunity.

Originally constructed in the late nineteenth century, it is now known as Woodville Plantation and is owned and maintained by a non-profit volunteer organization, the Neville House Associates, as “a living history museum”.

John Neville purchased a block of land “five miles from Fort Pitt” in 1774; he became commandant at Fort Pitt (then known as Fort Dunmore) the following year. Construction of the house, then called Woodville, began at this time. It is believed that the original house was square, twenty five feet on a side, the part of the house that makes up the dining room and the middle hallway and stairs.

The kitchen was a separate building beyond the south wall. Eventually the space between it and the main house was enclosed, and an extension (the current parlor) added to the north wall. Associated with the house were numerous outbuildings and a beehive oven. The Nevilles occupied the house until 1814 when it was sold to Christopher Cowan for $14,000.

In 1835 Mary Ann Cowan Wrenshall inherited the house following her father’s death. Her ancestors occupied it until 1975, when it was acquired by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and opened to the public as a museum, and eventually transferred to the Neville House Associates.

The pre-Christmas Open House was structured to demonstrate the evolution of Christmas celebrations in this area in the early days. The parlor was sparsely decorated with a few sprigs of greenery on the mantle and on the pianoforte, as was typical of English society in the 1780s. Christmas was still treated as a solemn, sacred holiday, although Virginians like the Nevilles were prone to use it as an excuse for dinners and dancing.

The docent entertained us visitors by singing a carol, accompanied by the pianoforte, then illustrated a simple formal dance of the time. We were pleased to see that the pianist was an old friend, “Kiki” Barley, the director of the Pittsburgh Music Academy and the summer music camp my grand-daughter has attended.

Our next stop was the hallway, where a small German inspired table-top Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) decorated with gingerbread men and paper chains signaled the gradual transition from the earlier Puritan approach that occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The dining room illustrated the traditions of the Victorian era, with a full-size floor mounted tree ringed with strings of popcorn and cranberries, overseeing a modest collection of old-fashioned toys beneath it, awaiting the arrival of the younger children in the family. The table settings were both formal and elegant, as was the custom of the time.

Our tour continued to the kitchen and its extremely impressive collection of colonial era cookware. Cooking over an open fire in a very large fireplace must have been a challenging task.    

Finally we went outdoors and entered the Still House, a reconstructed outbuilding whose walls are covered with relevant artwork and historic artifacts. I was particularly interested in a framed map that was inaccessible at the time. Later, when I inquired about it, I was advised that I could inspect it close up the next time I visited the Neville House.

I took advantage of this offer the following Sunday afternoon and was greeted by a very courteous lady, Susan O’Toole. With her blessing, I conducted my own tour of the Still House and was pleased to find that the framed document was actually an original survey of some of the land in that vicinity. The map clearly shows “the Washington Turnpike” from the bridge at the north end of Bridgeville to another bridge over Chartiers Creek at the northern end of Heidelberg.

When I returned to the office, I inquired about paying for a tour and explained that I was planning to write a column about the Neville House. “That isn’t necessary” she advised me before producing an admission sticker and writing “Press” on it. I have retained my Press pass and will attempt to exploit this special privilege in the future.

Our visit to “Christmas through the Centuries” was an appropriate demonstration of the evolution of customs for this wonderful holiday. I do wonder however how the early settlers in this region who were from Germany celebrated Christmas in the late eighteenth century. I suspect the Lesnetts and the Hickmans had Christmas trees and that their children looked forward for visits from Belsnickel and Saint Nicholas, even though their gifts were modest.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Curtis Copeland December 15, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

December 15, 2016

Curtis Copeland

A record crowd turned out for the Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s November program meeting, confirming Curtis Copeland. Jr.’s assertion that his father was indeed “Bridgeville’s Favorite Son”. Although his presentation focused on Curtis Copeland, Sr.’s experience in the Korean War and the influence it had on his later life, it necessarily covered the entire life of this remarkable man.

Curtis was a year ahead of me in high school, graduating in 1948 and entering an adult world that was not particularly welcoming to a young African American boy. The economy was weak and jobs were hard to come by. I remember playing softball behind the high school with a group of young men who sarcastically described it as “the Unemployment League”.

Although the rest of us weren’t especially aware of it, there were still many areas in which African Americans were not treated as equals in those days, even in Bridgeville. My brother has a vivid memory of our father coming home one evening and being visibly upset because he had just learned that “a black man can’t be served in a restaurant in Bridgeville!”

Another ominous occurrence in 1948 was the escalation of the Cold War and the growing realization that there might well be another “shooting war” in the near future. The Soviets had blockaded Berlin and we had responded with the Berlin Airlift and the resumption of the draft, requiring compulsory service in the Army.

Faced with this environment an eighteen year-old Curtis Copeland elected to enlist in the U. S. Navy. After the normal routine of basic training, he was trained as an Operating Room Technician and earned the rating of Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class. When the Korean War broke out, June 25, 1950, he was given a cram course in triage and assigned to the First Marine Division as a battlefield medic.

The First Marine Division had an exemplary record in World War II, especially in the Guadalcanal, Pelieu, and Okinawa campaigns. They continued this performance in Korea, initially in the Pusan Perimeter, then in the Inchon invasion and the drive north to the Chosin Reservoir, and ultimately in the heavy fighting around the 38th Parallel. In this conflict their casualties were 4004 dead, including 108 medics, and over 25,000 wounded.

Like most servicemen who have been involved in wartime combat, Curtis was reluctant to discuss his experiences with his family – only a few episodes were ever mentioned, but they were sufficient to clearly communicate the incredible horror of war.

The speaker began his presentation by recounting his father’s numerous accomplishments in the Bridgeville community after he came home, in an effort to justify the “Favorite Son” appellation, an un-necessary effort and a classic example of “preaching to the choir”. He then postulated that the character traits that his father consistently demonstrated were the consequence of three factors – his upbringing in a highly functional family, his Christian faith, and his Navy training and battlefield experience in Korea.

It is easy to agree with this proposition, but I would like to consider an additional factor. When his service was over and he was about to re-enter civilian life, he met a very special lady in New England and somehow managed to persuade her to marry him and return to Bridgeville with him.

When my wife was working in Bridgeville for the Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind, she was responsible for identifying appropriate candidates for rehabilitation and facilitating their entry into the Guild’s program.  At some point she established a relationship with an agency in the Virgin Islands which resulted in a series of young adventitiously blinded Virgin Islanders coming to Bridgeville.

There is a significant psychological component to rehabilitation of visually handicapped persons, and she was justifiably concerned about the additional complications of introducing young black persons into an unfamiliar environment dominated by white folks. Almost immediately she reported she had a solution – “I’ll just call the Copelands!”

Eventually I realized “the Copelands” were Curtis and his wife Betty and that her problem was indeed in good hands. As volunteers at the Guild they were a powerful resource, always ready to take on any assignment without question. Their ability to make these frightened young trainees feel at home in a foreign environment was a major factor in the success of their rehabilitation.

I suspect Curtis’ “better half” was another major factor in forging his character. Betty is equally well known for her service to the community, whether it be neighborhood, church, or the Library. I am a firm believer in the synergy of a true marriage, its ability to be much more effective than the sum of the two individuals in it. Curtis and Betty Copeland are a perfect example of this concept.

The audience was duly appreciative of Curtis Jr.’s presentation and grateful to him for his sharing his perceptions of his father, indeed Bridgeville’s Favorite Son.

The next program in the Society’s series will be presented at 1:30 pm on Sunday, January 29, 2017, in the Chartiers Room at the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, on Commercial Street. Dr. Jack Aupperle will discuss World War II naval hero, Admiral William Halsey. The public is welcome, as always.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps December 8, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

December 8, 2016

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps –1924 and 1931

Dana Spriggs has been a major contributor of artifacts to the Bridgeville Area Historical Society since its earliest days. Most recently he sent us full size copies of the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for Bridgeville for 1907, 1913, 1924, and 1931. Produced primarily as a source of information for insurance companies, these large scale (one inch equals 100 feet) maps are sufficiently detailed to provide a wealth of information on our community in those years. We already had the 1907 and 1913 maps, but the two later ones are brand new to us and are extremely well appreciated.

The 1924 map shows a movie theater (“the Old Show”) on Station Street; the Rankin Theater (“the New Show”) on Washington Avenue has arrived by the 1931 map. Actually the earlier map still labels Station Street as Foster Street. Up the hill from the Old Show is a building identified as “Tailor”. In 1913 the J. H. Rankin store had been called a haberdasher’s.

Panizza’s  soft drinks bottling works is shown on Washington Avenue, a new arrival since the 1913 map. A dance hall is shown on Hickman Street, next door to an auto repair facility and a large garage on the corner with Washington Avenue. The 1931 map shows an auto sales facility in the building which had housed the dance hall, signaling the end of the Roaring Twenties, no doubt.

I was surprised to see two buildings adjacent to Washington School in 1924, each identified as “portable school rooms”.  By 1931 Lincoln High School had been built and put into operation on Gregg Avenue, but there still is shown one portable school room on the Washington School property.

The 1913 map shows two manufacturing facilities in the Coulter Street vicinity. The Frederick-Elder Company, “Manufacturers of Metal Specialties”, was located across Coulter from (then) St. Agatha’s Roman Catholic Church. By 1924 the site was described as “Fire Ruins”. The 1931 map shows a swimming pool (Crystal) at that location.

Similarly the 1913 map shows the Standard Steel Box Company across Villars (now an extension of Hickman Street) adjacent to the railroad. On the 1924 map the building is identified as “Vacant Factory”. Nothing is shown on that site on the 1931 map. These sequential maps provide an excellent opportunity for us to track the changes in every neighborhood.

Despite our interest in other things on the maps, it is still interesting to note the comments regarding fire safety scattered throughout them. The Mayer Building on the corner of Washington Avenue and Station Street includes a bakery on the Station Street side. It includes a notation “with portable oven”, an obvious reminder of a potential fire hazard.

Each of the maps includes coverage of the industrial facilities in nearby Collier Township – the C. P. Mayer Brick Company, the General Electric Glass Plant, Flannery Bolt, the Vanadium Corporation, and Universal Steel Corporation. For the General Electric facility the maps state “day and night watchman, approved auto sprinkler system, etc.” Interestingly, the Universal plant is described as “Admittance refused, no insurance”.

For the first time, the 1924 map includes a full page with considerable detail on Mayview, which is called “City of Pittsburgh Poor Farm”. Even more detail is shown on the 1931 map, with the name now becoming “Pittsburgh City Home and Hospitals”.

By 1924 Baldwin Street had been completely developed, although very few of the businesses there are identified, probably because they were store fronts in residences. One would think that that information would have valuable to insurance companies. The original St. George’s church on McLaughlin Run Road is designated “Syrian School”. There is no building on that site on the 1913 map; the one there on the 1931 map is unidentified. I was surprised to see the area between Greenwood and Baldwin Street described as “steep hillside”, a rare mention of topography.

It is also interesting to trace the evolution of street names during the years between 1913 and 1931. Today’s Bower Hill Road was Painters Run Road in 1913, at least as far as its intersection with (today’s) McLaughlin Run Road. The portion of today’s Bower Hill Road from Washington avenue to that intersection was known as the McKeysport and Noblestown Road, which then turned right and followed today’s McLaughlin Run Road to today’s Ridge Road, then went up that route and on to McMillan Road. This dates back to the original route of Noble’s Trace two hundred years ago.

By 1931 the borough had expanded south as far as Elizabeth Street where twelve houses had been built, as well as four on Chartiers Street. The Weise homestead is shown on that map as well as the Godwin greenhouse complex farther out Mayview Road.

Another gem on the 1931 is the depiction of the Board Speedway between Chartiers Creek and Millers Run Road. The one-half mile track is clearly shown, as well as grandstands and bleachers and the “Contribution Building”. A surprise to me was the fact that, inside the auto track, the facility boasted a quarter-mile dog track and kennels.

When I mentioned the dog track to my octogenarian friends, both Sam Capozzoli and Don Toney reported that they remembered it well. I suppose I can attribute this to the fact that they are both native born Bridgeville boys, while I didn’t immigrate here until 1934.

These four sets of maps are invaluable resources for all of us who are interested in Bridgeville history and are a welcome addition to the History Center’s archives. We are indebted to Dana Spriggs for providing them.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Kentuck Knob December 1, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

December 1, 2016

Kentuck Knob

Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater has long been a treasured asset of this region and a “must-see” destination for visitors here.  Recently a second Wright showplace, Kentuck Knob, has become available for public tours. Located near Chalk Hill on Route 40, east of Uniontown, it was constructed in the late 1950s and has been lovingly maintained ever since.

The I. N. Hagan family, of Uniontown, were close friends of the Edgar Kaufmann family and frequently visited them at Fallingwater. Through the Kaufmanns they were able to interest Mr. Wright in designing a deluxe Usonian house for them on a beautiful 80 acres site overlooking the Conemaugh Gorge.

Despite being heavily involved in designing the Guggenheim Museum the eighty six year old architect accepted the commission and produced another remarkable design, despite seeing the site only briefly during construction.

Wright coined the term Usonian to describe a concept of simple affordable homes constructed of local materials and being an integral part of their surroundings. His goal, in 1936, was to design a house with a floor plan of 1200 square feet that could be built for $6,000. Twenty years later the Hagans’ deluxe version cost $96,000 and provided 2300 square feet of floor space.

For cost comparison, in 1937 Jim Wallace designed and Sam Barzan built our house on Lafayette Street for $5,700. In 1964 my wife and I purchased a very respectable three bedroom house in Mt. Lebanon for $18,500. I suspect $96,000 would have put us in Virginia Manor in those days.

The Hagans enjoyed Kentuck Knob for thirty years before selling it to an English Lord, Peter Palumbo in 1986. Fortunately he has followed the English concept of historic property management by making the house available for public tours.

We had an excellent guide on our recent tour of Kentuck Knob, a young lady who was extremely knowledgeable and courteously patient with all of our questions. What a difference that makes in any tour!

The Hagans originally wanted their house to be located on the summit of Kentuck Knob; Wright insisted on building it into the hillside. He wanted it to be “of the hill, not on the hill”. His vision was vindicated by the final result.

The house consists of two low-roofed wings, meeting at a taller hexagonal central core. The wings are not at right angles to each other; in fact our guide challenged us to find any corner in the house that was at right angles. The core itself enclosed the kitchen. It was not a regular hexagon; I measured one side at nine and a half feet, an adjacent one at twelve feet. The architect was never bothered by orthodoxy.

A flat roof extended, again at an obtuse angle, from one wing, covering spaces for parking vehicles. Our guide informed us that Mr. Wright had coined the term, “carport”. She also showed us a small enclosed room in that wing that had been designed as a studio for Mrs. Hagan, an amateur painter. When she realized it had no windows at all, it was converted into a storage room.

The walls are constructed of Pottsville sandstone, layered in such a fashion that it suggests the natural strata of the rocks in the hillside. Grantsville flagstones make up the floor, with hot water pipes below them providing radiant heating. The woodwork throughout is tidewater red cypress, an exception to the architect’s preference for local building materials. After all, this has been designated deluxe.

One wing is dedicated to living space and features windows along one wall, providing a marvelous view down the hillside. The opposite wall has a continuous bench along it and clerestory windows high above eye level, to provide natural lighting.  The wing is filled with different Wright designed furniture, including a chair from the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and a Mission style sofa from his famous Prairie House.

A particularly attractive feature of the house is the deck running the length of this wing, covered by an overhang from the roof, filled with open hexagonal skylights. The integration of interior spaces with the natural outdoor environment reaches its peak here. At the end of the deck there is a seamless transition to a beautiful flagstone patio, backed by a small waterfall.

The architect originally designed the end wall of this wing to be solid, a decision to which Mrs. Hagan objected, wanting to be able to see the long driveway leading up to the house, so she could anticipate the arrival of visitors. Wright compromised by adding an “invisible window”, a sheet of glass with no mullions nor frame. The result is the appearance that there is an unglazed opening in the wall.

The other wing contains an expansive master bedroom and a second bedroom used by the Hagans’ son. Wright had intended to limit the ceiling in the bedrooms to six feet, but relented when he learned the son’s height was six feet, three inches. Apparently the master architect mellowed when he became an octogenarian; he made numerous concessions to the Hagans’ wishes.

The dining room is adjacent to the central core and is also hexagonal. It too has the advantage of the marvelous view to the southeast through the extension of the deck. When the Hagans acquired the property it was mostly open farm land. They planted thousands of seedlings which have become a very impressive forest.

It is interesting to compare and contrast Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob and wonder how much Mr. Wright’s philosophies changed in the twenty years separating their construction. The Hagans’ house is certainly seems much more livable, while Fallingwater seems more like a monument, “a great place to visit, but….”.

At any rate we are quite fortunate to have both these treasures in our region; a visit to Kentuck Knob can be quite rewarding.

Sergeant Santo Magliocca November 24, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

November 24, 2016

Staff Sergeant Santo Magliocca

This month’s presentation in the Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s “Second Tuesday” series was a salute to the Greatest Generation and World War II, in honor of Veterans Day. It was held a day late because the focus of the program, ninety-one year old ex-B 24 ball turret gunner Staff Sergeant Santo Magliocca, was busy on Election Day, working at the polls.

The program began with a brief discussion of the contribution of the Greatest Generation, both at home and at the front, during the War. Then Joe Oyler summarized a small part of his book “Almost Forgotten” by recognizing the ten local airmen who lost their lives in that conflict. He then reprised the story of the three Bridgeville neighbors who were shot down in separate engagements and ended up together in the same Prisoner of War camp – George Shady and George Abood (who were cousins), and Peter Calabro.

Then the facilitator began to relate the experiences of Sergeant Magliocca, who grew up in the Cubbage Hill neighborhood of Carnegie, graduated from Carnegie High School in 1943, and enlisted in the Air Force. At this point Sergeant Magliocca was asked to elaborate on his training before going overseas. The audience was rewarded with a verbatim description of his very exciting experience.

After rigorous Basic Training he was sent to Clemson College for specialized training, where one of his fellow cadets was Ed Schneider, an equally young airman from Bridgeville. Sergeant Magliocca’s next stop was armament school where he was trained to be a gunner and eventually assigned as a crewman on a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. Next came an ocean cruise on a Liberty Ship, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

In early December 1944 he and his crew found themselves as part of the 727th Squadron of the 451st Bombardment Group at the Castellucci airstrip, which was part of the massive complex of the Fifteenth Air Force centered in Foggia, Italy. Part of a ten man crew of a plane they nicknamed “Sloppy But Safe”, his job was to man a pair of fifty caliber machine guns in a ball turret lowered down from the underside of the fuselage once the plane was airborne.

Their baptism of fire came quickly, a difficult mission to Obertal, Germany. The audience was interested to see that his log of his twenty one missions – their destination and date – was recorded on two pieces of Army money. Obertal was heavily defended with anti-aircraft guns and enemy fighter planes; he and his unseasoned colleagues were startled to see B-24’s hit and explode on either side of them.

Sergeant Magliocca apparently did a good job of fending off fighters attacking the underside of his plane, but eventually one of their four engines was damaged so severely that it became useless, requiring them to start the flight home at a greatly reduced speed. The rest of the formation had to leave them behind, at the mercy of the enemy fighters.

Just when everything looked hopeless, the pilot excitedly announced “Here come three red-tails to escort us!”  These were Tuskegee Airmen, in distinctively marked North American P-51 Mustangs, easily a match for the enemy aircraft. Sergeant Magliocca chuckled and said he was always tempted to give a Tuskegee Airman a hug any time he saw one after that.

It is impossible for us to imagine the horror of assignments like that. According to the history of the 451st Bombardment Group, they lost 135 planes on a total of 215 missions. Imagine going off on a mission with forty other planes and realizing that one of them probably would not make it back. Sergeant Magliocca reported that after that first mission his crew was convinced they would never survive the necessary twenty five missions and make it home.

Fortunately he and his crew-mates did successfully get through twenty more missions safely before the end of the war in Europe brought an end to their commitment. Sergeant Magliocca shared these experiences with the audience as well as his adventures on leave trying to locate his parents’ relatives in Italy, and his flight home via Casablanca, Marrakech, the Azores, and Newfoundland. The audience was duly appreciative of his service.

Although the B-24 was indeed the work-horse of the Air Force, it never achieved the popularity with the public than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress reached. The B-17 was more stream-lined, had a low wing in contrast with the B-24’s high wing, had a better knick-name, and apparently received much better publicity from print and radio journalists.

In reality the two planes were quite comparable. Both had a payload of eight thousand pounds of bombs. Because of the difference in design of the wings, the B-17 had a significantly higher service altitude, at the expense of its service speed being significantly lower than the B-24. Eighteen thousand B-24’s were produced during the War, compared to twelve thousand B-17’s.

It certainly was appropriate for the Society to honor our veterans during the days leading up to Veterans Day, and Sergeant Magliocca was certainly an appropriate representative of the Greatest Generation. Our gratitude to him and to them is boundless.

Next month we plan to get back on our standard “Second Tuesday” schedule by meeting at the History Center at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, December 13, 2016. Our subject will be the C. P. Mayer Brick Company, with almost certainly diversions into Mr. Mayer’s life and our hobby of brick collecting.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mason Dixon Line November 17, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

November 17, 2016

Mason Dixon Line

On another lovely Autumn Saturday I drove to “the Original Mason-Dixon Historical Park”, in Core, West Virginia, to participate in a short hike to the point where surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon crossed Dunkard Creek for the third time, prior to ending their monumental survey at the peak of nearby Brown’s Hill.

The park is jointly owned by Monongalia County, West Virginia, and Greene County, Pennsylvania. This particular event was the 249th anniversary of the termination of their survey; there are plans to have a major festival next year to celebrate the milestone anniversary.

Finding the Park was an adventure. I had no difficulty going down I-79 and getting into Mt. Morris. There are only five ways to get out of the village – it took me three false starts to find the one that led to the Park. The effort was worthwhile.

We have written several columns previously regarding the Mason-Dixon Line survey, but a brief summary is still relevant. The necessity for the survey was a long-standing dispute between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland regarding the location of the border between them.

The misunderstanding occurred because of ambiguities in the charters originally given to the Penns and Calverts, proprietors of the respective colonies. The Crown’s basis for awarding charters was a map produced years earlier (1612) by John Smith, which indicated that the latitude of the northern end of Chesapeake Bay to be forty degrees. The current latitude is about thirty  nine and a half degrees – an error of about thirty five miles.

In 1681 King Charles I granted a charter to William Penn granting him land described as "The said Lands to extend westwards five degrees in longitude, to bee computed from the said Easterne Bounds”. Based on Smith’s map, the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania (Easterne Bounds) was defined as being the intersection of the fortieth parallel and a circular arc with its center in New Castle, Delaware, and a radius of twelve miles.  Since the fortieth parallel is much farther than twelve miles north of New Castle, the two lines never meet.

In fact, when a proper survey was finally made, it turned out that the fortieth parallel actually passed through Philadelphia, the large city that Penns had constructed, assuming it was well within their territory. The dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland continued for many years until the parties settled on a compromise, an east-west line at a latitude fifteen miles south of the southernmost building in Philadelphia.

This line would indeed intersect the arc defining Delaware’s boundary with Pennsylvania, which had never been correctly surveyed. Eventually the proprietors hired Mason and Dixon to bring a kit of “leading edge” astronomical and surveying tools from England and perform a survey that would settle the issue permanently.  They arrived on November 15, 1763 and immediately went to work. My son John reminded me that this journey has been commemorated by Mark Knopfler’s song “Sailing to Philadelphia”.

Mason was the assistant to Royal Astronomer James Bradley at the Greenwich Observatory, a skilled astronomer. Dixon was an accomplished surveyor who had worked with Mason before, on an aborted effort to record a transit of Venus across the sun, in Sumatra. In addition to surveying instruments and astronomical telescopes, their equipment included a precision chronometer based on the clock developed by John Harrison, the heralded winner of Parliament’s 20,000 pounds prize for conquering the challenge of determining longitude.

Their first task was to resolve confusion regarding Delaware’s boundary with Maryland. They then precisely established the latitude of the southernmost point in Philadelphia. Next they surveyed a line due west thirty one miles to Embreeville, Pennsylvania, where they established an observatory and set a reference stone, eventually dubbed “the Stargazer’s Stone”; it is still in existence.

From there they surveyed due south fifteen miles and established the correct latitude of the Mason-Dixon Line (39 degrees, 43 minutes, 17.4 seconds). They then proceeded to survey an east-west line by laying out a series of chords of a great circle comprising ten minutes of arc (about twelve miles long) intersecting the parallel. At the end of each chord, astronomical observations were made to determine the true position of the parallel.

The survey of “the West Line” began on April 5, 1765.By early October they had surveyed about 117 miles and had passed Conococheague Creek in what is now Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At this point they retraced their route eastward, establishing correct boundary posts on the parallel.

Surveying began again in early April 1766, following the same procedure. They proceeded up and over South Mountain, North Mountain, Sideling Hill, and Great Warrior Mountain, reaching the 165 milepost before returning east to set boundary posts and perform some additional surveying in Delaware. A note in their journal reports that they had passed the narrowest part of Maryland, with the Potomac River only a mile and a half south of the parallel.

Surveying in 1767 was delayed until July 13, mostly because of concern regarding permission from the Iroquois to proceed west. At this point they were joined by eleven Mohawks, three Onondagas, and interpreter Hugh Crawford. They reached the top of Savage Mountain (Allegheny) at 168 miles and Braddock’s Road at 189 miles.

By September they had crossed the Youghiogheny River, Cheat River, and the Monongahela River, each of which was shallow enough to wade across. On October 9 they were advised by the leader of their Indian escort that they had reached the limit of the area controlled by the Iroquois and that they should now turn back, lest they anger the Shawnee and Delaware Indians who controlled the lands to the West,

Mason and Dixon concluded their survey at the top of Brown’s Hill, just beyond Mile Post 233 on October 15, took astronomical readings there, and made the necessary corrections. They then turned back eastward and concentrated on setting boundary posts at the correct locations. The next summer the two surveyors stayed in the colonies until September, performing research on the dimensions of the earth on behalf of the Royal Society.

The coordinator of the event was an enthusiastic volunteer named Peter Zapadka. He gave a brief summary of the Mason-Dixon Survey, focusing primarily on their activities at its western extremity, then led us on a short walk to the point where the line crossed Dunkard Creek for the final time. We were accompanied by Doug Wood, a Native American re-enactor portraying a Cherokee brave named Ostenaco.

When we reached the meadow adjacent to Dunkard Creek, Ostenaco was hailed by four other re-enactors led by Don Robey, portraying a Delaware chief named Tingooqua. This quickly attracted my attention, as I knew Tingooqua as Catfish, for whom Catfish Camp and the Catfish Path were named. The additional information I gained from this experience will be the subject of a future column.

The encounter with the Delawares was a simulation of a real meeting between the Delawares and the Mason-Dixon party two hundred and forty nine years ago, a meeting which probably contributed to the decision to terminate the survey at Brown’s Hill.

The 250th anniversary celebration next October is a project that deserves our support. It promises to be educational as well as entertaining, featuring re-enactments of the surveying operation as well as their contact with the Native Americans, demonstrations of surveying and astronomical procedures and equipment of the time period, and the usual complement of food and vendor booths,

All told, it was an excellent experience in a lovely setting on a perfect Autumn day. A friend of mine, Norm Voigt, who is a legitimate expert on the history of surveying, had joined me at the Park. Afterwards we drove back into Mt. Morris where we had lunch at a delightful restaurant, Rising Creek Bakery.   



Stephen Collins Foster November 10, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

November 10, 2016

Stephen Collins Foster

The October program meeting for the Bridgeville Area Historical Society was an extremely entertaining discussion of the life and works of Stephen Collins Foster by Kathryn Haines, Associate Director of the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

Foster was born in the Lawrenceville area of Pittsburgh on July 4, 1826, coincidentally the day on which both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. Although his father was a prominent citizen of the city, by the time Stephen, the youngest of their ten children, was born, the family’s economic status was modest, at best.

He was a self-taught musical prodigy, who quickly became proficient playing the clarinet, violin, guitar, flute and piano. He was helped in his effort to become a composer by his contact with Henry Kleber, a classically trained musician who operated a local music store. He was educated at several local academies and at Jefferson College in Canonsburg.

In 1846, at the age of twenty, Foster moved to Cincinnati, where he took a job as a book-keeper at his brother’s steamship company.  There he began to write successful songs, including “Oh Susannah”, which quickly became the theme song for the California Gold Rush. In 1849, one of his songs, "Nelly Was a Lady" was included in a collection he published entitled “Foster's Ethiopian Melodies”.

It had been popularized by the Christy Minstrels, the most successful touring minstrel show of the time. Foster returned to Pittsburgh in 1850 and signed a contract to provide songs for the Christy Minstrels, an effort that produced, among others, “Camptown Races”, “Old Folks at Home”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, “Old Dog Tray”, and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”.

In 1860 he moved to New York where he collaborated with lyricist George Cooper on a series of successful songs until his untimely death in 1864 at the age of thirty seven, from an unidentified fever. Nonetheless he is credited with 286 compositions, an impressive total for such a short career. “Beautiful Dreamer”, published posthumously, was one of his most beloved compositions.

As a youth Foster was influenced by the music of the Scots-Irish, German, and Italian residents of his Lawrenceville neighborhood. His first published song “Open Thy Lattice Love” was released in 1844, when he was eighteen years old. Unfortunately the lack of copyright protection made it very difficult for a songwriter to receive adequate reimbursement for his efforts. Included in the artifacts on display at the Foster Memorial Museum is the purse he was carrying when he died – it contained thirty eight cents!

His output was quite varied. At the same time he was writing drinking songs, he also turned out several supporting the temperance movement. In addition to the minstrel songs, he produced a large number of church hymns. Although his subject matter frequently dealt with life in the Deep South, the only time he ever visited the South was a honeymoon trip on one of his brother’s steamships to New Orleans.

Most remarkable is Foster’s legacy as the first American songwriter. His music has survived and continues to be popular today. In many foreign countries it is considered as America’s true folk music.

His music inspired major classical composers. When Antonin Dvorak made his well-known trip to this country, he was so impressed with “Old Folks at Home” that he wrote his own arrangement of it. Beloved American composer Charles Ives wove Foster melodies into many of his works.

The immortality of Foster’s work is well illustrated by the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” just prior to the running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs each year, an occasion that “brings tears to the eyes” of all present.

A curious revival of Foster’s music occurred in the first ten months of 1941 when NBC and CBS boycotted ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, following a dispute over royalties, and played only music that was in the public domain. Time Magazine reported that “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” was played so many times that “her hair turned grey!”

The speaker also discussed the Stephen Collins Foster Memorial and its history. In 1927 University of Pittsburgh Chancellor John Bowman and the Tuesday Musical Club, an organization of affluent female musicians, agreed to collaborate on the construction of a performance hall dedicated to Foster. It was to be located adjacent to the Cathedral of Learning, then in early stages of construction.

At that time retired pharmaceutical businessman, Josiah Kirby Lilly, was busy pursuing his passion – the collection of artifacts from Foster’s career. Learning of the University’s plans in 1932 he decided to house his collection in the new Memorial and provided substantial funding towards its construction. It was completed in 1937 and has been a significant cultural asset ever since.

Designed by Charles Klauder, the architect of the Cathedral of Learning, the memorial is a handsome complement to its famous neighbor. It too is steel-framed and faced with Indiana Limestone. It houses two performance theaters, the Stephen Collin Foster Memorial Museum, and the home for the University’s Center for American Music.

The centerpiece of the museum is the magnificent Lilly collection, which consists of over 10,000 items -- original manuscripts, copies of over 200 compositions, recordings, and several of Foster’s instruments, including his piano. Again we have been blessed with another remarkable historical asset in our area.

The Society’s November program meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at 7:30 PM in the Chartiers Room, Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, Commercial Street. The subject will be Curtis Copeland, Sr., Favorite Son of Bridgeville”, presented by his son, Curtis Copeland, Jr.



Meadowcroft Village November 3, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

November 3, 2016

Meadowcroft Village

We visited Meadowcroft Village and Rockshelter on a lovely autumn afternoon, attracted initially by the fact that they were supplementing their normal programs with a special re-enactment of Native American life in this area three or four centuries ago.    

Our first stop was the atlatl demonstration. The atlatl is a spear-thrower, a custom designed tool that uses leverage to greatly increase the speed and range of a hunter throwing a spear. The thrower rests the spear in the atlatl, then snaps his wrist as he brings the spear forward, effectively increasing the length of his throwing arm fifteen or twenty inches.

We weren’t particularly successful trying to hit a mock deer twenty paces away, but certainly some of the other, more athletically inclined, visitors were able to propel their spears hard enough and straight enough to impale the target.

We then walked down the hill to a reconstruction of a sixteenth century Monongahela People village, a collection of wigwams surrounded by a picket stockade. The demonstrations there included a woman deftly converting cattail leaves into duck decoys, another converting bark into useable cord, and one grilling corn on the cob and raccoon over an open fire.

In another area we inspected a replica of a very early log cabin, watched a demonstration of a trapper constructing a deadfall to kill a deer or bear, and visited a mock eighteenth century trading post filled with trading goods – cloth, tinware, mirrors, etc. – and furs from the Native Americans who traded there.

We then walked through Pine Bank Covered Bridge en route to Meadowcroft Historic Village. Originally built in Greene County in 1871, the Pine Bank Bridge was disassembled in 1961, and moved to Meadowcroft by Albert Miller, where it was extensively rehabilitated. It is a handsome King Post truss bridge, spanning about thirty feet.

The Historic Village includes an excellent log cabin which had been the home of Mr. Miller’s grand-parents in a location about half a mile from its current location. The docent there very capably gave a description of living quite efficiently in a simple, rustic environment.  Especially instructive was a section of the inner wall in which part of the chinking had been removed to show how it was installed.  Also in the Historic Village are an old one room school, a small church, and a working blacksmith shop, each of which warrants a visit.

Associated with the Meadowcroft facility is the world famous Meadowcroft Rockshelter, which many people believe is the oldest site of human habitation in North America. It is beneath a large overhanging sandstone ledge overlookmg Cross Creek. In 1955 Albert Miller found intriguing Native American artifacts in a groundhog burrow there.

It took him twenty years to find the right archaeologist to investigate his find – Dr. James Adavisio, then a faculty member in the Anthropology Department at Pitt.  Adavasio recognized the potential of the artifacts and the opportunity for the University to use the site as a convenient field laboratory for its archaeological students. Excavation at the site was done in an extremely detailed fashion, at times with razor blades!

Radiocarbon dating of the oldest artifacts discovered at the site indicates their age to be least 16,000 years, and possibly even 19,000. The most valuable find is the Miller Lanceolate projectile point, a spear head that apparently had seen considerable use and re-sharpening. Its value is enhanced by a large collection of related objects, all of about the same age.

The dig site itself isn’t particularly impressive, but the overall experience of viewing the descriptive video while looking at the excavation and the surrounding rocks is well worth the trip there. We are extremely fortunate to have so many historically relevant places in this area.

For us, one of the highlights of the visit was the exhibit of Andrew Knez Jr.’s artwork in the Visitor Center. As soon as I saw it I immediately recognized his style.  Most appropriate of all is “She Claims the Rockshelter”, which shows two Native Americans contemplating a stop at the rockshelter and finding themselves pre-empted by a very large brown bear.

On the way home we stopped to visit the Fall Festival in the Cecil Township Park. It was an enjoyable experience in a very pleasant environment – a large variety of vendors and entertainment. We were pleased to find a booth representing the Cecil Historical Society and had a productive discussion with the ladies staffing it. Their Society has been in existence for just a few years, but they are aware of and committed to preserving the very special history that is unique to their community.

At this stage in my life, an autumn drive in our countryside and the opportunity to rub elbows with some historic is very rewarding. If it doesn’t appeal to you, we suggest you give it a try.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Greenwood Neighborhood October 27, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

October 27, 2016


The second workshop in the Bridgeville Area Historical Society “Second Tuesday” series was focused on the Greenwood Neighborhood.  For purposes of this workshop Greenwood was defined as “a neighborhood in Bridgeville bounded by Dewey Avenue, the back yards of houses on Bank Street, Gregg Avenue, and the woods on the hill leading down to McLaughlin Run Road and Baldwin Street”.

The facilitator followed the format introduced at the Historical Society Open House last August, tracing the development of the neighborhood from its earliest days to the mid-twentieth century.

He began with the original warrants for the land that eventually became the Borough of Bridgeville.

Fortunately Pattie Patton had recently delivered a number of local historical artifacts to the History Center, including a hand-drawn map of Bridgeville with the warrant boundaries superimposed on it, apparently produced by her brother Jimmy in 1938. On it the boundary between Benjamin Reno’s original warrant and that of Thomas Ramsey very closely matches the back yard boundaries of the houses later built on Bank Street.

The first house built in the neighborhood we have defined as Greenwood was “Recreation”, a large summer home built by Judge Henry Baldwin sometime before 1812. Baldwin was a national figure who served as a U. S. Congressman from 1816 to 1822, representing the (Pittsburgh) 14th District. He then was a major supporter of Andrew Jackson in his unsuccessful bid for the Presidency in 1824.

Four years later, when Jackson’s second bid for the Presidency was successful, Baldwin was rewarded by being named Secretary of the Treasury. A year later he was nominated to serve as a U. S. Supreme Court Justice, an assignment in which he distinguished himself with numerous significant opinions that are still relevant today. He died in 1844.

In 1812 Baldwin sold Recreation and a significant block land extending to McLaughlin Run to Moses Coulter. Coulter was an early entrepreneur who constructed the woolen mill on the Washington Pike, that later was operated by the Sheaffer brothers. He also at one point owned the grist mill on McLaughlin Run near the east end of what is now Baldwin Street.

Walter Foster acquired the property in 1844, living in Recreation until 1879, when he sold it and the adjoining acreage to David Gilmore. Upon Gilmore’s death the property was inherited by his daughter Capitola and her husband Ulysses Donaldson. Various Donaldsons occupied Recreation until 1948, when it was purchased by Peter Dreon. The Donaldson family was involved in the development of Baldwin Street in the early 1900s and retained ownership of some of the homes there for a number of years.

The facilitator relied upon a series of old maps to illustrate the evolution of Greenwood from a large, forested area with only one house to the current neighborhood. The map of Bridgeville in the 1876 Allegheny County Atlas shows only Recreation (identified as W. Foster) in the Greenwood area. The official map of Bridgeville when it was incorporated as a borough shows the block of land bounded by McLaughlin Run, Railroad Street, Station Street, and the line designating the Bank Street back yards as “Sarah Gilmore”. The land south of it as far as McMillen Street was designated “Mary Wright” (the widow of Joseph Wright, the developer of the Norwood Hotel).

The 1905 USGS (Geological Survey) map also shows only one house (Recreation) in Greenwood. However the G. M. Hopkins 1905 map shows an additional house on what is now Greenwood Place. Recreation is identified as “Mrs. U. L. Donaldson” as is a development on the north side of Baldwin Street that includes four houses.

By 1917, according to the Hopkins map for that year, there were five houses in Greenwood in addition to Recreation, and the area was identified as “Capitola Donaldson”.  At this point the facilitator showed the well-known “Bridgeville from the Clouds” 1922 aerial photograph. From the vantage point of one of Mayer Airport’s first planes, Greenwood certainly looks more like a forest than a settled neighborhood.

Information on a 1938 Bridgeville map indicates that the Donaldson tract had shrunk to 10.55 acres as various developments and individual lots were sold off. By 1940 Greenwood was fairly well populated. The facilitator showed a hand-drawn map showing a number of houses that were candidates for being there that year.

The map generated a lively discussion among members of the audience, including two – Alfred Barzan and Mell Dozzo – who were living there as children in 1940. The current consensus is that the following families lived in Greenwood in 1940 – Barzan, Bower, Collins, Colussy, Connor, Donaldson, Fillippi, Graham, Hurlinger, Lough, Mann, O’Donnell, Patton, Poellott (3 - Dave, Tola, and William), and Wilcox, We are sure these will change as we get more feedback from ex-Greenwood residents.

Several people pointed out that the Dewey Avenue entrance to Greenwood was at the end of Station Street, between two pillars that still exist. It then curled to the right to meet the street currently named Greenwood Place, the street that today connects directly to Dewey Avenue. In 1940 all the streets in Greenwood were “red-dog”, a product of uncontrolled combustion of low quality coal in refuse piles.

The involvement of members of the audience was very much appreciated. One of the goals of this series is to get as many people involved in discussing local history as possible. For me the most important thing I learned was from Shawn Wolf, who suggested we reference an aerial photograph from 1938 that he had found on the Internet.

He led me to a remarkable website,  This site archives a large number of aerial photographs covering Pennsylvania resulting from north-south flights as early as 1937. It contains remarkable information that is relevant to a large number of historical questions that we have investigated in the past – the route of the Pittsburgh, Chartiers, and Youghiogheny Railroad, for example.

Now that we have established the routine of “Second Tuesday” for this series of workshops, we are going to prove the exception to the rule by scheduling November’s workshop a day after the second Tuesday, to avoid a conflict with Election Day. On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, we will host a workshop dedicated to the Greatest Generation and Veterans Day, focusing on the World War II experiences of a B-24 ball turret gunner, Santo Magliocca.  His story provides an excellent opportunity for us to relive those exciting days seventy five years ago.



Covered Bridges October 20, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

October 20, 2016

Covered Bridges

I suspect most of us are fans of covered bridges; being a Civil Engineer I have no choice. Last month I decided to take advantage of the Washington and Greene Counties’ Covered Bridge

Festival and visit a couple of bridges I had not seen before – Krepps and McClurg.  Both bridges are in western Washington County and are of similar size.

Krepps Bridge is located about five miles north of Hickory, on Covered Bridge Road, very close to its intersection with Waterdam Road (Legislative Route 4018). It is still in use, carrying Covered Bridge Road over Cherry Creek, a small tributary of Raccoon Creek.  The bridge is about twenty four feet long and thirteen or fourteen feet wide.

The McClurg Bridge is located in Hanover Township Park, on the south side of State Route 4004, about a mile west of Florence. Unlike Krepps, it is a museum piece, spanning a dry ravine and used only by people on foot using the park. Both bridges are painted barn red and have window openings on each side – two for Krepps and four for McClurg. McClurg’s original location was northwest of the hamlet of Paris, spanning King’s Creek.  It was moved to the Park in 1987.

Both bridges are of a type I would designate as a braced King Post truss. The deck is constructed of planks supported by transverse floor beams at midspan and quarterpoints. These beams are hung from the trusses by rugged wrought iron rods. The trusses consist of heavy vertical posts at midspan intersected eight or ten feet above the deck level by massive sloping diagonal members.

To visualize a King Post truss, imagine a huge arrow pointed upward with its shaft being the vertical post at the mid-span of the bridge and its wings being the large diagonal members sloping down to the piers at each end. Then add a horizontal member at deck level, connecting the bottom ends of the diagonals.

It is very easy for a Civil Engineer to stand at the middle of the bridge and imagine the way a heavy load at that point is transferred to the abutments at either end of the bridge. The weight of a hay wagon, for example, in the middle of the bridge is transferred laterally through the deck’s floor beam to the bottom of the King Post, which then acts as a hanger. Because the top of the King Post is restrained by the diagonals, the load is transferred to them; they in turn, transfer it through a compressive thrust to the abutments.

The horizontal member then keeps the bottoms of the diagonals from sliding outward. To support the floor beams at each quarter-point another wrought iron rod is suspended from the diagonal at mid-height, and a short diagonal leading to the bottom of the King Post added as a brace.

Simple, but remarkably effective, the King Post truss is the ancestor of a large family of truss types, each conceived to achieve a specific goal. We engineers today have the tools and technology to analyze these classic bridges and can only marvel at the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the people who built them two centuries ago.

The covered bridges that have survived have outlasted many of the more modern ones that followed them. We are happy that Krepps is still going to work every day and hope that McClurg is enjoying her well-deserved retirement. We suspect she winks her eye and grins every time a pair of lovebirds pass through her and steal a kiss when no one is looking.

Getting to Krepps was easy, because the directions were well presented.  McClurg was a different story. The directions on the Washington County Tourism website were vague and confusing.  Eventually I searched for Hanover Township and sorted out where I should go.

Both festivals were fun. The one at Krepps was in a field adjacent to the bridge. I didn’t care much for the music there, but did invest in a decorated coin purse at one booth and a funnel cake at another. Praising the funnel cake is probably inappropriate – was there ever a funnel cake that a Pennsylvania Dutchman didn’t like?

The McClurg festival was in an established park which already had all the necessary infrastructure. I did like the music there, especially when the five piece band performed a very respectable “Margaritaville”. At this point I was hoping to find an Amish booth and purchase some baked goods. Bad news was the absence of an Amish booth; good news was an excellent Greek bakery booth. I ended up with olive bread, baklava, spanakopita, and pepperoni rolls; all of which were good.

I was surprised to learn recently that pepperoni rolls originated in West Virginia as a major component in the coal miner’s lunch bucket and that their popularity is still limited to the Tri-state area. My wife used to make them for our kids’ school lunches; I assumed they were a universal food.

All told it was an enjoyable afternoon. I was originally disappointed that the bridges were so short, but since then I have appreciated the advantage that opportunity gave me to inspect true King Post trusses. We are fortunate these historic artifacts have survived.


The Election Process October 13, 2016

Copyright © 2016       John F. Oyler

October 13, 2016

A History of the Election Process

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society kicked off its 2016/2017 program season with a presentation on the evolution of the election process in our country, by Todd DePastino.  Mr. DePastino’s annual appearance in their series is always a treat – this specific illustrated talk was not an exception.  It seemed particularly relevant this year.

The speaker began by reminding the audience that the U. S. Constitution contains very few specific requirements regarding the popular election of our officials.  The members of the House of Representatives were the only ones initially chosen by the voters, Until 1913 U. S. Senators were selected by the State Legislatures.

Initially the Legislatures also selected members of the Electoral College, who then decided who should be elected President and Vice President.  Early in our country’s life it became customary for the electors to be chosen by popular vote, then confirmed by the Legislatures.

Eligibility to vote was quite limited in the early years. In the original thirteen states the privilege was restricted to white male property owners. One reference indicates that this limited suffrage to about fifteen percent of the free adult population. Andrew Jackson is credited with expanding the voting base to include the common man by eliminating property and taxpaying requirements. Jackson also advocated direct election of U. S. Supreme Court Justices.

It was interesting to learn that New Jersey originally allowed women and African-Americans to vote, a privilege that was removed in 1807.

Mr. DePastino interposed an interesting story about the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island in 1841. Rhode Island was a reluctant member of the original thirteen states, choosing to continue to operate under its Royal Charter granted in 1663, which limited suffrage to landowners and their eldest sons. Attorney Thomas Dorr attempted to overthrow the existing state government by rebelling, unsuccessfully.

Dorr was defeated, arrested, convicted of treason, and incarcerated.  Nonetheless in 1843 Rhode Island commuted his sentence and adopted a new constitution which extended voting rights to all native-born adult males (including African-Americans), but imposed onerous residence and property requirements on immigrants.

The speaker discussed the seemingly non-normal practice of selecting the President by the vote  of Electors, rather than by popular vote. He cited the four examples where a candidate with fewer popular votes than his rival was elected – John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson in 1924; Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel J. Tilden in 1876; Benjamin Harrison over Grover Cleveland in 1888; and George W. Bush over Albert A. Gore, Jr. in 2000.

The power small states have because of their apparent over-representation in the U. S. Senate and the Electoral College is a consequence of a compromise effected during the Constitutional Convention, an effort to provide them with some leverage in return for their agreement to join the Union.

Mr. DePastino cited the 1840 election as the first one that was truly political, in today’s context. Sitting President Martin van Buren, Jackson’s chosen successor, was opposed by Whig Party candidate William Henry Harrison.  The Whig Party had been founded in opposition to Jackson’s philosophy of constitutional conventions and majority rule, espousing instead the rule of law, unchanging constitutions, and protection for minority interests against majority tyranny.

This election reached a new peak in negative campaigning. Van Buren was vilified for his Dutch accent, his alleged profligate expenditures while President, and for the Panic of 1837.  Harrison was characterized as a crude frontiersman, drinking hard cider in a log cabin.  The Whigs capitalized on this characterization and ran him as the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” candidate, appealing to the common man. His exaggerated war record (“Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too) added to his attractiveness to John Q. Public.

The excitement of this campaign produced the highest percentage of voter participation to date – 80.2% (compared to 57.8% four years earlier), a figure exceeded only by the 1876 election (81.8%). For reference, the comparable turnout percentage in the 2012 election was 54.87%. It is interesting that the same data source reports that nearly sixty nine million votes were counted in 1960 although only sixty five million voters were registered that year

Harrison, of course, died after thirty days in office, to be succeeded by John Tyler. Although Tyler did little in his presidency to generate a legacy, Mr. DePastino interjected some trivia which we found interesting.  Tyler was born in 1790; two of his grandsons are still alive! His legacy is large families and procreation at advanced ages.

Our current practice of secret balloting wasn’t introduced until the latter part of the nineteenth century. The founding fathers believed that restricting the vote to property owners would automatically produce votes that were for the benefit of the general public; consequently there was no necessity to keep them private. Votes were made orally and announced to everyone within earshot.

During Jackson’s regime paper ballots were produced, but still were filled out in the presence of outsiders. This practice eventually led to corruption and intimidation. In 1880 the election caused over one thousand murders in Louisiana alone. At about this time Henry George returned from a trip to Australia impressed with their use of secret ballots and was influential enough to persuade most of the states to adopt that practice here, beginning with Massachusetts in 1888.

It was indeed fascinating to hear an expert trace the evolution of our voting system and contrast its current version with the practices two centuries ago. Apparently some of the characteristics of this year’s Presidential campaign aren’t as unique as they seem to us today. One sometimes wishes we had a “No confidence” alternative that would void the election if enough voters chose it, requiring the parties to try again, with different candidates.

The next Historical Society program meeting is scheduled for 7:30 pm, Tuesday, October 26, 2016, in the Chartiers Room at the Bridgeville Volunteer Department. The speaker will be Kathryn Miller Haines, Associate Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for American Music; her subject is “Stephen Foster and the Making of a Memorial”. As always the public is cordially invited.