|Written by Administrator|
|Saturday, 23 January 2010|
1850: A Snapshot of Local History
By 1850 the American frontiers had been extended westward with the incorporation of new territories gained in the just-concluded war with Mexico. As new lands were acquired, debate raged as to whether the newly-admitted states should be open to slavery. As a result, Congress passed the Compromise of 1850 -- a compromise that left many dissatisfied, and eventually contributed to the civil war in 1861. The California Gold Rush had begun in 1849, and in 1850 California became the 31st state. In July of that year, President Zachery Taylor died in office and was succeeded by his vice president, Millard Fillmore. That was the year Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter; and Isaac Merritt Singer invented the first Singer sewing machine.
In the 1800s Pittsburgh was already on its way to becoming an industrial power: a booming town of factories and foundries, churches and schools, taverns and shops. A place described by Anthony Trollope:
“…without exception, the blackest place I ever saw….Nothing can be more picturesque than the site…Even the filth and wonderousness of the place are picturesque when looked down upon from above. The tops of churches are visible and some of the largest buildings may be properly traced through the thick brown settled smoke But the city itself is buried in a dense cloud. I was never more in love with smoke and dirt than when I stood here and watched the darkness of night close in upon the floating soot which hovered over the city”
The smoky cloud was emblematic of the forges and foundries of a vibrant iron industry that was growing rapidly; by 1850 the city was poised at the beginning of the Age of Steel. The railroads were already having their impact on local commerce and industry. Pittsburgh wharfs were being expanded to accommodate the thriving shipbuilding industry and the burgeoning traffic in river steamboats. And by 1850 Pittsburgh, with a population of 46,000, had become well established as “The Glass Capital of the World.” In 1850 Joseph Barker was elected mayor of Pittsburgh -- while serving a year’s jail term for disturbing the peace.
Only the year before, in 1849, Patton Township was established as the official name of the area around Monroeville. The previous designation, Plum Township, had been divided into two separate (north and south) entities, with the southern portion being named “Patton Township,” -- after Judge Benjamin Patton. And so in 1850 Patton Township included parts of present day Turtle Creek, Wilmerding, Wall and Pitcairn, as well as Monroeville.
The 1850 census of (what was then) Patton Township showed only 33 households. Among the heads of households were: 19 farmers, 1 shoemaker, 2 laborer, 2 teachers, 1 weaver, 1 innkeeper, 3 carpenter, 2 blacksmiths, and 2 wagon-makers. Almost all could trace their roots from northern Ireland in the wave of Scotts-Irish immigrants, while others were drawn to the area’s cheap land from places like eastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
Typical of the pattern of movement was that of the Andrew Mellon family who had come from Baltimore to Western Pennsylvania in the wave of Scots-Irish immigrants which began in late 1600s. Initially the family settled in Westmoreland County. Their son Thomas was sent to school a few miles to the west at the Rev. Jonathon Gill’s Tranquil Retreat Academy in Patton Township. At about the same time, Andrew Mellon bought a piece of property near The Rev. Gill’s Academy, and the family moved to Monroeville in the early 1830s. Thomas was to become Judge Thomas Mellon, a noted Pittsburgh banker; it was one of Thomas’ sons, Andrew W. Mellon who went on to become a famous financier and Secretary of the Treasury under three Presidents.
Another family listed in 1850 census was that of Joel Monroe’s, a farmer who had recently arrived from Virginia and settled on land along the Northern Turnpike, a major east-west road. Monroe began selling off lots in what was to become the core of an emerging village with churches, stores, blacksmith shops, and an inn. It was in 1850 that Joel Monroe and his neighbors petitioned the federal government for a post office for the village. The following year the post office was approved; Joel Monroe became the first Postmaster with the Post Office located in his home, along what is currently William Penn Highway (US Route 22). The village was to adopt the name of its first postmaster.
Unlike urbanized Pittsburgh, the more rural village of Monroeville was nothing more than a handful of scattered farms surrounding a small crossroads in the wooded hills east of the big city. There were few roads and those farms had been carved out of land that had changed little from the days of the first pioneers. Robert and Kathleen Millward have described what the thickly wooded lands must have looked like in those days in their work on the journeys of frontier explorer Christopher Gist:
“Another problem Gist and his son had upon venturing into Pennsylvania’s backwoods was its incredibly dense forest, which offered almost no browse for horses….Huge white pine forests reaching heights of 200 feet or more would have stretched for miles, the pines’ trunks averaging 12 feet in circumference. Gist would also have navigated through enormous strands of maples, oaks, and black walnuts, their trunks averaging 18 feet in circumference as well as immense cottonwood trees growing along the banks of the rivers often reaching 45 feet in circumference. The streams flowing through this massive forest would have resembled narrow ribbons of ink during the summer because the forest canopy, which stretched across both sides of the stream, blocked out almost all sunlight.”
Felling such massive trees, clearing the rugged land for farming, and building their log houses, must have been formidable tasks in the days when only a few crude hand tools were available to those early settlers. During the 1800s the nation witnessed the invention and manufacture of a broad range of threshers, harvesters, binders, and other farm machinery that helped farmers. Yet in 1850 farm life remained pretty much was it had been in pioneering days: hard work with long hours; working the farm, still very much a family affair.
These farmers were hard-working, independent and largely self-sufficient. They had to be. Carving farms out of the hilly, thickly wooded land was hard work, and they grew what they needed to survive. At first, little surplus food was grown, as transporting cash crops was a difficult. As time went on the pack mule was replaced by horses and wagons on improved roads, later by riverboats and canals and, by 1850, by steamboats and railroads. As transportation improved, surplus farm goods (corn, wheat, rye, fruits and vegetables, livestock, and dairy products) could be more easily sold and traded.
Even though American industry was developing at a rapid pace, agriculture still dominated most people’s life in the Pennsylvania of the 1850.
“The intricate processes of farm labor were undertaken by the family and others in a carefully choreographed ritual. Men and women cooperated closely and often worked together in butchering, haying, making apple butter, and other tasks. Women were generally responsible for buttermaking, poultry management, and raising swine. Their market production was as important as men's, especially in areas that produced butter. Farm families and neighbors depended on one another to get things done. They "changed works," routinely exchanged services, labor, and goods, employed hired hands who lived with the family, and sometimes loaned a child to work for a neighbor or relative. Farm men and women kept scrupulous records of what they owed each other and every so often they would "settle up" and begin again. But as a rule little cash changed hands, even though work and goods were reckoned in cash value equivalents.” Home markets continued to account for most local farm sales”
By 1850 the log houses of pioneering days were gradually being replaced by more substantial farmhouses of wood or stone. The local housing was, like the farmers themselves: simple, straightforward, and pragmatic. Farmhouses might start with a small rectangular box, but with increased prosperity they were made larger and more comfortable. Farmhouses were accompanied by a cluster of outbuildings, e.g., a springhouse, smokehouse, outdoor bake oven, privy, and barn.
By 1850 farmhouses would be made of field stone, or of wood frame and siding,. Inside walls were generally plastered. The kitchen was used to prepare and cook food and to serve as an all-purpose room; the outdoor oven had moved indoors outdoor where a large kitchen fireplace dominated that room. The hearth, being the only source of heat, became the natural center of home life. Work would have been done by candle light (oil lamps would become more popular for homes only with the drilling of oil wells in 1859). Wool could be gathered and carded, or flax might be grown to be spun into skeins at the spinning wheel, and then woven into cloth; candles would be poured from animal fat; sewing done by women sitting by the fire, while the men repaired harnesses and farm tools on long winter nights.
Monroeville’s McGinley house is a typical example of a Pennsylvania farmhouse of the early 19th century. It was around 1830 that John McClintock, a farmer and stonemason, built the stone farmhouse sometime referred to as the “mansion house,” from native fieldstone. It was one of John’s daughters, Margaret, who married Isaac McGinley, the family that would give its name to the farmhouse; living there for the next hundred years.
For a period of time, two families resided in the farmhouse: John McClintock, his wife and four children; and his son-in-law, Isaac McGinley and his wife Margaret, but eventually, the house and farm passed solely to Isaac McGinley. The McGinleys had nine children, and so early on, a one-story wing was added to one side to get more room. Set up on the higher ground, it required a few stairs to enter this new kitchen from the ”sunken” living room. The kitchen had a larger hearth, allowing for better indoor cooking and baking.
In the rear of the farmhouse would usually be found a kitchen/cutting/herb garden, enclosed by a fence or wall to separate it from wilderness and keep wandering livestock and animals out. Here fresh fruit and vegetables were grown for family meals. Herbs were widely used for cooking, dying, and for medicinal purposes. Thomas Mellon spoke of the reliance on herbs and home remedies at a time when doctors were few and far between.
“The old women rivaled each other in medical skills, in the virtues of all manner of roots, herbs, barks and gums. Their garrets were laboratories well provided with bunches of these remedies; and very ailment which flesh is heir to found a simple cure and attentive doctress free of charge. The nearest doctors were…in Greensburg…Minor surgical operations such the drawing of a tooth, or setting a broken limb was attended to by Major Ament our blacksmith, and births only required the attention o f the nearest midwife.
For many of the Scots-Irish Presbyterians in 19th century Monroeville, the church was the center of village life. By 1850 Churchgoers would have had their choice of three local congregations to join. Beulah Church, the oldest and largest Presbyterian church in the area was founded in 1784 just a few miles to the west in Wilkins Township. Although by 1850 the original log church had been replaced with a more substantial brick structure equipped with oil lamps and coal stoves, the services had changed little since the first churches were established on the frontier. The Beulah Church history describes a typical Sunday service.
”…a typical Sunday might begin with family worship in the cabin. Then the father in his best jeans and the mother in her linsey-woolsey dress and the bare-foot children would walk or ride horseback to the log cabin. At ten o’clock in a dim, crowded room, the service might begin. A leader ‘lined out’ the hymns, singing one line at a time while the congregation repeated after him. Those in attendance sat o log seats through the long prayers and equally long sermons, many of which depicted the horrors of eternal punishment. Then followed a recess for the lunch which had been brought in baskets or kerchiefs and in the summer was shared outside on the warm grass. After a cool drink from a nearby spring, the congregation returned for an afternoon session with more lined-out psalms, long prayers and second sermon.”
By the 1830s it became apparent that most of the active members of the Beulah church congregations lived in Monroeville and were unable to attend Beulah when inclement weather made the roads impassable. Wanting to hold worship services closer to home, a group decided to split off from Beulah to form their own church in 1834. They would become the Cross Roads congregation and they built their first meeting house, a simple box-like structure made of local stone, at Northern Pike and Center Road. There the Reverend S. M. McClung led the service , and parishioners could park their horse and buggy across the street in the convenient livery stables. The Reverend was paid 5 dollars each Sunday plus free room and board for him and his horse.
Still another early Church, founded in 1810, was the Bethel Church. On a Sunday morning in 1850 the farm family could have hitched the horse to the wagon and drove to Bethel Church, a log structure built in the early 1800s on Haymaker Road. There they would hear the Reverend William Galbraith conduct the service. Many o f the pastors who served “full-time” worked on their own farms during the week or supplemented their meager incomes by teaching. In those days a pastor’s duties would have included, in addition to preaching in his own church every Sunday: serving as an itinerant preacher for nearby communities, conducting prayer services, visiting the sick, the bereft and the needy, performing marriages, and teaching the children their catechism in Sunday School.
Early schooling in the country was usually done privately by tutor, with local and itinerant pastors sometimes taking on the role to supplement their income by providing instruction to the children in their congregations. Private tutors would hold classes for those who could afford to pay, and in time private schools sprang up like the Rev. Jonathon Gill’s Tranquil Retreat Academy in Patton Township, and one operated by the minister’s daughter in the United Brethern Church on Brinton Avenue.
The 1800s saw the rise of the first public schools, one-room log structures, which were to become a feature of the landscape across Patton Township, just as they were in every community in 19th century America. Schools like Brinton, Breakneck, Clugston, Haymaker, Monroeville, Mt. Pleasant, McCann, Roosevelt and Unity, provided lasting memories for generations of Monroeville’s residents and their children.
By 1850 some of the log schoolhouses had been replaced with more modern ones of frame and wood siding, but the one-room structure was retained though many years. In those days a single teacher would typically have students in the first through eighth grades, and she taught them all. The number of students varied from six to 40 or more. The youngest children sat in the front, while the oldest students sat in the back. The teacher usually taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography. Students memorized and recited their lessons. The teacher's desk may have been on a raised platform at the front of the room, however, and there would have been a wood-burning stove since there was no other source of heat. The bathroom would have been outside in an outhouse.
One long-time resident recalled the Monroeville schoolhouse of her childhood.
“As I remember the old school house had an open grate and a large heating stove, long black board, and a large water bucket with a big dipper in it. The coal house stood nearby and how the boys did enjoy bringing in the coal! And the girls carrying in the water, always during school hours and going to the furthest house away, but there were not very many homes there then. Just the names of a few of our teachers: Miss Fleck from our township, Miss Calderwood, later Mrs., R.B. Robinson, for many years president of the WCTU in Allegheny County, Mr. Turner of Wilkinsburg, cousin of the funeral director T.D. Turner, and Mr. Holmes of near Universal.”
And so, the Rising Sun Inn became the first coach stop out of Pittsburgh on the new Northern Turnpike in what was to become Patton Township (and eventually Monroeville). Bruce Kish describes the arrival of the six-seat coach with its team of four horses as it came thundering into town:
“The arrival of the coach in Joel Monroe’s sleepy hamlet was the highlight of each day. The steady clop-clop of hooves was heard in the distance. Farmers momentarily stopped working and looked up as children ran down to the roadside to watch the spectacle.
As the coach drew nearer, the spectators saw the sun glint on a bugle the driver raised to his lips. A blaring melody formally heralding the carriage’s arrival, followed by a number of short blasts at the end…
As the passengers dined in Taylor’s dining room, the grooms brought a fresh team of horses from the stable behind the inn. Mail bags were exchanged, and any tolls were paid at the booth, a log cabin next to Monroe’s house.
Within a half an hour, the coach started off again, the hoof beats gradually becoming fainter in the west…”
1850 marked a new chapter in the history of Monroeville. During that decade there was a national obsession for railroad building. And in 1850 the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) bought a right-of-way 66 feet wide along the Turtle Creek from a local farmer named John McGinnis in an area that would one day be called after the local railroad superintendent -- Pitcairn
It was also in that fateful year that the PRR began operating trains between Pittsburgh and Johnstown, and within two years the railroad had begun regular east-west train service from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. These events began the decades- long love affair between Patton Township and the Pennsylvania Railroad culminating, by the end of the 19th century, in the massive Pitcairn Railroad Yards. For many years all east and west bound freight of the Pittsburgh Division of the PRR was channeled through the Pitcairn as the Yard burgeoned into one of the largest and most strategic classification yards on the PRR system.
The coming of the trains, like the coming of the automobile 50 years later would bring changes to the sleepy farming community of Monroeville and spur its growth from a small village in the hills just to the east of Pittsburgh, to a major municipality, commercial and business center.
“…described by Anthony Trollop:” (Baldwin, 1937)
“…Joseph Barker was elected mayor…” (Lorant, 1988)
“…Robert and Kathleen Millward…” (Millward & Millward, 2008)
“The intricate processes… (Pennsylvania crops.)
“Thomas Mellon wrote…(Mellon, T.)
“The Beulah Church history describes…” (Beyus, 1984)
“…five dollars each Sunday…” (Chandler, 1988)
“…by the minister’s daughter...” (Fails. 1992)
“ As I remember the old schoolhouse…”(Myers, 1948)
“ Bruce Kish describes…”(Kish, 1993)
Baldwin, L. D. Pittsburgh: The Story of a City, 1750-1865, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh , Pa., 1937.
Bayus, L. W., (ed.) Behula Presbyterian Church: 1784-1984. Behula Presbyterian Church, 1984.
Chandler, M. Hamlet to Highways: A History of Monroeville, privately published, Monroeville, Pa., 1988.
Fails, D. History of The Gateway School District. The Gateway Reporter, Monroeville, Pa., 1992.
Kish, B. The Northern Pike: First Toll Road in State. In Focus, Gateway Publications, Sept, 15, 1993.
Lorant, S. Pittsburgh: The story of an American City. Authors Edition, 1988.
Mellon, T. Thomas Mellon and His Times, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pa. 1994.
Meyers, V. E. History of Monroeville. Presentation for the Monroeville Boy Scouts, April, 1948.
Millward, R, & Millward, K. Making History in the Wilderness: Christopher Gist’s Explorations into Western Pennsylvania. Western Pennsylvania History, , Summer, 2:22-33. Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 2008.
http://Explore PA History.com. Stories from PA History: Agriculture and Rural Life.