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Manor continuing to measure progress

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 11:12 a.m.

The talk among the regulars at the Manor Coffee Shoppe inevitably turns from local news to sports to politics.

And the waitresses here have heard it all.

This is the kind of place where those behind the counter remember how their customers like their eggs and stand ready with the coffee when they see a familiar car pull into the parking lot.

The morning paper passes from hand to hand, table to table. And the talk this day is about the big fire at the Tomato Patch restaurant in North Huntingdon Township Tuesday evening. Seems almost everyone was stuck in the traffic jam that ensued when firefighters took to battling the blaze along Route 30.

The walls are lined with local memorabilia, including photos of World War II veterans Serf Maloberti and A.J. DeMarchi.

In a corner, two women chat quietly. A nearby table has been taken by four regulars. More keep coming. With a ''Hi, Joe,'' or ''Hello Bob,'' they take their places.

This assignment offered a rare treat for me - a sitdown breakfast. So I made the most of it. Eggs, whole wheat toast and hash browns. My coffee cup was always full.

I lingered awhile longer to listen to the chatter, enjoying my vantage point as an outsider. There was talk of the kids, grandkids and home repair projects that needed to get started. Some recalled the trips of their youth to far away regions.

Spending time in Manor, one can't help but notice the railroad tracks that slice through the borough - little more than the width of a street away from some homes. I was impressed to stand eye level with a moving freight train - its wheels clanging along on track that was laid so long ago.

But that's second nature to the natives. They went about their business at the post office, bank or library, oblivious to the stacked rail cars passing nearby.

Not so, I wondered, when the ''iron horses'' first began chugging through the borough in the 1850s, belching smoke and soot.

The Pennsylvania Railroad began regular service from Pittsburgh to Radebaugh (just outside Jeannette) on July 15, 1852. According to the book ''History of Penn Township'' by John W. Mochnick, advance publicity of that first train's appearance ''attracted a tremendous holiday crowd.' By 1885, the railroad had begun procuring rights of way for what would become the Manor Valley Branch Railroad, which linked Manor and Claridge primarily to haul coal.

And the changes that followed were no doubt fast and furious. Much like the transformation the borough is undergoing today.

Across the railroad tracks, the gravel lot next to the fire hall where they once held boxing matches as part of the fire department's annual end-of-summer fair has been paved - serving now as the parking lot for the new municipal building.

The telltale signs of progress are everywhere in the little borough. A bulldozer groaned as it took another swipe out of a hillside where new homes are being built. A short car ride put me in the middle of Manor's newest housing plan. Ironically, it overlooks the coffee shop.

The lots have been laid out, construction workers were hard at it, and soon new homes will jut from a hillside that was most assuredly once a farm of some sort.

Ah, progress.

It comes in many packages. Satellite dishes have been mounted on the old homes that face the railroad. The corner store has been replaced by a chain-owned gas station.

But they still hold dances at the American Legion.

I drive up Observatory Street past the older, stately homes that make up the heart of the borough. The stories they could tell. Not that far along, newer homes begin to pepper the neighborhood and then it's into a suburban delight - fresh-manicured lawns, neatly trimmed hedges, roadside mailboxes and newspaper tubes.

The blend of the old and the new seems to work well here. There are no modern apartment buildings bulging from the landscape next to the older homes. Rather, it's a gentle transformation, linking past and present.

On an absolutely beautiful summer day, I head down an alley that leads to the playground. A lone walker is taking his laps. Later in the day, a gaggle of kids would keep playground instructor Lauren Caswell busy.

They come, she said, to play basketball, baseball, volleyball, do crafts or line up for the snow cones she makes when the temperatures start to climb.

On this particular day, no one seemed interested in taking to the baseball diamond so a groundhog was quite content to have centerfield to himself.

Some things will never change.

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