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Preservation efforts rewarded

| Sunday, May 6, 2012, 5:52 p.m.

The 2005 awards will be presented at the sixth annual Arthur St. Clair dinner at Mountain View Inn, Route 30, Unity Township, on Oct. 5.

Contact the Westmoreland County Historical Society office by calling 724-836-1800 for reservations. Proceeds from the dinner benefit the historical society's historic preservation programs.

Three area residents and one community will be presented with Arthur St. Clair Historic Preservation Awards on Oct. 5 for their dedication in bringing local history to life.

Eleanor Ent

Eleanor Ent, of Loyalhanna Township, will be recognized for her work in historic building preservation.

Ent restored the Concord Schoolhouse, a one-room school located on her property. The building dates to 1848.

"The building had been heavily vandalized and I had scheduled a bulldozer to come and demolish it, but I canceled it when I discovered it had been a schoolhouse," said Ent, a former art teacher for the Shaler Area School District. "As I researched it I thought it would be interesting to put the school back together."

With the help of her four children and other family members, Ent began the restoration process in 1993.

She struck gold when a neighbor found a nine-page letter in an old barn. The letter detailed the history of the schoolhouse.

"The only requirement I had during the restoration was that the artifacts had to be 100 percent original, either from the school itself or the time period. When the neighbors learned what I was doing they brought me artifacts from the school," Ent said. "I wouldn't even allow plywood to be used in the reconstruction because plywood didn't exist in 1848."

The Concord Schoolhouse was used from 1848 to 1953 when it had to close.

"The state made it mandatory that all one-room schools had to close because schools were consolidating and there would be no funding," said Ent, who uses the school for educational tours.

"It was built for education and that's what it should be used for now. I do a slide show that shows the old books, the study of curriculum and how curriculum has evolved over the years," she added. "The school belongs to the community and to the generations that will come. I don't think we should forget the past because we can learn from it and it keeps things in perspective."

Westmoreland County Historical Society Director Lisa Hays said the schoolhouse is Ent's labor of love.

"We were very impressed with her efforts. It serves as a good example of what a private individual can do when motivated," said Hays. "Not only do we have the story of a schoolhouse being preserved, but it will be used as a springboard to discussions about education in the 1800s and 1900s."

James V. Steeley

Although James V. Steeley retired as director of the historical society on March 1, he continues as editor of Westmoreland History, the official magazine of the society. Steeley will receive an award in honor of his lifetime involvement in historical education and preservation.

Steeley retired as a history teacher from Hempfield Area Senior High School in 1996 and has been active with the historical society since 1991. He credits the board of directors and staff with enabling the society to expand.

"We moved it from a narrow parochial focus to a county-wide agenda because it is a county historical society," Steeley said. "The thing that gave me the most pleasure was seeing the organization grow and expand upon its mission."

Over the past decade, the society's collection has increased and historic preservation took on a key role.

"It was important for us to take a position on historic preservation and we capitalized on what the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was doing in its program," Steeley said.

Steeley will continue delving into local history during his retirement. He is involved with the centennial committee for the Westmoreland County Courthouse and he lectures to various organizations on county history, among other projects.

P. Louis DeRose

Greensburg lawyer P. Louis DeRose also enjoys researching local history. His book, "Greensburg," published by Arcadia Publishing last year, did much to stir interest in local history, Hays said.

"The book put Greensburg's history in everyone's mind," Hays said. "It's an easy read and so visual that it brings back memories and opens up conversations with older generations. It was good on so many levels."

DeRose's Arthur St. Clair award is for the category of publications.

"The award is just a wonderful thing. It's nice to get on the list with other past recipients, such as Jack Robertshaw and Dr. Frank Cassell," DeRose said. "Arthur St. Clair has been one of my heroes. He was such a dramatic character in the American Revolution."

DeRose began working on the book in December 2003. He and several others, including Wib Albright, who died several months ago, Ned Booher and Glenn Smeltzer, sifted through hundreds and hundreds of vintage photographs and postcards. There were many trips to the Westmoreland County Historical Society to check and double-check facts and information.

The book became available in local bookstores in November 2004 and quickly sold out.

"I wanted the book to be a nice read," said DeRose. "I've had people tell me that they've taken a magnifying glass and really looked at the photos. That really makes me happy."

Because of the number of photos he couldn't use with the book, DeRose said he has about half the number necessary to complete a second Greensburg book. He is also co-authoring a history of the Westmoreland Bar Association with Nevin Wollam, of Greensburg.

Mt. Pleasant

The 250th anniversary of Gen. Edward Braddock's march of July 1755 was celebrated in Mt. Pleasant at the Braddock Festival on July 3.

"The Mt. Pleasant community is being honored for its festival because not only was it a joint effort but it was historically timely," Hays said. "This award is somewhat unusual because it recognizes an entire community for its educational programming."

Armed with a $9,800 grant from the Westmoreland County Tourism Program, Tom Headley, executive director of Westmoreland Heritage; Jim Cook, festival chairman, and members of the Braddock's Road Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, put together an enviable program commemorating Braddock's army and march.

"First, we created a map and driving guide of Braddock's Road, which follows the route that his army took from Fort Necessity to Braddock," Headley said. "We published 10,000 of these maps and distributed most of them through Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau sites, county welcome sites, and through the Westmoreland County Federated Library System."

The festival committee also worked with the library system for the One Book, One County campaign that focused on 'Ill-Starred General,' a biography on Gen. Braddock.

Markers that had been installed in 1932 along the Braddock route at four camp locations in Westmoreland County were removed, restored, and reinstalled as part of the anniversary celebration. On July 3, the Mt. Pleasant festival began with a march from the Great Swamp camp in Fayette County to Mt. Pleasant.

"Everyone stopped at the Ramsay Elementary School in Mt. Pleasant. The school is located on the site of Braddock's spring. By tradition, Braddock's army stopped there and rested on July 3," Headley said. "We had a ceremony at the spring and moved onto the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery where we conducted a ceremony of remembrance.

"The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has a number of Braddock markers in Allegheny and Fayette counties, but none in Westmoreland. We applied for a PAHMC marker but were turned down. So we put up our own marker on Main Street in Mt. Pleasant, which we dedicated," Headley added.

Lectures including one by Dr. Mary Ann Mogus on the role of women in Braddock's army, and another on the path of the Braddock Road and actual campsites by Cassell and Steeley, were also part of the day's events.

"I was very encouraged that there were families with young children at the festival," Headley said. "History today has to be presented in inventive ways in order to hold children's interest."

A video of the Braddock festival is available through the Mt. Pleasant Library.

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