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Eighty Four was named in honor of president

| Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004

A uniquely named community in Washington County, widely known for the chain lumber business that uses its name, is Eighty Four. It was the site of a store and mill operated by William Smith along the old Monongahela-Washington turnpike when, about 1884, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad acquired and widened the tracks of a railroad past the site.

The B&O established a station in what was then known as Smithville. With the new impetus of a railroad, tradition has it that, in 1885, Smith tried to secure a post office, but the name of Smithville was not acceptable because of an existing post office in the state by that name.

Taking inspiration from a discussion of the problem with a man from Beaver County who had been faced with the same circumstance, Smith is reputed to have decided to call it Eighty Four "in commemoration of President Cleveland's election in the fall of 1884."

Postal records indicate that the post office in Eighty Four was opened 118 years ago last week, with W.A. Barr as postmaster. The Barrs and Smiths were both prominent in the history of the community, which lies mostly in Somerset Township, with a part in adjoining North and South Strabane. It apparently was never incorporated as a separate municipality.

Shocking experience

In 1852, when he was filling in as a telegraph operator in Greensburg, the later quite famous Andrew Carnegie had an experience with lightning that nearly ended his career.

During a storm, he was too close to the telegraph key when lightning struck the line and he was knocked off his stool.

Death of gambling

In late 1921, Westmoreland County District Attorney Nevin A. Cort ordered that all gambling devices be shut down. When this was not fully obeyed, a number of raids followed.

North Belle Vernon was one place where the order was ignored. By early January, however, two slot machines were dumped in the local cemetery there, possibly by some frightened owner who believed it was time to put the machines to their final rest.

Hotel purchase

A real estate deal in November 1927 saw Greensburg hotel operator William P. Pfeil acquire the Mountain View Inn and its 15-acre site from Charles M. Wible and Associates.

The Wible group had owned the hotel since it was built a few years earlier. The Wible interests retained the more than 200-acre farm that surrounded the hotel and its new and quite popular swimming pool.

Pfeil came to Greensburg about 1908, and had operated both the Zimmerman and Rappe hotels in downtown Greensburg.

Park-turned-school

Amos K. Hutchinson School in Southwest Greensburg is situated on property that was once a quite well-known park. Electric Park was initiated in conjunction with Greensburg & Hempfield Electric Street Railway in the early 1890s, but was developed by Keystone Coal & Coke Co.

Sporting events, circus performances and other events were held there, even the Westmoreland County fair in 1897. Coal was removed from under the site in the early years of this century.

In 1927, the Southwest Greensburg school board purchased the seven-acre site to build a junior high school. The property was acquired from Mrs. Richard Coulter Sr., Keystone Coal & Coke, and Inland Realty Co. for $16,000, at which time the board also acquired six adjoining privately owned lots from their owners.

The railway had originally purchased about 35 lots there for $275 apiece when Southwest Greensburg was developing a century ago.

-- Excerpted from Robert B. Van Atta's "Vignettes" columns of Nov. 21, 1982 and 1993.

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