Bridgeville Remembered

The Civil War Years

By John F. Oyler

As far as the Bridgeville area is concerned, the three most significant events in this particular time period were the Civil War; the arrival of the Chartiers Valley Railroad; and the death of Jonathan Middleswarth, with the subsequent availability of building sites on the west side of the Washington Pike.

The impact of the Civil War overshadowed everything else. Patriotic fervor was rampant following the secession of the southern states and the firing on Fort Sumter. Volunteer companies were raised throughout the region – Company D of the 149th Pennsylvania Regiment in the Robinson Run area, Company K of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry in the immediate Bridgeville area, and Company H of the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry in the Clifton area.

There was an outpouring of public support when these brave young men marched off to war. The ladies of Bethany Church sewed a flag for Company K and presented it to them on the front porch of the Middleswarth mansion. Unfortunately many of the brave young men never returned. Their stories are eloquently told in the book “Almost Forgotten”, written by my brother, Joseph Oyler. He graciously agreed to relate them as part of this month’s presentation.

Eleven young men from this area died during the War, including representatives of the three pioneer families we had mentioned several months ago – Richard Lesnett, Thomas Boyce, and John Park Hickman.

The story of the Chartiers Valley Railroad begins in 1830 when a group of visionary entrepreneurs planned to build a railroad connecting Washington and Pittsburgh, with a route down the Chartiers Valley. This was a remarkable proposal; at that time there was only one railroad in North America, the twenty three miles long Baltimore and Ohio.

They chartered the Washington and Pittsburgh Railroad Company and hired an engineer named Charles De Hass to survey the route and estimate the cost of construction. Their ambitious plan failed to attract substantial investment and the project was scrapped. Efforts to revive it failed in 1837 and 1846, but in 1853, with a new name – the Chartiers Valley Railroad, sufficient funding was acquired to permit acquisition of right-of-way and to permit grading.

This effort was thwarted by the Panic of 1857. The Company’s assets eventually were purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad system in 1866, primarily to incorporate the portion of the right-of-way from the Ohio River to Mansfield (Carnegie) into their new main line west through Steubenville. Investors in this area persuaded the Pennsylvania to build an extension from Mansfield through Bridgeville and Canonsburg to Washington. Called the Chartiers Branch, this line was completed in 1871. Initial service was two round trips a day from Washington to Pittsburgh, providing residents in the Chartiers Valley with easy access to “the City” as well as to the rest of our nation. Quite a contrast with the horse-drawn stage coach service it replaced!

Prior to the disposition of Jonathan Middleswarth’s estate following his death in 1868, most of the buildings in Bridgeville were on the east side of the Washington Pike. His mansion and the farm of his tenant, James Blackamore, occupied most of the west side. His demise precipitated a complicated legal dispute.

Everyone knew that Mr. Blackamore leased the farm from Middleswarth, and everyone was surprised when Blackamore claimed that his payments for the land were against a mortgage and that he was now the owner of the farm. The dispute was in the courts for a number of years before its final resolution in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Court ruled against Blackamore and in favor of a number of heirs – distant relatives of the Middleswarths. John Hickman was appointed administrator of the estate. As a result the land west of the Pike was subdivided into seven or eight plots, each of which generated opportunities for building homes and businesses. The Washington Pike suddenly turned into the Main Street of a growing community.

Earlier Bethany Church, still located on the Presto-Sygan Road, had opened a mission Sunday School in the Fryer School on McLaughlin Run Road. Based on its popularity they acquired the land which the present church occupies, and built a frame structure called the Lord’s Barn in 1870.

Across the street from the Lord’s Barn Dr. David Donaldson had acquired Dr. Hayes’ medical practice, office, and residence at 745 Washington Avenue. The Hugh Morgan store was still prospering; a post office had been established there with Morgan as the first postmaster.

The Schaffer woolen mill was a beehive of activity during the War, turning out thousands of army blankets. The Schaffer brothers were strong abolitionists; David enlisted in Company K, and survived the war. The mill office was a gathering place for people eager for war news. In 1867 they added a two story engine house with a powerful new boiler. A few months later the boiler exploded. Half of it ended up across the Pike in Blackamore’s cow pasture; the other half, in the newly excavated cut for the Chartiers Valley Railroad.

In 1867 the James Gailey Murray family came to Bridgeville from Sodom (Clifton) where he had operated a general store. They purchased 423 Washington Avenue for $3,500 and continued the mercantile trade there. The Henry Poellot family also came here from Sodom. They built a house at 353 Washington Avenue and established their wagon building/repair business on that property.

Walter and Marie Foster bought Judge Baldwin’s home, “Recreation”, in 1842. Their son Samuel built and operated a store at the corner of Foster’s Lane (now Station Street) and Railroad Street, close to the new Chartiers Valley Railroad passenger station. By 1875 Bridgeville was still a sleepy rural village, but was showing signs of the rapid expansion that was ahead for it in the next few years.

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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