History revealed of old village now part of Penn Township

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A chance visit to a Philadelphia souvenir store a few years ago gave Marybeth Kuznik a sense of pride when she stared up at a large map of Pennsylvania dated 1913.

Glancing at the southwestern region, she spotted the word “Haser” — an old village that was around the Pleasant Valley Road area in Penn Township.

Though her family told her stories about what little they knew about the old village — which briefly had its own post office — she said she never before had seen on a map the community where her grandparents, Thomas and Rose Kuznik, bought a 34-acre farm in December 1912.

“(The store owner) said everybody likes that map, but it's not for sale,” Kuznik said. “I said, ‘You don't understand. I never found a map with that town, and it's in my pasture.'”

The store owner still wouldn't sell the map.

Kuznik, a Penn Township election judge who lost a race to become a township commissioner last year, said she is considering applying for Century Farm status through the state Department of Agriculture to honor her family's long connection to the property. The program recognizes families who have been farming the same land — and living on the property — for at least 100 years.

“It would just be really cool,” Kuznik said.

Kuznik's grandparents bought the property less than a decade after the post office closed.

Scant public information is available about the old village other than some details about the former fourth-class post office, which was established in October 1899 with Samuel P. Steiner as the first postmaster. Harry A. Steiner served as the postmaster from April 1900 until its closing in September 1903.

Though no records describe the closing, the most common reason for discontinuing a branch was the lack of a suitable person who was willing to serve as postmaster, said Stephen Kochersperger, senior research analyst in postal history for the U.S. Postal Service.

Records show the Haser postmaster earned $162.59 in 1901 and $284.40 in 1903, but figures for other years aren't available.

“The postmaster's earnings were usually rather meager, but the responsibilities were great,” Kochersperger said in an email. “In addition, the postmaster had to post a bond and provide quarters for the post office at his or her own expense. Many postmasters ran a store or other business, and the postal commission was just another sideline.”

U.S. Census records in 1910 show that Harry Steiner, listed as a married father of four, was a clerk for a general store in Penn Township. He sold the property that eventually was purchased by the Kuzniks in 1906, according to Westmoreland County court records.

Between 1900 and 1910, the number of post offices fell from 76,688 to 59,580, Kochersperger said. The main driver behind the decline was the introduction of free rural delivery, such as that offered by the Irwin post office starting in October 1899, he said.

“It would be reasonable to assume that once rural patrons got free delivery to their homes, they no longer patronized the Haser post office, and the office was no longer financially viable,” Kochersperger said. “There may have been personal reasons that compelled Harry Steiner to give up his commission, but we have no record of that.”

Kuznik said there is a foundation of an old building on the property, but she isn't sure if it is from the building that housed the post office.

“It's kind of neat,” she said. “There's a lot of history around here that's being lost. No one remembers or knows how far this (village) went.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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