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Olyer: Highlighting Bridgeville in the 1910 to 1920 decade

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

This column is the second half of a two-part series dealing with the history of Bridgeville in the second decade of the 20th century, a topic that was covered in our last presentation of “Bridgeville Remembered.” Part One discussed the impact of the numerous ethnic groups who settled here in those years, and reviewed the 1913 Sanborn insurance maps.

Certainly, the most significant event in this decade was World War I. Its impact was felt on the families of the numerous Bridgeville area servicemen, and most particularly on those of the 22 men who died in France. This portion of the presentation was given by my brother, Joe, based on a chapter in his book, “Almost Forgotten.”

He discussed his efforts to identify and recognize all the men from this area who have perished while serving our country in the military. The monuments to World War I servicemen in Bridgeville, Millers Run, and Thoms Run provided most of the names; personal interviews with survivors and descendants of these men supplied specific information.

The fatalities included William Barclay, Achille Barufaldi, Albert Comstock, Walter Coppus, William Kirkpatrick, Rudolph Kovach, Louis Kresenosky, Walter McCartney, James McCluskey, Frank O'Block, Francis O”Donnell, Roy Purnell, Ivor Reese, Raymond Roach, Edmond Schollaert, Samuel Solts, Adam Spohn, Lloyd Warrrensford, Anthony Wilinsky, and Joseph Witchoskey. For most of these men, the speaker was able to determine where and how they died, who their survivors were, and where they are buried. Thanks to Joe, these men have not been forgotten.

The most poignant story is that of Roy Purnell, an African-American who is buried in France. After the war, the government graciously provided widows of servicemen buried overseas with the opportunity to travel to France and visit their loved one's gravesites. Purnell's widow, Olivia, applied for passage and was turned down, because of her race. Her employer, Dr. Fife, was incensed at this treatment and arranged for her to go abroad, at his expense. The photograph of Olivia Purnell, at her husband's grave is particularly touching.

In 1912, a third floor was added to Washington School, making it a suitable home for all 11 grades. The speaker showed a picture of the graduating classes of 1916 and 1918 and reported that there was no class of 1917 because that year, for the first time, 12 years of schooling were required for graduation.

On Oct. 16, 1915, James C. Franks, the Pennsylvania Railroad station agent in Bridgeville, was brutally murdered trying to prevent a robbery at the station. Witnesses were threatened at gunpoint and allowed the two burglars to escape. The crime went unsolved until 1934 when J. F. McDonald, alias James Dinwiddie, a convict in Illinois, was identified by his ex-partner as Franks' killer.

The speaker showed two photographs taken from Gould City Hill that present an excellent portrait of Bridgeville in 1911. One of them shows Washington Avenue from Murray Avenue to James Street, with the Washington School prominently located. The Wabash Railroad passenger station, on Murray, is identifiable at the left end of the photo; Greenwood Place and Bank Property can be seen in the distance.

The accompanying photograph shows the south end of the community. New homes on Ramsey Avenue are in the foreground. The Methodist church and residences on Station Street are recognizable, as is the steeple of Bethany church in the distance.

The presentation included a number of other “period” pictures taken from the historical society book “Bridgeville” that reinforce our perception of Bridgeville in those days. A 1911 photograph of Washington Avenue near Chartiers Street features two vintage automobiles, although the street is still unpaved. The presence of telephone poles and lines is a vivid symbol of progress. A similar photograph of Gregg Avenue, the first street developed in Bank Property, shows wooden sidewalks and the telephone lines; it too was unpaved in 1911.

Another interesting photo showed four bearded Civil War veterans – Andy Rankin, David Bowers, John Warrensford, and David Crum – seated proudly in front of a brand new 40-star American flag, a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and the new. Several photos of Memorial Day parades further illustrate the patriotism of the time.

The next presentation in the “Bridgeville Remembered” series will focus on “the Roaring Twenties,” 1920 to 1930. It is scheduled for 7 p.m., Oct. 10, in the Community Room at the Bridgeville Public Library.

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

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