History Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, Pa.
From: History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
By: John N. Boucher
Published By: The Lewis Publishing Company
New York, Chicago, 1906

Allegheny Township.

Allegheny township was organized in 1796, and received its name from the river which formed its northwestern boundary. Its first officers were Ezekiel Matthews and John Leslie, who were road supervisors, while Thomas Reed was its first constable. The northern part of the township is underlaid with the Pittsburgh seam of coal, and also with the upper and lower Freeport seams. The whole of the township is particularly well suited for agricultural purpcses. The soil is naturally fertile and is susceptible to a high state of cultivation. It is dotted over with fine residences and well kept farms. The village of Lucesco is at the northern point of the county, and at the confluence of the Kiskiniinetas and Allegheny rivers. The Allegheny valley and the West Pennsylvania railroads also pass at this place, the former running along the northwestern and the latter along the eastern boundaries of the township. These afford abundant means of transportation for both its coal products and its inhabitants.

Among the original settlers were the Stewarts, who came in 1790, the Leechburgs in 1791; William and John Watts in 1801: then came the Dimwits, Zimmermans, Hills, Cochrans, Hawks, all between that and 1800. The Bakers, Butlers, Alters, Wilsons, Lauffers, Longs, Trouts, Jacksons, McClellands, Garrottes, Dodds, McKees, Copelands, Lynches, Armstrongs, Ashbaughs, Townsends, Steels and McElroys all came before 1828. William Watt was born near Chambersburg in 1781, and died March 5, 1855, This township from its northern location bordering on the two rivers which divided the Indian country from that which was being rapidly settled about the time of the Revolutionary war, was peculiarly subjected to the outrages of the Indians north of the river. It was near here that Massy Harbison lived, and from her home was taken a prisoner and most brutally treated by the Indians. We have not thought it proper to include her story in this work for the reason that when captured she lived across the border line.

The common schools were in rather a deplorable condition in Allegheny township in 1834, when the first school law was enacted. There were but few districts, and the houses were all built of logs with only rude slabs for seats, scarcely any of which had backs to support the pupils. All other appliances of the school and houses compared with this, but the schools even then were large, often numbering over one hundred pupils. Like all pioneer schools, a rigid discipline was enforced by free use of the rod. Until the teacher treated the scholars with the approach of the holiday season he was generally held in low esteem by the pupils. Female teachers were not employed until after 1834; in fact, a girl teacher anywhere in the county prior to that time was scarcely thought of. The early teachers had little or no system of education, yet many of the pupils became good spellers, and frequently in these rude schools a pupil laid the foundation upon which was afterwards built a thorough education. Among the prominent teachers of that day were Samuel Owens, Luther Bills, George Crawford, Robert Jeffrey, Samuel McConnell and Wilson Sproull. If a young man desired to teach school he would first apply to a member of the committee, and if his appearance warranted an examination he was referred to some learned man in the community, who, after asking him a few simple questions, generally pronounced him qualified to teach, and he entered at once upon his duties. The wages paid a teacher were rarely ever less than ten dollars per month, and perhaps never over twenty dollars. Among the leading men of the township who took a great interest in education as citizens were James Fitzgerald, George Bovard, John Artnian and others. They labored hard to advance the cause of education, and yet there were many who labored with equal zeal in opposition to the common school system about the time of its adoption. The mode of teaching advanced slowly. Such a gathering as a Teachers' Institute was never dreamed of, and the directors at first refused to allow the school houses to be used for that purpose. In 1811 a public debating society was held in what was then called Crawford's schoolhouse, and considerable interest was manifested in it. In 1851 an academy, or select school, was started at Lobe's schoolhouse, or, rather, where Lober's school house now stands. The teachers were A. S. Thomas and David McKee. They were an improvement over the average teacher, and accomplished much good in the township. The text books of that clay were the Bible, a spelling book and the "Western Calculator."

The Pine Run Presbyterian Church was organized by the renowned Dr. David Kirkpatrick and a man named Bristol. At first it had about fifty five members and four elders, and was reported to the Presbytery in 1847. For some time it was supplied by Rev. Andrew McElwain until 1851, when Rev. S. T. Leason became its pastor for half the time. He remained with them until January, 1851. After this for two years it depended on supplies, and in 1857 Rev. Robert McMillan, a grandson of the renowned Dr. McMillan, the patriarch of Presbyterianism in Western Pennsylvania, became its pastor for half the time. He was a most humble, energetic and upright man, and labored with great success in the community until 1864, when his resignation was accepted on account of his failing health. He was follower by Rev. John Orr, who proved a worthy successor to Rev. McMillan, and remained with them until 1872. The United Presbyterian Church is situated about one fourth of a mile from the junction of the Kiskiminetas and Allegheny rivers, and was founded about 1873. The Reformed congregation was organized in 1832, at Brookland Church. The first building was a log one, but this was replaced by a brick structure in 1856. Rev. Hugh Walkinshaw was its first pastor, serving from 1832 until 1843. He was succeeded by Rev. Oliver Wylie, and after him came Rev. Robert Reid.

This township has fifteen schools, with 470 pupils enrolled.


That highclass trade journal, the Iron Age, in 1901 styled Vandergrift The Working Man's Paradise." Aside from Pullman, Illinois, Vandergrift is one of the most strikingly unique places on an American map. It is thirty eight miles from Pittsburgh, up the Allegheny and Kiskiminetas rivers, on the West Pennsylvania railroad, and was plotted on a four hundred acre tract of farm land purchased by the Apollo Iron and Steel Company several years prior to its being plotted. Captain J. J. Vandergrift, a heavy stockholder in the Apollo Company, and a resident of Pittsburgh, was at the head of this gigantic enterprise, and from him the place derived its name. What is known as the Vandergrift Land and Improvement Company was farmed with George G. McMurtry as its president. The platting of a town site with the iron industry back of it, and the point at which the Apollo Company had determined upon as being the future home for their immense works, second to none in the country, was executed in 1895-96. The plan of the place was carefully made (after an extensive tour of inspection by those interested through the great factory districts of Europe) by Frederick Law Olmsted, who was the architect and landscape gardener of the great World's Fair at Chicago. The streets and blocks are circular in form, no streets or avenues crossing at right angles, but on a gentle curve. The town stands on a charming table land, while its adjunct borough, Vandergrift Heights, occupies the hillside. It was platted, its streets paved with brick of the most lasting grade, its sewerage and water pipes all laid, grades all established and worked, before a single lot was sold. When the work had been completed the Land Company announced, "We are ready to sell lots. We have waited until the place is ready. Now you can judge situations and buy intelligently, and the town will be ready to live in as soon as you are ready to live there. You can build at once - the sooner the better."

The steel works opened for operation in September, 1896. May 8th, the same year, at the public sale of lots, 276 were sold at not less than twenty five cents per square foot for residence, and seventy five cents per square foot for business lots. The total sales amounted to $275,013. The place was incorporated as a borough in 1896. The burgesses have been: H. W. Nichols, who served eight days; Oscar Lindquist, serving two years; Joseph Dougherty, serving but two weeks. George A. Hunger was appointed and served about three years, was then elected and is still in office. A postoffiee was established in 1896, with H. W. Nichols as postmaster. He was succeeded by H. W. Hamilton, the present postmaster. The first building erected on the plot, aside from the original farm houses, was the warehouse of George A. Hunger, which he still occupies. He commenced work on it May 13, 1896. The borough is provided with excellent water coming from artesian wells along the adjacent hillsides. It is furnished by a private water company, as is also gas and electric light.

The first term of school taught here was by Professor Clarke. The first school house was erected in 1896, costing $20,000. It now has two first class buildings in Vandergrift proper, while at the "Heights" there are two others.

The Lutherans were the first in the field in way of church organization. They dedicated a building in 1897. Then came these: Methodist Episcopal, dedicated in 1897; Presbyterian, United Presbyterian, Reformed, Catholic and Baptist, dedicated April, 19o5. The following shows the churches worshipping in Vandergrift in 1905: Methodist Episcopal, Grafton T. Reynolds, D. D., pastor; Episcopal Mission, Rev. Thomas Lloyd, rector; Presbyterian, Rev. H. R. Johnson, pastor; Free Methodist, Rev. C. L. Wright, pastor; St. Paul's Lutheran (Vandergrift Heights) Rev. George Beiswanger, pastor; First Reformed, Rev. D. Snider Stephan, pastor; First United Presbyterian, Rev. Curtis R. Stevenson, pastor; First Baptist, Rev. Alexander Wilding, pastor; Free Methodist (Vandergrift Heights) Rev. C. L. Wright, pastor.

It should here be recorded and placed to the credit of the sometimes called "soulless corporations" that the Land Company made good their proposition on opening up the town, that they would donate a lot and give one half the cost of the first churches erected if none so erected should cost less than $15,000. Hence, at the beginning, Vandergrift church architecture set the pace for fine edifices, several of which in point of magnificence and cost are not surpassed, if indeed equaled, in the entire county. Another exceptional feature of their splendid buildings is the fact that each has provided itself with an up to date pipe organ.

Nearly every civic and fraternal society, order and lodge extant, is here represented by strong organizations. The only newspaper of the borough is the Citizen, a strictly non partisan paper, published each Saturday by E. H. Welsh, editor.

The Casino, a grand structure used for playhouse and general public assembly purposes, stands in a most commanding position, and was erected in 1891 at a cost of $32,000, of which sum $14,000 was given by the Steel Plant Company in way of stock purchased, and the remainder by other local men. It contains a library of three thousand volumes, and is the pride of every citizen of the place.

The banking business thus far has been conducted by one concern - the Vandergrift Savings and Trust Company - with a working capital of $130,000. The Commercial College of the borough is an excellent training school for those expecting to enter business pursuits. The population of Vandergrift proper in 1905 was about 4,000, while the combined population of Vandergrift and adjuncts is about 8,000.

But we have yet to speak of the life giving force of the borough - the business element, without which this splendid array of phenomenal growth and success would be impossible - the great steel plant of the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company, the extensive works of which cover many acres of ground, and whose furnace fires never go out, yet no work is performed on the Sabbath. This may truly be called one of America's model manufacturing plants, wherein reigns the element of sobriety, intelligence and wonderful business thrift. The records given by the corporation itself shows the following: It is the largest plant of its kind in the world. The average, age of its great force of workmen is thirty two years. It is strictly a "Free non union" concern, where "'union rules" are never tolerated. It became a part of the American Sheet Steel Company, May, 1900, and June I, 1904, merged into the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company. At this point the company now has nine open hearth furnaces, one continuous blooding. and bar mill; twenty nine sheet mills and twenty galvanizing pots. The annual product capacity is about 145 gross tons of finished sheets. The number of men employed, as per pay roll, is 2,200. At the Hyde Park plant of this company the equipment consists of five sheet mills, with an annual product capacity of $15,500 gross tons. The number of men employed is two hundred. Every known safeguard is provided for the workmen, and the most rigid sanitary rules are enforced. The spacious grounds remind the passerby of a beautifully cared for college campus, for the hillside, sloping up from the shops toward the town proper, is a perfect lawn and flower garden, upon which the toiling workingmen may ever and anon glance and enjoy. It has fifteen schools, with 596 pupils enrolled.


A separate borough from Vandergrift proper vas platted on the hillside to the south from the latter place, soon after the steel company established Vandergrift. It was incorporated as a borough December 8, 1897. The chief object was to afford workingmen cheaper building sites and locations where lot owners might make their own improvements as they felt able; hence this portion, usually called the "Heights," does not show the up to date improvements found on every hand in the original town. The Heights are situated about one mile distant, and intervening is a beautiful level plateau which is designed for building the two places together when the increase of population requires it. At andergrift Heights there are two churches - the Free Methodist, a frame building, and the Lutheran, a brick structure; the latter has a pipe organ and a good parsonage.

In 1898 the first school was taught on the plat after the town had been laid out, in a frame schoolhouse owned by the country district before the existence of the village; to this was built an addition equal in size to the original structure. This, with a modern brick schcolhouse erected in 1891, gives a total of ten school rooms in the borough. The general business of the place consists in the retail trade to its inhabitants, many of whom find employment in the shops and various works at Vandergrift. It has ten schools, with 512 pupils enrolled.

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