Descendant of storied Mt. Pleasant family gets local history lesson
From his home in Los Gatos, Calif., Jerry W. Hitchman's roots reach roughly 3,000 miles to Mt. Pleasant.
Hitchman recently retraced his ancestral lineage across America to the borough and the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society took time to tell him of family members who lived locally in the 1700s, 1800s and early 20th centuries.
“I'd been to Mt. Pleasant in the 1980s, but I had very limited information about the family's history at that time,” said Hitchman, 77.
In late 2012, Hitchman said he was exploring his family's genealogical lineage when he got to thinking about making Mt. Pleasant a stop on a cross-country, summer trip he was planning with his wife, Arlene, and their friends, Steve and Elaine Barnett.
“I thought ‘I have to take advantage of this opportunity to be there again,'” he said.
Throughout much of his childhood, Hitchman heard many stories from his late father, Robert Wilmer Hitchman, about the time his grandparents, George Buttermore Hitchman and Lucinda Jaquette Hitchman, spent living in the borough.
“My father was the last of 13 children born to my grandparents,” Jerry Hitchman said. “But he was born in Nebraska, and he never visited Mt. Pleasant.”
When the elder Hitchman was 19, he and his family visited relatives in San Jose, at which time he decided to stay.
“Dad said he was on the train back to Nebraska but he jumped the train and went back to San Jose,” Hitchman said.
In California, Hitchman said his father continued to regale he and his three brothers with tales of Mt. Pleasant passed down through generations.
But Hitchman said he only recently began researching his family's more distant past.
“I thought it would be interesting to visit and learn about my grandparents and other ancestors and their time there,” Hitchman said.
In January, Hitchman emailed Louise Tilzey-Bates, tourism coordinator for Westmoreland Heritage — a private advocacy group based at the Westmoreland County Historical Society in Greensburg.
He told Tilzey-Bates he was seeking information on the “Hitchman House” in the borough, which he explained was the home of his grandparents and their young and growing family from the mid-to-late 1800s through the early 1900s, he said.
He also expressed to that he would enjoy the possibility of having someone familiar with the town's history give his travel group a short tour and history lesson, he said.
“We promote all the historical societies in the county, so I was familiar with the one in Mt. Pleasant,” Tilzey-Bates said.
Soon after, Tilzey-Bates forwarded Hitchman's email to Rick Meason, president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society, and the two got in touch.
“We kind of stumbled on this opportunity to help Mr. Hitchman and, to me, that's what we're here for,” Meason said.
So Meason and Hitchman agreed to meet for a tour when Hitchman and his group came to Mt. Pleasant.
In the meantime, Meason conducted additional research on Hitchman's local ancestry and presented him with a booklet on his family's history upon meeting him.
“I was very impressed, and I really appreciated all he had done in putting that together,” Hitchman said.
Meason and other society members, including Richard Snyder, chairman of the society's board of directors, Phyllis Newell and Ethel Cooper, recently took Hitchman and his group to parts of town which were of significance to his family.
Stops included the Hitchman House, a large, brick affair located at 353 W. Main St. near the intersection of Hitchman Street.
The house is believed to have been the location of the first election of officials of the newly incorporated borough on May 5, 1828, according to information in the book titled “A Town That Grew At The Crossroad” which was distributed by the borough during its sesquicentennial in 1978.
In March of 1978, the house was placed on the Inventory of Historic Places in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to recognize the spring at the rear of the property, the book states. That spring, now covered by a converted springhouse, was one of the watering places visited by George Washington on his expeditions through the area in 1753, the book states.
The tour also took the group to 326 Washington St., the home of the late Harriet Hitchman, another ancestor.
“Harriet was a very dignified and very loving person,” said Cooper, 92, the society's oldest member. “In her home, there was a kind of serenity, that's really the best way to put it.”
The group also stopped by Ramsay Elementary School, property on which stood the 19th-century home of another ancestor, William J. Hitchman, a Civil War veteran and perhaps Mt. Pleasant's youngest burgess, when elected at the age of 24 in 1862 before taking arms in the Union army a year later, the book states.
During his visit, Jerry Hitchman toted a framed photograph of the home.
The last stop was Middle Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Mt. Pleasant Township, the burial place of Jerry Hitchman's great-great grandfather, Robert Hitchman.
“My dad would talk about all the stories, and it was amazing to be there,” Jerry Hitchman said. “It was really super, seeing the history of my family, the houses they lived in ... I can't tell you how much I appreciated it.”
Even though the tour was relatively informal, Meason said such activities are what define what the society is all about.
“This is the kind of stuff we need to do as a society: preserve historical aspects of Mt. Pleasant and teach people about the past that exists here,” he said.
And Tilzey-Bates expressed excitement that the wish Jerry Hitchman expressed to her came to fruition.
“I think it's fantastic. I'm thrilled he could come to Mt. Pleasant and explore his roots,” she said. “I think it's important to see where you come from ... who you are and where you're from.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or email@example.com.