On New Year’s Day I got to wondering what life was like in Bridgeville one hundred years ago. Thanks to old maps, photographs, and newspaper clippings we can piece together a reasonable picture of those days.
These were prosperous times, especially to the eyes of the middle-aged folks who had witnessed massive changes in technology in their lifetime – the transition from outhouses to indoor plumbing, the replacement of fireplaces in every room with central heating, horse-and-buggy days becoming obsolete because of the automobile, etc.
There were lots of jobs in Bridgeville in 1922 for young men eager to start their own families – white-collar jobs in the banks, schools, and stores; and blue-collar jobs in the mines and mills. A semi-skilled young man willing to accept the physical strain, dirt, and danger of the blue-collar jobs could look forward to renting a small house and rearing a large family. Pay for such work was low, but there always were a few bucks left for Saturday night recreation at his favorite “club”.
Melters and rollers were in demand at Universal Steel. Flannery Bolt was busy producing stay-bolts for steam boilers and locomotives. Its sister company, the Vanadium Corporation, was a major supplier of ferrovanadium, an important alloying agent for high strength steel. General Electric had converted the J. B. Higbee glass plant into a modern facility producing tubing for the electrical industry.
The C. P. Mayer Brick yard was well on its way to converting the area’s dirt streets into modern paved boulevards. In Bridgeville, Washington Avenue, Station Street, Bank Street, Gregg Avenue, and Chestnut Street all boasted long-lasting Mayer brick paving.
There were still lots of opportunities for coal miners willing to spend their days underground producing the fuel that was driving the economy. Here, too, the pay was small and the long-term health consequences severe. Nonetheless, to an immigrant from “the old country”, the chance to be something better than a serf made it all worthwhile.
Despite modern conveniences the housewife’s lot was still difficult. It was a treat to have a wringer-washer in the basement instead of a wash-board and scrub bucket, and on sunny summer days the sight of clothes drying on clothes-lines in the backyard brought a smile to her face. Nonetheless, most parents spent so much time earning a living and doing the housework chores that there wasn’t any left to spend complaining.
Bridgeville residents of that era were proud of their community being a melting pot where different ethnic groups could live together amicably. This was partially facilitated by six social clubs and eight churches, each informally segregated.
The automobile fad was growing rapidly. “Squire” W. F. Russell was selling Buicks on Station Street. The Colussy family had recently acquired a franchise from Chevrolet and was selling Chevys from an impressive establishment on Baldwin Street. A popular trip in a brand new “flivver” was down Washington Pike to Carnegie, Crafton, West End, and across the Point Bridge into the Golden Triangle.
Passenger service into the city via the Pennsy’s Chartiers Branch was fast and affordable – seven trains each way every day. Enzo Bigi had just acquired the franchise for bus service into the city via Bower Hill Road, Mt. Lebanon, West Liberty Avenue, Dormont, and the West End.
There were about three hundred students in the public school, jammed into the old Washington School building. The graduating class for 1922 numbered eighteen, including many familiar names – C. P. Mayer (headed off for Duquesne University), Paul Rankin and Karl Weise (both leaving for Penn State), and Harry Saperstein and Walter McMillen (both beginning careers as business owners). W. M. Edwards was the Principal; Joseph Ferree, Nina Morrison, and Ella Snodgrass, the high school faculty.
Although the 1923 class had only eight graduates, the growth rate returned in the next years with 22 students in 1924 and 25 the next year. Construction of a new high school on Gregg Avenue was still a few years in the future; in the interim temporary buildings were being constructed adjacent to the “old” school to handle overflow.
Sports was important in Bridgeville in the post-war years. On January 12, a basketball game between McKees Rocks and Bridgeville High School was scheduled, to be played “at the Norwood Pavilion” – apparently one of the outbuildings on the Norwood property. In February a Bridgeville “All-Star” team made up of Cooper, Ludwig, Meise, Barclay, and Weise failed to live up to their name in a 50 to 14 rout by the Monarch Club.
The Bridgeville soccer club competed for the Wagner Cup, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Press. A 6 to 3 win over Moon Run was reported on February 20. The local team consisted of Darkus, Dalzuffo, Dubrosky, Eltschlager, G. Federoff, Schullek, Spielman, J. Federoff, Goldbach, and Cimarolli. The losers protested the game on account of the condition of the field and its not being properly marked off.
And it was not limited to boys – a team of Bridgeville High School girls lost to a Canonsburg team, 10 to 4, early in January. The local roster included Franks, Weise, Vance, Chivers, Betchard, and Warrensford. Surprising, in an era before Title IX was even being imagined.
The Borough Council was led by President Patrick J. Callahan. James E. Franks was its Secretary and H. J. Wilcox, its Treasurer. American Legion Post # 54 was led by Commander O. N. Barclay, Vice Commander Paul Weise, and Adjutant W. C. Hopper. Paul C. Jones was their representative on the county committee.
The impact of Prohibition on Bridgeville will be discussed in a future column.
Little did the optimistic Bridgeville residents in the early days of the Roaring Twenties realize they were about to receive a severe one/two (Depression/World War II) punch that would jeopardize their optimism. We can learn a lot from their experience.