Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Past

Wishing you holiday cheer with handmade Christmas cards from the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives!

These cards were created by Margaret Gilfillan [1901-2001] circa 1930-1950.  They depict the spring house and farm buildings on the Gilfillan farm on Washington Road.
Hope you have a happy and safe holiday season, and be sure to make many memories worth preserving!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Snow Scene

From the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives

Image credits:
Source identifier: PC1685
Title: Gilfillan house in snow, old wide porch
Creator: Unknown
Description:  20th century photograph of the Gilfillan house on Washington Road.  When the porch was later remodeled, the width of the porch was decreased.
Date: c. 1920-1935
Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Image Collection, 1875-2011, Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Greetings from 1946

From the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives

Image credits: 
Source identifier: PC1702
Title: Gilfillan house in snow
Creator: Margaret Gilfillan
Description: Christmas greeting card from the Gilfillan family on Washington Road.
Date: 1946
Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Image Collection, 1875-2011, Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives

Sunday, October 13, 2013

In 1883, in Upper St. Clair...

From the daily journal entries made by John Gilfillan [1826-1885] in the year 1883.  In a small leather book entitled Excelsior Diary 1883, John would record brief notes about his farm, the travels and events of note within his family and friends, and a few financial transactions.

Let's take a peek at what happened...

October Sunday 7, 1883
All went to the sanctuary but Rob, grandmother, and Sarah Finaziem.

October Monday 8, 1883
Lovely day
Finished up potatoes in field No. 2.
Sowed two bush wheat and 4 quarts of McGehee wheat in corner nearest old house.
Rob & Alex went to town.

October Tuesday 9, 1883
Lovelier than yesterday
Raised potatoes in [truck] patch.
Ella went to town.
To cash Ella $15.00
Put on load of hay.
H. home
Picked load of apples.

October Wednesday 10, 1883
Jim Rankin took three horses [illegible]
Billy had the two charlies.
7 barrel apples 3 band potatoes
To repair to harnes .90 cts
expenses 85 cts
By cash for apples and potatoes $18.00

October Thursday 11, 1883
Billy hauled 50 bush coal for himself and To cash Billy $7.00
put on load of hay. H. home
Jim R. fixed up hog pen.
John Willson and Mrs. Porter came out this evening.
Alex and Maggie went over to Uncle Wills to hear a base drum play.

October Friday 12, 1883
sent Dave to mill 12 bush wheat
had on 3600 lbs hay to car stables
expenses 65 cts
Alex and I went over to [Langs]
told Arthur about taking back the farm in the spring.
J. Rankin got 105 lbs ham.
got Buck at Bridgeville.

October Saturday 13, 1883
Mother, Retta, Sara, and John and I went to Uncle Thoms.
Rob came back with us.
drove the two charlies

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On this day 130 years ago...

This post is the first of many to highlight the daily journal entries made by John Gilfillan [1826-1885] in the year 1883.  In a small leather book entitled Excelsior Diary 1883, John would record brief notes about his farm, the travels and events of note within his family and friends, and a few financial transactions.

Let's take a peek at what happened...

On October Thursday 4 1883

[illegible] and daughter, H. Murray and Laura, Ella, Alex, Rob and I all went to the fair.
drove [illegible] spring wagon.
came back to gas well at 6 o.clock.
got to Hicory 1/2 [illegible].
7- had supper stayed all night
very tired
extra for sundries

October Friday 5 1883

This entry consists of John's transactions from the day, such as, "By cash for load of apples about 25 bush $15 50" and "To cash paid hotel bill five dols"

October Saturday 6 1883
[illegible] sheep frame
very much pleased with my purchase all round

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Party Time in Upper St. Clair

With fall here, we will likely see cooler weather before too long, which for many people means spending more time indoors.

Before televisions, gaming consoles, and computers, what did Upper St. Clair residents do to pass the time? A hundred years ago, friends and neighbors would get together on occasion and throw a house party.

According to a 1975 interview with Emma Hoffman [1903-1982], the small youngsters, as she called them, would go into a room at parties so that they could play games, pop popcorn, make taffy, etc. away from the hustle and bustle of the older "youngsters."  The older age group would usually dance, and the older men played euchre on occasion.

What does a house party look like? The interviewer asked Ms. Hoffman, "How did they dance in the homes? Did they just roll back the rug, or what did they do?"

Ms. Hoffman replied, "Well, they either danced on the carpet, or we had a piece of muslin that they used.  Of course, the carpet was from wall to wall, they didn't have rugs then, it was mostly carpeted, and to make it slide easily, they would put this muslin over top of the wool rug.  There was always somebody in the party who played the violin or played the piano."

Ms. Hoffman goes on to explain that these events were family gatherings. "It was a family type activity- children, all ages, would go with their parents to different houses."  Even though dancing was the highlight of the evening, the young folks didn't think too much about dancing with the right guy or gal.  They were just there for an evening of fun with other local families.  The young folks didn't go out in couples but came with the entire family for what sounded like a good time for all.  "A crowd of us would get together and we had square dancing and round dancing."  If during the wintertime someone's house wasn't available to host the dancing party, Ms. Hoffman says they would travel to Castle Shannon to the dance pavilion at Grove Station.

While you might not roll out the muslin fabric for smooth dancing this winter, we hope you have a few fun family gatherings of your own to look forward to as the chill begins to set in.

Image from the Archives of the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair. 
20120210-hpicusc-0020. A group photograph with corn husks ca. 1910-1930. Unknown creator. Possibly those pictured were members of the McEwen family.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back to School

An excerpt from an oral history interview with Margaret Gilfillan recorded in 1974.  
Her memories of school:
M. Miss Poellot was the first teacher, Annie Poellot.  They lived right here where this restaurant is, which was Gammons.  Her house was torn down.  But she knew all of the children in her one room school, maybe twenty-five, knew all the families, knew all the circumstances, everything.  Every child was well-known to her.  She knew what to expect from them, what to allow for.  She was a good teacher, but I never remember of her being cross.  That was children from six years old up to fifteen or sixteen, all in one room, all subjects.  You just moved along as you were able.  There weren't any grades.  Some of them never got very far, but they went to school until they got old enough to do something else, and then quit.  They didn't have to go to school until they were sixteen. 
 Q. Did most of them quit to help out on the farm? 

M. Mostly.  Then the big boys come in during November, or in March, and then if there was something doing at home, they would drop out.  Some of them seemed enormous to me.  I thought they were men, but I don’t know how old they were, but they would take the same thing over and over again, maybe the same books, and probably about in the same place if they really wanted an education.  But they would go wherever the teacher thought they should be, and I know we read the same books, readers, over and over again.  You had a first reader, and you read it through, and started over again reading it three or four times.  There were no new books.  You stayed right in that room.  And I learned to read long before I started to school so that was real interesting. 
 Q. Did you help any of the students that were less able?  

M. No. There weren't that many.  Well, the building was just down here until a while ago.  Where the tennis courts are now. 
 Q. What was the name of that school? 

M. Clifton School.  It was a Lodge Hall at the last.  There is a football field there now.  They filled it all in.  But the school was right up on Washington Road.

From Margaret Gilfillan [1901-2001], life-long Upper St. Clair resident.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pittsburgh's March Madness

March Madness: Pittsburgh disasters strike at the end of March

The end of March seems to be an unlucky time for Pittsburgh, or at least it seemed that way in 1936 and 1937.  From March 16th to March 22nd, 1936, the city of Pittsburgh experienced an incredible flood.  This flood came to be known as the Great Flood of 1936.  On the first day, Monday, March 16th, heavy rains and melting snow began to swell Pittsburgh’s rivers.  Tuesday brought terrifying reports from Johnstown.  Four bridges were destroyed, and severe damaged occurred in downtown Pittsburgh, Cambria City, and the South Side as waters continued to rise.  By noon on Tuesday, the flood waters had reached 27 feet at The Point and were not showing any signs of stopping.  On Wednesday, numerous people died as buildings were swept off their foundations.  Many residents became trapped by rising water within their homes.  Fires broke out and panic began to set in as families were stranded, many without power or food.  Emergency workers were mobilized, including the National Guard, state police, firemen, the Red Cross, and many others, to rescue those marooned by the flood and to provide basic necessities.  By the end of the day Wednesday, the flood waters began to slowly recede. 

At the end of the week, both survivors and relief workers were exhausted.  Water, candles, and gasoline were in short supply, and Downtown Pittsburgh had to be placed under martial law.  Sicknesses, such as scarlet fever and whooping cough, broke out among children at emergency shelters.  As many as 62 people died from flood-related causes, and 500 people were injured.  Devastating as this tragedy was to Pittsburgh,  the Great Flood also created many heart-touching stories of good Samaritans, and the nation watched as the citizens of Pittsburgh stepped up to the challenge.   For example, numerous local Boy Scouts stepped in to act as traffic directors when all available policemen were on flood duty.  Hardworking Pittsburghers set right to work rebuilding, and there followed a high demand for labor to aid in reconstruction.

The following year, 1937, tragedy struck locally in Upper St. Clair with the crash of TWA flight 15A at Clifton on March 25.  The flight, carrying passengers and mail, was heading for what is now the Allegheny County Airport.  At a time before Black Boxes in airplanes, investigators only had eyewitness reports to piece together what may have caused the crash.  Pilots of another TWA flight saw warning signs that the plane was out of control just before “it fell to the ground in a spin to the left.  Several witnesses on the ground corroborate this description of the final maneuvers of the airplane.  The fact that the airplane did not strike high obstructions in the immediate vicinity of the accident indicates conclusively that the descent was practically vertical.”  The plane crashed nose-down near McMurray Road and Route 19, shutting down traffic on Washington Road.  All persons on board, ten passengers and three crew members, were killed, presumably on impact.  In the Report of the Accident Board of the Bureau of Air Commerce, investigators reported their determination that an excessive accumulation of ice caused the pilots to lose control of the plane.  The event caused quite a stir as one of the worst disasters that occurred in the area, up to that time.  Numerous residents made the trip to view the wreckage before it was removed, and the Historical Society has several oral histories recounting memories of the local tragedy.

Now that we have safely made it past these notorious anniversaries, see if you can find traces of the Great Flood around our city in the form of commemorative plaques, personal stories, and newspaper articles in local archives.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

HSUSC and Heinz

From the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives
By Carolyn Jones, HSUSC Archivist

In light of the recent Heinz company news, the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair looks back to share a local tie to the ketchup giant.  On October 20, 1911, the Social Circle at Clifton made the trek to visit the Heinz facilities as one of their ladies outings.  Here the group poses in front of the H.J. Heinz General Offices.  Ladies from several prominent local families are pictured, including Gilfillan, Fife, and Orr family members.  The ladies are dressed in their finest garb for a trip that certainly would have been quite the excursion.  The ladies’ visit occurred before the existence of the Liberty Tubes or the Fort Pitt Tunnels.  In an excerpt from a local history by the former Clifton and Johnston School principal, Albert F. Baker, he describes the efforts Upper St. Clair residents once had to make to travel into downtown Pittsburgh.  In the early 1900s, “the time required to go to down town Pittsburgh is something we scarcely realize today. It was necessary to drive either to Bridgeville or Castle Shannon to get the train, or to drive to Mt. Washington and take the incline.  Bad roads in the winter and spring, with the horses going much of the way on a walk made it a laborious trip.  The Washington Road was macadamized to Clifton in 1897 and 1898 and with the building of the street-car line to Mt. Lebanon about 1904 the trip became much easier.” Now the trip from Upper St. Clair to the H.J. Heinz Company World Headquarters takes just twenty-two minutes according to Google Maps.  That is, if the traffic is good!


Image credits
Source identifier: PC1682     
Title: Heinz 57 visit    
Creator: Unknown                 
Description: Ladies Social Circle of Clifton, Pittsburgh, October 20, 1911. Visit at home of Heinz 57 Varieties.
Front row: Carrie Fife Edwards, Cora Murray, Mrs. William Woods, Mary Ann Espy, Flora Gilfillan, Mrs. Ellsworth Philips, Mrs. Anna Fife, Ruth Drake, Mrs. Albert Fife, Mrs. W.E. McCormick, Nancy McCormick.
Second row: Myra Drake (Crawford), Ella Orr, Miss Margaret Gilfillan, Miss Blanch McEwen, Unknown, Unknown, Mrs. Nathaniel Fife, Mrs. Crawford Hays, Unknown.
Third row: Miss Ida Orr, Mrs. Frank Fife, Miss Mary Wycoff, Mrs. John Martin, Mrs. Cornelius Wycoff, Mrs. Harry Wycoff, Unknown, Mrs. William T. Fife.
Top row: Miss Eva Murray, Mrs. E.C. Irwin, Miss Eleanor Gilfillan, Mrs. Hamilton Drake, Mrs. Joseph Bardsley.                       
Date: 10-20-1911
Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Image Collection, 1875-2011, Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives

Quoted text:
From a history of Upper St. Clair by Mr. Albert F. Baker, principal at the Clifton School and later at the Johnston School. Baker Elementary School is named for him.  Transcribed by Ruth Sullivan in 1957. Gift of Barry Sullivan Jan. 2013.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day
by Carolyn Jones
Image 1
With the focus on love and romance this week as Valentine’s Day approaches, the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives pulled out a sampling of cards for a revealing look at how people have celebrated this holiday in the past.  These cards were saved by various members of the Gilfillan family and range in date from the mid to late 19th century to about 1915.  Most of the cards are extremely fragile because the adhesive that holds the layers of the cards together has deteriorated and because the layers themselves are unusually thin and delicate. 
The Historical Society Archives has highlighted these cards for their sentiment, but actually, it is not clear if many these cards were given for Valentine’s Day, on a birthday, or as a romantic gesture at another time of year.  In fact, several of the cards do not have any hand-written notes to identify them, just the Victorian verses and intricate details not often found in Valentine’s cards over a century later.

The verses tend to focus on abiding love with such themes as constancy, friendship, and remembrance.  It is only with the later card from the beginning of the twentieth century that sentiment is replaced by humor.  This most recent card was also mass produced as a post card, while the older cards were presumably sent in envelopes (since discarded) or hand-delivered.

One of the most touching cards is from a father, John Gilfillan, to his four children “in love and friendship,” reminding us that Valentine’s Day is not just a day for romance but a time to reach out to those who matter most.
Image 2

Image 3

To see the rest of the selected cards, check out our facebook album Valentine's Day - www.facebook.com/HSUSC
Image 1
20130208-hpicusc-0009.tif     Source id: PC2094     
Title: Gilfillan Valentine's Day postcard                               
Description: Postcard either from or to Alex. Gilfillan. Copyright from the card's creator, S. Bergman NY, dates the card circa 1913.
Historical Society of Upper St. Clair General Collection from the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives
Image 2
20130208-hpicusc-0013.tif     Source id: PC2098     
Title: Ever Yours Gilfillan Valentine                         
Description: Front of a card from John Gilfillan to his children. The verse reads, "Ever Yours" and "From One Who Loves You."               
Historical Society of Upper St. Clair General Collection from the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives
Image 3 
20130208-hpicusc-0014.tif     Source id: PC2099     
Title: Inside of Ever Yours Gilfillan Valentine                                 
Description: Inside of a card from John Gilfillan to his children. The verse on front reads, "Ever Yours" and "From One Who Loves You." Inside is the inscription, "To My Children Margaret Fife Gilfillan, Loretta Gilfillan, Alexander Gilfillan, Mary Ellen Gilfillan, in Love and Friendship from your Father John Gilfillan."                     
Historical Society of Upper St. Clair General Collection from the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair Archives