Histories of Monongahela, Charleroi intertwined
For one year in the late 1980s, Terry Necciai balanced his time serving as president of the Monongahela Area Historical Society and as the Main Street manager in Charleroi.
He likened it to Friday night between two rival towns.
“I was always fighting this feeling they were like two football teams. But they're not. Each has its unique features.”
For the first time, the two communities' historical societies came together for an event Thursday in the parlor of First Presbyterian Church, Sixth and Chess streets, Monongahela.
Six years after his work on Charleroi's successful nomination as a historic preservation district, Necciai spoke on the historical connection between the two communities.
“When I was Main Street manager in Charleroi, I thought they were developed the same,” Necciai said. “But Charleroi was opposite in lot of ways. Charleroi has a busy business district and is 100 years younger than Monongahela.”
The development of Charleroi's business district “all happened at once,” Necciai said. When The Charleroi Land Co. in 1889 began selling plots of land that sold “like magic” and the nickname of “The Magic City” was born.
“In Monongahela, you'll find buildings which played off each other,” Necciai said. “That did not happen in Charleroi — they all happened at once. There was a conscious effort to form a boom town.
“Monongahela's buildings were built to make each other better,” Necciai said. “They were dependent upon each other for how they looked, for aesthetics.”
Monongahela was developed in several different town plans over several decades. Each plan follows the bend of the Monongahela River, which frames the city. With each subtle bend of the river, a new plan was developed.
For example, Necciai noted, from the 100 block of East Main Street to Fourth Street was the Joseph Parkinson Plan.
The next plan stretches along Fifth and Sixth streets and was developed by Adam Wickerham.
Wickersham's daughter, Mary Chess, developed a plan that centers around the street named for her.
But in Charleroi, the town was laid out when trolleys were in place, Necciai said. Shoppers could jump on and off trolleys to shop from block to block. Because the lots were only 20 to 25 feet wide, they were conducive to small, narrow shops like shoe stores. As a result, as recently as the 1970s, there were 13 shoes stores in Charleroi; five still existed in the 1980s.
“Every block had a hotel, shoe store, clothing store, cigar store, confectionary,” Necciai said.
Charleroi was laid out as the light bulb became popular. Thus the buildings didn't need side light. They were built without side windows, unlike the businesses in downtown Monongahela.
Monongahela was laid out and developed over a century. In contrast, the first 1,000 lots in Charleroi were sold within a year.
The Charleroi Plate Glass Works was founded in November 1889. The same day, the Charleroi Land Co. was founded.
“That shows they were just as interested in selling land as selling glass,” Necciai said.
J.K. Tener, the former baseball player and future governor, founded the Charleroi Savings and Trust Co. in the late 1890s.
“Tener got the idea that stores were more important than the glass company, so he started the chamber,” Necciai said.
Necciai said although Monongahela had been around for nearly 120 years at the time, by the beginning of the 20th century, Charleroi had grown larger than the nearby city.
But it was some of Monongahela's prominent families who were developing Charleroi. For example, the Yohe family built a block of homes on Fourth Street in Charleroi.
According to the records of the Charleroi Area Historical Society, Dr. A.F. Chandler is responsible for the community's name. He visited Charleroi, Belgium, encouraging skilled glassworkers to come to the Washington County town to help develop the growing industry.
But when he died suddenly, Chandler's wife had him buried in Monongahela Cemetery, Necciai noted.
“If you think of these towns as competing, you have to wonder why she chose to bury him in Monongahela,” Necciai said.
According to the Charleroi Area Historical Society records, M.J. Alexander was a showman who helped develop Charleroi and coined the phrase “The Magic City.”
Alexander must have liked the nickname, Necciai said, because Alexander used it to promote Barberton, Ohio, home of Diamond Matches, after he left Charleroi.
By 1897, he developed Monessen, and in 1900, he helped to develop Donora.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mon City man arrested for alleged assault
- Holiday spirit alive & well in Mon Valley
- Holiday shopping season off to early start in Mon Valley
- Recovery – it’s not just for addicts anymore
- For some, pathway to Thanksgiving often bumpy
- West Brownsville mother, daughter collaborate on children’s tale
- Christmas Cheer Club initiative benefits needy Mon Valley kids
- Monongahela River boat rental business could spur economic growth, coalition told
- Monessen-native Sarra anchoring Navy football team’s defense
- Driving, drug charges filed against Monessen man
- Century-old Christmas tradition catching on in Mon Valley