Mt. Pleasant's DAR Braddock Trail Chapter turns 70
In 1947, Mt. Pleasant's Claudia Canose Stahl successfully traced her ancestral roots back to Revolutionary War soldier Isaac Gilmore.
At the time, she was a 29-year-old woman who had taken an interest, along with several other members of her family, in joining the still-developing Braddock Trail Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).
“We were a very patriotic family, and friends of ours asked us if we would like to join the organization,” said Stahl, 95.
Today, Stahl, one of the chapter's three directors, is the longest-serving member of the nonprofit entity, which will mark its 70th anniversary this weekend.
“I've been a member for 65 years, and this summer, I received a lovely citation and certificate for that,” Stahl said.
A highlight of her membership came in 1958, she said, when she was selected to serve as personal page to then-society President General Allene Wilson Groves during the group's Continental Congress in Washington D.C.
She also served from 1954-60 as a special page in the president general's reception room at Continental Congress.
“I entertained people like (film director/producer) Cecil B. DeMille and President and Mrs. Nixon,” Stahl said with pride. “It was a wonderful experience, and it's been one of my favorite pastimes in life.”
Like its many counterparts across America, the Braddock Trail chapter — which today counts more than 150 members — welcomes any women ages 18 and older who are descended from a man or woman who served as a sailor, soldier or civil officer in the American Revolution.
The group also accepts those who are direct descendants of those recognized as patriots who expressed loyalty to the cause of American independence by supporting the troops via tax dollars or material aid.
Stahl's membership to the chapter became official with the discovery that her family's lineage led to Gilmore.
She pursued it along with her late mother, Iva Missouri Canose, two of her late aunts, Elizabeth Sibert Miner of Scottdale and Margaret Sibert Sauers of Mt. Pleasant, and her late sister, Sylvania Canose Stahl.
“Over several months, we were able to trace our roots back to Mr. Gilmore,” Stahl said. “We were just delighted at the fact that we were related to a gentleman who served in the Revolutionary War.”
Over time, Stahl also served as the society's state chairwoman of pages from 1959-61 and as its state chaplain from 1965-67.
“Claudia really is our historian for Mt. Pleasant now,” said Rosalind L. Ashmun, the organization's registrar and a member since 1985.
Sisters start chapter with a mission
The idea to establish the DAR Braddock Trail chapter was conceived on June 27, 1943, and the chapter was organized Nov. 27 of that year with 63 members led by the late Laura Hay Braddock and her sister, the late Charlotte Hay Beard.
“Those two sisters belonged to the (DAR) Phillip Freeman Chapter in Connellsville, and they decided Mt. Pleasant had to have a chapter,” Ashmun said.
There is no known connection between Laura Hay Braddock and Gen. Edward Braddock, the Revolutionary War leader for whom the chapter is named, Ashmun said.
On Dec. 15, 1943, the National Board of Management confirmed the fledgling chapter as the Braddock Trail Chapter, according to the group's website.
Braddock and Beard suggested the name for the chapter that commemorates the historic road that today passes through the borough. The road is where Gen. Braddock and his army traveled in 1775 on his journey to Fort Duquesne, the site states.
According to the group, the trail follows present-day Eagle Street from north to south and a granite boulder at the intersection of Eagle and Main streets bears a bronze tablet with the inscription: “General Edward Braddock and his Army crossed the Pittsburgh and Mount Pleasant Pike at this point, July 3, 1775.”
From the chapter's beginning, Laura Hay Braddock, who served as its first regent, and Beard worked diligently to attract new chapter members throughout the surrounding area.
“I think they talked to everybody in Mt. Pleasant,” Ashmun said.
Initially, the organizers aided prospective members in determining the legitimacy of their roots for membership by holding meetings at the Old Mt. Pleasant Unity Cemetery and Felgar Road Cemetery, where charcoal rubbings of headstones often served as key records for proper research, Ashmun said.
“They were hand-copying everything,” Ashmun said. “Then they would have two people sign every document to verify its legitimacy, or they would take it to have it notarized.”
Three copies of every record were produced, Ashmun said, with one to be kept with chapter files and the other two to be sent to the Pennsylvania DAR State Library in Harrisburg and National DAR Library in Washington D.C., respectively.
During more than three decades of activity with the chapter, Braddock and Beard proved incremental in enrolling more than 200 members from Allegheny, Bedford, Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties, the site states.
As membership continually grew, the chapter sought a suitable meeting place, as its members up to that point gathered in private homes, a disbanded schoolhouse, church parlors, the American Legion home and the Frick Hospital Nurses Home, the site states.
“Their first, ultimate goal was to purchase a house,” Ashmun said.
Chapter finds a local home
When Braddock Trail DAR chapter member Bessie Campbell died on July 12, 1960, she left to the chapter one-quarter of her estate, the group's website states.
With this bequest, the chapter was able to purchase a mansion on property along South Church Street in the borough from owner Hazel C. Gilkey and her husband, Robert M. Gilkey.
The home was built in 1886 by Samuel Warden, a local farmer who later in life became involved with coal and coke production at the Warden Works near Alverton, the site states.
The Gilkeys signed the deed transferring ownership of the mansion to the chapter on July 12, 1960, the website states.
Since that time, its members have utilized the ornate, multi-room structure for a number of community initiatives, including hosting of the annual Festival of Lights since 1997.
The event, which showcases decorated Christmas trees for sale in the mansion's many quarters, helps the group raise money for the building's upkeep and maintenance.
The group's mission also includes historic preservation and promotion of education and patriotic endeavors, including an annual essay contest involving local school students.
“It's an honor, really, to be part of (the) Braddock Trail (chapter),” said Fran Vas, a member since 2003. “We're a very active group, and we're very involved in serving the community and honoring our veterans.”
Library is group's crowning achievement
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays from April to October, chapter members and the public-at-large have access to one of the more well-developed genealogical libraries in the mansion's first floor, Ashmun said.
“The chapter's ultimate goal was to have a genealogical library in Mt. Pleasant and, of course, we have succeeded in doing that,” she said.
On microfilm or in hard copy, visitors have access to innumerable records for the purposes of tracing their familial lineage or to research area historical facts and events, Ashmun said.
“It's a very full library,” she said.
In recent years, borough resident Lois Reese made use of the facility to determine that one of her ancestors, Josiah Boyer, served in the American Revolution. She soon after became a chapter member.
“I always did enjoy making friends, and this is one thing we all have in common ... and it's an interesting learning experience,” Reese said.
In June, Kathleen Roebuck succeeded Nancy Wood as the chapter's regent for a term of three years.
“I consider it an honor to be chosen to be regent. It's an impressive post to have in any chapter. It's just an honor to be there doing the job,” Roebuck said.
Members prepare to celebrate milestone
The Braddock Trail chapter will have its 70th anniversary celebration during its next meeting on Saturday at the Bishop William G. Connare Center in Hempfield.
“We have a Christmas (season) birthday,” Wood said.
Following a luncheon scheduled to begin at noon, the chapter will hear a presentation by Marlene Murty on “Women in the War of 1812-1815.”
The chapter's hostess committee includes Ashmun, Roebuck, Vas, Sue Hoke, Peg Hunter, Dolly Queer and chapter vice regent Ann Roller.
The next chapter meeting will take place Feb. 8 at the DAR House in the borough.
On April 1, the DAR Braddock Trail genealogical library will reopen.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.