Sunday, April 6, 2014

Heady Days In Hammondville

   I expect everyone bared with me last month. The two earlier posts were actually a glimpse at the inside of things and I really wanted to give a more personal idea of what local history blogging has meant to me. Over all, it is a rewarding subject and experience, and it is nice to be able to state there are few complaints forthcoming from me. I have a love of everything 'old', and, as they use to say, IF  there be any thorns, the roses always smell better!

  Now, let's return to yesteryear with coverage of a more traditional story with this particular blog post. Here we have one of those smaller places, unless you were to live nearby, there are probably few aware of. Those people have probably heard something of it, at least. I've been fairly brief, and freely concede there may be more information that I don't have direct or definite knowledge of. This is what I can relate to you.

  A Word About Braddock's Road and Jacob's Cabin

  This rural area of few people, beyond some local Indians, would have seen a colorful and exciting sight when it was once visited, after the last encampment of the Narrow's area past Stewart's Crossing at Connellsville. On July the 1st and 2nd of 1755, the place saw the weary, and mostly Virginian army of Major General Braddock all decked out in red, white and black, with thier muskets and scabbards, as he had his famous twelve foot wide road built through the area, and, at times,  accompanying him was the soon to be, most famous American in history, one George Washington, a Colonel and by then, promoted to Major. Down Main Street of Hammonsville proper and on the left, or north, is some of the remains of the old swampy area they had to deal with. Back southward on the dam side of Fairview Church is where the Braddock Road is seen coming out of the Greenlick Dam, the "Great Swamp" area of the 1700's, and from a bit further south, up where the army camped on the hill west of Gimlet Road.

   The tale of 'Jacob's Cabin' near here is said to be questionable, since the traditional place is up past Mt. Pleasant on, or a ways past Sand Hill Road. A swamp near Tarrs and Ruffsdale was a patented tract referring to Jacob's swamp. I plan to research this more deeply in the future and Captain Jacob's relationship to the creek using his name and give a report on it. There is a remote possibility of some other landmark here that muddied the waters and made it easier to confuse the issue. On the other hand, the crossing of 'Jacob's Creek' past Hammondville and the swamp may of had much to do with it.

 A leisurely way to arrive at Hammondville is to come in from the four lane of Rt. 119, or from Rt. 31, taking Route 982 through Bullskin. You can turn on to Mudd School Road, past Jacob's Creek Park and the "New' Dam area. When you take a right at the old German influenced, Fairview Church  where a fair amount of the old residents are buried, you are then well within your target.

  I haven't said enough about the  Coal and Coke Trail, so look for it right after the main article and I hope to give you a feel for it too.

     Big Plans

   This basic area is mostly long gone now, except for maybe a few roads somewhat hidden close by, snuggled right between the Fayette/Westmoreland county line. What's interesting is the main street and a few other roads at Hammondville are still there, basically at the same place as Pershing.

   James Hammond was an old pioneer that settled in this place. It's doubtful he could of foreseen what his early tract of modest land almost became.

    But, there were very big plans for Hammondville and Pershing well over one hundred years ago. In the late 1890's, to be exact.

only quiet fields here now

       The Pershings


 The local history begins back toward when the Pershing's, of German stock, built farms from their tracts around here in Bullskin Township, Fayette County. There were a few houses near Jacob's Creek close to the Westmoreland side as well.

  Abraham Pershing, from 10-21-1796 to 7-21-1880, was from Derry Township and a member of the Mount Pleasant Rifles, with his son Daniel H, who lived from 5-25-1832 to 4-4-1903. This was said to be the very first militia formed in these border counties from 1855 to 1860. Some were listed under this regimental unit as fighting for the Confederacy. They were a very religious family, as well. According to the 'Genealogical and Personal History of Fayette County, Vol.2', by James Hadden, pg. 578, concerning Reverend Daniel Pershing connected with the Methodist Episcopal Church, "He always travelled on horseback, with saddle bags in which he carried religious books for sale, and always carried a rifle, that being as much a part of these itinerant circuit riding ministerial heroes as their Bibles...", and he even forbid whistling on the Sabbath day!

   It is likely, though speculative, that these Pershing's were directly related to one Frederick Pershing, who was recorded as one of the first settlers of Youngstown, named for Alexander Young in 1815, earlier called Martinsburg in 1769 in Westmoreland County further northeast on Rt. 982.

  Originally owning 80 acres of land near Iron Bridge, Isaac Pershing also lived here early on, and they bought well over 300 acres, starting around 1828 further into Bullskin, which were used for farming the land. The foundation lots were drawn from their holdings for Hammondville's beginnings more along the Jacob Creek, which would likely of led to the construction of a fair size town with all that goes with it. In need of a police force, much development, stores, mills, transportation, maybe a Mayor and a council! This was, however, not to be. The village circles around the Pershing Avenue and the Main Street which will take you into Bridgeport, or angling past Federal Street, Fraser Ave., and on easterly back to Hammondville Street again toward what was South Bridgeport and then you can head back in the opposite direction past the old church to Gimlet Hill.

   Again, this is the place given with reference to Jacob's Cabin and on better footing and on less 'murky waters' of the famous Braddock's crossing of the 'Great Swamp' as the British troops then made their journey north up to Mt. Pleasant and Union Springs after a more than probable encampment and on toward a fateful encounter with the French at Braddock's Field.

Hammondville area

   The Build up and Subsequent Bust

   There was also the 'Buckeye Works' with a mine and coke ovens near here and a Pershing schoolhouse in the olden days. I believe there was also a Post Office.
   Well, there were great big plans in store and some things were more successful in Bridgeport also, in the 1890's and beyond. But, most of them, eventually, came to naught.

   What might have been? In this, we are, of course, basically speculating, but, as a Steel and Iron Mill were actually planned, lots for housing the workers were laid out and building was in the making. The Smith Company developed and had begun a glass factory near Pershing Street that became an outlet of the Bryce Brothers. What was called the Narrow Gauge Railway was to haul iron ore and the B. & O. Railroad with a station close to Bridgeport and a Post Office. You probably wouldn't notice this approaching Pershing, there isn't much left but empty fields to the east to show for all the enterprising actions. Still, people lived here and in after times made this a home for themselves, adjusting to the situation they found themselves in the best they could.

   As one travels among these neglected places and coal patch towns, most appearing as little more than just dots on a map, you can sometimes almost notice an aura of dampening gloom, creating a need to shake off the feeling a bit. This isn't, by far, the only place of this type, they dot the landscape all around not only in our local region, but Hammondville is a most obvious example. Though, it would rarely approach anything of real tragedy, it is an old story indeed. It had to be a huge disappointment and a struggle as they fell back on the danger of coal mining jobs. Our forefathers, (and foremothers), dealt with two World Wars, and many changes. Long distances on rough road surfaces, the tough everyday things we would take for granted in the ease of accomplishing; the sickness, lack of medical help and child deaths were ever present, among lesser things. All very real parts of their lives. It is little wonder how earnestly they celebrated the milestones. And here, a lonely notion of old prosperity and high spirits turned away and lost on the wind, soon forgotten like an old fancy wedding dress in a dusty basement, in so many years. They had to keep up with the hustle and bustle that was so tangible, yet so quickly gone. It is hard to grasp what it was like in isolated places of such quietude.

    You could imagine, though the dreams may have lingered, and jobs somewhat re-routed. And when the glass factory was moved into Mount Pleasant and partly connected early in proximity to where Lennox Crystal would eventually be established, ending up at Depot Street, as the prosperity bug dwindled swiftly away from here as it did more slowly in any number of the little patch towns with adjacent coke ovens and early mills, as if it had never really been. They went on with their lives, sending the kids to the little schoolhouses, going to quilting bees, canning fruit and vegetables, hunting and fishing, and going to church. Praying for a better life to come. In some ways maybe we aren't all that different, are we? The traditions were all the more respected and cherished and I feel, our modern culture is losing that too and thereby, some of it's identity.
   No, the exciting plans so carefully laid out in Hammondville, sadly, did not come to fruition.

   So this chapter of our local history has arrived at an end.
   If you find something to add to this, please feel free to comment.

     Coal and Coke Trail In Brief

   Maybe something good has a way of growing out of these things.
   Keep in mind, the Coal and Coke Trail, of 5 to 6 mile length, runs through here. A nice, intimate walkthrough, with general half mile markers to help keep your bearings. The trail is, of course, following much of the old Pennsylvania railroad system from Mt. Pleasant at Main and Center going south near the soccer field, and east a ways behind buildings, over a bridge and entering and leaving the woods; it is a bit marshy in spots. Then, bearing roughly to the southwest and through some forest areas all along the trail. Keep an eye out for occasional wildlife, (not just the locals!), as there are some. A scenic route through Bridgeport where you can see the Reservoir, and on toward the old Iron Bridge, (a small place for another upcoming post, though the iron is long gone now), this has the distinction of being at the meeting ground of the 2 counties as well as three townships, Mt. Pleasant, west, Upper Tyrone, to the north and Bullskin, toward the southeast.

  Do be aware there are a few construction sites that can be a little jarring to pass by, especially near the 119 overpass. Wending on into Scottdale, Pa heading to Kendi Park by way of Mildred Street near Dexter and Overton Way, the tour is completed. Remember, there are lots of other paths and logging roads, though watch for those pesky 'No Trespassing' signs. They are there for a reason.

   More info for the Bulskin and Woodale area can be found here, here, and here.

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