Verona residents seek help preserving borough history
An organization dedicated to preserving a part of the area’s past is seeking new members and volunteers to help continue the mission.
The Verona Historical Society has about 50 members, but only about 20 are active.
“It’s important to get new, younger members in order to pass on the knowledge of Verona to newer generations so that they can appreciate the history of Verona,” society Secretary Donald Worf said.
The group’s nearly 1,000 artifacts including old photos, yearbooks, apparel, newspaper articles, audio recording of interviews with senior residents, and a zoning map from September 1900 are on display at the borough building, 736 E. Railroad Ave.
“There’s always something that someone will find that they can connect to,” said society President Rhoda Worf, Donald’s wife and resident of 50 years. “We’ve had a lot of contributions from residents. We have articles and books that we’ve put together.”
The society was founded in August 2009 by the Worfs and several other residents inspired to curate Verona memorabilia.
“There was so much memorabilia not available, we thought we better start while there’s still people around that remembered it and still things to collect,” Donald Worf said.
The society’s room at the borough building is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, by appointment and special requests.
Most of Verona’s historical information can be found in the society’s paperback series “All Aboard! A Historical Tour of Verona, PA.”
The town originally was part of a 460-acre section of Mechanicsburg along the Allegheny River purchased by James Verner. Verner Elementary School along South Avenue was named after the family.
In 1837, Pennsylvania granted a charter to the Pittsburgh, Kittanning & Warren Railroad Co. to build a railroad line from Pittsburgh to Warren. The proposed route crossed through Verner’s property.
Verner and William Phillips formed a company to lay out a village adjacent to the new rail yards, and Verona borough was incorporated in 1871. It was divided into two wards.
Members of its second ward petitioned the court in 1886 to break away from Verona and form a new community.
In 1889, the court issued a decree incorporating the new borough of Oakmont.
Businesses in Verona during the late 1800s and early 1900s included a blacksmith shop, Eaton Funeral Home, E.N. Miller Furniture, John R. Cribbs Hardware, A&P Supermarket and Yobp Chevrolet.
“Commerce was great,” Rhoda Worf said. “We were a booming town. We had the river for transportation and bringing supplies in and also the railroad. We had boat club row on Arch Street.”
Inventor John Kowalsky had a machine shop in Verona in the 1890s. He experimented with electric motors and gasoline engines. He built a motorboat so fast it was banned from the Allegheny River.
Kowalsky also crafted planes — one a bird-like structure that was unable to fly and a few others that successfully flew a few times before crashing.
Rhoda Worf is a 1969 Verona High School graduate. The two boroughs had their own school districts through 1972 when they merged to create Riverview School District.
Verona was known as “the spot that’s more than a dot” in the 1970s and ’80s.
“I think we’ve changed our image since then,” Donald Worf said.
The borough has benefited from state and Allegheny County grants the past six years. It underwent a streetscape project with sidewalk improvements, new street signs, lights, a pavilion and landscaping.
“That made a major difference for us,” Rhoda Worf said. “We’ve come a long way.”
There are no age or residential requirements to become a historical society member. The group meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month in the borough building.
Membership rates and more information on how to help out the historical society is available at veronahistory.org.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.