Mt. Pleasant known for backing military, glass industries, health care
People from Eastern Pennsylvania and the Virginia and Maryland areas began settling around Mt. Pleasant Borough about 1770, 15 years after Gen. Edward Braddock's expedition through Mt. Pleasant to his defeat near Pittsburgh, according to “A Town that Grew at the Crossroad,” published in 1978.
Records in the piece indicate Braddock's troops stopped at a double spring near the corner of James Way and Spring Street on July 3, 1755, six days before his defeat on July 9, in what now is Braddock, near Pittsburgh.
The springs at that site have been buried, covered over in the 1950s when the owners developed the property.
Mt. Pleasant grew up around the Crossroad formed by Braddock's and Glades roads (Glades Pike.) Glades Road, now Route 31, was the major east-west route across Pennsylvania, passing through Donegal before descending from the mountains to Mt. Pleasant, according to the history.
Taverns and buildings
Michael Smith erected the first house in 1793 and on June 9, 1798, he obtained a license to sell spirits and opened the first tavern. That tavern was on Glades Road, according to a book published by the Friends of the Mt. Pleasant Public Library and online resources.
The tavern was torn down in 1884.
The surrounding area, which housed locations where whiskey was produced and sold, became known as “Helltown.” In 1811, a group of home brewers opened a microbrewery and called it Helltown Brewery. The settlement was reportedly known as a lawless community.
Before 1810, there were 34 log houses in the community. The oldest brick building still in existence is the 1812 Rupert Building at 644 W. Main St., which is occupied by Doughboy's Pizza and Subs.
Alexander McCready built a tavern house on the land owned by Marshall family members in what was then Mt. Pleasant Township (spelled Mountpleasant Township at the time). He purchased the property on which he had erected his building in 1797. McCready is credited with laying out Mt. Pleasant once he purchased most of the land for about $18 an acre.
When a house on Washington Street was being demolished in 2004, a log addition was discovered where the kitchen had been. That addition was rebuilt in 2006 and is named Chestnut Log House. Indications that are the log house was built about 1820.
By 1828, Mt. Pleasant's population had grown to 300. There were 29 lots on 34 acres when the borough was incorporated.
In 1867, citizens petitioned the state legislature for prohibition of the sale of liquor in the borough. The Mount Pleasant Dawn newspaper carried editorials, chiding citizens who had missed the temperance meetings or had not taken the pledge.
John Shields, editor of the Mt. Pleasant Journal, which was first published in 1873, reported that Prohibition was essentially ignored in the community; more than 50 speakeasies operated during that time.
The eastern end of the town had two neighborhoods: Bunker Hill and Texas. Members of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society said the names have often slowed searches for people from the borough because there were references to some indicating they moved to Texas.
Mt. Pleasant Church of the United Brethren in Christ, which later became United Methodist Church, began with occasional services by a minister visiting the area in 1790. Regular services started in 1803. Today, a large church is at Main Street at College Avenue.
There were several churches of varying denominations that took root in the town. Some were small while others became large as their congregations grew.
Backing the military
Throughout its history, Mt. Pleasant has always supported the military.
John White Geary, who earned the rank of major general in the Army, was born in 1819 before Mt. Pleasant Borough.
Geary became the first mayor of San Francisco in 1850, then returned to Pennsylvania, winning two terms as governor after the Civil War. North and South Geary Streets, off North Church Street, are named for him.
Another famous member of the military was Henry W.B. Mechling, who was born in Mt. Pleasant in 1852. Mechling was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, according to a plaque honoring him in Veterans Park. Mechling and three other troopers volunteered to cover troopers getting water for the men of his unit. A total of 24 were awarded medals of honor in that action.
Monuments to the two men are in the park near the Doughboy statue on Main Street.
The main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad bypassed Mt. Pleasant in the 1850s, but the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad, which was absorbed by the B&O, entered town in 1871. The railroads blossomed because of a need to service the coal mines and coke ovens that were springing up in the Mt. Pleasant and Scottdale areas.
Education also became important early, and schools prospered.
Bonnett School, opened by Col. John Bonnett around 1800, is the first on record. The school was supported using money donated by the community. Bonnett, with the help of his neighbors, built a log schoolhouse on the corner of his plantation, where the United Methodist Church of Mt. Pleasant now sits.
Public schools began in the community with the state's Free Schools Act of 1834, and the system expanded as enrollment increased.
Mt. Pleasant became a college town in 1849 with the opening of The Mount Pleasant College by the Allegheny Conference of the United Brethren in Christ. It was one of the first colleges in Westmoreland County and closed in 1931.
The glass industry took root in the community in 1850 with the opening of Bryce Brothers. L.E. Smith Glass opened in 1907. Lenox Incorporated acquired Bryce Brothers in 1965, making glass at the plant on the east side of town until 2002.
The former glass plant has become the town's glass museum and houses several other businesses, including a Lenox outlet, Pittsburgh Electric Engines and Crystal Concepts.
One famous man who reportedly received early business training in his uncle Martin Overholt's store on Main Street was Henry Clay Frick. Frick grew up on his grandfather's farm in West Overton and maintained offices in Scottdale, though he lived in Pittsburgh. A plaque indicating his connection to the community is on the building on top of the hill at 751 Main St., next to CoGos, in Mt. Pleasant Borough.
The coal and coke industry entrepreneur went on to buy coal leases and operate coke ovens throughout the area.
Frick was said disapprove of unions in the companies he owned or supervised.
In 1891, deputies of the H.C. Frick Coal Company killed nine strikers in what became known as the Morewood Massacre. A state historic marker is placed on Morewood Street, going toward Alverton, to mark the incident.
Many descendents of people who worked for Frick do not have positive things to say about him, but Cassandra Vivian of the town's glass museum is not one of them.
“(Frick) probably treated his workers much better than any other operators,” Vivian said.
Frick provided amenities for his workers, Vivian said, including tenant housing and a baseball field and uniforms for the teams.
She said it is important to remember that Frick's policies were better than many of the business owners of that time, and he could always find men who would work the 18-hour days.
The first physician recorded in Mt. Pleasant was William C. Reiter, who served the community beginning in 1840.
A Red Cross society was formed in 1898 to help equip and sew for the soldiers of Company E, which had been mobilized and ordered to the Philippines during the Spanish American War. The society did not disband at the end of the war, but instead worked for better care of the sick and injured in the borough.
In 1900, the estate of Jacob Justice, a resident of Philadelphia who was born and raised in Mt. Pleasant, informed the community of a bequest for $76,000 that Justice wanted to be used to provide for a dispensary. The directors of the Jacob Justice Free Dispensary applied for and were granted a charter.
In 1902, the state provided $12,000 for a hospital building and the charter for the hospital was granted.
The J. Lippencott home and office building on Main Street, built in 1841, was purchased and converted into a hospital. The building had a capacity of 67 beds and opened in 1904. A school of nursing was started, with the first class graduating in 1907. The school closed in 1950.
A new facility, the Henry Clay Frick Community Hospital, now Excela Health Frick, opened in 1965 at 508 S. Church St. The facility held 104 beds and 21 bassinets. A wing was added in 1970 with 54 beds. In 1972, a third wing was added with 66 beds.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.