Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bridgeville High School History Part One May 25, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

May 25, 2017

Bridgeville High School, Part One

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s “Second Tuesday” workshop this month focused on the early years of Bridgeville High School in the first of a series of programs dealing with the history of the school, which graduated its final Senior class in 1960.

The facilitator began the program by reviewing what we know about the first school buildings in the Bridgeville area. According to research done by Dorothy Stenzel, the first school was on Presley Road; it was destroyed by a fire. Next came one on McLaughlin Run Road, close to the location of the McLaughlin Run Park today. It operated until 1858; the building it occupied was destroyed by the massive flood of 1874.

It was followed by the Fryer School, located at the east end of Baldwin Street before it was extended across the creek to meet McLaughlin Run Road. It is believed that the building that housed the school was moved when the street was extended and was repurposed as a residence.  

The next school was in a frame building on the corner of Hickman and Locust Streets; teachers there were Harry Couch and Sadie Rogers. When it was replaced by a two story building on Washington Avenue in 1894, Macedonia Maioli acquired it to serve as a warehouse for a wholesale liquor distributorship.

The first Washington Avenue building was replaced by a two story, twelve room brownstone building in 1904. In 1910 a third story and four more rooms were added to the brownstone.

He chose to begin with a 1908 photograph, purported to be of the first BHS graduating class. It showed five students and their teacher, Mr. Allen W. Kelly. According to the 1907 Polk Business Directory, Mr. Kelly and his wife Louise lived on the corner of Chess and Station Streets. We think he was also the Principal of the school. The students were Mary Melvin, Grace Lesnett, Mary Jones, Leith Baird, and Edna Fryer.

Mary Melvin married a gentleman named Smith and moved to Chicago where she became a homemaker. We presume she was the daughter of contractor Allen Melvin and his wife Adeline who lived on Gregg Avenue. Grace Lesnett had a long career as a school teacher in this area; she married a man named Shaw. She was the daughter of T. Dell Lesnett, grew up in the Lesnett homestead on Lesnett Road.

Mary Jones was the daughter of carpenter Amos Jones and his wife Emma, who lived on Railroad Street. She became a school teacher and was a fixture at Washington Grade School into the 1940s. We presume Leith Baird was the son of George and Ella Morgan Baird, whose home was on the corner of Chess and Station Streets. He is reported to have moved to Florida and become a salesman.

Edna Fryer was the daughter of undertaker Amos Fryer, whose home and establishment were on Washington Avenue. She became Mrs. Landis, a homemaker in North Girard (Erie County).

The Class of 1909 boasted twelve graduates, including Raymond Lutz. He was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Lutz, who lived on the corner of Murray and Washington Avenues. Raymond became a dentist who practiced for many years in Bridgeville.

The BHS Class of 1910 was made up of eight students, including Abigail and Sarah Lesnett. There was a turnover of teachers that year. George Cheesman began the year, then resigned. His replacement, R. N. Hosack, didn’t last much longer, as he too resigned. Fortunately he was replaced by Joseph Ferree, who was still going strong at the High School into the early 1950s.  Abigail and Sarah Lesnett grew up in the Lesnett homestead on Lesnett Road. Sarah had a long, distinguished career as a teacher in the Bridgeville area.

In 1911 the high school added a third year. Seven students elected to graduate in 1911; the other four stayed the third year and were the class of 1912.

Casper Picard went to Weirton as a mill-worker. His grand-daughter, Suzie Picard, was in the audience at our workshop. The Picard family, parents Michael and Katharine, are listed in the Polk Directory as living on the Washington Pike; we believe this was in Kirwan Heights.

William C. Hopper is listed in the 1911 group. His parents, William P. and Annie, lived on Elm Street. William C. married Flora Hockenberry; they were our neighbors on Lafayette Street and their sons William and Donald were childhood playmates of ours. Their father worked in Pittsburgh for the Eugene Dietzgen Company, a prominent supplier of engineering tools.  

The 1913 Class was small, consisting of only three students. A postcard addressed to Mildred Lackey Crum provides a photograph of the faculty for the entire school in 1913, plus names of most of them. They were Mary Jones, Ms. Hewitt, Joseph Ferree, Romaine Russell, Cecelia Sullivan, Ida Porter, Lucy Jeol, Hannah Hockenberry, a lady identified as “Cronemeyer”, Miss Retta  Jones, Elizabeth Dinsmore, Mr. McAnlis, and Nell Roach.

The Class of 1914 made up for the small class of the previous year, boasting twelve graduates. Eva Betschar became a school teacher, according to the 1926 Yearbook. Hobart Chivers married classmate Lorraine Silhol and moved to Fredonia, New York, and became a mill-worker. Chivers was the son of constable John J. Chivers and his wife Sarah. They lived on Hickman Street. Miss Silhol was the daughter of Ferdinand and Josephine Silhol. Mr. Silhol was operating the wholesale liquor business at the corner of Hickman and Locust Streets.

Doyce Gallagher is described in the 1926 Yearbook as a mill worker. He was our neighbor on Lafayette Street in the 1940s, father of Carol and Lois. His parents, miner John T. Gallagher and Elsie, lived on Dewey Avenue.  

We know that Mildred Lackey married Park Crum, and lived on the corner of Elm and Chartiers Streets. Their children were Fred, Eileen, and Jimmy. Mr. Crum had an operating gas well in a field behind their house.

Ralph Picard, probably the brother of William, Class of 1911, was “killed in a Flannery explosion”

Nine students made up the Class of 1915. Estella Paul, daughter of David C. and Hannah Paul, who lived on Washington Avenue, became a bank teller in Bridgeville, later married a man named Cook.

The final class we covered in this first workshop was 1916. It consisted of nine students. We have a photo of thirty four students labelled “Classes of 1915 and 1916”, a photo of three girls in graduation robes holding a 1916 BHS pennant, and a photo of one of them (Bernadine McCaffrey) holding the pennant.

Miss McCaffrey was probably the daughter of Justice of the Peace Simon McCaffrey and his wife Margaret. They lived on Washington Avenue. She became a stenographer, then married barber Pete Conroy. The Conroys lived in Greenwood and had two children, Pat and Bernadine.

Clara Weise was the daughter of coal mining magnate Edmund Weise and his wife Alma. The Weises came to Bridgeville in 1913, eventually built a large house at 1200 Bank Street. Clara was the fifth of their nine children, the first to graduate from BHS. She married T. Walter Jones, Class of 1918. They lived at the corner of Dewey Avenue and Chartiers Street; Their children were Tom and Marian.

The first BHS history workshop came to a close with the discussion of the Class of 1916. The next workshop will be at the History Center at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. We hope to cover all the classes between 1916 and 1926 in that workshop.

This document is the residue of a lot of editing of a draft version about twice the length of this one. Contact me if you would like a copy of the long version. I suspect it ultimately will be the first chapter of a book on the history of Bridgeville High School.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

An Old Bridgeville Scrapbook May 18, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

May 18, 2017

An Old Bridgeville Scrapbook

Old scrapbooks are valuable sources of historical information. Ed Wolf, the very capable archivist for the Bridgeville Area Historical Society, recently found one in the Society’s archives that is a treasure house of information.

The origin of the scrapbook is unknown, but the old newspaper clippings it contains tell us a lot about many of the legends upon which our current perception of Bridgeville’s early history is based. All of us history buffs realize that we never do know the true story of what happened in the past; instead we know what our predecessors have told us, orally and in written words.

Our understanding of early Bridgeville history is influenced heavily by stories from the Lesnett family heritage as reported by Daniel M. Bennett and by stories from the Poellott family that were repeated to Jimmy Patton by his uncle John Poellott. The Poellott information is well documented in correspondence between them. This scrapbook contains equally well documented information from the Lesnett/Bennett source in the form of old newspaper clippings.

One clipping, a reprint of an article originally published in the December 16, 1920, Carnegie Signal-Item, recounts a description of Bridgeville in 1855 as reported by Mrs. John Caldwell to her daughter, Mrs. Bennett. It contains two historic gems – confirmation of my long time wish that the Bridgeville bridges had been covered bridges, and a clarification of the function of the toll house on Washington Avenue.

According to Mrs. Caldwell, a descendant of the original Lesnett family in this area, “As you entered he village from the southern side, it was over an old covered bridge whose boards were so loose and made so much noise that you imagined your next step would precipitate you into the water of Chartiers Creek below”.

And, from the same article, “As you left the village at north or ‘lower end’, it was over a covered bridge”. Since these statements are included in an article which contains so many of the other trivia from Bridgeville’s early history, we feel justified concluding that the classic structures that gave our community its name were indeed covered bridges.

This gives me the opportunity to speculate on the specific type of covered bridge these might have been. Ithiel Town patented his “Town Lattice Truss” in 1820. It depends upon a large number of intersecting diagonals that give the appearance of a diamond shaped lattice. The same year Theodore Burr patented his “Burr Arch Truss” which combines an elegant arch with a conventional King Post truss. Both designs were popular at a time early enough to produce a bridge described as “old” in 1855. I think I will be greedy and pretend that the south bridge was a Town Truss and the north one a Burr Arch Truss.

The other interesting detail in this specific article was a description of the toll gate on the Pittsburgh and Washington Turnpike in the heart of the village in 1855. Just north of James Street, on the east side of the Pike, “The next place was the toll gate and the residence and shoe shop of Thomas Roach, grandfather of the Roaches in the vicinity. The toll gate and the customary long pole, which descended and barred your way, until you had paid the desired nickel of those days, and Mr. Roach, who was also the gatekeeper, was very alert as to his duties”.

It certainly is easy to wonder about the logistics of toll collecting. Was the toll gate applicable for foot traffic, or did it just apply to wagons and carts? At a nickel a car, a toll gate across Washington Avenue in front of La Bella Bean would generate a handsome revenue stream for the borough.

Although he didn’t mention the toll gate, John Poellott’s description of Bridgeville in 1859, as recorded on page 21 of the Historical Society book “Bridgeville”, is remarkably similar to this Caldwell/Bennett account.

We will report on some other interesting information from this scrapbook in a future column. Suffice it to say these two items alone make it a significant artifact. We are grateful to the unknown donor of this scrapbook and hope its example encourages others to consider the Historical Society when it comes time to clean house and discard things of this nature.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Roberto Clemente Museum May 11, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

May 11, 2017

The Roberto Clemente Museum

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society program meeting for April was a presentation on the Roberto Clemente Museum by Vince Mariotti. Located in the rehabilitated Pittsburgh Fire Department Engine House 25, in Lawrenceville, the museum houses “the world’s largest exhibited collection of baseball artifacts, works of art, literature, photographs, memorabilia, and related materials which focus on Roberto Clemente, his teammates, his personal life, and his humanitarian causes.”

The engine house was originally acquired by Duane Rieder and renovated for his use as a photographic studio. When the Pirates hosted the 1994 All-Star Game at Three Rivers Stadium, they decided to sponsor a special exhibit honoring Clemente. Mr. Rieder visited the Clemente family in Puerto Rico and was able to borrow an impressive collection of artifacts and memorabilia for the exhibit.

In 2006 the Pirates hosted the All-Star Game in their newly completed PNC Park home. As part of the festivities Commissioner Bud Selig presented the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award to Clemente’s widow, Vera, who had come to Pittsburgh for the ceremony, accompanied by her three sons. Rieder’s reunion with the Clemente family led to the decision to establish a museum in Pittsburgh in honor of Clemente’s baseball and humanitarian careers.

The speaker began by recounting the strange story of how the Pirates acquired the twenty year old Clemente in the 1954 rookie draft. He had been heavily scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Milwaukee Braves as a youthful “phenom” in his native Puerto Rico. Brooklyn signed him as a “bonus baby”, a player whose signing was for an amount greater than the permitted $6,000 (Clemente’s bonus was $4,000), realizing this obligated them to keeping him on the major league roster for two years or run the risk of losing him in the rookie draft.

The ’54 Dodger roster was full of outstanding players, none of whom they were willing to sacrifice for an unproven rookie, so they sent him to Montreal in the hope that no one would recognize his potential. Pirate pitching coach scouted the Montreal Royals that summer, in an effort to evaluate another Dodger prospect, Joe Black. While there he observed Clemente’s skills throwing and batting in practice and wondered why he wasn’t playing in regular games.

Sukeforth advised Montreal manager Max Macon that he suspected subterfuge and told him the Pirates would surely use their first pick in the upcoming rookie draft to select Clemente. Once that news was out, the Royals inserted him in their lineup and his immediate success ensured his forthcoming transfer to the Pirates.

The Pirates did indeed draft him that Fall and had no difficulty finding a room for him on their major league roster. He played well enough in 1955 to earn a starting position in the lineup of a mediocre team. By 1960 he had begun to display his potential and the Pirate team had improved enough to earn a spot in the World Series against the New York Yankees. The story of their classic “underdog beats favorite” performance, capped by Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic ninth inning home run is well known to all local sports fans.

According to the speaker those early years in Pittsburgh were difficult for Clemente. He did not interface well with the local media personnel, partly because of his aloof personality and his broken English, which they ridiculed. The Pirate roster was full of fan favorites – All-American boys like Dick Groat, Vernon Law, Bob Friend, and Mazeroski; folk hero types like Smoky Burgess and Bob Skinner; and outright oddballs like Dick Stuart and Rocky Nelson.

Following the World Series win, Clemente was reported as being resentful of the fan adulation received by Mazeroski and Groat. The next year he won the first of four batting titles and began his remarkable streak of twelve straight years winning a Gold Glove, in recognition of being the best fielding right fielder in the league.

Mr. Mariotti related an example of Clemente’s difficulties with the press. He supposedly asked veteran sports writer Joe Tronzo if he was the best right fielder Tronzo had seen. Tronzo replied, “Of course not, you are the third best.” When asked who the first two were, the writer replied, “Paul Waner, sober; and Paul Waner, dead drunk”.

That story rang a bell with me. Long after Waner had retired from the major leagues, he played sandlot ball with Dormont in the Greater Pittsburgh League. I have his autograph which I acquired after watching him play in an exhibition game in Bridgeville. And my recollection was that he was indeed inebriated in that game. Casey Stengel is reported to have claimed that Waner was the best base runner he had ever seen. “He can slide into second base without breaking the pint whiskey bottle in his back pocket!”

Through the 1960s Clemente’s performance day in and day out was outstanding, both at bat and in the field. He continued to have problems with Pirate management regarding his salary. His total reimbursement for eighteen years of stardom was less than three quarters of a million dollars. Of course he was not alone in this situation; fellow Pirate Elroy Face had to work as a carpenter in the off season to make ends meet.

The speaker exemplified Clemente’s pride in his talent by recounting an incident from the filming of the movie “The Odd Couple”. A key episode in the film required the Pirates to hit into a “5-4-3” triple play against Oscar Madison’s favorite team, the New York Mets. Clemente was selected to be the batter, but each time they filmed the play his pride did not permit him to run slow enough to be thrown out at first. Eventually he was replaced as the batter by Bill Mazeroski.

The climax of Clemente’s career was his remarkable performance in the 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Someone commented that the films of that Series looked very much like a Roberto Clemente highlight reel. The next year he thrilled his fans by getting his 3000th hit, a distinction achieved by only eleven players before him. One of the eleven was Paul Waner.

Late in December 1972 the capital of Nicaragua, Managua, was devastated by a severe earthquake. Clemente immediately began organizing emergency relief aid flights. When the first three flights were diverted to allegedly corrupt governmental officials, he decided to accompany the fourth one and ensure the supplies got to the needy people. He chartered a Douglas DC-7, which had a questionable maintenance history and an equally questionable flight crew. The plane was overloaded by 4200 pounds and barely was able to take off. Ten minutes later it crashed violently into the ocean, killing everyone aboard.

Clemente’s best friend, Orlando Cepeda; his Pirate team-mate and protégé. Manny Sanguillen; and Caribbean League team-mate Tom Walker all had offered to make the trip with him, but had other commitments that spared them his fate. Walker, of course, is the father of ex-Pirate second baseman Neil Walker.

The next Spring the Baseball Writers’ Association of America held a special election to posthumously elect Clemente into the Baseball Hall of Fame, waiving the mandatory five year waiting period due to the circumstances of his death. The only other player to receive such a waiver was Lou Gehrig.

The May program meeting for the Historical Society will feature Dr. Carelton Young, discussing the subject of his book “Voices from the Attic – the Williamstown Boys in the Civil War”. The meeting will be held at 7:30 pm, Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, on Commercial Street.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

These Young People Today May 4, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

May 4, 2017

The Class of 2017

One of my responsibilities with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh is coordination of our Senior Design Projects program. In their final semester our Seniors are required to participate in a semester long team design project. Ideally these projects are based on real world problems, constraints, and data.

Most semesters we have between forty and fifty students each semester, subdivided into six multi-discipline teams. The students specialize in one of six disciplines – Construction Management, Structures, Environmental Engineering, Transportation, Geotechnical Engineering, and Water Resources. Matching the requirements of each project to the specialties available on the assigned team is always a challenge.

On the final day of class we hold a day-long Colloquium in which each team has the opportunity to spend an hour presenting the results of their efforts to a large audience of students, faculty, family members, and visiting engineering practitioners. This year’s Colloquium was particularly impressive, and I am extremely proud of the students and their accomplishments.

Perhaps the most impressive of this semester’s projects was implemented by a team of Environmental Engineering students who studied a problem of great interest to me – the pollution of Chartiers Creek by abandoned mine drainage. They selected two nearby sources – Scrubgrass Run and Woodville – and designed a practical, cost effective system to remediate them.

The reddish-orange color in the polluted streams leading into Chartiers Creek is produced by tiny particles of ferric iron oxyhydroxide, the same mineral as normal rust. Remediating the pollution requires oxidizing ferrous iron to ferric, producing the oxyhydroxide, and then allowing the tiny particles to settle out in large settling basins, and then trapping the even smaller particles in vegetation in constructed wetlands.

The team proposed to capture the discharge from the two sources, totaling about 400 gallons per minute, and transport it in a system of pipelines to a three acre site near the confluence of the old creek channel and the current one, just south of Heidelberg. Introducing the flow into the settling ponds over a series of weirs will introduce enough oxygen to convert the ferrous iron to ferric; several days of retention time in the settling ponds and wetlands should be sufficient to remove almost all of the solids.

The technology for this process is currently working very effectively at the Wingfield Pines remediation site between Bridgeville and Mayview, where over 1500 gallons per minute are successfully processed. The team estimated that their system could be installed for about $500,000, an investment that certainly appears to be warranted.

Another team, composed primarily of Geotechnical Engineering students, did a comprehensive design of the site-work, underground mine remediation, and foundation design required for a hypothetic commercial/light industrial complex to be constructed close to the Parkway West. It was based on an actual project recently completed by an engineering firm which employs three of our recent alumni as Geotechnical Engineers.

These alumni provided the team with the actual data they used for their project, including the soil and rock samples from the test borings they made. They also mentored the team throughout the term, following a chronological sequence identical to that of the real-world project. The resulting design included shallow foundations, drilled caissons, removal of semi-hazardous soil, grout injection into an abandoned mine, design of two MSE (mechanically stabilized earth) retaining walls, and slope stability analyses.

A team of Structural and Transportation students expressed an interest in designing a parking garage. They met with the University Facilities engineers and were advised to investigate a site on O’Hara Street adjacent to Thaw Hall and the intersection with Parkman Avenue. They then proceeded to design two alternative garages – a conventional precast concrete garage housing 530 vehicles and a steel frame structure equipped with an automatic stacking system that would handle about 1050 vehicles.

Thanks to our contacts with the Massaro Construction Company, the team was able to tour the new precast concrete garage being erected near Heinz Field and get a first-hand view of its design details. Their cost comparison of the two alternatives indicated that the cost per parking spot was fairly similar independent of the design concept.

A multi-discipline team tackled the challenge of connecting the popular Duck Hollow hiking/biking trail with Hazlewood and, consequently, the network of trails throughout the rest of the city. Their solution is a double switch-back ramp leading from the trail to the deck of the Glenwood Bridge and then on into Hazlewood or to the new Almono site development.

Coincidentally a day later, approval of the new switch-back to connect the Eliza Furnace trail with the riverside trail to the Point was announced. It will be quite interesting to follow its development and compare its detailed design with the one our students produced. The closer our projects come to real-world projects, the more rewarding they become.

Another real-world problem locally is congestion on the Parkway East approaching the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, partly because of conflict between vehicles trying to exit the Parkway onto Beechwood Boulevard and vehicles entering the Parkway a few hundred feet before the exit. A multi-discipline team studied that problem and produced what appears to be a feasible solution to it.

Their design begins with a round-about at the south end of the new Greenfield Bridge, feeding an access ramp to the Parkway descending along the side of hill to a point which significantly increases the weave distance between the two points of conflict. There has been considerable discussion regarding the use of the round-about, a concept with which most local people are unfamiliar. Closer to home, it will be interesting to see how well this concept works when it is installed at the intersection of Lesnett and McMillan Roads with McLaughlin Run Road.

The final project was the design of a workable potable water treatment system for an indigenous village in Panama. It consists of a roughing filter (primarily layers of crushed stone) and three slow sand filters, with a daily capacity of 5,000 gallons. The team built a successful pilot plant in our hydraulics lab to confirm the adequacy of their design.

Our faculty is deservedly proud of the Senior Design program and the students who pass through it. Every effort is made to motivate the students to apply the skills they have acquired to real-world problems they have not previously encountered and to develop innovative solutions to the problems.

In contrast, I recently received a newsletter from my (graduate school) alma mater reporting on CMU’s equivalent senior design project program. Last Fall their seniors “designed and built a dragon containment system that allowed the tethered dragon to roam freely within a 20 foot radius while not allowing movement of the structure itself”. Included was a photograph of one of the projects – a piece of pipe sticking out of a pile of sandbags. I am reminded of my mother’s advice – “If you haven’t anything good to say about something, it is best that you remain silent”.

My continued optimism about the future is reinforced by my observation of this group of very special young people (our Pitt students, not their CMU colleagues).  They are admirably equipped to make a positive contribution to our society and almost certainly to all the different cultures that make up Planet Earth.