Thursday, March 23, 2017

Reader Feedback March 23, 2017

Copyright © 2017       John F. Oyler

March 23, 2017


Feedback from readers of this column continues to be a great source of satisfaction for me, especially when someone I don’t know recognizes me and reports his or her enjoyment in reading the column. Even more satisfying are the unsolicited comments I get from readers regarding things they have read in a particular column.

I recently received an email from Ronald Carlisle regarding my puzzlement with the term “a point near Cowan”s” which was one of the Landmarks in Charles DeHass’ original alignment for the Washington and Pittsburgh (later Chartiers Valley) Railroad. Mr. Carlisle is a legitimate expert on the Woodville Plantation and the Presley Neville House and the author of “The Story of Woodville: The History, Architecture, and Archaeology of a Western Pennsylvania Farm.”

He very courteously reminded me of something I certainly should have realized – the fact that, by the time of DeHass’ survey, the Christopher Cowan family owned and occupied the Neville House, and that it certainly is exactly the kind of landmark DeHass would have referenced.

This, of course, affects our assumptions on the location of landmarks farther south. The additional mile of right-of-way suggests that DeHass intended his railroad to follow Chartiers Creek’s meander through Presto rather than following the shorter route eventually constructed, through Bridgeville. It also places “McDowell’s factory” in what became Bridgeville’s “Lower End” neighborhood. Perhaps another reader can shed some light on that possibility.

Incidentally, in my more recent researching of Mr. DeHass I came across a newspaper article describing the inaugural trip on the Chartiers Valley Railroad, from Pittsburgh to Washington in 1871. Sure enough they referred to the station at Woodville as “Cowan’s Station”.

Upon reading the same column Dana Spriggs put his considerable investigative talent to work researching Charles DeHass and generated a lot of interesting information. DeHass was born in Somerset, Pennsylvania, in 1792 and served with distinction as an officer during the War of 1812. In later years he was promoted to Brigadier General in the Pennsylvania Militia. By 1815 he was living in Washington County where he laid out Columbia and West Columbia, two communities that eventually became the city of Donora. He also served as Postmaster of West Columbia.

When interest in building a railroad connecting eastern Pennsylvania with Pittsburgh peaked, in the mid-1830s, DeHass was one of three Chief Engineers selected to survey alternative routes. He is credited with laying out the final route selected, through Greensburg and Westmoreland County. He eventually moved into eastern Ohio, dying in 1874.

DeHass’ father was also a military leader. He served in the French and Indian War and again in Pontiac’s Rebellion. When the Revolutionary War broke out, he formed a company and distinguished himself during Benedict Arnold’s campaign in Canada. In recognition of his accomplishments he was promoted to Brigadier General and ordered to report to General Washington and the Continental Army in New Jersey.

Inexplicably he neither reported nor communicated his formal rejection of the promotion. Someone speculated that he returned home because his son was seriously ill. Another speculation was that he was suffering from gout. General Horatio Gates suspected he “was disinclined to serve another campaign”. Nonetheless, when his considerable land holdings in the Wyoming Valley were threatened by the British and their Indian allies, he overcame his disinclination and hurried there to organize a defense.

Both Don Malcolm and Dave Wright commented on our column about the C. P. Mayer excursion to California for the Brick Manufacturers’ convention. Don lives in Clayton, California, and was able to clarify my confusion about the way rail passengers got across the  Bay to San Francisco.

In those days the railroad ended at Port Costa, on the Carquinez Strat in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Rivers delta. At that point the railroad cars were loaded onto ferries and transported to San Francisco.

Don also contributed some information about the Delta Queen, the famous sternwheel steamboat that used to visit Pittsburgh regularly on one of its tours up the Ohio River. The Queen’s history is quite interesting. The Queen and her sister ship, the Delta King, were constructed in Scotland, shipped to California, and assembled in Stockton in 1926. The two ships provided luxurious tours between San Francisco, Sacramento, and Stockton until World War II, when they were drafted into service transporting wounded service men and women in the San Francisco Bay area.

Following the War the Queen was towed to Dravo Corporation’s Neville Island Marine Repair Yard for renovation for packet service on the Mississippi/Ohio River waterways. She provided that service admirably until 2008 when federal marine safety regulations put her in dry dock. A group called “Save the Queen” has continued to lobby Congress for an exemption to these requirements.  The Delta King is permanently moored in Sacramento, functioning as a hotel.

Dave Wright reported that he did some research after reading that column and determined that the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, the Mission Inn in Riverside, and the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood are all still thriving, ninety years later. The theater has recently undergone a major rehabilitation so it can still show “movies on the big screen as they were meant to be seen.” 

He also reported that the Port Costa Brick Works is no longer in existence, having been demolished in 1951. Dave is a fellow railfan; when I get my time machine working again I will invite him to take the Mayer excursion with me. He has salvaged a large number of old construction photographs of projects in the Bridgeville area from the Allegheny County Engineering Department which I am trying to organize for archiving in the Bridgeville Area Historical Society files. Included are both Washington Avenue bridges over Chartiers Creek, two Bower Hill Road projects, and the initial paving of Painters Run Road.

It is reassuring to be reminded that there are numerous history buffs everywhere, each with specific interests which other folks might consider trivia. We are grateful to them for their valuable contributions.

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