Bridgeville Remembered

The Roaring Twenties

By John F. Oyler

The decade of the 1920s was a time of great optimism. We had just finished the “war to end all wars”, and business was booming everywhere. Bridgeville was no exception. It continued to grow rapidly, and its “downtown” was the business and cultural center of a region that included neighboring townships – South Fayette, Collier, Scott, and Upper St. Clair. Saturday night on Washington Avenue was an event not to be missed.

A major local event in this decade was the commercialization of Mayer Air Field. C. P. Mayer was never a man to sit back and rest on his laurels. His accomplishments had already included the Bridgeville Coal Mine, a prosperous general store, a lumber supplies company, a newspaper, a prominent brick company, and a land development company that produced a major industrial park along the railroads just north of Bridgeville.

By the time World War I had ended, there was excitement everywhere regarding aviation. Military aircraft evolved rapidly during the war and it was evident they would quickly become important parts of the domestic transportation system. Mayer acquired sixty acres of flat land on the top of a hill in Collier Township, laid out two unpaved runways, and erected two small hangers in 1919, thus staking a claim to being the first commercial airport west of the Allegheny Mountains.

It is believed that the first plane to be headquartered at Mayer Air Field was a Curtiss JN-4 Jenniy biplane. The Jennies were built in Hammondsport, New York, and had won their spurs in France during the War. The U. S. Postal service selected Jennies when they initiated air mail service in 1918. Mayer Field was the original air mail delivery site for the Pittsburgh area.

To celebrate this new capability the Postal Service issued twenty four cent stamps picturing a Jenny, to be used on air mail envelopes. One block of one hundred stamps was inadvertently printed with the plane upside down. The resulting “inverted Jenny” stamps became immensely popular with collectors and even today attract bids of well over one million dollars each when put up for auction.

Another popular biplane in the 1920s was the Laird Swallow, used by Mayer Aircraft for flying lessons. In 1927 Charles Lindbergh thrilled the world by flying solo across the Atlantic to Paris, in a Ryan B-1 Brougham high wing monoplane. Mayer promptly acquired rights to market the B-1 in Pennsylvania. The first one arriving here was dubbed “Pride of Pittsburgh”.

There is an interesting urban legend regarding Lindbergh’s visit to Pittsburgh as part of his triumphal tour of the United States. According to the story one lone person was on duty at Mayer Field when a plane landed. The pilot inquired “Where is everyone?” The response was that they had all gone to Bettis Field to greet Lindbergh. The pilot laughed and said “Well tell them you greeted him first!”, then got back into the plane and took off to the east. We haven’t been able to corroborate the story, but it is too good to be left untold.

The new age of aviation produced the first photograph of Bridgeville in July, 1922. Taken from a vantage point high over Gould City Hill it clearly shows almost all the borough at that time. The speaker subdivided it into four parts and blew up each quadrant so viewers could identify individual houses and buildings(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4).

In 1924 a new school was built on Gregg Avenue. Named Lincoln High School it became the home for both Junior (seventh and eighth grades) and Senior High School classes. Washington School continued to house grades one through six, in quarters that no longer were overcrowded. Those of us who remember Washington School have a difficult time imagining all twelve grades being shoe-horned into one building.

Coupled with opening the new high school was the establishment of scholastic athletic teams. One of our recent columns discussed them in the 1924/1926 time period. The speaker showed a picture of a BHS basketball team in 1921, captained by Burke Jones. Three years later Mr. Jones was a member of the United States Olympic Soccer team that competed in France in 1924.

One wonders where a basketball team played in 1921; there was surely no possibility of playing basketball in Washington School. We do recall being told that, at one time, there was a basketball court on the third floor of the Bethany School. It is also interesting to hear the basketball court at Lincoln High School being described as “very modern”. Twenty years later we all considered it obsolete and wished we had a better place to play.

Pictures of this period include photos of mansions – 430 Washington Avenue, then occupied by Dr. Kocher; 639 Gregg Avenue, the home of the J. D. Meise family; and the Edmund Weise residence at 1200 Bank Street. Also shown were a number of business establishments – Foster’s Grocery Store, Ernstein’s Meat Market, Bennett’s Drug Store, the Delphus Theater, and Viale’s Hotel.

Another interesting facility was the Pittsburgh Board Speedway, a half mile wooden race track located across Chartiers Creek from the Bethany Presbyterian Church. During the years it was operated it attracted world class drivers, including Indianapolis favorites like Wilbur Shaw.

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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