Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



Bridgeville High School, Part One
May 25, 2017



The Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s “Second Tuesday” workshop this month focused on the early years of Bridgeville High School in the first of a series of programs dealing with the history of the school, which graduated its final Senior class in 1960.

The facilitator began the program by reviewing what we know about the first school buildings in the Bridgeville area. According to research done by Dorothy Stenzel, the first school was on Presley Road; it was destroyed by a fire. Next came one on McLaughlin Run Road, close to the location of the McLaughlin Run Park today. It operated until 1858; the building it occupied was destroyed by the massive flood of 1874.

It was followed by the Fryer School, located at the east end of Baldwin Street before it was extended across the creek to meet McLaughlin Run Road. It is believed that the building that housed the school was moved when the street was extended and was repurposed as a residence.

The next school was in a frame building on the corner of Hickman and Locust Streets; teachers there were Harry Couch and Sadie Rogers. When it was replaced by a two story building on Washington Avenue in 1894, Macedonia Maioli acquired it to serve as a warehouse for a wholesale liquor distributorship.

The first Washington Avenue building was replaced by a two story, twelve room brownstone building in 1904. In 1910 a third story and four more rooms were added to the brownstone.

He chose to begin with a 1908 photograph, purported to be of the first BHS graduating class. It showed five students and their teacher, Mr. Allen W. Kelly. According to the 1907 Polk Business Directory, Mr. Kelly and his wife Louise lived on the corner of Chess and Station Streets. We think he was also the Principal of the school. The students were Mary Melvin, Grace Lesnett, Mary Jones, Leith Baird, and Edna Fryer.

Mary Melvin married a gentleman named Smith and moved to Chicago where she became a homemaker. We presume she was the daughter of contractor Allen Melvin and his wife Adeline who lived on Gregg Avenue. Grace Lesnett had a long career as a school teacher in this area; she married a man named Shaw. She was the daughter of T. Dell Lesnett, grew up in the Lesnett homestead on Lesnett Road.

Mary Jones was the daughter of carpenter Amos Jones and his wife Emma, who lived on Railroad Street. She became a school teacher and was a fixture at Washington Grade School into the 1940s. We presume Leith Baird was the son of George and Ella Morgan Baird, whose home was on the corner of Chess and Station Streets. He is reported to have moved to Florida and become a salesman.

Edna Fryer was the daughter of undertaker Amos Fryer, whose home and establishment were on Washington Avenue. She became Mrs. Landis, a homemaker in North Girard (Erie County).

The Class of 1909 boasted twelve graduates, including Raymond Lutz. He was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Lutz, who lived on the corner of Murray and Washington Avenues. Raymond became a dentist who practiced for many years in Bridgeville.

The BHS Class of 1910 was made up of eight students, including Abigail and Sarah Lesnett. There was a turnover of teachers that year. George Cheesman began the year, then resigned. His replacement, R. N. Hosack, didn’t last much longer, as he too resigned. Fortunately he was replaced by Joseph Ferree, who was still going strong at the High School into the early 1950s. Abigail and Sarah Lesnett grew up in the Lesnett homestead on Lesnett Road. Sarah had a long, distinguished career as a teacher in the Bridgeville area.

In 1911 the high school added a third year. Seven students elected to graduate in 1911; the other four stayed the third year and were the class of 1912.

Casper Picard went to Weirton as a mill-worker. His grand-daughter, Suzie Picard, was in the audience at our workshop. The Picard family, parents Michael and Katharine, are listed in the Polk Directory as living on the Washington Pike; we believe this was in Kirwan Heights.

William C. Hopper is listed in the 1911 group. His parents, William P. and Annie, lived on Elm Street. William C. married Flora Hockenberry; they were our neighbors on Lafayette Street and their sons William and Donald were childhood playmates of ours. Their father worked in Pittsburgh for the Eugene Dietzgen Company, a prominent supplier of engineering tools.

The 1913 Class was small, consisting of only three students. A postcard addressed to Mildred Lackey Crum provides a photograph of the faculty for the entire school in 1913, plus names of most of them. They were Mary Jones, Ms. Hewitt, Joseph Ferree, Romaine Russell, Cecelia Sullivan, Ida Porter, Lucy Jeol, Hannah Hockenberry, a lady identified as “Cronemeyer”, Miss Retta Jones, Elizabeth Dinsmore, Mr. McAnlis, and Nell Roach.

The Class of 1914 made up for the small class of the previous year, boasting twelve graduates. Eva Betschar became a school teacher, according to the 1926 Yearbook. Hobart Chivers married classmate Lorraine Silhol and moved to Fredonia, New York, and became a mill-worker. Chivers was the son of constable John J. Chivers and his wife Sarah. They lived on Hickman Street. Miss Silhol was the daughter of Ferdinand and Josephine Silhol. Mr. Silhol was operating the wholesale liquor business at the corner of Hickman and Locust Streets.

Doyce Gallagher is described in the 1926 Yearbook as a mill worker. He was our neighbor on Lafayette Street in the 1940s, father of Carol and Lois. His parents, miner John T. Gallagher and Elsie, lived on Dewey Avenue.

We know that Mildred Lackey married Park Crum, and lived on the corner of Elm and Chartiers Streets. Their children were Fred, Eileen, and Jimmy. Mr. Crum had an operating gas well in a field behind their house.

Ralph Picard, probably the brother of William, Class of 1911, was “killed in a Flannery explosion”.

Nine students made up the Class of 1915. Estella Paul, daughter of David C. and Hannah Paul, who lived on Washington Avenue, became a bank teller in Bridgeville, later married a man named Cook.

The final class we covered in this first workshop was 1916. It consisted of nine students. We have a photo of thirty four students labelled “Classes of 1915 and 1916”, a photo of three girls in graduation robes holding a 1916 BHS pennant, and a photo of one of them (Bernadine McCaffrey) holding the pennant.

Miss McCaffrey was probably the daughter of Justice of the Peace Simon McCaffrey and his wife Margaret. They lived on Washington Avenue. She became a stenographer, then married barber Pete Conroy. The Conroys lived in Greenwood and had two children, Pat and Bernadine.

Clara Weise was the daughter of coal mining magnate Edmund Weise and his wife Alma. The Weises came to Bridgeville in 1913, eventually built a large house at 1200 Bank Street. Clara was the fifth of their nine children, the first to graduate from BHS. She married T. Walter Jones, Class of 1918. They lived at the corner of Dewey Avenue and Chartiers Street; Their children were Tom and Marian.

The first BHS history workshop came to a close with the discussion of the Class of 1916. The next workshop will be at the History Center at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. We hope to cover all the classes between 1916 and 1926 in that workshop.

This document is the residue of a lot of editing of a draft version about twice the length of this one. Contact me if you would like a copy of the long version. I suspect it ultimately will be the first chapter of a book on the history of Bridgeville High School.

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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