Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dunbar City


  Looking almost like something out of the Wild West with the unusual shaped architectural buildings, Dunbar, in Fayette County, PA, has seen a good share of excitement in its own way. It may see more once again; so please read on down.

 Once called 'Frogtown', an interesting name, and yet later known as Dunbar City.

courtesy of Google Maps

    The town, and borough, began out of early settlers movements from the south, many from Maryland and the eastern parts of Pennsylvania in the late 1700's, although it didn't officially become a town, until almost 100 years later in 1883 when it was incorporated.
  This is the town and borough after which it received its name from Colonel Thomas Dunbar, of the 48th Irish Regiment who was in charge of the support column for Braddock's failed campaign in 1755 during the French and Indian War. His camp was at Jumonville nearby. He retreated back to Ft. Cumberland on July 22. Dunbar Creek flows through to the west of the town crossed by the Dunbar Bridge, appropriately enough.

coming into Dunbar
     The Union Furnace was started up by Isaac Meason, about three hundred yards above where the Dunbar Furnace stood. The ironmaster, as he should be called, accomplished this in 1791. He had other forges here and a rolling mill. In what is Bullskin Township, today he also was busy early on with the Mt. Vernon iron ore furnace which you can see more about here. He died n 1819 and his son Isaac, carried on the business. This was defintely difficult work to of taken part in.

    The first Justices of he Peace had jurisdiction over Bullskin and Tyrone. The earliest of record is Jacob Stewart in 1787.  Connellsville Street has been the Main Street for a very long time. In 1844 Jones and Miller permanently changed the name to Dunbar Furnace. A few more times, it changed hands too, as Mr. Edmund Pechin became the head of the works. The enormous amount of manufacturing here is hard to imagine, as this was a very bustling borough. The 'Dunbar Community Fest' which is held the last Saturday in September, continues the tradition of pride in it's 131st year of official acknowledgement as a borough of Fayette County. With the Knights of Pythias and The Knights of the Golden Eagle, there were some interesting organizations. This was all part of what is named the Connellsville Coke Region and the rich quality of material inherent here led to the unprecedented manufacture of nearly 20,000 coke ovens in Fayette County alone. There were still some to be seen out on Ranch Road according to the Fay-West Discussion Boards, but the story is they are reclaimed, in other words, destroyed. Have they all been gotten rid off?

   Train service here began in the mid 1800's. There was even a funeral held for, can you even guess? The last trolley that served here! That is called taking the loss of an important element of your community very seriously, and you can bet that it was a real change in the way of living in those times. In after times, most owned at least one car or truck to get to where they needed to go. They also weathered some bad floods here, mainly in the early twentieth century, but also as late as 1972.


   There has been various businesses here over the years, including brick works, a sand plant, woolen mills, glass works, quarries, the coke works and, of course, the Dunbar Furnace which was working with a prodigious amount of iron when in it's heyday, and the Company itself dealt in coal and bluestone. The Dunbar Fire Brick and United Fire Brick companies started in 1890 and 1907, respectively. with the Uniondale, Watt and Ferguson ovens in operation. There is also the 'Irishtown' section where many of the citizens worked in the local ore and coal mines. There are those sites that can still be seen if you look closely in the corners of the borough and town. Some of the ovens were said to be of a unique byproduct variety which were first in production. At the time this post began being written, not too long ago, I was looking out the window at the snow flakes and it was not too inviting, but I did want to finally get some photos to upload now that it is looking like spring! If you click on other posts on the blog you might notice the snows of last winter will show themselves. Here, for example.

   But, not here:

old First National Bank

      The 1716 trolley ran through Connellsville Street here and to the left of the old bank was where the B&O Railroad Station use to be by the tracks.


Settlers and Indians

   Some of the prominent people that settled here, though long passed away would include:
  John Rodgers, John Christy, Jacob Leet, Thomas Jones, and John Sherrard. If there are any descendants that read this, be sure to put in a comment. Everyone would be interested to hear some of your ancestry.

    There are traditions of Indian burial mounds, as at Fort Hill, (Farm), which use to have the Coke Works of that name when it was the A. J. Hill farm. I'll be honest with you, one of the hardest things to research is in finding concrete facts concerning the Indian presence in local areas. Still, curious relics were said to of been found here. According to one Alexander Martin, there was also a crude graveyard with unmarked stones at the yard of Meason's Union Furnace where they simply buried people when they died of whatever was terminal. There was said to be a Liberty Pole at this furnace during the Whiskey Insurrection that read 'Liberty and No Excise'.

    A man called "Captain Cook", a recluse who lived and died in a cave by Cow Rocks, was said to of came from England enchanted by the stories of Braddock's campaign and spent much of his time lingering around the areas he was known to of visited or marched through.

   Inquiries about all the buildings and bygone attractions can be made to the Dunbar Historical Society, started in 1995. I freely would admit, they are more informed than I, while being very cooperative, possessing many old photos and articles of interest. It is open on Saturdays, too. Ask about the Sheepskin Trail, two miles long which connects up from the Greater Allegheny Passage not far from the Borough as the first part is there of the remaining 32 mile length. It is near adjacent to it. They have the nice mural done by Gerald Metzger also. You can discover from these conscientious locals much about the area's history, such as, the Dunbar House, (torn down), from 1897-1917; the Post Office which began in 1889 on Church Street used by the Historical Society, and the Wesley Methodist and Presbyterian churches. The old B&O is not but, the PA R x R Station, and some buildings may still be extant; and the Bryson home with coke oven is very much here. Look for them on Facebook!


  Though the PA Railroad Station is long gone, there is the Coke Oven Park, a unique, rebuilt beehive oven on display from new material of the old Shamrock & Shoaf Works, on New Salem Road. The Society has some excellent graphics and this piece of work has received over 25,000 visits! There is a good You Tube video of the construction of the coke oven above, courtesy of "Stuff That's Gone". And maybe, last, but not least, a person traveling around the olden town is never far from the East and the West, Railroad Streets.
   By the way, Shady Grove was the old West Penn Railway's Trolley Park here.

    A good Fayette County site with a lot of varied info is here and worth having a cup of coffee or tea and checking out. Locally there is the Dunbar Historical Society, as stated previously.


   I may need to make mention, I was very excited to of received a very kind e-mail from Donna Myers of the Dunbar Historical Society, acknowledging the article here and that they approve of the quality. It means a lot to me. Very nice of her and I just want to give a special  *Thank You for that!*

    I still aim to get a photo to upload of the derelict restaurant by the creek that was built from the old bluestone quarry. I heard there was once a mill here. That'll have to be on the next trip over there. The name was the 'Rippling Waters' and it closed about 1970.

    There is an interesting anecdote I have here. One of my relatives was trout fishing years ago, and observed an old man that was fishing near the big boulder behind the restaurant and a copperhead slunk out from under it and struck at the ankle of his hip boot and went back under the rock. Well, he was so intent on his purpose that he never noticed the attempt by the snake to bite him! He just went on fishing...

    UPDATE: I got a photo, here it is

bluestone of the Rippling Waters restaurant

the old abandoned gun powder mill

   There's 'No Trespassing' signs all around here, so this was
     the best I could do

the powder mill from the disused tracks

    The town has the old Swearingen building, the Grocer and dry goods store, built in 1901 or 1902. Also, nearby, to the southwest, the Hill Farm and Coke Works, Tr. 703, there are a few ovens still remaining here. I'm not sure of the condition. This began in 1872 , some say, as early as 1865. There were many coal companies served by a private railroad associated with the Dunbar Iron Co. and mostly the Dunbar Furnace Co. There was a teriffic explosion here in 1890 on June 16, that killed 31 workers. Apparently, they were tragically suffocated, according to the 'Warren Ledger'.

   The Speers Mill was here from back in 1815 on Dunbar Creek, and was once said to have had a distillery there. The Eureka Brick Works were a few miles southwest of the town. Originally named 'Mount Braddock', this was a large operation. 

   On the positive side of things, there are some new job opportunities to open up for this area real soon, by way of the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council. Here's an article from the Tribune about it. It would be good news to another place in Fayette and Westmoreland that has seen better days.

   Cleaner waters

   There have been issues between the fly and bait fishermen and modern mining over the years. I have relatives who work along with the PA Game Commission as they help stocking trout, especially on Laurel Hill Creek, so there is a kernel of wisdom of which I write.

   Chestnut Ridge Trout Unlimited's Eugene Gordon's website for further info. Their involved in fighting hydraulic 'fracking' of open pit mining and some damage also from mountaintop mining. Especially, longwall mining operations by Consol, Atlas and Cabot Energy, for methane gas production, supposed offending parties. This compounded with the burning, or flaring of coal 'fly ash' said to be improperly regulated by the EPA, (considered reusable by some), with toxins from diesel fuel used, including known carcinogens.To be fair, though the EPA has been known to reach settlements from lawsuits dictated by the public concern. I mention this subject as we would hardly want to see the local areas decay as they did since the mining days when the place was described in terms of many red fiery lights and gray smoke across the bleak horizon, an after effect of the pollution some of the industry brought with it. Let's keep our trout fishing from being a forgotten thing of the past. This has been said to be a danger to the ecology of fish, their diet, and the drinking water, with possible neurological, dermatological and gastrointestinal symptoms experienced as health problems. This is claimed by those that live close to these wells and mines, as reported by Reuters news agency toward complaints filed by the PA. Fish and Boating Commission, also. This is through the processes sometimes overlooked, maybe too conveniently, of diverting the water flow according to the 'Center For Public Integrity'. This took place in another way, with the dredging of streams like Mount's Creek passing north through Bullskin Township, causing much damage to the habitat of the fish population there. Caution surely should be the keyword when it comes to the health of animals and our fellow citizens, do you agree?

  There were at least four of these dams functioning here:

remnant of old Dunbar dam

    The Dunbar Creek Project, run by Gary Sherwin, are doing what they can along with help by the Dunbar Sportsman's Club, headed by John Maddas, President, (724-277-4258). about the pollution of many streams in the area, especially from higher places like Glade Run. You see, the acid run-off is an ongoing problem from the coal and coke days and the strip mining done here. So, the Trout Unlimited Chapter of the CRTU, has made inroads in efforts to try to deal with radioactivity as well, with the work of Eugene Gordon. This involves the controversial 'Endangered Species Act.' Many feel this is to be commended, though there are some complaints with coal mining, especially the Marcellus Shale in a larger context. According to them, the Yough is not immune to run off by any polluted tributaries. Well, we all want to keep the waters clean and healthy.
 Local directions to Dunbar, located southwest of Connellsville, from Rt. 119 to State route 1053, and with the Arch Bridge Road from West Crawford Avenue. Also, Furnace Hill Road from the south will get you here.

 Remember the 'Pechin's' restaurant and grocery store formed from an old train depot? The place sure was popular when we use to shop there every two weeks as a kid, with my mother and grandmother in the 60's and 70's. You could get a little of everything there without paying too much. It has been transferred to the old Laurel Mall location and still has a beer distributor and sporting goods.

  Will be back soon with another article on our lost and forgotten history!


  1. Thank you for the kind words about the Dunbar Historical Society. This is a wonderful story with some great pictures.

    1. Your very welcome and thank you for the gracious comment

  2. Hi there. Thank you for sharing the history and photos of Dunbar. My grandfather died in an explosion at the Liberty Powder Company. Would you mind if I share the photos in my geneology research?

    1. Thanks for referring to the name of the Liberty Powder plant, which I didn't mention. Though they are not exactly the best of photos, I only ask, if they are used online, please include a credit for the blog, or to 'Histbuffer'.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Take care!

  3. My GG grandfather Stewart (Steward) Durbin and family are from Dunbar. He married Catherine Trump, parents George Trump and Elizabeth [Wilson].

    Stewart’s father was most likely Jonathan Durbin. Stewart seems to have been orphaned. Jonathan has many young children in 1830-40. He disappears after 1840, and the Durbin children are scattered among the families of Dunbar and surrounding communities. Stewart was apparently raised by his future in-laws, the Wilson family.

    In 1800-10 there is Thomas, Nicolas, Elisha (Elijha) in Dunbar. So far I have not been able to make a connection to Jonathan.

    I would be interested to know if there is some history of disaster or tragedy in the 1840’s.

    Stewart Durbin -> Joseph C. Durbin -> Gladys [Durbin] Maines -> Vera [Maines] Alexander -> Harry Alexander


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