Bridgeville Remembered

Incorporation of a New Borough -- 1900 to 1910

By John F. Oyler

Three extremely significant events occurred in this time period – Bridgeville’s secession from Upper St. Clair Township and incorporation as an autonomous borough, the construction of the Wabash Railroad, and the industrial development in Kirwan Heights.

In 1900 Bridgeville was the largest unincorporated village in Allegheny County, with well over 2000 inhabitants. The remainder of Upper St. Clair Township was a collection of farms and “coal patch” towns like Essen and Beadling. The Bridgeville residents believed that their need for schools, paved streets, water and sewage systems, etc. could best be served by becoming an independent municipality.

A petition signed by ninety four property owners was presented to the Allegheny County Clerk of Court by attorney George P. Murray, John F. Hosack, J. D. Meise, W. W. Murray, George S. Orth, and W. G. Pugh on March 11, 1901. The list of petitioners is interesting. It includes many familiar names – Baird, Collins, Cox, Foster, Gilmore, Jones, Lesnett, Morgan, Patton, Roach, Russell, and Shidle. For the first time we begin to see the names of “foreigners” – Lewandowsky, Maioli, Rovesti, and Viale.

Equally interesting is the absence of a number of prominent Bridgeville citizens. Where is C. P. Mayer? Or Joseph Lutz? Or Amos Fryer? Or Joseph Wright? Were they opponents to secession? Their absence is more than made up for by the Poellot family – various forms of their name show up in seven different places.

On July 27, 1901, the Court of Quarter Sessions decreed that Bridgeville be incorporated as a borough. John F. Hosack was elected Bugess; Dr. S. J. S. Fife, President of the Borough Council; S. A. Foster, Treasurer; John F. Vance, Clerk; and R. L. McMillen, Constable.

When Jay Gould died, his son, George Jay Gould inherited a fortune and control of two railroads – the Denver Rio Grande Western and the Missouri Pacific. In an effort to emulate the successes of his father, George attempted to put together a conglomerate of railroads that would provide transcontinental service from the East Coast to California. Key to this was the acquisition of control of the Wabash Railroad in the Midwest and the establishment of the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway (WPTR) between Toledo, Ohio, and Pittsburgh.

The WPTR passed through Bridgeville before following Millers Run west. Gould acquired a significant amount of land in Bridgeville and announced plans to build a major railroad facility here, supported by “Gould City”, a planned community for the railroad workers. Before this could occur, financial difficulties with the unwieldy system Gould put together led to bankruptcy of the WPTR in 1908. It was eventually reorganized as the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway in 1916; it currently is being operated profitably as the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway.

Mr. Gould died in 1923 from an illness that began at a visit to King Tut’s Tomb in Egypt. He is one of a long list of prominent persons whose deaths have been attributed to “the curse of the mummy”, which is said to punish anyone who desecrates the Pharaoh’s Tomb.

Early in the 1900s C. P. Mayer established the Bridgeville Land Improvement Company. They acquired land in the Kirwan Heights area of Collier Township just north of Bridgeville, with the purpose of promoting the establishment of industries there. The property was ideally situated to be served by three different railroads – the Pennsylvania; the Pittsburgh, Chartiers, and Youghiogheny: and the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway.

To demonstrate the advantages of the site, Mayer established the C. P. Mayer Brick Company in 1903 and constructed one of the largest brick producing facilities in this part of the country. It mined clay on the hillside adjacent to the plant and produced high quality bricks for paving streets as well as for building construction. Mayer bricks with their characteristic “dog bone” lugs and “Bridgeville, Pa” embossed on them were common everywhere in the Tri-state area. Under different management the brick yard operated well into the 1950s.

The Land Improvement company’s second client, in 1904, was the Flannery Bolt Company. Brothers Joseph and James Flannery acquired rights to technology required to manufacture “staybolts”, a key component in high pressure boilers and locomotives, and built a plant here to produce them.

Realizing that the steel used to manufacture staybolts required alloying with vanadium, a commodity in scarce supply, the Flannery Brothers decided to diversify. They established the American Vanadium Corporation in 1907 and built a plant adjacent to the Bolt Company to process vanadium ore imported from South America and produce ferro-vanadium, a valuable alloying agent. Both plants operated well into the 1950s. During World War II the Bolt Company earned an “Army-Navy E” award for its production of machine gun barrels.

Also in 1907 the Land Improvement Company persuaded the J. B. Higbee Glass Company to build a new plant here, replacing one in Pittsburgh that had been destroyed by fire. Higbee produced an extensive line of pressed glass tableware that is still popular with collectors. It featured a distinctive trademark, a figure of a bumblebee with the letters H, I, and G on its wings and body. In 1918 the General Electric Company purchased the facility from the Higbee family and converted it into a plant producing glass for industrial purposes, a plant that is still in existence.

The final client for the Land Development Company was the Universal Rolling Mill Company. In 1908 a group of men from Washington, Pa., with experience in steel making acquired a three stand rolling mill and built a small plant here. Walter H. Baker was the plant manager. Using scrap locomotive wheels as a raw material, they produced sheet steel for fabrication of shovels. The operation grew rapidly as did the product line. A few years later they installed the first electric arc furnace in the Pittsburgh area and quickly became prominent in the production of specialty steels. The facility currently is operated by Universal Stainless Incorporated.

One hundred years ago the Sanborn Map Company produced detailed maps of municipalities for the purpose of providing insurance companies with enough information to properly evaluate the insurance risk for a specific building – location of utilities, distance from fire hydrants, location and type of local fire departments, etc. Sanborn produced such maps for Bridgeville in 1907 and again in 1913. The format of our presentation was a visit to each neighborhood in the community and report on the homes and businesses shown on the maps.

The first sheet of the seven maps is an index. It tabulates streets and identifies the map sheet on which they are shown. It also has a master index map superposing the individual sheets on a map of the Borough. On the bottom of this sheet are shown the industrial sites in Kirwan Heights – the C. P. Mayer Brick Company, with its six kilns; the J. B. Higbee Glass plant, with its two dedicated railroad sidings, and the Flannery Bolt and Vanadium Corporation plants adjacent to each other. The Universal Rolling Mill plant was not constructed until the next year.

Sheet two covers two areas – “Lower End” and “Drytown” (the south end of Dewey Avenue). Lower End includes homes on Washington Avenue, Prestley Road, and Der Avenue (now St. Clair Street). The Bridgeville Hotel is shown on Washington Avenue, as is the German Lutheran Church on Prestley Road. The Drytown area, also known as “the McMillen Plan”, indicates seventeen residences in an area bounded by McMillen Street, Gregg Avenue, Chartiers Street, and Dewey Avenue.

The third sheet covers Washington Avenue, Railroad Street, McLaughlin Run Road, and Station Street. It shows the new brownstone Washington School; the Bridgeville Trust Company building, which houses a bank, Bennett’s Drug Store, the Post Office, a telegraph office, and second floor offices; and the Bridgeville National Bank Building, which has a bank and a grocery store on the first floor, a barber shop and a “Chinese” laundry in the basement, “flats” (apartments) on the second floor, and a lodge on the third. The Norwood Hotel and its outbuildings are shown on an insert on this sheet.

The portion of Station Street east of the railroad was known as Foster Avenue in 1907. The “passenger depot” is shown, with a siding between it and Railroad Street, and a water tank beyond the B & M Branch. Foster’s Grocery Store is on the other side of Railroad Street. Next to it are a dwelling, a tobacco shop, another dwelling, and then a blacksmith shop just before the street turns to cross McLaughlin Run on an “iron bridge”. On the other side of the creek are J. F. Hosack’s Flour and Feed Store and the Bridgeville Lumber and Supply Company.

Sheet four is the neighborhood west of Chess Street and south of Station Street. Prominent in it are Macedonia Maioli’s bottling works and store at the corner of Hickman Street and Maioli Street (now Locust Street), W. S. Reed’s slaughter house at the south end of Chess Street, and the Katie Coal Mine tipple over a siding off the B & M Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Puzzling is the designation of a church at the site of what is now the Holy Child Roman Catholic Church; the map calls it “St. Barbara’s”. We assume this is an error and that it should have been called “St. Agatha’s Roman Catholic Church”.

The fifth sheet covers the area south of Station Street, between Chess Street and the railroad. The southern end of this area is dominated by Bethany Presbyterian Church and numerous residences. W. F. Russell’s livery stable and undertaking establishment are located on Station Street in a building later occupied by E. A. Motor Company.

The Mayer Building, on the southeast corner of Station Street and Washington Avenue included a general store, a meat market, a barber shop, and a clothing store; the Mayers lived on the second floor of the building. The C. P. Mayer Lumber and Building Supplies complex was located immediately south of Station Street, between the railroads. Adjacent to it was the establishment of J. A. Morrow and Company, Hauling.

A number of businesses occupied buildings on the west side of Washington Avenue. Beginning at Station Street were located a grocery store, a hardware store, a clothing store, a feed store, another clothing store, an establishment selling boots and shoes, and the Poellot Brothers Hardware store. Across the bridge over the B & M Branch were the Central Hotel, Goehring’s confectionery and news store, a clothing store, a millinery shop, and a wall paper store. Across the street was a barber shop.

The area between Buck Alley (Bank Street Extension) and James Street was the location of eleven dwellings and the Otterman Manufacturing Company. Otterman included a paint shop, forges, and a machine shop. We are not certain what they produced, but in 1904 they were awarded a patent for a whiffletree hook.

Sheet six covered “Bank Property”, the development bounded by Gregg Avenue, Chartiers Street, the alley east of Elm Street, and Laurel Street. There were thirty three homes in this area in 1907.

The final sheet showed the area which includes the present Bower Hill Road, McLaughlin Run Road, Mill Street, and Baldwin Street. The portion of Bower Hill Road northeast of its intersection with McLaughlin Run Road was called Painter’s Run Road on the 1907 map. The portion southeast of that intersection was known as McLaughlin Run Road. Baldwin Street was a dead end road, unconnected to McLaughlin Run Road. Ridge Road was known as McKeesport Road at that time.

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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