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Penn Hills Potpourri

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More than 200 years ago, before the United States became an independent nation, the English and French were involved in the French and Indian War. To provide passage for his troops, George Washington cut a path through the wilderness to the west. This path, then called Forbes Road, is now Saltsburg Road and was the only East-West link before 1800.
 
Some pioneers travelling this road settled in the area which is now Penn Hills. The first settler was Thomas Wilson in 1770. Because of trouble with the indians, Wilson stayed at Ft. Pitt until 1778 when he returned to his homestead and obtained a patent for 400 acres under the name of "Wilson's Mount". This territory was bordered by the present day Frankstown Road, Lime Hollow Road, and Coal Hollow Road. Wilson farmed his land, although he did not establish a permanent residence there until 1781. Other families began to arrive, most of them in Conestoga wagons, and many became involved in domestic industry in addition to farming their land. Thomas Wilson started a blacksmith shop.  The Johnston homestead produced maple sugar; Harry Morrow was a coffin-maker and his brother Henry made barrels; Frederick Stoner operated a well-known distillery, and James Kelly operated a lime kiln at the head of Lime Hollow.  The lime was hauled down the present Lime Hollow Road to the river and transported to Fort Pitt.
 
Other early industries were also important to the growth and develpment of Penn Hills.  A grist mill and a saw mill made Milltown an early business center.  Both mills were built by Robert Caldwell, who emigrated to Penn Township in 1840.  Coal mining was also influential, and is still carried on by the Pittsburgh Consolidation Coal Company at it's Newfield mine near North Bessemer.  Railroads were essential for mining, and the B. & L. E. Railroad came to North Bessemer in 1897.
 
In 1906, a piece of land was purchased from the Hershey family by the Carnegie Steel Company.  It was here that the Universal Atlas Cement Company was founded.  The community around the plant, called Clarksville later changed its name to Universal in honor of it's industry.  For a long time the cement company was the largest industry in Penn Hills, and ranked amoung the 10 greatest industries in the U.S.
 
In 1788, when Allegheny County was formed,  the area now known as Penn Hills was part of Pitt Township.  On January 16, 1850, Robert Logan, Thomas Davison, and Daniel Bieber were appointed by the court to review the boundaries of a new township to be formed from the northwestern part of Wilkins.  This new township was formed and named Adams, until in August of 1850 when the action of the court was reconsidered to change the name to McNair Township.  The name was again changed to Penn Township by Act of Assembly and approved on February 10, 1851.  In 1958 Penn Township became Penn Hills Township, and in 1976 Penn Hills became a homerule municipality.  The earliest population was given in 1860, when there were 1,821 people living in  Penn Township.  The population grew to 2,685 in 1870 and 3,291 in 1880.
 
In 1834, the Education Act was passed and several one-room log schools named Quincey, Mt. Hope, Hebron, Jefferson and Monroe were built.  The old Washington School on Universal was built in 1845, and a room was later added in 1892.  Joe C. Trees, a Pittsburgh millionaire, taught at this school for $45 a month. The original site for the school was donated by a farmer named Charles Cunliff. The public school was used for 81 years.
 
Often, the school houses were used for worship on the Sabbath.  Religious worship was an important unifying factor among the early settlers.  The mother church of Penn Hills was Beulah Church, which was the first church built west of the Allegheny Mountains.  A split in the congregation resulted in Hebron Church being built.  Other early churches include Universal United Presbyterian Church in 1856, Kerr Church in Milltown in 1876, Laketon Heights Church in 1915, and Rosedale Methodist in 1925.
 
Today, Penn Hills covers 19.17 square miles at an elevation of 750-1200 feet.  As of 1981 the population was 58,000 people.  Penn Hills has grown up from a rural area to one of the largest suburban residential areas in Pittsburgh.  Despite the progress, however, many signs of our early history still survive. 
 
Written by Debbie Sanker; Research by Frank Stocker


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