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'Bridgeville Remembered' series becoming workshop rather than monologue

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 7:12 p.m.

The fifth lecture in our “Bridgeville Remembered” series was presented at the Bridgeville Public Library on Feb. 14, 2013. Subtitled “A New Century,” it dealt with life in this area in the first quarter of the nineteenth century – 1800 to 1825. We were surprised at the large turnout for this event, and grateful for the comments and questions from the audience. The series is indeed becoming a workshop, rather than a monologue.

The United States still was searching for an identity in 1800, and the settlers in the Chartiers Valley found themselves in the mainstream of this process. In 1811 the federal government, now led by President James Madison, initiated the first interstate highway project — the National Road. It was intended to open up the Northwest Territory — Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois — to settlers from Virginia. Beginning at Cumberland, Maryland, it followed the old route of Braddock's Road as far as Redstone (now Brownsville) on the Monongahela River.

Instead of continuing on to Pittsburgh the National Road then went cross-country to Washington, Pennsylvania, and then to Wheeling. The Virginians who now controlled the government were still upset that Pittsburgh had ended up in Pennsylvania; they planned for Wheeling to be the “gateway to the West.” From Wheeling the highway continued west to Vandalia, Ill.

Business leaders in Pittsburgh were concerned about being bypassed by this important artery. They formed the “Washington to Pittsburgh Turnpike Company” and planned to construct a highway connecting Pittsburgh with the National Road. Frederick Lesnett was now the patriarch of his family; his father had died in 1807. Pleased that the new highway would go through his farm, he subscribed $300 to the new company. In 1824 when his debt came due, he lacked the necessary cash to honor it. Instead he and his 16-year-old son Wilson went to work as laborers, at 30 cents a day, to satisfy his obligation. The family also earned money by selling grain and foodstuffs to the contractors, as well as by providing room and board for the laborers.

In 1812 our young country found itself at war with England again. Frederick's brother Christopher went into the Northwest Territory with the militia. The army of which his unit was a part was defeated, near Detroit, by a force of British, Canadians, and Indians, and surrendered unconditionally. Christopher and a friend escaped into the woods and were pursued by Indians. Christopher was able to escape and eventually find his way home. This adventure is depicted in a painting by Andrew Knez Jr., called “The Escape.”

Nicolaus Heckman died in 1802. His son Adam Hickman and his family left this area at that time and moved to Columbiana County, Ohio, leaving Peter Hickman on the family farm. Several other families from this area also moved there, probably because of the lure of available farm land.

A number of other well known families were solidly established in this area by the turn of the century. Moses Middleswarth originally owned the land which is now “Presto”; he later acquired property from Thomas Ramsey and others. By 1820 he owned most of what is now Bridgeville west of the Washington Pike. Although he had three sons, Jonathan Middleswarth was his favorite and the heir to his estate.

Moses Coulter was another prominent citizen. He too acquired land and by 1820 owned most of what is now Bridgeville east of the Pike. He and his wife, Margery Fawcett Coulter, had three daughters. The disposition of his property is interesting. Daughter Jane married John McDowell; they eventually sold “Bank Property” to Walter Foster. Daughter Ann married Samuel Collins; their property was sold to John Bell – it eventually was sold to the Godwins, E. R. Weise, and Arthur Silhol. Daughter Olive married John Cook Sr.; their land, the Cook farm, was the area known as Cook's Hill.

John Morgan and his family came to America in 1775 from Scotland. In gratitude for his service in the Revolutionary War the government granted him three hundred acres at Morgan Hill. Leonard Fryer and his wife Eleanor Porter came from County Down, Ireland. He was wounded in an Indian campaign in 1791, after which his family, including thirteen children, established their home in the McLaughlin Run/Fryer's Hill area.

The next presentation in this series is scheduled for March 7, in the Community Room of the Bridgeville Public Library. It will focus on the beginning of a modest village along the Washington Pike between 1825 and 1850. The series is a joint project of the Library and the Bridgeville Area Historical Society; the public is cordially invited.

John Oyler, a columnist for Trib Total Media, can be reached at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@comcast.net.

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