Book's pages flip through rich history of Delmont, Salem Township
By Mary Pickels
Published: Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
When Tracy Searight moved to Delmont five years ago, she was surprised to learn that “such a quiet town” of about 2,500 residents at the juncture of routes 22 and 66 holds such a prominent place in local history.
“People would say, ‘Did you know this was a busy hub? This was a stagecoach stop.' I learned about the water trough. That's where everyone went on a hot day,” she said.
Searight found the stories fascinating.
“I said to myself, ‘I've got to write a book,'” she said.
Searight sent a proposal to Arcadia Publishing and was asked to expand the project to include Salem Township. The township includes numerous small villages, including former coal mining communities of Crabtree, Forbes Road and Slickville.
Arcadia Publishing this month released the pictorial history book, “Salem Township and Delmont,” as part of its Images of America series.
When Searight, 40, originally from Munhall, Allegheny County, returned to the area from Charleston, S.C., she worked at a day care center in the borough building. The former Delmont Public School now houses the town library, police force and other businesses.
Pictures of the school are among more than 200 black-and-white photos in the book.
The mother of four, who teaches at the Children's Learning Ladder in Murrysville, said the book took more than a year to complete.
“It was like putting a large puzzle together. Some of those places, the pictures were few and far between,” Searight said.
She did some research at the Westmoreland County Historical Society, where she is a member, and found some photos through the organization and other members. Finding enough quality photos proved challenging.
“You don't have 10 photos of the water trough in 1912. Some would not reproduce well,” Searight said. “I found some on eBay. A lot of them, I did ‘now and then' photos.”
The spring-fed water trough was a gathering spot for the town that grew up at the juncture of Route 66, which was built in 1800, and U.S. Route 22, providing water for stagecoaches in the 1800s. In the 1960s, motorists lined up on weekends to wash their cars, Searight said.
The trough was disconnected in the 1970s, after the state Department of Environmental Resources determined that the water did not meet safe-consumption standards. A reconstructed version remains on Delmont's East Pittsburgh Street.
Through research, Searight found that when William Wilson received a tract of land in 1784, he traveled from his home in Salem, Mass., and christened the property New Salem.
A descendant divided the property into lots forming a crossroads village. New Salem was incorporated in 1833, and was known by several different names until 1967. Residents voting on a referendum formally changed the name to Delmont.
“I had to research (the photo text). Bob (Cupp) was my resource to double- and triple-check information,” Searight said.
Cupp, who wrote “A Valley in the Hills,” a history of Delmont borough, contributed a number of photos to Searight's book.
Robert Yaley, grandson of early resident and businessman W.J. Zimmerman, shared his grandfather's meticulous records of Delmont with Searight.
Until the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed in 1853, Salem Crossroads (now Delmont) was the last stagecoach stop before Pittsburgh. Travelers could rest overnight before continuing 23 miles to Pittsburgh.
The book's photos show the hand tools and explosives coal miners used, the mule-drawn coal wagons, company stores that served as one-stop shopping in coal mining communities, and the many churches that sprang up to serve the township's growing population.
Other images show the Lessig Cemetery grave marker of Revolutionary War soldier Robert Riddle, the New Salem home of gunsmith and borough councilman Jacob Earnest, and Zachariah Zimmerman's drugstore, the first of its kind in New Salem.
More current pictures show a 2007 ground-breaking ceremony for the Westmoreland Heritage Trail, which runs between Slickville and Saltsburg; the Apple Hill Playhouse Theatre; and R.J. Shields Farm, home of Delmont's annual Apple ‘N Arts Festival.
Searight hopes the book will help local residents reminisce and keep alive the township's history for future generations.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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