Bridgeville Remembered

Bridgeville in the 1910 to 1920 Decade

By John F. Oyler

In the Bridgeville Area Historical Society book “Bridgeville” the chapter dealing with this decade was entitled “The Melting Pot”. It includes a major section on the principal ethnic minorities in Bridgeville and their effort to reconcile two conflicting motivations – the drive to conform to the “American” society that dominated the community and the desire to retain the cultural heritage they retained from their days in “the old country”.

The largest ethnic group consisted of the Italians. Photographs of “the Italian Club” illustrate the way they kept their culture alive – by mingling with each other while speaking in their native tongue, enjoying their unique cuisine, and playing bocce and morra. We have always enjoyed Italian food and remember the excitement in our neighborhood when one of our neighbors borrowed a ravioli press and supplied all of us with pasta.

Other ethnic groups established their own social clubs. The Slovenians called their club “the Granish Club”. It was so successful they opened a second one; one on Cook’s Hill, the other on Fryer’s Hill. They were affiliated with the other SNPJ clubs in Slovenian communities.

The origin of the name Granish is interesting. In the early fourteenth century, when the Muslims were finally driven out of the Balkans, a Bavarian count in a region of Austria called Gran acquired a large block of land in what now is southern Slovenia. He promptly moved a group of his serfs there and established an estate. These people refused to be integrated into the local Slav culture; six hundred years later they were still speaking in a unique German dialect. The Slovenians in the Bridgeville area are their descendants and are proud to call themselves Granish.

The German immigrants who came here late in the nineteenth century also established a social club, which commonly was known as “the Dutch Club”. It was located on McLaughlin Run Road. These people also started their own churches – the Protestants, Zion Lutheran; and the Roman Catholics, St. Barbara’s. Incidentally the German speaking Slovenians were co-founders of St. Barbara’s. When my parents came to Bridgeville in 1934 they considered joining Zion Lutheran but decided against it when they learned that Zion’s services were conducted in German.

The African Americans purchased land from the Cook family and built their (Baptist) church on what is now Bower Hill Road. The Lithuanians, similarly, acquired the old Methodist church on Miller’s Run Road and repurposed it as St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, when the Methodists moved into their new facility on Station Street.

The Syrians organized St. George’s Orthodox Church, eventually located on Dewey Avenue. Most of the eighteen families who came to Bridgeville were from the same small village, B’Soma, in Syria. They are remembered for their wonderful Middle Eastern food and for the holiday festivals at the Syrian Grove. Each ethnic minority managed to retain some vestige of its culture while being engulfed in the melting pot that was the community.

In this decade Bridgeville continued to grow. The Sanborn Map Company followed up its 1907 maps of the community with a 1913 version. They illustrate changes that occurred in that six year period. Two new industrial facilities were built between the two railroads in “Coultersville”. On one side of Villars Avenue was the “Frederick-Elder Company, Mfrs. of Metal Specialties”; on the other, the “Standard Steel Box Company”. The map reports in detail on the number of watchmen, the presence of fire extinguishers, and the location of fire hydrants for each facility.

Another new business was the “Charles B. Sossong Co., Breast Yokes and Blacksmithing”, located on Buck Alley (Bank Street extension) where the Otterman Manufacturing Company had been in 1907.

Baldwin Street had seen many changes in this period. It was paved and extended to McLaughlin Run Road by the construction of a bridge over the Run. The development of Baldwin Street into what became an alternate “downtown” area for Bridgeville is credited to the Colussy Construction Company.

Around 1900 four Colussy brothers came to this country and found work as carpenters with a coal company in West Virginia. They eventually relocated to Morgan, where they continued this trade. Two of the brothers, Michael and Peter, then moved to Bridgeville and formed a construction company. Eventually Louis joined them; Blaise however went a different direction and became a successful farmer in South Fayette.

Building on the success of the construction firm, Michael established and operated an ice plant on Baldwin Street. Peter built an apartment building on the corner of Baldwin and Railroad Streets and operated it. Louis continued in the construction business before acquiring a dealership for Chevrolet automobiles in 1918. Three of his sons continued it after his death; his other three sons eventually acquired the dealership for Ford automobiles in Bridgeville.

The omnipresent entrepreneurship of people like the Colussy’s and the integration of major ethnic groups into the community are only two characteristics of life in Bridgeville in this decade.

Certainly the most significant event in this decade was World War I. Its impact was felt on the families of the numerous Bridgeville area servicemen, and most particularly on those of the twenty two men who died in France. The list of fatalities included William Barclay, Achille Barufaldi, Albert Comstock, Walter Coppus, William Kirkpatrick, Rudolph Kovach, Louis Kresenosky, Walter McCartney, James McCluskey, Frank O’Block, Francis O”Donnell, Roy Purnell, Ivor Reese, Raymond Roach, Edmond Schollaert, Samuel Solts, Adam Spohn, Lloyd Warrrensford, Anthony Wilinsky, and Joseph Witchoskey .

The most poignant story is that of Roy Purnell, an African-American who is buried in France. After the war the government graciously provided widows of servicemen buried overseas with the opportunity to travel to France and visit their loved one’s gravesites. Purnell’s widow, Olivia, applied for passage and was turned down, because of her race. Her employer, Dr. Fife, was incensed at this treatment and arranged for her to go abroad, at his expense. The photograph of Olivia Purnell, at her husband’s grave is particularly touching.

In 1912 a third floor was added to Washington School, making it a suitable home for all eleven grades. The Historical Society has a picture of the graduating classes of 1916 and 1918; there was no class of 1917 because that year, for the first time, twelve years of schooling were required for graduation.

On October 16, 1915, James C. Franks, the Pennsylvania Railroad station agent in Bridgeville, was brutally murdered trying to prevent a robbery at the station. Witnesses were threatened at gunpoint and allowed the two burglars to escape. The crime went unsolved until 1934 when J. F. McDonald, alias James Dinwiddie, a convict in Illinois, was identified by his ex-partner as Franks’ killer.

Two photographs taken from Gould City Hill present an excellent portrait of Bridgeville in 1911. One of them shows Washington Avenue from Murray Avenue to James Street, with the Washington School prominently located. The Wabash Railroad passenger station, on Murray, is identifiable at the left end of the photo; Greenwood Place and Bank Property can be seen in the distance.

The accompanying photograph shows the south end of the community. New homes on Ramsey Avenue are in the foreground. The Methodist church and residences on Station Street are recognizable, as is the steeple of Bethany church in the distance. In combination with the aforementioned Sanborn maps it is easy to get an impression of what the community looked like a century ago.

A number of other “period” pictures taken from the Historical Society book “Bridgeville” that reinforce our perception of Bridgeville in those days. A 1911 photograph of Washington Avenue near Chartiers Street features two vintage automobiles, although the street is still unpaved. The presence of telephone poles and lines is a vivid symbol of progress. A similar photograph of Gregg Avenue, the first street developed in Bank Property, shows wooden sidewalks and the telephone lines; it too was unpaved in 1911.

Another interesting photo shows four bearded Civil War veterans – Andy Rankin, David Bowers, John Warrensford, and David Crum – seated proudly in front of a brand new forty star American flag, a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and the new. Several photos of Memorial Day (photo 1, photo 2) parades further illustrate the patriotism of the 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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