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History tales about Brownsville, surrounding area a labor of love

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 7:38 p.m.
Glenn Tunney
The cover of 'Looking Back: The Best of Glenn Tunney – Volume Four,' which offers a sampling of the people and places in Brownsville’s history.
Hagan’s confectionery, a popular stop for ice cream and lunch counter meals in Brownsville, is shown here in the summer of 1936. Just one day earlier, a storm had hit the town and toppled the steeple of the Central Presbyterian Church (left of center), sending it crashing through the church’s roof and leaving a gaping hole in its wake. Church members worshipped at North Side’s First Presbyterian Church on North Bend until repairs were completed.
In what would be the last major construction project in Brownsville in the past 85 years Union Station was built in 1928-1929. This photo shows the concrete framework of the building, which had its foundation excavated, was fully constructed and was open for business within only 11 months. A chronological series of photos depicting construction of the building is featured in Chapter 12 of Glenn Tunney’s Volume Four anthology book.
This photograph from the collection of Robert Millward was taken by Charles Keibler on Nov. 10, 1961. Keibler, a photographer for the Monongahela Railway, took the picture from Union Station. It depicts the placing of the final beam on the new Lane-Bane Bridge, which opened in 1962.

Anyone who lived in Brownsville and neighboring communities in the mid-20th century will recall Hagan's confectionery as one of the most popular gathering spots in town.

“So many people have fond memories of Hagan's, that delicious ice cream and the tasty lunch counter meals,” said author and historian Glenn Tunney. “They include the thousands of patrons of the confectionery, of course, as well as many former employees and their families. Each one has a special story to tell about Hagan's.”

Tunney emphasizes that point in “Looking Back: The Best of Glenn Tunney – Volume Four,” a 300-page anthology of local history and nostalgic stories supplemented by some 140 images of people, places and events in Brownsville and the surrounding area.

“I'll Have A White House Cone, Please! Remembering Hagan's” is Chapter 2 in Tunney's newest book. It features memories of shared moments with “unforgettable friends and former employees,” recollections from Mrs. Bernadine L. Hagan on opening the Brownsville store and the rebirth of Hagan Ice Cream.

Hagan's was located in a large brick building at the eastern end of the inter-county bridge (the old Brownsville Bridge) that spans the Monongahela and links downtown Brownsville to West Brownsville). It stood between The Brownsville Telegraph building and the alley that passes behind the municipal building.

Like the first three books in the planned five-volume series by Tunney, Volume Four features selected writings by the author that were originally published in the Herald-Standard over an eight-year period from 1998-2006. Photographs of the Brownsville and Fayette/Washington counties areas complement the editorial content.

“Response to the newspaper columns motivated me to pursue the idea of creating and publishing the books and I am hoping to produce a volume each year until all five are completed,” said Tunney, who taught United States and World History classes in the Brownsville Area School District for 33½ years. “My basic goal is to relate the history of the time and people of yesteryear in a way that people will enjoy. While I focus on Brownsville and the surrounding area, I think people of all communities will be able to relate to the historical and nostalgic themes.”

In addition to the focus on Hagan's, Volume Four, which was published by Mechling Bookbindery of Chicora, Pa., the largest publisher of western Pennsylvania history and genealogy books, includes but is not limited to such topics as:

• Brownsville's Lost Neighborhood: A Visit to the Old North bend.

• No Plans To Slow Down at 90: A Conversation with Dona Saunders.

• Standing Room Only: Brownsville's Popular Minstrel Shows.

• Brownsville's Medicine Man: Ollie Mossett.

• Brownsville's Million Dollar Hotel: The Monongahela Hotel.

• It's Music With Class: A Conversation with Johnny Vass.

• The End of the Milkman: Stapleton's Dairy.

“Dona Saunders was one of a rare breed, a female justice of the peace,” Tunney said. “In the book, she reflects on a lifetime of public service with some unique recollections. People also will recall Ollie Mossett from his many years at Robinson's Drug Store and how they went to him about medical and nonmedical problems. Johnny Vass was a former coal miner who became well known as the leader of a popular orchestra that presented the Big Band sound in area clubs for many years.”

Tunney spent countless hours of research and interviews in compiling information for his newspaper columns, which are now part of the anthology books he is publishing.

“I have had the opportunity – the pleasure and privilege – to meet and talk with people who are part of the history that I wrote about,” said Tunney, a Brownsville native who now lives along the historic National Pike near Brownsville. ”We also met family and friends and others who provided firsthand accounts and recollections of those people, places and events.”

The price of Volume Four is $19.95 for the plain book, $20.95 for an autographed book and $21.95 for an autographed and personalized copy. The latter version is signed by Tunney and inscribed with a personalized handwritten note to the recipient.

The $1 or $2 added to the price of the book for autographing or personalization will be donated to the Brownsville Free Public Library.

The book may be ordered by phone at 724-562-8886 or via its web page, Books also can be purchased at the Brownsville Free Public Library, 100 Seneca St. A preview of the book including the entire table of contents and excerpts from individual chapters is available on the website.

Copies of the first three volumes of the anthology series are still available by contacting Tunney or by visiting the Brownsville Free Public Library or the Flatiron Building Heritage Center in Brownsville.

Tunney, a graduate of California Area High School who earned his bachelor of science degree in secondary education and master of arts degree in history from California University of Pennsylvania, said creating the anthology series was an extension of the learning process of compiling the historical stories.

“The series is designed to present entertaining stories, historical photographs and conversations with colorful characters from Brownsville,” he said. “When it is completed with Volume Five next year, I feel it will comprise the most comprehensive ‘look back' ever published about bygone days in the Brownsville that was. It's been fun — a labor of love and something I feel is necessary to preserve our community's history and convey this area's heritage to future generations.”

Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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