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Towns' celebrations tip hat to transportation boom

| Thursday, July 14, 2011

By the end of the 19th century, new railroads, tunnels, roads and streetcars had opened up areas beyond Pittsburgh to development and the expansion of farming, coal mining and industry. This year, several Western Pennsylvania communities born from the transportation boom are celebrating milestone anniversaries of their founding.

In October, Hampton will hold its final sesquicentennial celebration during the annual community day at its Depreciation Lands Museum, said township Manager Christopher Lochner.

Hampton tied its Independence Day celebrations to the 150th anniversary of its incorporation from parts of Indiana, McCandless and West Deer. Organizer Donna Bour said Hampton's concert by The Clarks, fireworks and fighter jet flyover were somehow spared the thunderous evening downpours that briefly soaked the rest of the Pittsburgh region just before nightfall.

"I don't know what weather karma we had, but it worked," Bour said. "There's nothing like watching a band play surrounded by thunderstorms."

Scott combined Independence Day fireworks with its 150th birthday, using the opportunity to hand out pieces of a giant birthday cake, debut a township flag, and bury a time capsule, including copies of newspapers, the current township budget, a Chartiers Valley class ring and a Blackberry phone, said township Manager Denise Fitzgerald.

"We wanted people of the future to see what took up so much of our attention," she said of the cell phone. While no more sesquicentennial celebrations are scheduled in Scott, it will commemorate the area's role Saturday and Sunday in the Whiskey Rebellion with re-enactments in Kane Woods and at the Woodville Plantation in Collier, said Sarantos Patrinos of the Scott Conservancy.

Bethel Park has scheduled events all year for the 125th anniversary of its founding as Bethel Township, starting with the Valentine's Day debut of a book of historic photos, said Kristen Normile, the book's author and a trustee for the Bethel Park Community Foundation. On July 23, re-enactors will offer tours of the Bethel Cemetery, portraying some of the community's founders and highlighting those who are buried there. On Aug. 27, there will be a "Black and Orange Ball" at the Bethel Park Community Center.

The tiny borough of Export has been holding a yearlong celebration to mark its centennial. Over the past three years, Export has raised funds to deck its main street in centennial flags, build a memorial brick walkway, and host events such as a display of mining memorabilia in March; a spaghetti dinner in April; an ethnic parade, food and music festival Aug. 6; and a celebratory banquet Nov. 11, said borough councilwoman Melanie Litz, who is chairing the centennial committee.

The Civil War and the expansion of the railroads 150 years ago had a profound impact on how people in Western Pennsylvania lived, worked and moved, said David Grinnell, chief archivist at the Heinz History Center.

Mobilizing to support the Civil War and Reconstruction with iron, coal, glass, guns, boots and clothing helped accelerate the area's transition from an agricultural to an industrial society. And railroads allowed residents and businesses to spread out and form towns farther away from the major cities.

Meanwhile, the demand for resources allowed the creation of river towns and mining towns such as Export, Grinnell said.

Around that time, (railroads) are having an impact on how people get back and forth, where their jobs are and where they live," he said.

Bethel Park

In November 1776, just months after the American colonies declared their independence, Princeton-educated, the Rev. John McMillan began preaching from the log cabin of Oliver Miller, located in what is now South Park. As his congregation grew, he split it into two geographic divisions, naming one "Lebanon" and the other "Bethel." The first meeting house of what would become Bethel Presbyterian Church was built around 1779 near Fort Couch, said Kristen Normile, author of Arcadia Publishing's "Bethel Park" history book.

The church would lend its name to the township when it was established in 1886. Bethel Township took off around the beginning of the 20th century with the establishment of the Montour Railroad and the Pittsburgh Terminal Coal Co.'s mines. The addition of Pittsburgh Railways trolleys helped link the growing residential community to Pittsburgh proper, Normile said.

By the time the coal mines were shut down in the 1940s, Bethel Township had become enough of a suburb with established businesses to go on without them. In 1949, it switched to a borough form of government, and by the 1970s became a home-rule community that renamed itself Bethel Park.

Export

The Westmoreland Coal Co. built the area now known as Export in the early 1890s as a company coal mining town within Franklin Township. By 1900, the mine employed nearly 500 people and produced more than a half-million tons of coal.

But residents were unhappy with conditions in Franklin, where they lacked a sewer system or nearby schools, said Melanie Litz, borough councilwoman and chair of the centennial celebration committee. They began lobbying for incorporation, but their efforts were set back by the bloody Westmoreland County Coal Strike of 1910-11. Hundreds of striking coal miners were evicted from their company-owned homes and took refuge in huts and tents set up with union support -- the largest such shantytown of the strike. The strike ended in defeat for the union, but those seeking independence for Export won out. The borough was incorporated on Nov. 11, 1911, with its first government meeting the following January.

The coal mines closed in 1952, and the borough's population declined from a peak of about 2,500 to less than 900 by 2000, Litz said. But residents remain proud of the borough's coal-mining heritage, the many ethnic groups who flocked to the mines for work, and the old coal-company houses that still stand today.

Hampton

The area now known as Hampton Township was purchased from the Iroquois in 1783-84 and made available to purchase by former Revolutionary War soldiers as part of the "depreciation lands" used to offset the depreciated value of the money they were paid with, said township Manager Christopher Lochner. Most of the land initially was used for hunting and trapping, but one of the settlements came to be called Talley Cavey, for a village in Ireland. In 1861, Judge and U.S. Rep. Moses Hampton signed incorporation papers combining Talley Cavey with the developing settlements of Wildwood, Sample and Allison Park to create the 16-square-mile township bearing his name.

Hampton remained almost entirely rural until the arrival of trolley lines in the 1950s, Lochner said. Those allowed U.S. Steel executives to use the enclave of Oak Hill to escape the noise and pollution of Pittsburgh, but to still be close enough to zip back to town if they needed to. The country-near-the-city vibe worked for the University of Pittsburgh, too, which used to own the local country club and held football camps there, Lochner said. The township started buying up the right-of-way for sewer lines in the 1960s, and saw an explosion of population in the 1970s when the opening of a water treatment plant allowed the construction of new subdivisions.

Scott

Before it was its own township, Scott played a role in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, when farmers who were converting their grain harvests into whiskey chafed under new taxes and marched on the mansion of the tax collector, Gen. John Neville. They burned his mansion at Woodville Plantation, now located within Collier.

The township was established in 1861 and named for Gen. Winfield Scott, who had served in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War by that time. It originally was much larger -- about 10 square miles of land, including parts of what is now East Carnegie, Dormont, Castle Shannon and Mt. Lebanon, said Janet Forton, director of the township library. Much of its early industry centered around coal mining, though there was also a plant manufacturing glass bottles and another making paint.

Scott gradually became more suburbanized in the first half of the 20th century, even as it lost land that was annexed by neighboring towns. Land was ceded to Carnegie, while other parts broke off to form Dormont and Mt. Lebanon. But modern amenities like a sewer system, trolley lines, gas and electrical services helped spur the population to grow to a peak of as many as 21,000 people in 1960 according to an informal history found at the library, Forton said. The population was about 17,000 as of the 2000 census.

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