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Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society turns 20

| Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, 6:06 p.m.
A.J. Panian | Trib Total Media
Members of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society this year have marked the 20th anniversary of the organization’s establishment, including (front, from left) co-founder and board chairman Richard Snyder, Cynthia Stevenson, secretary Jaime Golobish, Carol Yancosky and Ken Trice; (back) president Rick Meason, vice president Jim Lozier, Larry Golobish, Twila Snyder, president-elect Ashley Wolk and Aaron Wolk. Treasurer Phyllis Newell is not pictured. Photo taken Thursday, Dec. 11, 2015
Submitted
Some members of the Mt. Pleasant Heritage Preservation Committee, the precursor to the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society formed in 1995, included ((front, from left) Richard Ashmun, Rosalind Ashmun, Kimberly Bringe and Michael Comfort; (back) Jill Cook, Eric Foster, Charles Hixson, Michael Johnson, Stephen Kriss, Dalene Ritter, Sam Rugh and Linda Skodak. Absent from the photo is Richard Snyder, who remains the society's lone active charter member.

One of the many relics, which at one time or another, have sparkled under the enduring spotlight of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society is none other than the famous, Christmas song “Frosty the Snowman.”

Such became the case during one of the society's “Ghost Walk & Lantern Tours,” a fundraising activity coordinated by late member Dalene Ritter in which society members once took attendees from house to house in the borough's historic district, where volunteers portrayed individuals of note through the years.

One event volunteer portrayed Walter “Jack” Rollins, a local resident who co-authored the iconic tune with Steve Nelson, which was first recorded by Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys in 1950, said Rosalind Ashmun, a Mt. Pleasant Township resident and one of the society's founders.

“That was one of the our earlier fundraisers,” she said.

Ashmun, who served as the society's first treasurer, and her late husband Richard, who served as its first president, helped formed the certified, nonprofit group, which this year has celebrated its 20th anniversary, she said.

Fellow society founder Richard Snyder, who today remains as the organization's lone charter member, looked back recently at the group he says has come “a long way” in two decades of historical preservation initiatives and educational outreach.

“We started with zero funds ... not to much of anything, and there were a lot of people who were anxious and eager to see an organization of this kind established,” Snyder said.

“We crawled before we walked in many ways, and I think the organization has come a long way with help from the borough and the business district authority,” he said. “Most of us from the beginning aren't around anymore.”

Group grows under authority's auspices

Efforts to establish what eventually became known as the society initially began materializing with work to form the Mt. Pleasant Heritage Preservation Committee in September 1994, Snyder said.

It was during that year that Ron Trevellini, then the manager of the Mt. Pleasant Business District Authority, began voicing the need for a local group to help further the mission of the Path of Progress Heritage Route, an initiative of Pennsylvania's Historical and Preservation Commission, he said.

Locally, the push was on at that time in keeping with the project to install historical markers in Mt. Pleasant Borough, along with Scottdale, West Overton Village & Museums in East Huntingdon and Somerset Borough, Snyder said.

“It was more or less a historical route people could follow. Signs through the borough were provided by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission,” he said.

That development further inspired Trevellini to seek establishment of the local committee under the auspices of the authority with aid from the Braddock Trail Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, West Overton officials and the Westmoreland County Historical Preservation Commission, Snyder said.

“We saw a good opportunity to try to get people to stop and take a look at some of our historical attractions,” he said.

Borough officials soon gave Trevellini permission to create the group, a network of cultural facilities, events, educational attractions and visitor services, through joint public and private investments, Snyder said.

The task of appointing committee members was left by borough council to the authority's board of directors, led by then authority board President Doug Hauser, to provide a clear voice for advocating preservation and heritage development.

“Ron was instrumental in doing the legwork, and by doing it through the authority, it gave the committee an instant 501c3 nonprofit status, which was Ron's idea,” Hauser said.

The committee officially formed March 9, 1995, at a meeting held at Mt. Pleasant Public Library.

“They operated for a year or two under the authority's umbrella, and then they got their paperwork done and became the society,” Hauser said. “I think they've done a fantastic job.”

Fundraisers fuel society's success

Following the society's approval as a separate, certified nonprofit organization in 1999, the group's officers continued to work to invigorate the borough and surrounding communities with well-researched, educational and entertaining projects and products, for which proceeds benefitted its operational costs.

Long based out of what then was the authority's business incubator space, the In-Town Shops along Main Street, one of the organization's earliest fundraisers involved work in 1996 to develop and sell a report on the “Morewood Massacre” that occurred at the Morewood Mine in April 1891, when numerous miners were killed and injured as a result of an area mining strike, according to the society's website — mphistory.com.

Along with the “Ghost Walk & Lantern Tours,” which were long held annually on Halloween, society members in 1997 began manning a “Path of Progress/Allegheny Traveler” exhibit at the Mt. Pleasant Glass & Ethnic Festival as part of a regional marketing effort to attract visitors to the area and promote the coal and coke heritage, the site states.

To prepare to provide such information and instruction, society volunteers attended and sponsored workshops.

That year, the society also reprinted the book “A Town That Grew At The Crossroads,” which details the history of the town's people, buildings, businesses and industries from its founding to 1978, the year of the municipality's Sesquicentennial Celebration, Ashmun said.

“The blue back one is the reissue, the red one is the original,” she said.

The group also has completed oral histories and collected historic photographs of town buildings and surrounding areas.

Mission spans into 21st century

One of the society's larger-scale projects kicked off Feb. 7, 2003, with the year-long celebration of the 175th anniversary of the borough's incorporation.

Borough Mayor Gerald Lucia and Snyder co-chaired the event's organizational committee.

“When the society was initiated, I thought it was the best thing that could have happened for Mt. Pleasant, and so much historical value to come out of it,” Lucia said. “I'm very pleased and I'm very proud of the work that they have done and put forth for all citizens of the Mt. Pleasant area.”

In 2005, the society dismantled and rebuilt the Chestnut Log House along Washington Street.

On Dec. 31, 2007, the organization acquired a log house from the Overly family of Armbrust for $1, which now rests beside the Chestnut Log House.

“I think the society's preservation of the log cabins is fantastic, too,” Hauser said.

In recent years, the group has carried on an annual Cemetery Walk at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery along Braddock Road Avenue in the borough, an initiative led by Rick Meason, a 2001 Mt. Pleasant Area graduate, who has served as president of the society since Jan. 1, 2013.

The society also offers its “Christmas at the Cabins” event each December during which visitors are treated to free marshmallows and hot dogs to be roasted over an open fire outside the buildings.

During the glass festival, the group also sells soup and ham sandwiches as part of the event's Old Town area.

Volunteers led by society secretary-elect Jaime Golobish are currently working to produce a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Mt. Pleasant Area Junior-Senior High School.

The society also has a Facebook page at “Mount Pleasant Area Historical Society.”

Through it all, the society remains dedicated to conveying aspects of the area's history as the future unfolds, Meason said.

“I think the historical society has done some great things for the community, and I'm very proud of the accomplishments we've had since I've been president,” he said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.

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