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Looking back at Bridgeville in the 1910-1920 decade

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 2:30 p.m.

The 12th presentation in the “Bridgeville Remembered” series covered the second decade of the 20th century, 1910 to 1920.

In the Bridgeville Area Historical Society book, “Bridgeville,” the chapter dealing with this decade was entitled “The Melting Pot.” This presentation included a major section on the principal ethnic minorities in Bridgeville and their effort to reconcile two conflicting motivations – the drive to conform to the “American” society that dominated the community and the desire to retain the cultural heritage they retained from their days in “the old country.”

The largest ethnic group consisted of the Italians. The speaker used photographs of “the Italian Club” to illustrate the way they kept their culture alive — by mingling with each other while speaking in their native tongue, enjoying their unique cuisine, and playing bocce and morra.

Other ethnic groups established their own social clubs. The Slovenians called their club “the Granish Club.” It was so successful they opened a second one; one on Cook's Hill, the other on Fryer's Hill.

The origin of the name Granish is interesting. In the early 14th century, when the Muslims were driven out of the Balkans, a Bavarian count in a region of Austria called Gran acquired a large block of land in what now is southern Slovenia. He promptly moved a group of his serfs there and established an estate. These people refused to be integrated into the local Slav culture; 600 years later they were still speaking in a unique German dialect. The Slovenians in the Bridgeville area are their descendants and are proud to call themselves Granish.

The German immigrants who came here late in the 19th century also established a social club, which commonly was known as “the Dutch Club.” It was located on McLaughlin Run Road. These people also started their own churches — the Protestants, Zion Lutheran; and the Roman Catholics, St. Barbara's. Incidentally, the German speaking Slovenians were co-founders of St. Barbara's.

The African Americans purchased land from the Cook family and built their (Baptist) church on what is now Bower Hill Road. The Lithuanians acquired the old Methodist church on Miller's Run Road and repurposed it as St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, when the Methodists moved into their new facility on Station Street. Each ethnic minority managed to retain some vestige of its culture while being engulfed in the melting pot that was the community.

In this decade, Bridge-ville continued to grow. The Sanborn Map Co. followed up its 1907 maps of the community with a 1913 version.

Two new industrial facilities were built between the two railroads in “Coultersville.” On one side of Villars Avenue was the “Frederick-Elder Company, Mfrs. of Metal Specialties;” on the other, the “Standard Steel Box Company.” The map reports in detail on the number of watchmen, the presence of fire extinguishers and the location of fire hydrants for each facility.

Another new business was the “Charles B. Sossong Co., Breast Yokes and Blacksmithing,” located on Buck Alley (Bank Street extension) where the Otterman Manufacturing Co. had been in 1907.

Baldwin Street had seen many changes in this period. It was paved and extended to McLaughlin Run Road by the construction of a bridge over the Run. The development of Baldwin Street into what became an alternate “downtown” area for Bridgeville is credited to the Colussy Construction Co.

Around 1900, four Colussy brothers came to this country and found work as carpenters with a coal company in West Virginia. They eventually relocated to Morgan, where they continued this trade. Two of the brothers, Michael and Peter, then moved to Bridgeville and formed a construction company. Eventually, Louis joined them; Blaise, however, went a different direction and became a successful farmer in South Fayette.

Building on the success of the construction firm, Michael established and operated an ice plant on Baldwin Street. Peter built an apartment building on the corner of Baldwin and Railroad Streets and operated it. Louis continued in the construction business before acquiring a dealership for Chevrolet automobiles in 1918. Three of his sons continued it after his death; his other three sons eventually acquired the dealership for Ford automobiles in Bridgeville.

The omnipresent entrepreneurship of people like the Colussys and the integration of major ethnic groups into the community are only two characteristics of life in Bridgeville in this decade. We will discuss several others in next week's column.

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

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