Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



The Bridgeville News, RIP
January 12, 2017



We think the first newspaper in Bridgeville was published by C. P. Mayer sometime around the turn of the twentieth century; we have no record of its name nor the duration of its existence. We also know that, at least in 1918, John W. Knepper published a four page weekly newspaper called “The Bridgeville Signal”; again we have no record of its duration.

We also know that publication of “the Bridgeville News” was begun in 1926 as “a means of helping Francis P. Cavanaugh through college and University”, according to a document entitled “Ethnographic Survey of Bridgeville” written by Alex D. Karaczun in 1992 as a “Rivers of Steel” project.

The same source documents four moves for Bridgeville Publishing Company before finding a permanent home on Jane Way in 1937. That is the location I remember from my high school days when I used to provide the paper with reports on the activities of our athletic teams. This was my first exposure to censorship because of commercial conflicts. I wrote an article reporting the victory of our football team over Cecil, which Mr. Cavanaugh rejected because he was afraid it would alienate his customers in the Cecil area. Being a typical teenage rebel, I promptly resigned in protest. This rash incident nipped my career as a sports journalist in the bud and doomed me to a future as a Civil Engineer (a future for which I was much better suited, fortunately).

I was just one of series of high school sports reporters who supplied the paper with articles; my brother did the same chore when he was a senior. Apparently my successors were more rational than I; I am not aware of any of them resigning in protest. A few years later my mother was a volunteer at the Bridgeville Public Library and was very proud of being able to provide the paper with reviews of new books as they were acquired by the library.

In 1953 Mr. Cavanaugh sold the paper to John McCracken and Ralph E. Hennon, an experienced pressman from Oakdale. McCracken sold his interest in the paper in 1958, and a partnership of Mr. Hennon and Custer G. Papas took over. Papas had worked for the paper for about ten years, primarily as a linotype operator. When Mr. Hennon encountered health problems in 1966, Papas bought his interest and became sole operator and publisher of the Bridgeville Publishing Company.

In 1977 the Knepper Press acquired the Bridgeville Publishing Company and continued to publish the Bridgeville News, now called ”the Bridgeville Area News”. The Knepper family has a long history of newspaper publishing in the Chartiers Valley, including the brief episode in Bridgeville mentioned above. Their first paper was the Mansfield Item, which commenced publication in 1873.

I wrote a series of columns a few years ago, based on microfiche archives of the Mansfield Item at the Carnegie Historical Society. There were a few news items about Bridgeville in most issues. Occasionally Mr. Knepper would make an effort to recruit customers and advertisers from Bridgeville and would put out an issue filled with Bridgeville gossip. It doesn’t appear the effort was very successful.

In 1894 Mansfield and Chartiers Boroughs merged, forming a new community, which they named Carnegie. The Mansfield Item followed suit, being renamed the Carnegie Item. In 1905 John C. Knepper attempted to diversify by starting a new paper, the “Valley Signal.” We don’t know much about it; it may actually have been called “the Chartiers Valley Signal”. It survived until 1908 when it apparently was merged with “the Item”, generating a new name, “the Carnegie Signal-Item”. I wish we knew more about the individuals in the Knepper family and the convoluted history of this paper.

In 1989 Gateway Newspapers, a Monroeville firm specializing in small weekly community papers, acquired the Bridgeville Area News and the Carnegie Signal-Item and continued to publish them. “Water Under the Bridge” made its first appearance in the Bridgeville Area News in November 1993. Its title was “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving“; it dealt with our family’s annual trip to my father’s home near Chambersburg each Thanksgiving.

In 2005 Gateway was purchased by Trib Total Media, the parent company of a number of newspapers including the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. In the summer of 2008 they decided to terminate publication of the Bridgeville Area News. The final edition featured a cartoon of a disconsolate columnist leaning over a bridge and watching the water flow under it for the last time.

Eighteen months later the Bridgeville paper was miraculously resuscitated as was my journalistic career. The paper was now to be distributed by mail, along with the Pennysaver, to a much broader audience, one that included readers in South Fayette and Collier Townships, as well as those Bridgeville residents who had been unable or unwilling to pay for the paper in its earlier form.

These past seven years have been quite rewarding for me. I regularly encounter folks who recognize me from my picture in the column masthead and comment on something I have recently written. Unfortunately the changing situation in the print media industry appears to have caught up with us again. Our younger generations prefer to get their news electronically, and the market for hard copy newspapers has declined accordingly.

Trib Total Media has recognized this and reorganized to accommodate it. Last month they ceased to publish print copies and have concentrated on producing a very effective website in their place. Along with this change they have re-evaluated the local community market and elected to focus on a smaller number of local papers, a decision which once again has doomed the Bridgeville Area News.

It is their intention to replace the existing Carnegie Signal-Item and Bridgeville Area News with a single paper, the Signal-Item, serving the middle Chartiers Valley area, including Bridgeville. At this time “Water Under the Bridge” will continue to appear in the new paper. The new news editor of the Signal-Item, Bobby Cherry, has an impressive track record, as can be seen by his work with the Sewickley Herald, a local paper that provides much more relevant news than we have seen in this area for years.

Unfortunately at this time there are no plans to continue distribution of the paper to Collier and South Fayette Townships, a decision that I hope will be reconsidered. We are planning to continue to archive our columns with the Bridgeville Area Historical Society and on my personal blog site, http://mywutb.blogspot.com.

I am grateful to Trib Total Media for providing me with the opportunity to write this column for the past several decades; I hope they will continue to provide Bridgeville with a quality weekly community paper.

By my count the most recent version of the Bridgeville News was under its eighth different management. Does this cat have a ninth life? Or have I missed one somewhere along the way and its nine lives are used up?

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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