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Mennonites were early immigrants to Jacob's Creek area in 1790s

| Sunday, June 15, 2003

The mine and mill communities of southwestern Pennsylvania became a busy immigration destination, but one of the church sects that came quite early to this area was the Mennonites, one of their settlements being among the earliest of their faith in this region.

That was in the Jacobs Creek area of Fayette and Westmoreland counties, where its mines later attracted other ethnic forces.

Some of the lands occupied by those first Mennonites, principally from eastern Pennsylvania, are now the towns of Alverton, Scottdale, Everson and Pennsville. Everson, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year as a borough, notes some of its history that started as Jacobs Creek village when the Mennonites arrived in the 1790s.

The fertile land in that locale, along with the ready availability of water and timber, appealed to the hard-working farmers.

The south side of the creek in Fayette County was occupied first. Jacob Strickler, from Lancaster County, in 1789 purchased 395 acres on the south bank of the stream, about a mile southwest of the future site of Scottdale, where he built a saw and grist mill.

Later that year, John Stouffer, from Hagerstown, Md., acquired several hundred acres nearby. In 1790, Mennonite minister Abraham Stauffer, also from Lancaster County, bought a 278-acre tract including the future site of Everson.

Many of his children and their descendants became area church, business and industrial leaders.

Others at an early date were Jacob Shallenberger in 1791 with 426 acres at the site of Pennsville, Joseph Sharrick, John Rist in Bullskin Township, Peter Newcomer, Peter Galley, Peter Freed and Jacob Eshelman.

The south side settlement, which was as far south as Broadford and Connellsville, was more spread out than the north side, concentrated in what became East Huntingdon Township between Alverton and Mt. Pleasant on the north and Jacobs Creek to the south. Northern settlers came from many eastern Pennsylvania counties, including Bucks County, along with some arrivals from Germany.

George Mumma was the first settler in the "northern" community, purchasing 291 acres about a mile north of future Scottdale in 1794.

Other early "northern" settlers were Martin Overholt, minister Abraham Welty, Henry Rosenberger, Adam Tinstman, Henry Whiteman and Henry Yothers. Christian Stoner, from Bedford County, purchased 500 acres near what became Stonerville, the name later changed to Alverton.

In 1800 and 1801, among the newcomers were Henry Oberholzer (Overholt), Abraham Ruth and Peter Loucks.

Abraham Overholt, son of Henry, became an enterprising farmer and businessman in West Overton. The first user of coal in the locale, he also developed a "superior" whiskey that became a prosperous business.

The Mennonite communities grew slowly until about 1850, when too vigorous an adherence to the conservative church tradition contributed to the decline in population.

About a century ago, interest was renewed when a church-owned and -operated publishing plant opened in Scottdale.

THIS DATE IN HISTORY

First noted in the slim past that June 15 has recorded is that Laughlintown was laid out in 1797, along what became the Lincoln Highway in Westmoreland County.

Post offices were closed in 1915, when Newlonsburg's functions were turned over to Export, and in 1927, when Millwood disappeared, its operations assumed by Derry.

In 1950, the Gateway Center project work in Pittsburgh got under way.

A 34-day strike, the longest in Pittsburgh Railways history, was over in 1954 with buses and trolleys again in operation on this date.

Things picked up somewhat tragically the next day, June 16, though. Fifteen persons were killed in a Pennsylvania Railroad train wreck at Gray Station, near Derry, in 1926. Thirty-one were killed in the Hill Farm mine explosion near Dunbar in Fayette in 1890.

Readers might recall another June 16 event in 1970, a torrential downpour of more than 6 inches of rain, which caused local flooding in the Latrobe-Ligonier-Blairsville area.

ELOPEMENT BEGAN PARK STORY

The story of Schenley Park is said to have begun with the elopement of 15-year-old Pittsburgher Mary Croghan from a fashionable New York boarding school to marry 28 years older Capt. Edward Schenley in 1842. The circumstances that ultimately created the park were largely of her doing, however.

Her donation of the land for the 456-acre sylvan setting in an educational and scientific area in Pittsburgh's Oakland section came in 1889.

The Schenleys lived in London when their 36-year marriage was ended with his death in 1878.

Mrs. Schenley became quite wealthy from inheritances from her grandfather O'Hara and father, William Croghan Jr., coupled with her own astute business ability. When she died in 1903, her Pittsburgh real estate holdings alone were worth more than $50 million.

As early as 1869, the Schenleys offered to sell a tract of their land called Mt. Airy to the city, but these efforts failed. Sometime later, rumors of a sale to real estate developers prompted a Pittsburgh business acquaintance of the Schenleys to go to London. Result was the 1889 donations of 300 acres of land to the city for that park.

It was a shrewd decision, since Mrs. Schenley later sold the rest of the tract to the city at a price well above its value. The strong escalation of nearby land values further benefited the Schenleys.

From that 1889 action, development of the unique area into a park continued, spearheaded by city official E.M. Bigelow. Provision of Phipps Conservatory by industrialist Henry Phipps in 1892-93 helped in several ways. One was in providing for plants and flowers for the park.

The Panther Hollow and Schenley bridges were built in 1897-98. By 1903, 100 years ago, roads and major landscaping were complete.

Development has continued through the years. Major improvements came during the Depression years when public works projects included the Panther Hollow walls and steps.

The area continues to attract attention today with various suggestions for further development.

KU KLUX KLAN CENTER HERE

While little is heard today about the Ku Klux Klan, some three-quarters of a century ago Allegheny and Westmoreland counties were the major center of its renewed activity in Pennsylvania.

Allegheny led the state in the number of "klaverns" or lodges, followed by Westmoreland. While Philadelphia ranked third, other western counties stood quite high. Washington was in fourth place, Armstrong fifth, Fayette tied for seventh, and Indiana 10th. Cambria and Somerset were not far behind.

The Klan appealed to many working-class people, particularly in coal and steel areas. Catholics were said to have been the Klan's primary "enemy" in the 1920s, ahead of blacks and Jews.

The Klan began in the South after the Civil War by whites who fought Reconstruction, ex-slaves as freemen, and other disruptions of their "white supremacy" way of life. Their intimidating practices included white robes, masked faces and riding robed horses with muffled feet.

Put out of existence in the 1870s, a newer Klan was reinstituted just after World War I in 1920 as a "native, white, Protestant supremacy" organization.

While the Klan occasionally performed useful social welfare functions and in support of the law, it collapsed rapidly and was about a shadow of its mid-1920s strength by the early 1930s. Internal conflict and misuse of funds contributed.

By 1933, Uniontown and Fayette County were among few remaining strongholds. Uniontown had 101 members in 1936 and only 40 by 1940. Fort Mason in Fayette dropped from 60 to 13 during that same period.

By the early 1940s, the Klan was virtually gone from southwestern Pennsylvania, and, in fact, the whole state.

WVU NOT 'PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL'

When the Agricultural College of West Virginia was established at Morgantown in 1867, some opponents of that location feared it would become "a Pennsylvania school" at that location.

Their fears did not interfere with the process. The site was part of a somewhat fragile political agreement. Charleston influence leaders voted for Morgantown as the school location in exchange for Morgantown backing their city as the state capital site.

At the time, there was still animosity as a result of a Civil War sentiment split in the newly formed state. In the southern part of West Virginia, Confederate sympathy prevailed, while the northern part was the reverse.

The Morgantown offer included the sites, buildings and assets of Monongalia Academy and Woodburn Female Seminary at a scenic location above the Monongahela River in the then town of 700.

Sessions opened in September 1867 with an enrollment of 124 students, only six at the college level and 118 in the preparatory department. The Rev. Alexander Martin, a Methodist minister, was the college's first president.

Tuition for a 13-week term was $8 for the college and $5 for preparatory. Room and board was available for $3.50 weekly.

The name was changed to West Virginia University in 1868, somewhat prematurely since the school did not have the programs usually found in universities.

An early faculty problem was created by Confederate sympathizers on a school staff in the loyal Union part of the state.

When the first railroad train entered Morgantown in 1886, new rail lines multiplied rapidly as the university became more accessible to the rest of the state. Enrollment picked up appreciably, as did the town as well.

Quite clearly, though, the fears that "it would become a Pennsylvania school' were not realized, even though many from this state have been educated there.

SPORTS HISTORY

More high school football history notes:

Shadyside Academy was located in the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh when it started football in 1892, its first team known to have won from East Liberty Academy and lost to Pittsburgh High. The school, which later moved to Fox Chapel, had early undefeated and untied teams in 1894, 1900 and 1901, and a once tied (by Kiski Prep) but otherwise unbeaten slate in 1902. The academy joined the Interstate Prep School League in 1923.

Blairsville-Saltsburg, a combination of two Indiana County schools, had a few early games at Blairsville High before its significant start in 1923. It won the WPIAL "A" title over Shaler in 1947, and had particularly good records in the late 1940s. Saltsburg started the sport in 1936, suspended it for the war, and restored it after the hostilities. Its 1948 team was 6-0-1, the tie with Bell Township. But in the early 1960s, a 36-game losing streak was endured.

Northgate football began as early as 1903 at Bellevue High, when its team lost to Allegheny Prep, Duquesne Prep, and the freshmen at what shortly became Pitt. There was no unbeaten team until 1963, then with a 10-0-0 record and a playoff win in the WPIAL over Avella. Avalon started football in 1914, and its only undefeated teams came later than 7-0-1 records in 1950 and 1951. Northgate replaced Bellevue and Avalon in 1976.

Pittsburgh Gladstone began senior high football in 1960, defeating Sharpsburg and losing seven games. It joined the City League in 1961, and made the playoffs twice, both times losing to Westinghouse. Gladstone returned to junior high status in 1976.

Frazier started the sport as Perryopolis in 1921 and 1922, with wins over Point Marion and South Union, and losses to Morris Township, Point Marion, and Centerville twice. After some suspensions of the sport, it was resumed in 1940. The 1960 team lost a WPIAL "B" championship game to Washington Township of Westmoreland, and in 1982 had its first unbeaten regular season with a 10-0-0.

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