Oakmont Historical Society makes new home in time for 125th celebration

| Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 1:11 a.m.

In Oakmont, there is no time like the present to appreciate the past.

There are two reasons: the celebration of the town's 125th anniversary this year and the establishment of a museum that focuses on the town's history.

The anniversary celebration, which has begun with a few events, will extend throughout 2014 with more events taking place each month.

As for the museum, it appears to have a permanent home in a storefront at 628 Allegheny River Blvd., according to Gary Rogers, president of the Oakmont Historical Society.

“That's our plan,” Rogers said.

The society, which was formed in 2007, created the museum in a storefront next to the Wines and Spirits Store.

Rogers said he, Matt Provenza and other society members painted the interior and did the needed preparation work.

Colleen McQuigan, the museum's curator, “really put this together with the collections and displays,” Rogers said.

All connected with the museum, including McQuigan, are society members who work on a volunteer basis, Rogers said. The museum operates on donations, fundraisers and the sale of items such as T-shirts.

The two main rooms in the front of the museum are used for displays. A smaller one in the back is dedicated to items related to the Oakmont schools.

The featured display in the front room is about the defunct Edgewater Steel Co., which was the town's largest employer.

“That will be there for about two months, and then we'll replace that with a display on the railroad,” Rogers said.

One feature of the museum focuses on photographs and items from a prominent Oakmont family. The display, which will change periodically, currently is dedicated to the Reeds, who owned a planing mill in Pittsburgh.

The family display is kept on and above a carved wooden mantle salvaged from the demolition of a house on Fourth Street when a workman noticed “Oakmont, Pa. 1890” carved into the back. The society learned it was made by a carpenter named Adam Hoerr who lived in Oakmont.

There is an area devoted to firefighters, police and military veterans as well.

Pointing to the center of a the display case, Rogers said, “This is probably the oldest piece we have, it's a medal from the Mexican War.”

The medal belonged to Joseph Schell Reed who lived from 1823 to 1912 and served with the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the Mexican-American War from 1847 to 1848.

The room dedicated to the community's schools includes an old bass drum from the Oakmont High School marching band and a band member's uniform and hat as well. There is also a collection of Oakmont High yearbooks, as well as a display focusing on athletics in Oakmont, which pays tribute to the 1965 Oakmont High football team that won the WPIAL Class B title under iconic football coach Chuck Wagner.

Another display case holds an old leather football helmet from Oakmont High.

“You know Chuck Wagner?” he asks. “This is his actual football helmet when he played at Oakmont. Look how small it is. I don't know how he fit it on his head.”

The museum opened in November after being housed temporarily in the Oakmont Carnegie Library.

“We had a lot of this stuff that people donated but we had nowhere to display it,” Rogers said. “Oakmont library gave us a space, but it was small and we would rotate displays in and out. Then we found this space.”

Rogers, who said he is a direct descendant of Michael Bright, the first person to settle in what is now Oakmont back in 1816, is pleased with the public response to the museum. He said people continue to provide financial donations and give historical materials.

“It makes me feel good that the people of Oakmont have just embraced this place,” he said. “Oakmont is a nice little town and it me makes me feel good that they've embraced their history.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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