Bridgeville Remembered

Bridgeville in the 1890s

By John F. Oyler

To put the time period in perspective, we will refer to information from the 1889 Census for Upper St. Clair. Twenty seven families were listed for Bridgeville, totaling 108 persons. In addition another eight families, thirty eight persons, were listed for “Pughtown”, the part of Bridgeville east of the railroad and south of McMillen Street. One of these families was that of Reuben Pugh; apparently he was influential enough to have the neighborhood named for him.

Many of the families were familiar names – Donaldson, McMillen, Poellot, and Morgan, for example. But at least as many more are names that quickly disappeared as the village grew. Who was Hunter J. Holland? Or E. W. McGinnis? Or Thomas Plymire?

In the 1880s the Bridgeville area saw the arrival of another railroad – the P. C. and Y. (Pittsburgh, Chartiers, and Youghiogheny). It began as an ambitious scheme to build a major east west rail link between the Ohio River at McKees Rocks and the coal regions in the Youghiogheny River basin. Its initial route would be up Chartiers Creek to Canonsburg, then east to Peters Creek and then on east to the Monongahela River.

Commercial realities amended this plan. When the railroad got to Woodville, a branch was built up Thoms Run nearly to Oakdale, to service the Beechmont coal mine. The main line continued to Kirwan Heights, then followed Painters Run to the mines at Essen and Beadling. The result was a profitable little railroad with considerable freight business servicing these mines.

The P. C. & Y. also provided passenger service to the area. There are accounts of Beadling residents using the train to go to Carnegie to shop or to go to church. They boarded the train at Essen and rode as far as Woodville, where it then backed up the Thoms Run branch to Presto, before returning to the main line and proceeding in to Carnegie. On Thursdays the train included a special car with steel bars on the windows, to transport inmates from Pittsburgh to be incarcerated at the Woodville County Home.

The Historical Society recently acquired a painting of Bridgeville in 1893; the speaker used a picture of it as a roadmap for a hypothetical walk around the community in the 1890s. It began at the southeast corner of Station Street and the Washington Pike. This was the location of the Fryer and Collins lumber yard in those days. Later in the decade Amos Fryer constructed the building that currently occupies that site and sold it to C. P. Mayer. Ultimately the Mayer family used the second floor of the building for their residence.

Proceeding east on Station Street, at the bottom of the hill was still another new railroad line – the Pennsylvania’s B. and M. (Bridgeville and McDonald) Branch. Constructed in 1892 it was another project that prospered despite being unable to achieve its original objectives. The branch was intended to connect Bridgeville with the Pennsy’s Panhandle Division and the Main Line west at McDonald.

It was built up Millers Run as far as Cecil. Unfortunately the Montour Railroad had acquired the right of way from there to McDonald, so that is as far as the B. & M. got. Nonetheless it prospered by serving coal mines at Bishop, Sygan, and Morgan. Passenger service on the Branch delivered passengers from Morgan to Bridgeville, Carnegie, and Pittsburgh.

Next on Station Street was C. P. Mayer’s General Store. On January 16, 1894, it was attacked by a mob of dissident coal miners from the Carnegie area. They had rampaged up the railroad, burning coal tipples at Bower Hill and Bridgeville and broke into the store to acquire pick and axe handles as weapons.

From Bridgeville they proceeded up Painters Run, ransacking the Essen Mine buildings before going on to Beadling, where they encountered resistance. The Beadling brothers had fortified the company store and drove them back with gunfire. When the miners retreated back down Painters Run, they encountered even more serious opposition. Mayer had armed a posse of about two dozen men with Winchester rifles; when they were encountered the miners scattered. A few of them were captured in Carnegie and arrested.

The railroad station was on the other side of Station Street and across the main line. By now the Chartiers Branch was quite prosperous. There were twelve trains a day through Bridgeville, including an express, called the Cannonball. It left Washington at 8:00 am and pulled into Union Station in Pittsburgh at 9:00 am, with stops at Canonsburg, Bridgeville, and Carnegie.

The Cannonball was one of the first scheduled trains to achieve “mile a minute” (sixty miles an hour) speeds. It was clocked at that speed between Hill Station and Boyce Station on several occasions. Residents of Canonsburg were concerned about its speed and passed an ordinance restricting trains to eight miles per hour in the borough. The railroad retaliated by eliminating the stops at Canonsburg. These were restored when the borough compromised with a limit of twenty miles an hour, and the provision of watchmen at all grade crossings.

Samuel Foster’s store, across Railroad Street from the station, was sufficiently successful that he was able to build a large, turreted residence at 727 Station Street. The building is still in existence, as is the Lysander Morgan house two doors away at 737 Station Street. Business at the Norwood Hotel, on the other side of Station Street, was booming, with Pittsburghers spending weeks there in the summer and local citizens taking advantage of dinners, recitals, and concerts during the rest of the year.

Beyond the Morgan house was Dewey Avenue. The Donaldson family occupied Judge Baldwin’s “Recreation” in an area later generations would call “Greenwood”. Dewey extended only as far as Bank Street in those days.

Bank Street’s intersection with Gregg Avenue was the location of three homes. The Harriott family occupied a large frame house on the southeast corner of the intersection. Directly across Bank Street was the residence of Samuel Patton. Mr. Patton apprenticed as a house painter and wallpaper hanger. He married Louisa Poellot in 1887; they built their new home at 701 Bank Street in 1893. Their four children included Leslie and Walter, both of whom had families prominent in the community.

Next door to Pattons was the residence of W. Frank Russell. He and his wife, Jennie Galbraith, came to Bridgeville in 1890, where he became station agent and telegrapher for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1895 he established a livery stable in Dr. Gilmore’s barn, on the northeast corner of Station Street and the Washington Pike. The seven Russell children included Frank, the artist who painted the picture that is the basis for our imaginary walk.

A block farther up Bank Street was Chestnut Street. In 1893 the only house on Chestnut was the residence of Dr. Clarence Spahr. He came to Bridgeville in 1888 to take over his father’s medical practice. The next intersecting street is Elm Street. Before our mythical tourist reaches it, he will pass the home of the Lyon family. The only house on Elm Street at this time was the home of Dr. George Shidle. The Couch family’s residence was farther up Bank Street. All of these homes are still in existence.

In the painting Thomas Dell Lesnett’s house and farm can be seen in the far distance, along (Old) Lesnett Road. In 1898 Charles and Sarah Godwin purchased a large plot of land from the Bell family and initiate their impressive nursery business.

Far to the south one can see Melrose Cemetery, which went into operation in the 1880s. Prominent houses on the Pike include “the old Donaldson House” at 745 Washington Avenue, the Morgan family home and store, the Roach residence, Dr. S. R. Kildoo’s residence and office, and Mary Jane Lesnett’s rental houses.

The houses on James Street were called “Murray’s Row” on the painting. Proceeding up Chartiers Street from the Washington Pike, one passes two homes owned by James and John Roach before reaching the bridge over the railroad. This bridge is dubbed “the dry bridge”, and the neighborhood along Dewey Avenue is designated “Dry Town” on the painting.

A Boyce family occupies a house at the corner of Dewey and Chartiers Streets. Wesley McMillen has a home on Orchard Avenue. The large home of Benjamin Hastings is located at the corner of Chartiers and Chestnut Streets.

We must use our imagination to fill in most of the rest of the community on Washington Avenue and west of it. Bethany Church and its manse are at the southern end. Reverend Anthony Mealy replaced Reverend Sheeley in 1892, depriving the local residents of the spectacle of the minister pedaling furiously up the Pike on his high-wheeled bicycle, with his long white beard trailing behind.

In 1894 Roman Catholic Bishop Phelan dispatched Monsignor Steven Walsh to Bridgeville to establish a parish. Their first services were held in a vacant store front at 207 Washington Avenue. Walsh was succeeded by Father Thomas Gillen and then by Father Roger Doherty. The priests lived with the Joseph Lutz family, at the corner of Murray and Washington Avenues. Mr. Lutz came to Bridgeville in 1888 and went into business with his brother-in-law, C. P. Mayer.

In 1892 a new school was built on Washington Avenue at the location of the future Washington Grade School. It was a two story frame building. The first class to complete eleven years of schooling graduated in 1893. A photograph of the class includes Mary Melvin, Grace Lesnett, Mary Jones, Leith Baird, and Edna Fryer. Also included is a man identified as A. M. Kelley, apparently their teacher.

At the corner of Bower Hill Road and Washington Avenue was Billy Winstein’s store, a popular gathering spot in the building previously known as Murray Hall. Mr. Winstein came to Bridgeville in the 1880s. In addition to his mercantile career, his fiddle playing was the highlight of local dances and concerts. Another prominent businessman to arrive in Bridgeville was John F. Hosack. He came here from Mercer County where he had a successful coal mining career, and purchased the Bridgeville mine from Schulte & Mayer in 1895. He also established a prosperous business selling “Coal, Flour, & Feed”.

The Bridgeville Hotel, owned and operated by Matt Mallory, was well established at this time. Never as elegant as the Norwood, this facility served for many years as a temporary home for newly arrived working families in the community. Immigrants from Europe continued to arrive during the 1890s -- Andrew Bonosky, Joseph Browner, Joseph Hollman, Jimmy Lynch, Isaiah Rovesti, Jacob Shadish, Stephen Vosel, John Wolf, and William Woodall – and make their contribution to the “melting pot”.

Three miles south of Bridgeville, on Chartiers Creek, the institution that would be eventually known as Mayview State Hospital was opened by the City of Pittsburgh in 1893 as a replacement for their almshouse. It was originally called Marshalsea, named for the famous London debtors’ prison. The negative connotations of the name resulted in its being changed to Mayview in 1916.

A haven for the indigent, the orphans, the unwed mothers, the mentally retarded and insane, and for folks suffering from tuberculosis, the institution served 340 inmates in the 1890s. Eventually many of the members of the staff at the facility lived in Bridgeville, and the children of the staff members living at the institution went to school in Bridgeville.

By the end of the nineteenth century Bridgeville had become a self sufficient community with a well developed business district and residential neighborhoods popping up in every direction. The leading businessmen in the village were busy promoting a plan for Bridgeville to leave Upper St. Clair Township and become an autonomous borough.

The Author

  • John Oyler's column,
    "Water Under The Bridge",
    appears weekly in the
    Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication.
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