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Oyler: Learning something new from newspaper archives

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

We have completed our research into the archived editions of the Pittsburg Dispatch in the late 1890s and found a number of additional articles that give us insight into some aspects of life in Bridgeville in those days.

There are numerous articles dealing with the drilling of oil wells in the Bridgeville area. On May 3, 1890, readers were informed that the South Penn Oil Company well on the Hickman farm has “reached the sand but there is no showing of oil.” They also learned that “A fishing job is in progress on the same company's well on the Alexander farm.”

By Feb. 23, 1891, the Robbins and Graham wells on the Alexander farm was projected “to make a 100-barrel producer from the Gordon sand.” On March 30, 1892, it was reported that the Southside Oil Company's well at Bridgeville had found some oil between 2,100 and 2,200 feet. Incidentally, the market for oil was about 86 cents a barrel in those days.

Our earlier column made fun of Miss Jennie Fetherstone's visit to Bridgeville to “rusticate” late in the summer of 1890. It turns out this was a return visit for her. The Sept. 29, 1889, Dispatch reports that she and Mr. C. F. McBride of Wiley Avenue had just returned to the city from a visit with Mr. Alex Scott, of Bridgeville, lasting two weeks.

The same year the paper reported that Mr. A. S. Wall, of Arch Street, Allegheny, had returned from a vacation in Bridgeville where he was “busy with the brush” and had “filled his knapsack with many pretty sketches of his trip.”

The fiftieth wedding anniversary for Mr. and Mrs. George McCune was the society event of the winter season for Bridgeville, according to the February 16, 1890 Dispatch. Seventy-five guests attended the affair that lasted from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mrs. E. W. McGinnis, of Beaver, and Mrs. Dr. Cook, of McDonald served as hostesses at the couple's home. Its spacious parlors were beautifully decorated with flowers.

Mrs. McCune was dressed in ”elegant gray silk and real lace, with gloves to match.” Her husband wore a black dress suit with white vest. Both were described as looking “young and handsome.”

The March 22, 1890, Dispatch headlined a story “Gobbling Up Coal Land.” A Philadelphia syndicate had quietly taken options for coal rights for 7,000 acres between Bridgeville and Sodom (Clifton), paying $35 to $45 an acre for land that was expected to produce 100,000 bushels of soft merchantable coal per acre.

The summer of 1891 was an excellent one for the peach growers in this area. An article dated June 20 of that year reported that 10,000 baskets of peaches would be shipped from the Bridgeville area that area. I was surprised to learn that this region had been a producer of fruit in those days.

The same summer a tornado touched down close to Bridgeville. The July 25, 1891, Dispatch states that a cyclone had devastated an area seven hundred feet long by one hundred and forty feet wide. Its record of destruction included picking up a freight car and dropping it 100 feet away, killing dozens of chickens, and uprooting ancient oak trees.

The Sept. 16, 1891, edition produced an account of a very unusual accident. Bridgeville Machine shop proprietor Jonathan Small was killed when a large grindstone in his shop “burst.”

On Feb. 5, 1892, the Dispatch reported the deaths of two Bridgeville sisters, Lavina and Margaret Jones, both suffering from the grippe. The two “maiden ladies” died three minutes apart.

A front page article in the June 25, 1892, paper had the headline “Three Suicides in a Day.” One of them occurred in Bridgeville where children playing in an abandoned dwelling came upon a corpse hanging by a rope from a cross beam.

The victim was described as an Italian about 38 years old. Squire McMillen was in charge of the investigation.

In October 1892, the paper reported a farewell party for Reverend A. A. Mealy, who was leaving the Central Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh for a new calling at Bethany Church in Bridgeville. According to the article the good reverend had opted for a country field assignment because he “wanted to be out where he was under the hand of God.”

On Nov. 6, 1892, the paper reported his reception at Bethany. Apparently he was successful; his tenure in Bridgeville was long and productive.

We are fortunate to have access to these brief accounts of life here 125 years ago.

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

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