One of the most rewarding things about being an amateur historian is researching an unknown person or event successfully and ending up learning a little bit more about life in an earlier era. I recently had an inquiry from a lady named Nancy Komatz with a question regarding her great-grandfather, Richard Biddle Davis.
She knows he had a sawmill and lumber business in Bridgeville in the late 1800s and wondered if I had any information regarding him. My immediate reaction was that I had never heard of any Davis family in Bridgeville, but would be happy to do a little digging.
Since then I have learned a lot about this gentleman. He had an impressive career, including significant participation in the incorporation of Bridgeville as an independent borough. His story deserves to be told.
Mr. Davis was born on February 9, 1845 at Clifton. His parents were James D. Davis (1817-1898) and Elizabeth Algeo Myers (1817-1878). The Historical Society has a copy of an excellent document compiled by Dana Spriggs, concisely summarizing the information from the 1880 Census relevant to Bridgeville. It includes a section on Clifton; by then no Davis family was listed in that community. Two Davis families were, however, listed for Bridgeville – Albert (stock dealer) and his wife Hannah, and George (farmer) and his wife Mary. Albert was the brother of R. B Davis. It appears that George was not closely related to him.
We also know that Mr. Davis served honorably in the Civil War. He enlisted in the Army on August 3, 1862 and was mustered out of Company B of the 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers on June 2, 1865, with the rank of Corporal. Returning war veteran R. B. Davis married Nancy Ellen Jamison in 1866, a marriage that would produce ten children in the next twenty years.
An ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 21, 1894, reported that Mr. Davis was selling a “house and lot on the Washington Pike midway between Bridgeville and Woodville and with three minutes’ walk of station at Bower Hill on the Chartiers Valley Railroad and on the P C & Y railroad, with a good board walk to the station”. This house was probably close to the intersection of Vanadium Road and the Washington Pike.
The first record we have of his involvement in the lumber business is a Dissolution Notice in the Pittsburgh Press on September 1, 1896. It reports that the firm of “Davis and M’Millan, dealers in oak lumber at Bridgeville, Pa. has this day by mutual consent been dissolved, D. H. M’Millan retiring”, and that Mr. Davis will continue the business. So far we have been unable to link “D. H. M’Millan” to any of the McMillens in Bridgeville history.
In 1897 Mr. Davis advertised for “teams to haul logs by contract. Inquire of R. B Davis, Bridgeville, or at mill near Boyce station, Chartiers Valley Railroad”.
In 1900 The Pittsburgh Daily Post reported that “R. B. Davis sold to A. M. Stenzel three acres of land in Collier Township for $3,000. We presume that Mr. Davis then moved into a house on Washington Avenue in Bridgeville. The 1907 R. L. Polk directory shows Richard B Davis (lumber) and his wife Nancy living on Washington Avenue, as well as “boarders” Edwin Davis (painter), Gregg A Davis (painter), James F Davis (electrician), and Margaret Davis. We have been unable to determine their specific address on Washington Avenue.
In 1901 Bridgeville officially seceded from Upper St. Clair Township and was incorporated as a Borough. In its first election the Republicans put forth a slate headed by John F. Hosack; the Democratic slate, headed by C. P. Mayer, included Mr. Davis as a candidate for Borough Council. The voters split their tickets. Hosack was elected Burgess; Davis was one of three Democrats elected to the Council. This certainly qualifies him as a founding father.
In 1904 Mr. Davis advertised for sale “30 acres choice white oak timber and 25 horsepower portable sawmill, on line of railroad within 20 miles of Pittsburg. For further information address R. B. Davis, Bridgeville, Pa.”
Mr. Davis is not listed in the 1914 Polk Directory for Bridgeville; presumably he and his family had moved to Carnegie by then.
On May 12, 1915, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a legal notice that Charles W. Jones and R. B. Davis, executors of the will of Deceased Dr. Clarence Spahr, were conducting a sale of his property in Collier Township. The property included forty acres of land and a three-story brick house. We suspect that this property and house were purchased by C. P. Mayer and became his residence and the location of Mayer Airport.
The September 17, 1923 Pittsburgh Press featured a photograph of a Davis family reunion numbering forty-three family members at their home in Carnegie. Mr. Davis and his wife appear, regally, in the middle of the picture.
Mr. Davis died on September 13, 1929, at the age of 84, and is buried in Melrose Cemetery. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. According to Davis family history, his death occurred while he was “fishing, with his boots on and his feet in the stream”. That seems like an appropriate climax to a very active, productive life.
People of my generation have labelled the generation that preceded us, “The Greatest Generation” in honor of their sacrifices in World War II and their success rejoining society and living constructive lives. One wonders if Mr. Davis’ generation doesn’t warrant a similar designation. The fact that a teen-ager survived the Civil War and lived 64 years as a solid citizen is a credit to him.
This series of columns is also archived on the Bridgeville Area Historical Society Website under the title “Water Under the Bridge.” Readers wishing to receive individual digital copies each Thursday should contact me at email@example.com.