Saturday, October 6, 2018

ST. ANN'S OWNS LOT SINCE 1799


This column first appeared in the October 2018 issue of "GreeneSPEAK!"

The Waynesburg Semi-Weekly Messenger published this view of St. Ann Church in 1903.

Since the founding of Waynesburg more than 200 years ago, one lot has always had the same owner, St. Ann Roman Catholic Church. The southeast corner of High and Cumberland Streets was called Lot #136 in the original surveyor’s plan. Purchased in November 1799 by Rev. Patrick Lonergan, a missionary priest from County Donegal, Ireland, it has never been sold.

Father Lonergan had a dream of establishing a colony for Irish Catholics in southwestern Pennsylvania. After crossing the mountains from eastern Pennsylvania, he arrived in June 1795 at the first Catholic settlement in this corner of the state, a chapel in Westmoreland County now known as St. Vincent’s Arch Abbey.

According to early church histories, he did not stay long.  With a few Irish families, he went first to Donegal Township in Washington County where he bought several thousand acres. He asked the Bishop in Baltimore, John Carroll, to direct Irish Catholic settlers to him “as they would enjoy all the benefits of religion.” 

Soon thereafter disappointed with the quality of the land, he adjusted his sights to Waynesburg where for $217 he bought four lots on Greene Street plus the church lot on High Street.  

At this time, there were few Roman Catholics living in southwestern Pennsylvania, the closest chapel being the Jacob’s Creek colony near Connellsville, Fayette County. 

Accompanied by his sister, a nun, Father Lonergan planned to build a chapel in Waynesburg for his Franciscan order and a convent.  

It was fascinating for this writer to discover that from 1799 to 1801, Waynesburg had a resident priest who ministered to a scattered flock as far away as Pittsburgh and Butler County while Pittsburgh did not have a resident priest until 1808.

A letter in the Greene County Deed Book No. 1 explains what happened to Father Lonergan after he failed to build a chapel or convent in Waynesburg. In September 1801, he wrote to Bishop Carroll that although he had previously committed to staying in “Pittsburg,” he was now compelled by “extreme distress” to abandon his design, and planned to return to Europe with a friend. He sent the deeds to the five Waynesburg lots to Bishop Carroll. They were never recorded in Bishop Carroll’s name, but the letter was and the property continues today to be owned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Lonergan did not go to Europe. Instead, after a brief stay at the Catholic colony in Donegal Township, Butler County, he travelled down the Mississippi to a parish assignment in the Red River Valley of Louisiana. He died in New Orleans in 1804, at the age of 52. 

No record exists of what his followers did next, but it’s doubtful they stayed in Waynesburg.  In 1816, a visiting priest wrote: “There is scarcely a Catholic in Waynesburg and very few in the neighboring county.”

Father Lonergan’s attraction to Waynesburg may be explained by what happened 30 years earlier. One of my ancestors, Felix Hughes, led four Catholic families to Greene County, settling near Carmichaels.  As early as 1771, they petitioned the Bishop for pastoral care, but no traveling priest was available. There’s no doubt they would have been supportive of Father Lonergan’s plan and disappointed when it failed.
Next month, I’ll write about the buildings of St. Ann.
 



Wednesday, May 2, 2018

THE WILEY ARMORY

This column first appeared in the May 2018 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The Wiley Armory today



How well I remember Waynesburg’s Memorial Day Parades of the 1950s, full of marching troops, bands and floats. My grandmother, Mrs. Asa G. Wiley, was one of the Gold Star mothers who wore a corsage and rode in a convertible. People cried when they passed by. Too young to understand, I later realized that they were honoring her loss of a son in World War II, my uncle, Capt. Robert C. Wiley, for whom the Armory is named.

 His widow, Rona (Tuttle) Wiley, was the borough tax collector at that time. My family and I watched the parade from her second floor office windows near the police station.  

American Legion James Farrell Post No. 330 Drum and Bugle Corps ca. 1928. Photo courtesy of Waynesburg Borough.


Uncle Bob had first enlisted in Waynesburg’s storied Company K of the Pennsylvania National Guard while attending Waynesburg College in the 1920s. The Armory on North Washington Street was their training site.
 
Captain Robert C. Wiley.  Photo courtesy of his sister, Margaret Wiley Morgan.

When Company K mobilized in February 1941, Uncle Bob was 34 years old, married and the father of a son, considerably older than the other volunteers whom he supervised. But, he was unwilling to abandon “his boys,” many of whom he had taught and coached at local high schools. He left Waynesburg as the First Sergeant of Company K, and within two years was company commander. Company K was part of the Pennsylvania 28th Division. After extensive training stateside, they deployed to Europe in September 1943 and joined the Normandy invasion in July 1944. 

On August 9, 1944, in a fierce battle with the Germans near St. Lo, most of his officers were killed or wounded. Despite being severely wounded, he continued to lead until he was killed by a sniper four days later. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor.

Early postcard view.

When constructed in 1914, the Waynesburg Armory was the finest public structure in Greene County, one of 20 built across the state. The legislature had appropriated $30,000 for its construction by W. L. Blair & Sons of Waynesburg. Earlier, Company K had been headquartered on the third floor of the Ross Building on South Morris Street, today Hot Rod’s restaurant.

 
1950's view, courtesy of Waynesburg Borough.

The all-brick armory had a two-story administrative wing in front and large drill hall in the rear.  The  low-pitched, steel truss roof had wide overhanging eaves, typical of the Prairie style of architecture developed in the Mid-West at that time by architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Plaque above entrance door.


Commissioned officer rooms, lockers and dressing facilities were on the main floor with a community lending library and amusement room above, and in the basement, kitchen, showers and steam heating plant. The large drill hall was 60 x 75 feet with an 18-foot arched ceiling and wood floor. It was used for many community events including early Waynesburg College basketball games. It was named the Robert C. Wiley Armory in 1999. 


For almost a century, Wiley Armory housed an Army or National Guard unit until the last occupant, Company B of the 110th Infantry, moved to a new “Readiness Center” in Evergreene Technology Park outside of town in 2010. Waynesburg University purchased the old armory and renovated it, retaining the Wiley name. It is now used for administrative offices and university athletics.
   
Wiley Armory is now owned by Waynesburg University.







 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

HISTORIC IRON TRUSS BRIDGE

This column first appeared in the April 2018 issue of GreeneSPEAK!









Photo by Pete Zapadka, March 2015.

One of the oldest iron truss bridges in the United States is hidden along Route 21 in West Waynesburg. Thousands pass it daily without notice.

Called White’s Ridge Road Bridge, it was constructed over Ten Mile Creek in 1877 by Massillon (OH) Bridge Company. This county-owned road and bridge served travelers between Waynesburg and Oak Forest for 100 years until development of Emerald Mine No. 1 in 1975 cut off access to the creek’s south bank. 

Another view of White's Ridge Road Bridge. Photo by Pete Zapadka.

The Waynesburg bridge has a younger sibling, Pollocks Mill Bridge, near Jefferson, built by the same company one year later. In 2014, it was severely damaged by an overweight water-hauling truck, but has since been restored to active use.

Pollocks Mill Bridge near Jefferson. Credit: Swpa Rural Exploration

The closing  of Emerald Mine presents new opportunities to save the Waynesburg bridge. One suggestion is for a bike, equestrian or all-purpose trail.  A similar Massillon bridge of 1881 has been restored for pedestrian use in Cuyahoga National Park, Breckville, OH.

Though long abandoned, the White’s Ridge Road Bridge is well known to experts across the country.  All have urged its preservation. To quote historicbridges.com: Any work done on this bridge should be of the highest restoration quality such that the maximum amount of original material is not removed or altered, and anything that is replaced be replaced with an exact replica.”

White's Ridge Road Bridge. Photo by Pete Zapadka. See his post "We Have To Save This Bridge!!!" in the Greene County Pa Time Capsule on facebook. 

Historic bridge expert Todd Wilson, author of “Pittsburgh’s Bridges” (2015), describes the White’s Ridge Road Bridge as a one-of-a-kind design, reflecting “unusual experimentation at a time when bridge companies competed with each other in proprietary design.” Before 1900, bridges were specialty products individually designed and often patented, whereas today all are built to the same government standards.


"Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful" (1907) published this circa 1902 view of West Waynesburg before the tin mill was erected. The caption is"Ten Mile Valley, Looking West from Sunset Park."
Photo enlargement shows location of the bridge at the curve in the creek.

According to historicbridges.com, the Waynesburg bridge is “a rare survivor of the iron bridge era, historically and technologically significant in several areas.” Nationally, there are only two others with the same hybrid truss configuration, both by the competing  Wrought Iron Bridge Company of  Canton, OH. White’s Ridge Road Bridge is the only known example by Massillon.

Truss bridges are composed of connected, load-bearing elements formed into triangular units. They come in many variations, often named for the inventor. The Waynesburg bridge design has been described as “bizarre and unique.” While its diagonals follow the Pratt configuration, the  counterweights are Whipple. In Pratt trusses, vertical members and diagonals slope down toward the center whereas in Whipple diagonals cross the neighboring vertical rather than connect to it. 

Truss bridge configuration. Wikipedia.
 
Whipple truss configuration. Wikipedia.

The verticals and diagonals of the Waynesburg bridge are made of wrought iron while the portal is cast iron. Massillon bridges are known for the beauty of their decorative ironwork. 

White's Ridge Road Bridge. Photo by Pete Zapadka
  
 In bridge development, iron was a brief link between traditional wood or stone and modern steel. The first iron bridge in America was constructed in 1836 over Dunlap’s Creek in nearby Brownsville. However, its arch design was not often repeated because it was more difficult and expensive to build than the soon-to-be-developed truss system. By the 1870s, iron truss bridges were erected on a large scale across the country, though few remain today.

Dunlap's Creek Bridge, ca. 1894, before sidewalks were added to its flanks. Still in use today. Credit: "The Old Pike" (1894), courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.