Bicentennial plans under way in Belle Vernon
In Washington, D.C., in March 1813, James Madison was inaugurated to begin his second term as President of the United States.
Some 200 miles away in the still unsettled wilderness of western Pennsylvania, Noah Speer formulated plans for a community in northwestern Fayette County, in its original spelling, Bellevernon, French for “beautiful green,” reflecting the pristine beauty he discovered in the region.
To recognize and honor Speer and his vision for the small community along the Monongahela River, residents will gather from June 12-15 in the heart of town to celebrate the bicentennial birthday of the community, share stories and anecdotes, and rekindle friendships during a weeklong series of events as they relive memories and recall those events that made Belle Vernon a close-knit community.
Festivities will kick off with a family carnival during the evening hours of Wednesday, June 12. Throughout downtown Belle Vernon food vendors will feature some of the area's favorite delights certain to bring back memories. Youngsters will be treated to their favorite amusement rides.
On Thursday, June 13, event organizers will stage a “Battle of the Bands,” sure to enable residents to reminisce about their favorite bands and often-forgotten songs.
“We will have an oldies concert, with disc jockey, at the Belle Vernon Apartments, and the battle of the bands will be held at the Belle Vernon Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 Social Hall to attract people of all ages,” noted Bicentenenial Committee historian Sherry Shondelmyer. Growing up in Fairhope, Washington Township, Shondelmyer attended Bellmar Middle School and graduated from Belle Vernon Area High school, Class of 1987.
“When the Bicentennial Committee was organized, I attended the meetings,” Shondelmyer added. “I love history and because we are going to be publishing a book about the history of Belle Vernon, I jumped at the offer to be the historian. We are looking for photos and old stories that will go into the book, photos and stories that will tell the story of the history of Belle Vernon. Anyone who gives us a photo or story will receive credit in the book.”
Throughout Lower Belle Vernon, or Downtown Belle Vernon, Shondelmyer said, chuckling, a parade will further celebrate the community's history on Friday evening, June 14, featuring fire trucks, the Belle Vernon Area High School Marching Band, Belle Vernon officials, including Mayor Gerald Jackson, and the Bicentennial committee. Members of the committee include Marybeth Secleter, chairwoman; Shondelmyer, historian; Kimberly Ringstad Gray, fundraising chairwoman; and Kristopher Kircher, Bicentennial photographer.
Weekend activities commence Saturday, June 15, with a 100-mile Motorcycle Bike Run. While no specific route has been established as of yet, the Bike Run will begin in downtown Belle Vernon, and the committee is exploring several possibilities regarding the precise route. Money raised by the riders will benefit the K-9 Unit of the State Police along with the Bicentennial Committee.
Bicentennial events will conclude Sunday, June 16, with a Car Show, with Cedar Creek Park a tentative site.
With the Bicentennial slated to run throughout the entire year, the Committee has created a Facebook page — 200 Years of Belle Vernon Borough History — where monthly events will be detailed.
In searching for photos that deal exclusively with Belle Vernon Borough, beginning with Noah Speers, Shondelmyer and the committee “are asking members of the community to rummage through their family scrapbooks and albums, antique trunks, and attics” for those photos which will tell the story of the history of Belle Vernon.
“We have pictures of old businesses and other scenes, but we want as much as the people can find, floods, fires, anything that deals with Lower Belle Vernon,” Shondelmeyer said. “We had a glass factory and Belle Vernon was known for the Gibsonton Distillery, which produced world-famous whiskey.”
Shondelmyer added that Belle Vernon was known locally as the City of Bridges, and the committee has pictures of the original bridge that connected Belle Vernon and Speers, spanning the Mon River. Speers, in fact, was known as West Belle Vernon. A second bridge, Route 906, replaced the original' and a still used train bridge also spans the Mon River.
On an individual note, the committee seeks to identify and locate the oldest male and female currently living in Belle Vernon Borough.
“We want those individuals who were born and raised in Belle Vernon and remained in Belle Vernon,” Shondelmyer said.
To raise funds for the Bicentennial, the committee is selling T-shirts for $13 (or $20 if they must be sent via the mail) and beer koozies for $5. Information is available on the Facebook page.
An Oldies Dance will be held April 27 at the Belle Vernon Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 social hall, and a Gun Bash will be held at the same location Saturday, May 11.
Additionally, the Committee is selling a $5 “WIN IT ALL TICKET” with all proceeds benefiting the Belle Vernon Bicentennial. Shondelmyer indicated the winning number will be based on the Pennsylvania Daily Number drawing at 7 p.m. Friday. Anyone interested in purchasing a ticket should contact Secleter at 724-797-7141 or visit the Facebook page.
Les Harvath is a freelance writer.