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Bridgeville Remembered series makes a stop at Roaring Twenties

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:04 p.m.

The October program in the Bridgeville Remembered series documented life in Bridgeville in the 1920s; it was appropriately titled “The Roaring Twenties.”

Sponsored jointly by the Bridgeville Area Historical Society and the Bridgeville Public Library, the series has traced local history, beginning in the pre-colonial times.

The decade of the 1920s was a time of great optimism. We had just finished the “war to end all wars,” and business was booming everywhere. Bridgeville was no exception. It continued to grow rapidly, and its downtown was the business and cultural center of a region that included neighboring townships — South Fayette, Collier, Scott and Upper St. Clair. Saturday night on Washington Avenue was an experience not to be missed.

A major local event in this decade was the commercialization of Mayer Air Field. C. P. Mayer was never a man to sit back and rest on his laurels. His accomplishments had already included the Bridgeville Coal Mine, a prosperous general store, a lumber supplies company, a newspaper, a prominent brick company, and a land development company that produced a major industrial park along the railroads just north of Bridgeville.

By the time World War I had ended, there was excitement everywhere regarding aviation. Mayer acquired 60 acres of flat land on the top of a hill in Collier Township, laid out two unpaved runways, and erected two small hangers in 1919, thus staking a claim to being the first commercial airport west of the Allegheny Mountains.

It is believed that the first plane to be headquartered at Mayer Air Field was a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplane. The U.S. Postal Service selected Jennies when they initiated air mail service in 1918. Mayer Field was the original air mail delivery site for the Pittsburgh area.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh thrilled the world by flying solo across the Atlantic to Paris, in a Ryan B-1 Brougham high wing monoplane. Mayer promptly acquired rights to market the B-1 in Pennsylvania. The first one arriving here was dubbed “Pride of Pittsburgh.”

The new age of aviation produced the first photograph of Bridgeville in July 1922. Taken from a vantage point high over Gould City Hill it clearly shows almost all the borough at that time. The speaker subdivided it into four parts and blew up each quadrant so viewers could identify individual houses and buildings.

In 1924 a new school was built on Gregg Avenue. Named Lincoln High School, it became the home for both junior (seventh and eighth grades) and senior high school classes. Washington School continued to house grades one through six, in quarters that no longer were overcrowded. Those of us who remember Washington School have a difficult time imagining all 12 grades being in one building.

Coupled with opening the new high school was the establishment of scholastic athletic teams. One of our recent columns discussed them in the 1924-26 time period. The speaker showed a picture of a BHS basketball team in 1921, captained by Burke Jones. Three years later Mr. Jones was a member of the United States Olympic Soccer team that competed in France in 1924.

One wonders where a basketball team played in 1921; there was surely no possibility of playing basketball in Washington School. We do recall being told that, at one time, there was a basketball court on the third floor of the Bethany School. It is also interesting to hear the basketball court at Lincoln High School being described as “very modern.” Twenty years later we all wished we had a better place to play.

Most of the pictures the speaker showed are from chapter six of the Historical Society book, “Bridgeville.” Included were photos of mansions — 430 Washington Ave., then occupied by Dr. Kocher; 639 Gregg Ave., the home of the J.D. Meise family; and the Edmund Weise residence at 1200 Bank St. Also shown were a number of business establishments — Foster's Grocery Store, Ernstein's Meat Market, Bennett's Drug Store, the Delphus Theater and Viale's Hotel.

Another interesting facility was the Pittsburgh Board Speedway, a half-mile wooden race track located across Chartiers Creek from the Bethany Presbyterian Church. During the years it was operated it attracted world class drivers, including Indianapolis favorites like Wilbur Shaw.

The next presentation in this series will cover “The Depression Years, 1930 to 1940,” an era during which a majority of Bridgeville's families lived below the poverty level, yet managed to survive comfortably. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Nov. 14, in the Community Room at the Bridgeville Library.

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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