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In early 1800s, several companies constructed a network of turnpikes

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By Robert B. Van Atta

Published: Sunday, Dec. 22, 2002

Christmas travel in the 1830s, such as it was, used a number of turnpikes in southwestern Pennsylvania that provided a land transportation network of sorts.

Construction was by separate companies, often different ones for different sections of what was the same roadway. The state often made "liberal" contributions to the cost, which a total ranged from $1,000 to $10,000 per mile.

From about 1810 until 1830, in the approximate order of their construction, these were the turnpikes that developed:

  • Armstrong and Indiana (24 miles).
  • Greensburg and Pittsburgh (31 miles).
  • United States Road (U.S. 40, primarily through Fayette and Washington counties; 80 miles).
  • Indiana and Ebensburg (26 miles).
  • New Alexandria and Conemaugh (9 miles).
  • Pittsburgh and Butler (30 miles).
  • Pittsburgh and Steubenville (28 miles).
  • Stoystown and Greensburg (37 miles).
  • Somerset and Mt. Pleasant (29 miles).
  • Somerset and Bedford (33 miles).
  • Pittsburgh and New Alexandria (28 miles).
  • Robbstown (West Newton) and Mt. Pleasant (21 miles).
  • Washington and Pittsburgh (25 miles).

    The following came after 1820, and mileages are not known:

  • Butler and Kittanning.
  • Greensburg and Robbstown.
  • Greensburg and New Alexandria.
  • Pittsburgh Farmer and Merchants.
  • Union(town) and Pittsburgh.
  • Pittsburgh and Birmingham (South Side).

    Thus, it can be seen that many of today's major highways had inceptions nearly two centuries ago, and spent most of one of those 100-year periods hosting animals and carriages before automobiles created a new era of need about 1900.

    TOWN STARTED AT CHRISTMAS

    Two days before Christmas in 1814, at a public auction, 48 lots in and near the center of roads that crossed Salem Township in Westmoreland County were sold to become a town as Salem Crossroads, New Salem, and eventually Delmont.

    By 1832, a state gazetteer described the then post town of New Salem as being on the turnpike from Ebensburg to Pittsburgh, with 20 dwellings, four taverns and two stores.

    A post office was established in 1871, but because there was another New Salem in Fayette County, pioneer postmaster Zachariah Zimmerman suggested a change to Delmont. The new name was from the French "valley in the hills."

    The completion of the turnpike by the Pittsburgh and New Alexandria company in 1819 was a big boost for the community, bringing traffic for area stores and inns.

    One of the geological features was a big spring there, which furnished ample supplies of water.

    An early schoolmaster was Richard Geary, who had a son who became mayor of San Francisco, governor of Kansas and Pennsylvania, and a Civil War general. The son, John, was born in Mt. Pleasant.

    New Salem was incorporated as a borough in 1833. At its first election in 1835, Henry Hugus became first mayor.

    The growth of the community was interrupted by the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad several miles to the south in 1852. But Delmont has remained an active community on the basis of its crossroad site in the more modern automobile highway era.

    CHRISTMAS TREE CAPITAL

    Indiana County has a distinction, claiming that it is the "Christmas tree capital of the world." The industry there started about 1915, when the first such trees were believed to be planted.

    Because it takes seven or more years for such trees to mature, it was the early 1920s before such tree plantings were marketed.

    Musser Nursery began in 1928, when Fred Musser and others purchased 600 acres near Indiana and planted pine and spruce seedlings on abandoned farmland. Other Musser nurseries were developed in 1938 between Indiana and Clymer, and 1952-53 along U.S. Route 119.

    COUNTY HISTORICAL VIGNETTES

  • When southwestern Pennsylvania history had its substantive beginnings in 1750, the French were active to the north in Canada, particularly, and in the south in Louisiana.

    Their efforts in this area were designed to unite those two areas of influence by enforcing a claim to the Ohio country. From 1754 until late 1758, the French controlled Fort Pitt (they named it Fort Duquesne).

  • Greensburg was the first collection of houses between Bedford and Pittsburgh to be dignified as a "town."

    Other historical notes through the years in the counties of this region:

  • Armstrong: Robert Brown and David Reynolds were among the first to build homes in the old Indian town of Kittanning, the former about 1798. Attempts to develop the so-called "lower oil fields" were started in 1860, but were not successful until October 1865 in the Parker's Landing locale.

  • Butler: The county was early known for its white, blue, black and yellow clay soils for brick and other uses. Most settlers in Butler County moved there from west of the mountains, particularly Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. When Butler was laid out in 1803, the lot that brought the highest bid ($120) was that on which the courthouse was eventually built. John and Samuel Cunningham donated the land to the county.

  • Fayette: The first general election was held July 8, 1776, at Sparks Fort on the Youghiogheny River for members of the constitutional convention. Then, until 1790, general elections were held at the courthouse in Uniontown before polling places were developed elsewhere in the county.

  • Greene: When the first courts were held as the county was organized, they were at the home of Jacob Klein on Muddy Creek. In 1810, Greene Academy at Carmichaels was incorporated and $2,000 given "that not exceeding six poor children should be educated therein."

  • Jefferson: Punxsutawney is considered the oldest town in the county, laid out in 1819-20.

  • Indiana: In the Conemaugh valley, salt wells provided an excellent quality of salt as a leading county industry beginning in 1813 for much of the rest of that century.

    The first attempt at a county settlement was made in 1769, at the forks of Conemaugh and Black Lick Creek.

  • Somerset: Col. Bouquet, on his expedition to Fort Pitt in 1758, opened a small fort where Stoystown is located. A small force was stationed there until it was called to help Bedford in 1768.

  • Washington: A female seminary established in Washington County in 1835 had only three principals in its first 40 years.

    When Fredericktown was laid out in 1790, its people were quite high in literature promotion, and established a pioneer library in 1793.

  • Westmoreland: The burning of Hanna's Town in 1782, which triggered the county seat's move to Greensburg, was cited by one historian as Indian revenge. The deed being avenged was the burning of Gnadenhutten in Ohio territory by the militia forces of Col. William Crawford's expedition.

    THIS DATE IN HISTORY

    The first bridge across the Conemaugh River in Blairsville was opened for wagon traffic on Dec. 22, 1822, 180 years ago.

    In 1830, Washington County citizens met to campaign for common or public schools at the courthouse. Their objective was to impress state legislators with the need in Pennsylvania. Public school legislation was passed in 1834, about four years later.

    Cowanshannock Township in Armstrong County was incorporated in 1848.

    The railroad bridge in Livermore on Westmoreland's northern border was swept away in 1867, down the Conemaugh.

    The Pittsburgh, McKeesport & Connellsville Street Railway Co. was formed by merger in 1900.

    The First Methodist Church in Greensburg acquired its present site at Second and Maple in 1903. The church earlier was on Main Street.

    Seven persons were killed in the Garfield clay firebrick mine in Robinson, Indiana County, in 1904.

    In 1917, Pittsburgh trolley fares were raised from a nickle to six cents.

    Twenty-eight were killed in an Army-chartered troop plane crash in the Mononaghela River not far from Pittsburgh in 1954.

    AIRLINE STARTED IN GREENSBURG

    Part of the financially troubled United Air Lines evolved from an airline started by a group of Greensburg men in 1929.

    Central Air Line organized a flying service and offered scheduled flights from Greensburg to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, from the then new airport in what is now West Point, southeast of the county seat.

    In 1946, Central merged with Clifford Ball's pioneer airmail operation, which in 1927 had begun service between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The combined firm was known as Penn Central Airlines.

    That firm became part of Capital Air Lines and was later merged into United.

    SPORTS HISTORY

    Now that the sport of football is comfortably more than a century old, its history becomes of increasing interest.

    Although Penn State played its first official football game against Bucknell in 1887 as the sport moved westward. The first strictly collegiate game in the southwest was a 32-0 Washington & Jefferson victory over Western University of Pennsylvania (soon to be changed to University of Pittsburgh) in 1890.

    WUP played an earlier game that year with a club team, Allegheny Athletic Association.

    To complete schedules in the early 90s, club and college teams played each other and sometimes even high school teams. The high schoolers were often older than their counterparts today, sometimes leaving school at the end of the eighth grade, and then returning after a couple of years at work.

    Kiski Prep may have been, in 1890 as well, the first prep/high school aggregation.

    Early unofficial "western Pa. football champions" chosen by sports writers included such as Grove City College in 1894 and Greensbu

    Early high school teams were generally organized as a student-run activity, often with a faculty coach who had played the sport at an eastern school. By the 1920s school and pep bands became quite popular playing at games.

    Offutt Field at Greensburg, a football field since 1890, once had a stream which crossed a corner of the field. In 1916, the field level was raised and the creek covered.

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