It was about 1800 when John Crawford built his log cabin here in what
was then Pine Township. John owned 403 acres, 88 perches of ground. His
homestead was the first human habitation for miles around. It was not elaborate,
this first house. The logs were notched, hoisted to form walls and the
cracks stuffed with mud, stones and sticks. John Crawford's bed was crude,
a platform built on forked sticks rammed into the dirt floor and covered
with oak leaves and cattails. A bearskin blanket provided warmth at night.
Modern Bakerstown sits on what were 2 lots of the "Depreciation Lands"
in Cunningham's District 4. Each lot was 206 acres. Main Street ran north
and south between them. The lots, originally surveyed in 1783, had several
owners, none of which were residents, before Thomas Baker, a Nova Scotian,
bought them about 1810. He laid out the crossroads community, on Lot #10
of which, in 1820, William Waddle, a Scot, built a tavern at the crossroads
of Packsaddle Trail (now Bakerstown Road) and the Vernango Trail (now route
8). The tavern was operated by William, by his son-in-law James Harbison
and then by his son John S.
Bakerstown was becoming sophisticated by 1850 --it had street names!
A post in Virgin Alley marked one corner of a five acre lot sold for $400.00
by John Waddle to John and Mary Ann Stirling in 1858. In addition to a
tavern , John operated a distillery, and was among the community's most
respected citizens. As we remarked earlier, the tavern keeper was always
a man of high local prestige. John S. Waddle, born in 1838, operated Bakerstown's
first slaughterhouse and butcher shop.James Harbison came to Bakerstown
in 1824 and paid $25.00 for his 20-acre lot to James Heginbotham. It was
located north of the Baker property. Harbison's first home was a log building,
called the corn crib, which was later remodeled into Wright's livery stable.
He built his place in 1831, three walls of logs with the front covered
by a homespun blanket during the day. At night he slept under the blanket.
This house was located between the Allen residence and the Civic Clubhouse.
James Jones and his brother, Dr. Israel Jones, were important men when
Harbison moved into the community. James Jones was postmaster, schoolteacher,
tavern keeper, store proprietor, brick maker and school director.
Church services were held in the first schoolhouse for several years,
but after some argument about who should fill the coal box Dr. Israel Jones
organized and built the Methodist Church. Dwight Thompson (according to
the memoirs of James Harbison), bought some 400 acres from Ned Baker and
Joe Britton and sold them to William Brickle, father of Sadie McMorran,
for $8,000. James Allison superintended the building of the Brickle home.
This building, now the Hull House, was an underground station for runaway
Gibsonia Post Office.. early 1900's
Samuel Harbison, William Scott, John Hauserman
The Bakerstown Hotel
Bakerstown, looking South
The early history of Gibsonia is, naturally enough, interwoven with
the history of the Gibson family. About the time of the Civil War, Charles
Gibson, Jr., built on Grubbs Road the first steam flour mill west of the
Alleghenies. His granddaughter, Nancy Gibson James, recalls hearing her
uncle tell of the farmers riding to the mill with sacks of grain across
the saddles. The Gibson family homestead was built by her grandfather,
Charles Gibson, Jr., in 1839. Just below the home, near the railroad crossing,
still remains the foundation of Charles Gibson's general store. This building,
destroyed by fire in 1908, besides housing the store was also the first
Post Office in Gibsonia. For about ten years before it burned it was in
use as a mission of the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church.
The B&O Railroad
Gibsonia's economic importance comes from its location on the Railroad,
and the grade in this section is reputed to be one of the steepest in the
east. This right of way was originally granted to the Pittsburgh, New Castle
and Lake Erie Railroad and a single narrow gauge track was laid in 1870.
This line ran from the City of Allegheny to New Castle, with connections
there to the West. Its first president was Charles Gibson, Jr., a man whose
name appears in connection with so many phases of the early history of
About 1880, the name of the railroad was changed to the Pittsburgh and
Western. Double track, standard gauge replaced the narrower single track.
Stations were built along the line and telegraph operators were on duty
at each of them 24 hours a day. The single track tunnel at Bakerstown station
was eliminated when a cut was put through. Incidentally, this cut is the
top of the grade that begins in Etna. For many years the railroad was the
main contact with the outside world. Fourteen passenger trains a day testified
to its importance. In 1920 the Pittsburgh and Western was absorbed into
the Baltimore and Ohio system and the southern terminus was shifted to
the B. & 0. station in Pittsburgh. The advent of the Short Line and
improved highways gradually reduced passenger traffic, but it is still
the main B. & 0. route from Pittsburgh to Buffalo and the Harding funeral
train did pass over these tracks.
The Butler Shortline Railroad
An important meeting was held in the office of Nathan Box, clerk and
constable, on February 1, 1905. Charles Gibson, Jr., appeared before Commissioners
Ira Crawford and Ross Patton, and requested a right-of-way through the
township for the new electric railway. Gibson, the Vice President of the
Pittsburgh and Butler Street Railway Co., was granted the request.
The Butler Shortline was to provide transportation for the community for the
next two decades. Beginning in 1907 the big green interurban streetcars
passed through every day at hourly intervals and more often during the morning
and evening rush periods. The cars had upholstered seats, rest rooms, a
smoking compartment and a coal stove to keep the travelers warm in winter.
All kinds of service were provided by the Shortline. At 4:30 A.M. a special
car picked up milk for the city. There was another for freight. The local
farmers used the line to ship their produce to the Allegheny Market and
the company built special freight platforms at several of the regular stations.
Mrs. Lisinan, mother of Minnie Datt and Mary Wikert, took many quarts of
berries into the market house for her regular customers. Valencia, State
Road, Bakerstown Station, St. Barnabas, McKelvy's, Dickey's, Austin's,
Girty's, Hardies Road and Sample were all scheduled stops for the Shorten.
The route can still be seen as it winds through the community beside Route
8, along Ewalt Road, paralleling Meridian Road and crossing near St. Barnabas
Home. Stops were provided with passenger waiting rooms, octagonal buildings
with round peaked roofs. One was moved intact and is now located beside
To stop a car at night you waved a burning piece of paper
as it came churning down the track. When a full car carrying two green
flags passed, you didn't worry because the flags signified a double header
and another section would be along in a few minutes.
The fare from Gibsonia
to Etna was 32 cents and a nickel more into Pittsburgh. If the Shortline passed
through your property, however, you received a pass and traveled free.
The fares were far too low -- the company lost money.
The management economized
on maintenance and trolleys began to jump the tracks. The Pittsburgh-Butler
Flyer wrecked at West Hoffman, killing one of the firm's first conductors,
James McMcekin. With shoddy upkeep, frequent accidents, lawsuits and automobile
competition, the Shortline fell into financial trouble. The management
was reorganized, but service was still on a haphazard schedule. The firm
finally went bankrupt in 1932, leaving the community only with automotive
and railroad transportation.
The Old Plank Road
There were three traffic thoroughfares between Pittsburgh and the north
in the early days: the Perrysville Road (Route 19), by river to Freeport
and overland to Butler, and the present Route 8. All followed Indian traces,
meandering around hills and through valleys, and no one knows how many
hundred years passed before a wheel turned on any of these roads.
With the growing commercial importance of Butler in the mid l9th Century,
Route 8 became more popular and demand grew for its improvement. Successive
generations of planners have straightened and widened the road, and today
dim remnants of the former trails are becoming less and less evident.
Before it became the Butler Turnpike, travel was hazardous on horse
or foot. There were no bridges, and when the Connoquenessing or Thorn Creek
was flushed with spring floods you thought twice before setting out on
a trip. A gory landmark on the long journey was Girty's Knob, the high
ridge above Gibsonia. Passing this promontory, travelers held their flintlocks
ready for the savages that might spring on them. If they rode they watched
the horses' nostrils, because the smell of an Indian was instantly detected.
When, and if, they got by the Knob they breathed a prayer of thanksgiving.
For Girty was a name that spelled terror. Here is was that Simon Girty,
the renegade, camped with his red marauders. Gardeners still spade up an
occasional arrowhead, mute testimony of a sneak attack. Old timers recall
when misbehaving as children, they were warned: "the Girtys will get you
if you don't watch out."
In the first year of its operation, 1856, Plank Road tolls amounted
to $9,080.64. The cost of travel was 2c a mile for one horse and 3 1/2c
for a team except on Sundays when churchgoers were allowed to travel free.
Finally in 1918, a two lane macadamized highway was completed from Allison
Park to the Butler County line. In 1934 the road was straightened and widened
to three lanes and named the William Flynn Highway. Flynn was probably
a noble man but in less than two decades his highway was obsolete. National
Safety Council statistics showed us that three lane highways are death
traps. By the way, who was William Flynn? The road was later widened to
its present 4 lanes.
Education -- Richland Style
The community was served only by itinerant teachers who came and drifted
on until 1886 when public schools were first established. Bakerstown's
first school was in the home of John Brown, where the Geisler residence
now stands. The schoolmaster boarded around, his length of stay being determined
by how many children each family had enrolled.
The first actual schoolhouse
was a log structure, just across the street from the present Harry Walter
residence. Accounts disagree on the date, but it served until a frame building
was erected on the current location of the Civic Clubhouse.
of teaching improved. As more children were enrolled the need grew for
a bigger building. The Baker property had been donated for either school
or church purposes and a "burying ground" had been established. However,
the Methodist Church across the hill seemed adequate for religious purposes
so the new site for a school was planned.
A one-room structure was built,
but soon was made obsolete by the growing population. As many as eighty-five
students, two and three to a seat, were in attendance in this one room.
At the close of the Nineteenth Century a modern two-room building was erected
at the fabulous cost of $2000. This is the establishment used today by
the Civic and Community Clubs. In 1908 the township employed five teachers
whose wages totaled $2322.05. There were 217 pupils enrolled that year,
but the kids helped in spring and fall with farm chores, so the daily attendance
averaged only 143.
Education was still a casual affair with pupils furnishing
their own books, drinking tin cups, and other equipment. The boys sat on
one side of the room, the girls on the other as precaution against the
time-honored indoor sport of pigtail-in-inkwell-dipping.
In addition to
Bakerstown, other Richland schools were located more or less conveniently
around the community. Gibsonia's first school was a one-room brick building
on Gibsonia Road near the intersection of Lakeside Drive. A second frame
structure, also one room, was built across from Sunnyside Farm on Hardt
Road. At the turn of the century the two room building that now houses
the Sportsmen's Club was built. One room was adequate until 1923 when the
upstairs was equipped and the four upper grades were taught by an additional
teacher. In the meantime the one-room structure was used as a Christian
Missionary Alliance Mission and finally added to the Sunnyside Farmhouse.
Land surrounding the Ewalt School was donated by the family of that name.
Popularly known as the Yellow Frame Schoolhouse because of its color, records
indicate that in 1888 it accommodated 80 pupils. The teacher (who was
also janitor) earned $40.00 a month. In 1899 with the enrollment up to
40 everyone agreed that Ewalt school needed a bell for its belfry so a
box social was arranged. Despite a deep snow on that date, March 17th,
the affair was a big success. Folks came in sleighs and sleds from far
and near and Ewalt bought its bell.
Ground for the Grubbs School was donated
by that family. Now the location of the Christian and Missionary Alliance
Church, one and two-room buildings successively occupied the area. The
second building was destroyed by fire in 1930 and children in the northern
area were sent to Valencia. The remainder were educated in makeshift fashion
until the opening of the consolidated school. Dedicated May 19, 1932, the
consolidated school was named after George Washington because the country
was celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth. Later it developed
that every other community had the same idea at that time and George Washington
Schools were all over the map. So we adopted the name Richland, and the
eight-classroom structure with its gymnasium-auditorium, principal's office,
teachers' room, library, lavatories, furnace room and shower facilities
became the pride of the community.
Located near the center of the township,
with a large level lot for expansion, the Richland School building cost $71,000 and opened
with an enrollment of 350. Within several years the birthrate posed another
problem and four more classrooms were added. The library was converted
into a classroom. Then, March 2, 1942 fire swept through the auditorium
and damaged several classrooms. Classes were divided into half-day shifts.
Repairs were rushed in spite of wartime shortages. Overcrowding continued
as war babies grew to school age. Result: another addition in 1951 making
a total of 17 classrooms.
Historical Sketch of Churches in Richland Township
The earliest of the churches now located in Richland Township is the
Methodist Church at Bakerstown, which was organized in 1832, the original
building having been erected on ground donated by James Jones, and the
brick for the same was made from clay taken from the old Baker Cemetery.
The church was built in 1838 and remodeled in 1883, was partially burned
in 1890, and rebuilt in 1891.
First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown
The next in order of age is the Presbyterian Church in Bakerstown,
which was first a mission church and an out-growth of the Cross Roads Presbyterian
Church, whose minister began preaching services in the school house at
Bakerstown. By 1870 it had reached such a degree of prosperity that it
severed its connection with the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church. The Church
was organized and built in 1871, the bricks for the same having been donated
by John Ewalt. The first pastor was Reverend William G. Stewart through
whose particular efforts the church was organized.
Christian and Missionary Alliance Church
Valencia and one at Bakerstown in the hall above the general store of
Mr. R. M. Gibson, and also at Gibsonia under the patronage of the same
families. Later these centers were combined to form the present Christian
and Missionary Alliance Church of Bakerstown. The land was donated by James
Grubbs and the present church was erected in 1916 under the supervision
of Mr. Lincoln Staley and has continued since that date at that location.
The first regular preacher, J. M. Broadwell P. R. Hyde was called.
The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
The church was founded by residents of the Gibsonia area who were members
of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church (located in North Park) and was
an outgrowth of the Sunday School which was held in a private home across
the road from the present Gibsonia Post Office. Later the Sunday School
was moved to the old Gibsonia Public School. The present building was erected
in 1911 and in 1915 Trinity joined St. Paul's (North Park), forming a parish
to which a single minister was called, and services were held every other
Sunday for morning worship and every other Sunday for afternoon worship,
alternating between the two churches. In 1947 the Trinity congregation
voted to call and support its own full-time pastor, and terminated the
parish affiliation with St. Paul's, and the Reverend J. Edward Schmidt
was installed as the first full-time minister for the congregation. The
congregation is affiliated with the American Lutheran Church, National
Lutheran Council, Lutheran World Federation, and World Council of Churches.
Gibsonia Presbyterian Church
In 1911, through the efforts of Robert M. Gibson and a Reverend George,
a retired Presbyterian minister, it was decided to hold preaching services
in Gibson's Grove, and the minister at the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church
conducted the first Sunday afternoon service which was well attended by
the residents of the Gibsonia district, and it was decided to hold services
every Sunday afternoon. If the weather was inclement, the Sunday services
were held at some one's home. After several services, the attendance having
grown steadily, it was decided to organize a church. This organization
meeting was held at the home of C. S. Austen during the summer of 1911,
and shortly thereafter there were sufficient subscriptions to erect a building
on land which was donated by Samuel Austen. The church was incorporated
under the name of the First Presbyterian Church of Gibsonia and the cornerstone
of the building was laid in 1911, and during the same year the basement
was completed and services held therein in December. The Reverend David
E. Thompson was installed as the first regular pastor.
Historical Places around Richland
McKelvy Stop Farm
1878 The McKelvy Stop Farm, built on Meridian Road in 1878 by the James
McKelvy family for their oldest son, Robert Milt McKelvy, and his wife,
Weslyann (as in Weslyann Drive today). The McKelvys then built a barn adjacent
to the house in 1879. The farm became known as the McKelvy Stop Farm, because
it served as a stop on the Butter Shortline, which ran rail cars between
Butler and Pittsburgh commencing at the turn of the century. The farm and
barn are built on property originally inhabited by indians, but granted
to George and Michael Gundaker in 1786 as payment for their service as
soldiers in the American Revolutionary War.
James McKelvy had one of the original houses in the area (1868), residing
in the old home and spring house about 400 feet off of Meridian Road by
the cemetery. The McKelvy Stop Home (pictured here) was owned by the McKelvy
family until 1955. This picture was taken from water derrick looking north
on Meridian Road. The farmhouse stands 3.5/10 of a mile beyond Dickey Road
on the west side of Meridian . In the picture you can see the abundance
of farmland, the electric lines (upper right side of picture to middle
of picture) that crossed Meridian Road and served the Butler Shortline
Railroad, and the David D. McKelvy home (upper right background). This
home was built by the McKelvys in 1882 for Robert Milt' s younger brother,
David. For years, David's son Harry lived in the home, which stands on
Meridian Road, just beyond the cemetery (looking north).
The Milt McKelvy barn (pictured) burned in 1938. Today, a concrete block
home sits on the barn foundation. The McKelvy Stop Farmhouse is painted
red with white trim and black shutters. Cindy and Paul White are the owners
today of the farmhouse and barn.
The McKelvy Stop Farmhouse
5739 Meridian Road
Built in 1878 by the McKelvy family, the "McKelvy Stop" Farm House (sometimes
also called the "Old McKelvy Farm House") is one of the original houses
built on "Depreciation Lands" formerly occupied by Indians and granted
by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Michael and George Gundaker on August
8, 1786, in what would by 1880 officially become Richland Township. The
house is most noteworthy as the site of a Stop for the streetcars of the
Pittsburgh and Butler Street Railway Company, commencing in 1907, and thus,
the name "McKelvy Stop" is associated with the farm house. The accidental
burning of the "McKelvy Stop" Farm House barn the early 1930's and a turn-of-the-century
producing gas well are other features for which the house is known. A picture
of the house and surrounding farm lands around the turn-of-the century
appears in Richland U.S.A., a history of the township written by John 0.
McMeekin for 1951 publication. Other turn-of-the-century pictures of the
house, the gas well, farm lands and McKelvy family are displayed in the
North Pittsburgh Telephone Company
In the early part of the year 1906 several of the leading citizens
of the community of Gibsonia and the vicinity met to discuss plans for
obtaining telephone service. After discussing the matter with the Central
District Printing and Telegraph Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (now
Bell), certain officials of that Company suggested that those interested
in telephone service North of Pittsburgh should organize a local company
which could be connected to the Telephone Company by trunk lines. On November
1, 1906 a perpetual charter was secured in the name of North Pittsburgh
Telephone Company operating under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Within a period of two years from the inception of telephone service
the company installed 258 telephones or certificates by bequest. On December
4, 1909 a new building was ready for occupancy. A new Western Electric
switchboard was installed and the new exchange named "Gibsonia." The Wexford
exchange was installed on July 1, 1910, and Curtisville during World War
I, to serve the coal industry.
An interesting sidenote -- until October of 1917, all lines and telephones
of the company were serviced by horse and buggy. At this time it was decided
to modernize, and an automobile, "Ford, Model T type," was purchased. Mars
was added in 1923 and Curtisville in 1940.
St. Barnabas Free Home
The St. Barnabas Free Home was founded by the movement of the Holy
Spirit in the life of one individual. Those are the words of the Founder
and Manager, Gouveneur P. Hance. To the folks in Richland Township as to
countless thousands, St. Barnabas Home is a living example of concentrated
Christian living. In 1951, St. Barnabas' Free Home at Gibsonia was an ivy-grown
stone house of about 50 rooms in the midst of 147 acres, on which the home's
milk and meat is raised.
Eden Hall Farm
Originally the summer home of Sebastian Mueller, senior Vice President
of the H. J. Heinz Co., Eden Hall was a health resort for the Heinz women
employees. Mr. Mueller, who died in 1938, wanted it that way. Eden Hall
Farm is a memorial to his two daughters, EIsa and Alma who died in childhood.
Four hundred and seventy acres of beautifully groomed and handsome
buildings make this estate a credit to the community.