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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.