Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bridgeville High School History, Part four August 24, 2017

Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 24, 2017

Bridgeville High School History, part four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chool History, Part four

Alexander Fowler August 10, 2017

Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 10, 2017

Alexander Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Vacation August 17, 2017

Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 17, 2017

Family Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Whiskey Rebellion Reenactment August 3, 2017

Copyright © 2017    John F. Oyler

August 3, 2017

The Whiskey Rebellion Reenactment

The middle of July marked the two hundred and twenty third anniversary of the climax of the Whiskey Rebellion, the burning of John Neville’s mansion, Bower Hill. As is their custom a group of dedicated history buffs reenacted that event, on the grounds of Woodville Plantation.

Key to this event were the members of Wayne’s 4th Sub-Legion, a group of volunteers dedicated to recreating the campaign and camp life of the twelve members of the Army of the United States who were sent from Fort Fayette to defend Bower Hill against insurgents on July 17, 1794.

For this reenactment they were supplemented by volunteers representing the Neville family and their servants, and a representative group of Western Pennsylvania farmers and militiamen protesting the Federal government’s enforcement of a tax on the production of whiskey.

Two days earlier the farmers’ opposition to the law reached the boiling point when U. S. Marshal David Lenox attempted to serve a writ summoning William Miller to federal court in Philadelphia to answer charges that he had not paid the excise tax. Lenox and Federal Tax Inspector Neville were denied access to Miller’s home and decided to leave when several warning shots were fired.

The next day thirty angry “rebels” went to Bower Hill, demanding Lenox be surrendered to them. Neville’s response was a gunshot that killed Oliver Miller. The exchange of gunfire resulted in a stalemate with the rebels withdrawing but threatening to return the next day.

Overnight the rebel force, mustering at Fort Couch, grew to over five hundred. In the interim Neville had been reinforced by a dozen soldiers led by his brother-in-law Major Abraham Kirkpatrick. The leader of the insurgents was Major James McFarlane, an experienced Revolutionary War veteran.

Before the rebel horde reached Bower Hill, Neville escaped and hid in a nearby ravine. The women and children were allowed to leave the house and flee to Woodville. After an hour of exchanging gunfire it became obvious the soldiers were hopelessly outmatched.

When a flag of truce was displayed in the house, Major McFarlane stepped into the open and was immediately killed by a gunshot. The rebels responded by burning first the outbuildings and finally the mansion; the soldiers were forced to surrender.

Despite being staged at a different site than the actual battles and relying on a much smaller number of combatants, the reenactment was quite credible and the discussion of what the audience was seeing, before and after the fact, was extremely instructive. It made me wish I were young enough to participate.

It would be unusual for me to visit Woodville Plantation and not come away with several interesting new bits of information. This time the source was the archaeologist-in-residence for the summer. She was displaying a large quantity of artifacts that had been discovered during various construction projects on the property.

During her discussion she showed a shard from a piece of pottery that has been attributed to the Monongahela people, the native Americans who inhabited this area from about 1000 AD to 1600 AD. Like the mound builders in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys these people were much farther on the path to civilization than the Eastern Woodlands and Plains Indians who succeeded them.

The Monongahela people had perfected agriculture and lived in huts in villages surrounded by a circular stockade. Apparently there were numerous such villages in this region. They were able to make and use tools and were especially competent in pottery. The causes of their demise five centuries ago are unknown, as is true of the Mound Builders and of the Anasazi in the Southwest.

In each case the possibilities of drought, or the Little Ice Age, or infectious diseases from Europe, or of domination by other aggressive indigenous peoples have been suggested. It is easy to wonder if they would have had a better chance to be assimilated into the culture of the European invaders than the warlike Eastern Woodlands tribes who supplanted them.

When I asked the archaeologist if there was any documentation of the existence of a Monongahela village in the Woodville vicinity, she referred me to Dr. Ron Carlisle’s excellent book “The Story of Woodville”, which does indeed confirm this information. I am embarrassed that I was unaware of this.

We are grateful to the dedicated group of individuals who are committed to preserving the heritage of the Chartiers Valley, and especially those involved with Woodville Plantation.