Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Brand New Borough April 24, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

April 24, 2017

Bridgeville Borough Secedes from Upper St. Clair

The April “Second Tuesday” workshop at the Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s History Center was an exploration of Bridgeville in 1901, at the time the local residents elected to secede from Upper St. Clair Township and be incorporated as an independent borough.

The facilitator began the discussion with an in-depth description of Bridgeville in those days – an ambitious community of about two thousand residents that functioned as the commercial and social capital of an area including the adjacent parts of four adjoining townships, Upper St. Clair, South Fayette, Collier, and Scott.

Located at the extreme northwest corner of Upper St. Clair Township, Bridgeville was indeed the “tail that wagged the dog”. There probably were only four or five hundred people in the rest of the township, primarily farmers and miners in a couple of coal patch towns.  A newspaper clipping from that era reported that “the incorporators of the borough propose to get a police force, a volunteer fire department, a better school building, and a complete system of sewerage”.

Apparently the township residents outside Bridgeville resisted any efforts for modernization. Karen Godwin reported that, as late as 1955, they were unwilling to install indoor plumbing in McMillan School; it still had outhouses when she was a child. It is easy for us to forget how recent the modernization of the township is – their high school didn’t exist until 1957.

Another newspaper clipping reports that ninety eight of the one hundred and thirty three resident freeholders (tax paying property owners) had signed the petition requesting incorporation, including twenty nine of the thirty five freeholders with property on Washington Avenue. Attorney George P. Murray, who was also Solicitor for Allegheny County, presented the petition to Judge Elliot Rodgers and is credited with its successful acceptance.

The facilitator passed out copies of the 1905 G. M. Hopkins map of Bridgeville in an effort to provide a picture of the significant development that had occurred in the community by the turn of the century. He also displayed the list of citizens who had signed the aforementioned petition. It included many familiar names – George Baird, S. H. Collins, Isaac Cox, S. A. Foster, John Hosack, Dr. Kiddoo, Martha J. Lesnett,  Macedonia Maioli, eight members of the Poellott family, and W. F. Russell among others.

A very useful tool in determining who these early leaders were is the 1907 R. L. Polk Directory which lists residents and businesses; the address and occupation of several of the unfamiliar names on the petition were identified in it. The History Center has an impressive collective of these directories, an excellent reference source for all of us. They also have copies of the available census records. The one for 1900 is virtually illegible; we were unable to decipher many of the names on it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the roster of petitioners was the absence of several prominent citizens, including C. P. Mayer, Joseph Lutz, and Amos Fryer. It has been suggested that this episode may well have been the beginning of the political rivalry that has prospered ever since. It has been reported that the petition was sponsored by and heavily supported by Republicans, and it is well known that Mr. Mayer was a passionate Democrat.

The facilitator read several columns from his “Water Under the Bridge, Volume VIII”, which reinforced this premise. The columns were based on minutes from the Bridgeville Borough Council Meetings from the very beginning of the borough, as reported by Clerk J. E. Franks. The Council was reorganized every year, and Mr. Mayer’s presence and frequent dismissals certainly suggest major conflicts between the parties.

To those of us accustomed to the current relationship between Bridgeville and its neighboring townships it is intriguing to examine the situation in 1900. One wonders what might have happened if Bridgeville had remained part of Upper St. Clair all these years.   

Next month’s “Second Tuesday” workshop will be the first of a series dedicated to the history of Bridgeville High School, beginning in its earlies days and moving forward chronologically.

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