Bridgeville Remembered

The Beginnings of a Village

By John F. Oyler

The years between 1825 and 1850 saw the beginning of the development of the village that would eventually become the borough of Bridgeville.

Let us take an imaginary trip “up the Pike” in 1850, beginning in Herriotsville. Located about a mile south of Bridgeville, in 1850 the cluster of buildings around the Herriot family residence was already a modest village. It included a store, a post office, an inn, and a stage coach relay station.

As soon as our trip crossed the bridge at the south end of town, we saw an old fashioned log cabin on the west side of the Pike. It was the home of a black lady named Betsey Easton and her two children. She is described in the Lesnett family history as a cheerful lady who wore a bandana scarf on her head “like they do down South” and was frequently seen sitting on a bench in front of her cabin, knitting.

The same source reports that there were wooden bridges over Chartiers Creek at each end of the town with floor boards “so loose that a vehicle crossing at any speed could be heard for a mile, the noise being caused by the floor boards flopping up and down”.

On the east side of the Pike, across from the Easton cabin, was the residence and office of Dr. George Hayes, the first doctor in the community. Described as “a very agreeable example of the simple frame vernacular stemming from the late Classical style of the eighteenth century” in the book “Landmark Architecture of Allegheny County”, the house was built in 1828 by John McDowell. It survived until the 1990s.

A short distance north, the residence and store of Hugh Morgan was a popular gathering place for the locals, centered on the wood stove in the winter and the cracker barrel in the summer. Several times each week Morgan made the trip to Herriotsville to pick up mail for his customers.

The Morgans’ next door neighbors were the family of Thomas Roach. This house served as a toll gate on the Turnpike and as a shoe shop. Beyond their home was the Schaffer “fulling mill”. This was a major industrial facility that will be described in detail in a future column.

The Schaffer family lived in a house just north of the mill. Beyond their home a lane led off to the east, terminating at an attractive house known as “Recreation”. It was built around 1830 by Judge Henry Baldwin, to serve as a summer home. Judge Baldwin was a successful attorney in Pittsburgh, who served three terms in Congress before being named to the Supreme Court as a Justice by President Andrew Jackson. By 1850 Recreation was the home of the Moses Coulter family.

Back on the Washington Pike the next house encountered was a large, seven room mansion on the west side of the road. It was built in 1828 by Jonathan Middleswarth as a wedding present for his fiancée, Betsy McKown. He personally supervised its construction, sparing no expense in his desire to have the finest home in the area. A few days before the wedding he learned that Betsy had changed her mind and eloped with a man named Benjamin Morrison.

Middleswarth vowed that he “would never love another”. He finished the house and then proceeded to live in it as a bachelor for the next forty years. It was he who gave it the name “Jonathan’s Folly”. It was demolished in 1956 to provide a parking lot for the Bridgeville Trust Company.

Next “up the Pike” was the residence and business of Alexander Aiken. We are not sure who built the house, possibly also in 1828. “Landmark Architecture” describes it as “a pleasant little Greek Revival brick house” with a roof line that resembles a salt box house. It is still in existence, at 423 Washington Avenue, occupied by “Antiques on Washington”. It is believed to be the oldest house in Bridgeville.

Mr. Aiken came to Bridgeville to operate a cabinet-making enterprise. When he realized that the most popular item he was hired to produce was a coffin, he decided to diversify. He quickly became the first undertaker in the community. It is reported that he had a partner who was “a Frenchman named Bryan”.

A double house farther north along the Pike was occupied by two families – Isaac Rankin and Henry Poellott. The Poellotts came to Bridgeville in 1848 from Sodom (Clifton) where they had a successful business making and repairing wagons. Their son, John Lewis Poellott, continued that business in its original location while the rest of the family started a new wagon shop along the Washington Pike.

Across the road from the wagon shop was the residence of Peter Rimmell. Lesnett family history reports that “he farmed in a small way and also had a coal mine”. This is the earliest mention of coal mining in the Bridgeville area.

Where the Pike crossed Chartiers Creek at the north end of town, there were buildings on both sides of the road. The Logan family had a house on the east side; “Parson’s Tavern” was located on the west side. We don’t know much about the tavern except that a series of inns or hotels were located at that site in the ensuing years.

Most of the land west of the Pike was a farm, owned by the Middleswarths and farmed by Thomas Blackamore. The Cook family had a farm on what is now called “Cook’s Hill”. The Bell farm was located south of McLaughlin Run. The Fryer family farmed the area now known as “Fryer’s Hill”. The Fryers also operated a grist mill on McLaughlin Run, close to where the run crosses Baldwin Street today. By 1850 the evolution of Bridgeville into a prosperous community was well underway.

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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