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Mount Pleasant Area Historical Society

Mount Pleasant Area
Historical Society
Board of Directors

President—James R. Michael

Vice President—Joseph Yancosky, Jr.

Secretary—Dalene Ritter

Treasurer—William Rapp

Bonnie Barber
Paul Brittain
Jill Cook
Eric Foster
Samuel Grubich
Natalie Rega
Judith Tabita
Sherry Wingrove

P.O. Box 263
Mount Pleasant, PA 15666

The following is excerpted (with permission of the editor) from:

"A TOWN THAT GREW AT THE CROSSROAD"

Jill B. Cook, editor
Sue Spence. contributing editor
Paula Santmyer, assistant and copy editor
Margaret Donnelly, treasurer

The Mount Pleasant Area Historic Preservation Committee
Printed for the Mount Pleasant Sesquicentennial 1978
reprinted 1995

Some copies are still available.

The Mount Pleasant Journal

John L. Shields, Editor and Publisher

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Published every Wednesday at Mount Pleasant, Pa., where it is entered at the postoffice as second-class matter.

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Price $1.50 per Year in Advance

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Wednesday —Sept. 3, 1913

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Mount Pleasant is located in the southeastern part of Westmoreland county on branches of both the Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads and on the main line of the West Penn Railways Company, and in the heart of the famous Connellsville Coke Region, being surrounded by over 2,000 coke ovens. It has a population of over 5,800, having increased 22 per cent. in the past ten years. Immediately surrounding the borough limits live fully as many more people; while the distribution of the local post office is over 18,000.

In addition to the largest coke plant in the world, Mount Pleasant has two big glass factories, tool factory, foundry and machine shops, planing mill and lumber yards, coach and wagon factories, two national and one foreign exchange bank, trust company, three automobile garages, two flouring mills, brewery, distillery, ice plant and two pop factories.

The mountain water supply has proved itself the best in this end of the state, having stood up under the longest drouths this section ever experienced, and in addition to cheap coal there is a splendid supply of natural gas, making the town ideal in the way of sites for new industries.

There are 57 square miles in the watershed which supplies the town. The present storage capacity, which is over two hundred million gallons, could be doubled at very little expense.

Thirteen Protestant and four Catholic churches afford the worshiper a choice enjoyed by few towns of this size.

The Mount Pleasant Institute, Public and Parochial Schools place the town in front rank in the way of educational facilities.


Mount Pleasant Branch
Baltimore and Ohio

1882

Ovens:

H. C. Frick Co., Henry Clay 100

H. C. Frick Co., Frick 106

H. C. Frick Co., Morgan 164

H. C. Frick Co., White 148

H. C. Frick Co., Foundry 74

H. C. Frick Co., Eagle 80

H. C. Frick Co., Summit 142

H. C. Frick Co., Tip Top 56

H. C. Frick Co., Valley 152

Mullen, Strickler & Co., Mullen 82

Boyle and Rafferty, Boyle's 252

J. M. Cochran's estate, Buckeye 116

J. M. Cochran's estate, Star 20

Jos. R. Stauffer & Co., Dexter 40

J. D. Boyle, Fountain 50

McClure and Co., Diamond 66

McClure and Co., Painter's 223

Charlotte Furnace Co. 60

W. A. Keifer 40

B. F. Keister & Co., Franklin 50

A. A. Hutchinson & Bro., Standard 360

James Cochran & Co., Clinton 44

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2430  (Total)


Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image:

Making Bread

Making Bread at The Patch
Standard Shaft about 1900
Westmoreland Fayette Historical Society

The Patch at Standard Shaft

The Patch at Standard Shaft
Westmoreland Fayette Historical Society

Mike Marcinko

Mike Marcinko at Mullen's Ovens
Loaned by Leo Zelko

Morewood Coke Works

Morewood Coke Works
near Mount Pleasant, Pa.
Loaned by Wade Stillwagon

Standard Works Coke Ovens

Coke Ovens at Standard Works
Mount Pleasant Library Collection

H. C. Frick Coke Co.

H. C. Frick Coke Co. at night.
Standard Works, Pa.
Loaned by Ferne S. Leonard

Christmas 1912

Union Supply, Standard Works
Christmas 1912
Westmoreland Fayette Historical Society


Mount Pleasant, PA 15666

A Second Growth 1878-1928

The Panic of 1873 brought to the end the post-Civil War prosperity; liberal federal immigration laws, made hastily to cure the shortage of labor, now gorged the market with unskilled and unemployed foreign laborers.

In Mount Pleasant, while the newer tradesmen did not weather the Panic, the older businesses and manufacturers remained stable, though no expansion occurred. In the surrounding townships some of the independent operations of the new coke industry were caught short and forced to sell cheaply; others lost confidence in the industry and sold out' taking what they could get.

Consolidation and expansion of the industry followed under the guidance of a few enterprising businessmen; the youngest and most daring of these was probably Henry Clay Frick of West Overton, who had attended a couple of terms at Mount Pleasant's Westmoreland College. In 1866 when he was 17 years of age he clerked in his Uncle Martin Overholt's store here on West Main Street, getting his first practical business training. In 1871 the Henry C. Frick Coke Company was formed which acquired extensive coal lands over the next decade. In 1882 Frick and J. M. Schoomaker owned the largest operation in the county, the Morewood Coke Company Limited located southwest of Mount Pleasant in East Huntingdon Township; it had 470 ovens. At the borough's northern edge Standard began in 1873 by A. A. Hutchinson and Brothers of Pittsburgh, ranked third; it had 360 ovens.

In 1881, Frick Coke Company was reorganized; the Ferguson Brothers of Pittsburgh, Frick's old partners, Frick and the Carnegie Brothers, new partners, divided the 40,000 shares of stock. In 1883, as Frick bought up new properties, including Standard, Carnegie Brothers, later incorporated as U. S. Steel, became the majority stockholder.

Between 1879 and 1882 the number of ovens in the area doubled from 4,114 to 8,091. This rapid growth had been accomplished by laborers whose numbers had also doubled as a wave of newcomers from Eastern and Central Europe began arriving here. Mount Pleasant was a center for this growing industry and population.

Up and down Main Street the old log and frame cabins and tavern houses were replaced with new "brick blocks", older frame buildings had their faces lifted and squared with a modern "western front." The First National Bank of Mount Pleasant was joined by several new and one foreign exchange bank. Two telegraph companies' wires connected the coke brokers to the steel-making centers. In 1892 twelve telephones were in operation in Mount Pleasant.

The town's growth was so rapid that twenty years of building was required before the community's schools and churches again became even adequate. The pace and quality of life had changed!

Just as the native Iroquois Indians responded to the settlers invading their western territories a hundred years earlier' the second and third generation Americans reacted to this massive wave of newcomers as a threat and with hostility. The eager new workers brought by the coal and coke companies became the scapegoats for all the problems of the industry, the poor wages, working conditions and the ensuing price wars. Newspapers here attacked them in the most offensive language, often clouding the real issues. A placard echoing this resentment for the non English speaking laborers was found tacked up outside the Morewood mine about 1884. Called "An Appeal to the Christian Public," it insulted every facet of the immigrants' lives, in this case the first arrivals here, the Hungarians, before making its points:

An Appeal to the Christian Public

One of the most degrading influences brought to bear upon our community is the indiscriminate portion of Hungarian serfs and their employment in public works in preference to good local citizens who are willing and can perform more and better labor for the same pay. Little do they care for our working men or our business men. They are ruining both and well they know it. Go to any of these coke works where these serfs are employed and you will find women and children at work fit only for the stoutest of men. Girls of ten years of age working and drawing coke; Extreme promiscuity in their marital relations, carrying on an illicit whiskey traffic. If it really takes men women and children at hard labor to keep a family which lives on the cheapest and filthiest of wares, what will other American citizens do for a living?

Isolated by language and the feudal-like company "Patch" the workers labored hard to please their new lord' the company. Asked who was the president of the United States, a Hungarian reportedly replied "King Frick"; the company had surplanted the old system of the Empire. The Polish and Slavs and later the Italians arrived. Between 1880 and 1890 the population of the township increased by 3,500 (which would have been greater had not the borough annexed Texas and Bunker Hill in 1885) . The borough's population jumped from 1,197 to 3,652 in the same period. At the Chicago World's Fair in 1889 the H. C. Frick Coke Company boasted the largest works in the world with 9,999 ovens operating at Standard.

By 1890 it was apparent that the Connellsville Coke Region was expanding faster than the demand; there were too many mines, ovens, and workers. The price of coke dropped; companies employed fewer and at reduced wages. Workers, already forced to live on the barest of necessities in cramped quarters of boarding or company houses, at first were grateful for the work and the little pay. Finally exasperated with the continued reduction of wages they struck. Strike breakers were brought in and trouble brewed. In 1891 a strike at Morewood Mine resulted in the deaths of 13 Hungarians angry over their jobs being taken by new company men.

Acting United Mine Worker's President, Michael Barrett, elected at Scottdale, quickly issued statements deploring violence.

Michael Barrett's Statements:

There is no nationality in this. No Hun, no Slav, no Italian, no other thing than an effort to improve the condition of the coke workers. Do not break the Law; if you strike stay home, and don't forget that you are a citizen (in fact, or in prospect) and let your acts prove that you can be both and still be a striker.

We do not want their plants nor do we care what profit they earn from their capital, but we maintain that we should get a living wage from our labor.

The Standard workers already had a contract; not until the strike became national did these men lay down their tools. In the end the strike was lost, although some gains had been made. The courts failed in their attempt to find justice for the strikers' deaths. With the help of the multilingual priests, who had been their spokesmen during the troubled times, many workers relocated in the lumbering region of the Northwest. The borough's population dropped sharply before 1900.

A new demand for coke was created by the Spanish American War; conditions here improved and the region was peaceful for the next 25 years.

The great labor force and fuel available in the coal and coke region attracted the glass industry. In 1896 Bryce Brothers, makers of fine handblown crystal, located their plant along Bridgeport Street near the railroad depot. In 1905, the Duncan Plan of lots was opened adjoining the borough on the east along the pike with 15 manufacturing sites to be served by a railroad. In 1907 the L. E. Smith Co. bought a plant there. The glass companies soon became major employers of the borough and the township.

Between 1900 and 1910 the town's population reached its full growth and stabilized at 5,800, from which it would vary only slightly over the next 60 years. All the immigrants were gradually being assimilated and taking places of leadership in the community, revitalizing the old pioneer spirit. By 1906 four Catholic churches and 3 parochial schools had joined the borough's one Jewish and 12 Protestant congregations.

In 1910 the town took stock of itself and celebrated with "Old Home Week" commemorating its first one hundred years of existence, and its growth from that little village of Mountpleasant with 34 cabins in 1810.

A new armory built in 1906, the first high school building completed in 1908 and a new "City Hall" building in 1910 reflected the prosperity of the community. Its character was also expressed in its organizations compared to others in the county. The local chapters of the I.O.O.F., a federated woman's club (Saturday Afternoon Club), the Needlework Guild and the Red Cross Society were the first organized in Westmoreland. The college here, known then as the Institute and in its sixth decade, had survived to become the county's oldest existing school of higher learning. The Jacob Justice Free Dispensary established in 1901 and the Mount Pleasant Memorial Hospital opened in 1904 were the second medical facilities. Between 1881 and 1905 there were 28 registered physicians listed as residents of Mount Pleasant.

The less pleasant memories of this time include the constant battle with dirt and cinders, waged and proudly won by every housewife who accepted this annoyance as a symbol of the area's prosperity. Fine gritty cinders from the thousands of burning coke ovens that surrounded Mount Pleasant covered everything from roof tops to window sills and geranium plants. Angry mothers were one of the greatest hazards faced by little boys who climbed trees and consequently appeared as smaller versions of their older brothers who had spent the day working in the mines. The Church Street laundries, Dullinger's by steam and Lee Wing by hand, were very busy making white again shirts that were soiled after being worn only half a day. Women who hung their laundry outdoors to dry were plagued with little pockets of black dust collecting in the seams and folds of the sheets and table linens.

Mine accidents were frequent and the horse-drawn hospital ambulance purchased in 1905 rushed to the scene as fast as eight legs could carry it. Fires, as well as several trolley and railroad accidents, shocked the community.

An attempted Morewood Mine payroll holdup in 1901 created a hero and some excitement. In 1906 Michael Gismondi, a laborer from the "Dutchtown" area, who lost his life attempting to save a boy who had fallen into a well, was posthumously honored by the Carnegie Hero Award. During the Great War, a number of our young men died on battlefields in France. In 1919 uneasiness and anxiety was caused by "Black Hand" activity and murders in Mount Pleasant.

The passage of the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment in 1920 prohibiting the manufacture, sale and transport of intoxicating beverages, resulted in bootlegging operations in this area which founded new fortunes for some citizens. In "Dutchtown" there was known to be a lady who sold whiskey for 50 cents a pint from her basement window: this was Mount Pleasant's "Hole in the Wall". Until prohibition ended in 1933 raids by officers of the law on illegal liquor stills were prominent in newspapers and frequent Ku Klux Klan rallies stirred the nearby mountain areas.

A miners' strike in 1922, following the removal of the World War I wage freeze, brought the president of the UMW, John L. Lewis, to Standard to rally the laborers. As the industry was already depressed, little gain was made and wages continued to be low. The end of the coal and coke domination of Mount Pleasant's economy and the town's period of second growth had already passed.

Traffic and the pace of life at the crossroad continued to change and accelerate as demonstrated by the following borough ordinances:

Ordinance No. 53 June 7, 1898

It shall be unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle or similar vehicle upon the streets of the Borough at a speed greater than seven miles per hour.

Ordinance No. 91 Sept. 16, 1910

Section Four Every operator of an automobile or other motor vehicle shall sound his horn or other signal device when overtaking another vehicle's

Section Seven. The maximum speed (is) set at 12 miles per hour on the streets and alleys of the Borough.

While the motor car challenged the horse and wagon's supremacy of the roads, the 1925 borough ordinance prohibiting the driving of cattle through the town's streets and alleys marked the end of an era and the tradition from which the town of Mountpleasant sprang more than one hundred years earlier.