Herald turns 110: Sewickley Valley's story told through pages of newspaper
By Bobby Cherry
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Perhaps, the story of any small town is best told through the pages of its hometown newspaper.
From the beginning on Sept. 19, 1903 — 110 years ago to the day — the Herald has served as the record keeper for Sewickley and its many neighboring communities.
Founding publishers J.L. Kochenderfer and James Stinson likely had little idea of the legacy the Herald would carry with it more than a century later.
The longevity of the Herald is credited to its staff, but also to an engaging community filled with people who take pride in their hometown, and whom have done so for decades as reflected throughout the pages of this newspaper.
“It is a period which has proved the fact that if intelligent readers are given a paper they like, they will patronize and support it,” read a Herald editorial in 1906, marking the start of the paper's fourth year.
In a world of uncertainty, the Herald has served as a constant to Sewickley Valley residents — watching as children grow through our region's public and private schools, spotlighting those among our community helping others and serving as a watchdog of local government.
For 110 years, the Herald has strived to capture the heartbeat of this community.
Just as elected officials, prominent people and families have grown and changed over the years, so, too, have the men and women who cover the Valley for the Herald.
But the Sewickley Herald's commitment remains the same as it was depicted in the early years on the front page of the fledgling newspaper: “Fear no man, and do justice to all men.”
Hospital, bridge highlight early years of Herald
As the Weekly Herald — as it was known at its inception — began covering the Sewickley Valley, streetcars and a burgeoning population filled the pages of the newspaper.
So, too, did medical reports — rumor or fact — of locals who had been stricken with anything from a cold to spotted fever.
Afternoon teas and evening parties were referenced among the Herald's social pages.
When locals bid the Valley adieu, their whereabouts were fit to print.
Attention focused on the Valley's first medical center — the Sewickley Hospital — which was dedicated July 20, 1907. A headline previewing the opening simply read: “The New Hospital.”
Women organized decorative features, such as bedding and curtains, for the new structure along what was then Blackburn Avenue.
As streetcars gained interest in neighboring communities and car traffic increased, a connection over the Ohio River was established as the Coraopolis-Sewickley Bridge opening was celebrated with much fanfare on Sept. 19, 1911.
Merged school district, national tragedy headline ‘50s and ‘60s
As the Herald marked its golden anniversary and Sewickley Borough celebrated 100 years in the middle of the 20th century, the Sewickley Valley was booming with local businesses dotting the Village and blending a multitude of school districts into one.
What eventually became known as the Quaker Valley School District began in 1956.
As school leaders laid plans for the future of the newly merged district, football players were breezing through an inaugural season, registering an undefeated year. Quaker Valley's first two opponents were Coraopolis — which the team beat, 25-20 — and Neville — which Quaker Valley defeated, 27-18.
While a victorious season might have boosted new school morale, it was all for naught as the merged team's first year was deemed a non-conference by the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Since 2012, players from Quaker Valley and Cornell (comprised of previously merged Coraopolis and Neville Island districts) have played together through a joint cooperation agreement.
The Valley also christened the new Mary and Alexander Laughlin Children's Center building on Frederick Avenue in the 50s and welcomed the addition of Morrow-Pontefract Park and the expansion of the Quaker Village Shopping Center.
The region was an important part of the early success of the nation's first public broadcasting station — WQED-TV — as three local groups helped seek donations from residents.
A decade later, the Valley, along with a nation, mourned the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
The Herald's coverage of JFK's untimely death was brief — a photo and blurb on the following week's front page and an inside poem mourning the loss of the nation's leader.
Community saved bridge in ‘70s, ‘80s
With the 1970s brought concern that immediate access to Greater Pittsburgh Airport would be off limits.
Residents, business owners and community leaders formed the Committee to Save the Sewickley Bridge in the mid-‘70s when concern grew over whether the bridge would continue crossing the Ohio River.
During a harsh winter, PennDOT leaders in January 1977 closed the $29 million Interstate 79 Bridge that had opened less than five months earlier. A tugboat captain spotted a crack in the new span, prompting officials to take action.
Two days later — on Jan. 30, 1977 — the Sewickley Bridge was closed due to deteriorating conditions.
Through festivals and local, regional and national media attention, word spread that residents of the region wanted the Sewickley Bridge to reopen.
After nearly three years, residents and community leaders who were so passionate to have the local bridge reopened, learned in November 1979 money was available.
A new bridge would be constructed at a cost of $16.4 million.
The reopening of the span in 1981 was heralded by all, including the pages of the Herald, which offered a poster of the bridge.
Technology, tragedy, greet new century
In the last two decades, Sewickley Valley residents have adapted to change just as they have for decades before.
A new millennium ushered in a digital era that saw Quaker Valley students wired with Apple computers.
This newspaper expanded its coverage online and later through social media channels.
As it had done with other tragedies, the Valley came together to grieve with a nation following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Many familiar school buildings and the hospital underwent extensive work, updating them for a new generation of locals.
The hospital's Sewickley School of Nursing relocated across the bridge to Moon and then, earlier this year, closed — three years shy of celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Before it became a pile of rubble, the Sewickley Country Inn served as the backdrop for the 2012 movie “Jack Reacher,” starring Tom Cruise.
The Sewickley Valley YMCA this year announced plans to undergo a major project that would reuse space the facility hasn't used in decades.
Sewickley's business district saw change as iconic stores closed, allowing new shop owners to give it a go.
And through it all, the residents of the Sewickley Valley weathered change, just as they've done for the last 110 years, as noted through the pages of the Herald.
Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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