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Bridgeville area felt tremendous impact of Civil War

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The seventh presentation in our series “Bridgeville Remembered” was subtitled “The Civil War Years, 1850 to 1875.” Jointly sponsored by the Bridgeville Area Historical Society and the Bridgeville Public Library, the series examines the history and heritage of this area.

As far as the Bridgeville area is concerned, the three most significant events in this particular time period were the Civil War, the arrival of the Chartiers Valley Railroad and the disposition of the Jonathan Middleswarth estate.

The impact of the Civil War overshadowed everything else. Patriotic fervor was rampant after the secession of the southern states. Volunteer companies were raised throughout the region, including Company K of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry.

There was an outpouring of public support when these brave young men marched off to war. The ladies of Bethany Church sewed a flag for Company K and presented it to them on the front porch of the Middleswarth mansion. Unfortunately, many of the brave young men never returned. Their stories are eloquently told in the book “Almost Forgotten,” written by my brother, Joseph Oyler. He graciously agreed to relate them as part of this month's presentation. Eleven young men from this area died during the war, including representatives of the three pioneer families — Richard Lesnett, Thomas Boyce and John Park Hickman.

The story of the Chartiers Valley Railroad begins in 1830, when a group of visionary entrepreneurs planned to build a railroad connecting Washington and Pittsburgh, with a route down the Chartiers Valley. After four failures, the company's assets eventually were purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad system in 1866, primarily to incorporate the portion of the right-of-way from the Ohio River to Mansfield (Carnegie) into its new main line west through Steubenville.

Investors in this area persuaded the Pennsylvania Railroad to build an extension from Mansfield through Bridgeville and Canonsburg to Washington. Called the Chartiers Branch, this line was completed in 1871. Initial service was two round trips a day from Washington, Pa., to Pittsburgh, providing residents in the Chartiers Valley with easy access to “the city,” as well as to the rest of our nation. It was quite a contrast with the horse-drawn stagecoach service.

Prior to the disposition of Jonathan Middleswarth's estate after his death in 1868, most of the buildings in Bridgeville were on the east side of the Washington Pike. His mansion and the farm of his tenant, James Blackamore, occupied most of the west side. His demise precipitated a legal dispute.

Everyone knew that Blackamore leased the farm from Middleswarth, and everyone was surprised when Blackamore said that his payments for the land were against a mortgage and that he now was the owner of the farm. The dispute was in the courts for a number of years before its final resolution in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The court ruled against Blackamore and in favor of a number of heirs — distant relatives of the Middleswarths. John Hickman was appointed administrator of the estate. As a result, the land west of the pike was subdivided into seven or eight plots, each of which generated opportunities for building homes and businesses. The Washington Pike suddenly turned into the Main Street of a growing community.

There were a number of changes to the community. In 1870, Bethany Church acquired the property on which it currently is located and built a frame building called “the Lord's Barn” to house a mission Sunday School. Dr. David Donaldson purchased Dr. Hayes' medical practice, office and residence at 745 Washington Ave.

In 1867, the James Gailey Murray family came to Bridgeville from Sodom (Clifton), where he had operated a general store. They purchased 423 Washington Ave. for $3,500 and continued the mercantile trade there. The Henry Poellot family also came here from Sodom. They built a house at 353 Washington Ave. and established their wagon building/repair business on that site.

Walter and Marie Foster bought Judge Baldwin's home, “Recreation,” in 1842. Their son, Samuel, built and operated a store at the corner of Foster's Lane — now Station Street — and Railroad Street, close to the new Chartiers Valley Railroad passenger station.

By 1875, Bridgeville still was a sleepy rural village but was showing signs of the rapid expansion that was ahead for it in the next few years. We will discuss that era in our next presentation, scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 16, in the Community Room at the Bridgeville Public Library.

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

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