Township History

The History of Richland Township, Allegheny CountyIt was about 1800 when John Crawford built his log cabin here in what was then Pine Township.

John owned 403 acres, 88 perches of ground. His homestead was the first human habitation for miles around. It was not elaborate, this first house.

The logs were notched, hoisted to form walls and the cracks stuffed with mud, stones and sticks. John Crawford's bed was crude, a platform built on forked sticks rammed into the dirt floor and covered with oak leaves and cattails. A bearskin blanket provided warmth at night.

Bakerstown HotelBakerstown

Modern Bakerstown sits on what were 2 lots of the "Depreciation Lands" in Cunningham's District 4. Each lot was 206 acres. Main Street ran north and south between them. The lots, originally surveyed in 1783, had several owners, none of which were residents, before Thomas Baker, a Nova Scotian, bought them about 1810. He laid out the crossroads community, on Lot #10 of which, in 1820, William Waddle, a Scot, built a tavern at the crossroads of Packsaddle Trail (now Bakerstown Road) and the Venango Trail (now route 8). The tavern was operated by William, by his son-in-law James Harbison and then by his son John S.

Bakerstown was becoming sophisticated by 1850 --it had street names! A post in Virgin Alley marked one corner of a five acre lot sold for $400.00 by John Waddle to John and Mary Ann Stirling in 1858. In addition to a tavern , John operated a distillery, and was among the community's most respected citizens. As we remarked earlier, the tavern keeper was always a man of high local prestige. John S. Waddle, born in 1838, operated Bakerstown's first slaughterhouse and butcher shop.

James Harbison came to Bakerstown in 1824 and paid $25.00 for his 20-acre lot to James Heginbotham. It was located north of the Baker property. Harbison's first home was a log building, called the corn crib, which was later remodeled into Wright's livery stable. He built his place in 1831, three walls of logs with the front covered by a homespun blanket during the day. At night he slept under the blanket. This house was located between the Allen residence and the Civic Clubhouse. James Jones and his brother, Dr. Israel Jones, were important men when Harbison moved into the community. James Jones was postmaster, schoolteacher, tavern keeper, store proprietor, brick maker and school director.

Church services were held in the first schoolhouse for several years, but after some argument about who should fill the coal box Dr. Israel Jones organized and built the Methodist Church. Dwight Thompson (according to the memoirs of James Harbison), bought some 400 acres from Ned Baker and Joe Britton and sold them to William Brickle, father of Sadie McMorran, for $8,000. James Allison superintended the building of the Brickle home. This building, now the Hull House, was an underground station for runaway slaves.

GGibsonia Post Office, early 1900sibsonia

The early history of Gibsonia is, naturally enough, interwoven with the history of the Gibson family. About the time of the Civil War, Charles Gibson, Jr., built on Grubbs Road the first steam flour mill west of the Alleghenies.

His granddaughter, Nancy Gibson James, recalls hearing her uncle tell of the farmers riding to the mill with sacks of grain across the saddles.

The Gibson family homestead was built by her grandfather, Charles Gibson, Jr., in 1839. Just below the home, near the railroad crossing, still remains the foundation of Charles Gibson's general store.

This building, destroyed by fire in 1908, besides housing the store was also the first Post Office in Gibsonia. For about ten years before it burned it was in use as a mission of the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church.

The B&O Railroad

Samuel Harbison, William Scott, John HausermanGibsonia's economic importance comes from its location on the Railroad, and the grade in this section is reputed to be one of the steepest in the east. This right of way was originally granted to the Pittsburgh, New Castle and Lake Erie Railroad and a single narrow gauge track was laid in 1870. This line ran from the City of Allegheny to New Castle, with connections there to the West.

Its first president was Charles Gibson, Jr., a man whose name appears in connection with so many phases of the early history of Richland Township. About 1880, the name of the railroad was changed to the Pittsburgh and Western. Double track, standard gauge replaced the narrower single track. Stations were built along the line and telegraph operators were on duty at each of them 24 hours a day.

The single track tunnel at Bakerstown station was eliminated when a cut was put through. Incidentally, this cut is the top of the grade that begins in Etna. For many years the railroad was the main contact with the outside world. Fourteen passenger trains a day testified to its importance. In 1920 the Pittsburgh and Western was absorbed into the Baltimore and Ohio system and the southern terminus was shifted to the B. & 0. station in Pittsburgh.

The advent of the Short Line and improved highways gradually reduced passenger traffic, but it is still the main B. & 0. route from Pittsburgh to Buffalo and the Harding funeral train did pass over these tracks.

The Butler Shortline Railroad

An important meeting was held in the office of Nathan Box, clerk and constable, on February 1, 1905. Charles Gibson, Jr., appeared before Commissioners Ira Crawford and Ross Patton, and requested a right-of-way through the township for the new electric railway. Gibson, the Vice President of the Pittsburgh and Butler Street Railway Co., was granted the request.

The Butler Shortline was to provide transportation for the community for the next two decades. Beginning in 1907 the big green interurban streetcars passed through every day at hourly intervals and more often during the morning and evening rush periods. The cars had upholstered seats, rest rooms, a smoking compartment and a coal stove to keep the travelers warm in winter.

All kinds of service were provided by the Shortline. At 4:30 A.M. a special car picked up milk for the city. There was another for freight. The local farmers used the line to ship their produce to the Allegheny Market and the company built special freight platforms at several of the regular stations.

Mrs. Lisinan, mother of Minnie Datt and Mary Wikert, took many quarts of berries into the market house for her regular customers. Valencia, State Road, Bakerstown Station, St. Barnabas, McKelvey's, Dickey's, Austin's, Girty's, Hardies Road and Sample were all scheduled stops for the Shorten.

The route can still be seen as it winds through the community beside Route 8, along Ewalt Road, paralleling Meridian Road and crossing near St. Barnabas Home. Stops were provided with passenger waiting rooms, octagonal buildings with round peaked roofs. One was moved intact and is now located beside Neville's store.

To stop a car at night you waved a burning piece of paper as it came churning down the track. When a full car carrying two green flags passed, you didn't worry because the flags signified a double header and another section would be along in a few minutes.

The fare from Gibsonia to Etna was 32 cents and a nickel more into Pittsburgh. If the Shortline passed through your property, however, you received a pass and traveled free. The fares were far too low -- the company lost money.

The management economized on maintenance and trolleys began to jump the tracks. The Pittsburgh-Butler Flyer wrecked at West Hoffman, killing one of the firm's first conductors, James McMcekin. With shoddy upkeep, frequent accidents, lawsuits and automobile competition, the Shortline fell into financial trouble. The management was reorganized, but service was still on a haphazard schedule. The firm finally went bankrupt in 1932, leaving the community only with automotive and railroad transportation.

The Old Plank Road

There were three traffic thoroughfares between Pittsburgh and the north in the early days: the Perrysville Road (Route 19), by river to Freeport and overland to Butler, and the present Route 8. All followed Indian traces, meandering around hills and through valleys, and no one knows how many hundred years passed before a wheel turned on any of these roads.

With the growing commercial importance of Butler in the mid l9th Century, Route 8 became more popular and demand grew for its improvement. Successive generations of planners have straightened and widened the road, and today dim remnants of the former trails are becoming less and less evident.

Before it became the Butler Turnpike, travel was hazardous on horse or foot. There were no bridges, and when the Connoquenessing or Thorn Creek was flushed with spring floods you thought twice before setting out on a trip. A gory landmark on the long journey was Girty's Knob, the high ridge above Gibsonia. Passing this promontory, travelers held their flintlocks ready for the savages that might spring on them. If they rode they watched the horses' nostrils, because the smell of an Indian was instantly detected. When, and if, they got by the Knob they breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. For Girty was a name that spelled terror. Here is was that Simon Girty, the renegade, camped with his red marauders. Gardeners still spade up an occasional arrowhead, mute testimony of a sneak attack. Old timers recall when misbehaving as children, they were warned: "the Girtys will get you if you don't watch out."

In the first year of its operation, 1856, Plank Road tolls amounted to $9,080.64. The cost of travel was 2c a mile for one horse and 3 1/2c for a team except on Sundays when churchgoers were allowed to travel free.

Finally in 1918, a two lane macadamized highway was completed from Allison Park to the Butler County line. In 1934 the road was straightened and widened to three lanes and named the William Flynn Highway. Flynn was probably a noble man but in less than two decades his highway was obsolete. National Safety Council statistics showed us that three lane highways are death traps. By the way, who was William Flynn? The road was later widened to its present 4 lanes.

Education - Richland Style

The community was served only by itinerant teachers who came and drifted on until 1886 when public schools were first established. Bakerstown's first school was in the home of John Brown, where the Geisler residence now stands. The schoolmaster boarded around, his length of stay being determined by how many children each family had enrolled.

The first actual schoolhouse was a log structure, just across the street from the present Harry Walter residence. Accounts disagree on the date, but it served until a frame building was erected on the current location of the Civic Clubhouse.

The quality of teaching improved. As more children were enrolled the need grew for a bigger building. The Baker property had been donated for either school or church purposes and a "burying ground" had been established. However, the Methodist Church across the hill seemed adequate for religious purposes so the new site for a school was planned. A one-room structure was built, but soon was made obsolete by the growing population. As many as eighty-five students, two and three to a seat, were in attendance in this one room.

At the close of the Nineteenth Century a modern two-room building was erected at the fabulous cost of $2000. This is the establishment used today by the Civic and Community Clubs. In 1908 the township employed five teachers whose wages totaled $2322.05. There were 217 pupils enrolled that year, but the kids helped in spring and fall with farm chores, so the daily attendance averaged only 143.

Education was still a casual affair with pupils furnishing their own books, drinking tin cups, and other equipment. The boys sat on one side of the room, the girls on the other as precaution against the time-honored indoor sport of pigtail-in-inkwell-dipping.

In addition to Bakerstown, other Richland schools were located more or less conveniently around the community. Gibsonia's first school was a one-room brick building on Gibsonia Road near the intersection of Lakeside Drive. A second frame structure, also one room, was built across from Sunnyside Farm on Hardt Road. At the turn of the century the two room building that now houses the Sportsmen's Club was built. One room was adequate until 1923 when the upstairs was equipped and the four upper grades were taught by an additional teacher. In the meantime the one-room structure was used as a Christian Missionary Alliance Mission and finally added to the Sunnyside Farmhouse.

Land surrounding the Ewalt School was donated by the family of that name. Popularly known as the Yellow Frame Schoolhouse because of its color, records indicate that in 1888 it accommodated 80 pupils. The teacher (who was also janitor) earned $40.00 a month. In 1899 with the enrollment up to 40 everyone agreed that Ewalt school needed a bell for its belfry so a box social was arranged. Despite a deep snow on that date, March 17th, the affair was a big success. Folks came in sleighs and sleds from far and near and Ewalt bought its bell.

Ground for the Grubbs School was donated by that family. Now the location of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, one and two-room buildings successively occupied the area. The second building was destroyed by fire in 1930 and children in the northern area were sent to Valencia. The remainder were educated in makeshift fashion until the opening of the consolidated school. Dedicated May 19, 1932, the consolidated school was named after George Washington because the country was celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth. Later it developed that every other community had the same idea at that time and George Washington Schools were all over the map. So we adopted the name Richland, and the eight-classroom structure with its gymnasium-auditorium, principal's office, teachers' room, library, lavatories, furnace room and shower facilities became the pride of the community.

Located near the center of the township, with a large level lot for expansion, the Richland School building cost $71,000 and opened with an enrollment of 350. Within several years the birthrate posed another problem and four more classrooms were added. The library was converted into a classroom. Then, March 2, 1942 fire swept through the auditorium and damaged several classrooms. Classes were divided into half-day shifts. Repairs were rushed in spite of wartime shortages. Overcrowding continued as war babies grew to school age. Result: another addition in 1951 making a total of 17 classrooms.

Historical Sketch of Churches in Richland Township

Methodist Church

The earliest of the churches now located in Richland Township is the Methodist Church at Bakerstown, which was organized in 1832, the original building having been erected on ground donated by James Jones, and the brick for the same was made from clay taken from the old Baker Cemetery. The church was built in 1838 and remodeled in 1883, was partially burned in 1890, and rebuilt in 1891.

First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown

The next in order of age is the Presbyterian Church in Bakerstown, which was first a mission church and an out-growth of the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church, whose minister began preaching services in the school house at Bakerstown. By 1870 it had reached such a degree of prosperity that it severed its connection with the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church. The Church was organized and built in 1871, the bricks for the same having been donated by John Ewalt. The first pastor was Reverend William G. Stewart through whose particular efforts the church was organized.

Christian and Missionary Alliance Church

Valencia and one at Bakerstown in the hall above the general store of Mr. R. M. Gibson, and also at Gibsonia under the patronage of the same families. Later these centers were combined to form the present Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Bakerstown. The land was donated by James Grubbs and the present church was erected in 1916 under the supervision of Mr. Lincoln Staley and has continued since that date at that location. The first regular preacher, J. M. Broadwell P. R. Hyde was called.

The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

The church was founded by residents of the Gibsonia area who were members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church (located in North Park) and was an outgrowth of the Sunday School which was held in a private home across the road from the present Gibsonia Post Office. Later the Sunday School was moved to the old Gibsonia Public School. The present building was erected in 1911 and in 1915 Trinity joined St. Paul's (North Park), forming a parish to which a single minister was called, and services were held every other Sunday for morning worship and every other Sunday for afternoon worship, alternating between the two churches. In 1947 the Trinity congregation voted to call and support its own full-time pastor, and terminated the parish affiliation with St. Paul's, and the Reverend J. Edward Schmidt was installed as the first full-time minister for the congregation. The congregation is affiliated with the American Lutheran Church, National Lutheran Council, Lutheran World Federation, and World Council of Churches.

Gibsonia Presbyterian Church

In 1911, through the efforts of Robert M. Gibson and a Reverend George, a retired Presbyterian minister, it was decided to hold preaching services in Gibson's Grove, and the minister at the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church conducted the first Sunday afternoon service which was well attended by the residents of the Gibsonia district, and it was decided to hold services every Sunday afternoon. If the weather was inclement, the Sunday services were held at some one's home. After several services, the attendance having grown steadily, it was decided to organize a church. This organization meeting was held at the home of C. S. Austen during the summer of 1911, and shortly thereafter there were sufficient subscriptions to erect a building on land which was donated by Samuel Austen. The church was incorporated under the name of the First Presbyterian Church of Gibsonia and the cornerstone of the building was laid in 1911, and during the same year the basement was completed and services held therein in December. The Reverend David E. Thompson was installed as the first regular pastor.

Historical Places around Richland

McKelvey Stop FarmMcKelvey Stop Farm

1878 The McKelvey Stop Farm, built on Meridian Road in 1878 by the James McKelvey family for their oldest son, Robert Milt McKelvey, and his wife, Weslyann (as in Weslyann Drive today). The McKelveys then built a barn adjacent to the house in 1879. The farm became known as the McKelvey Stop Farm, because it served as a stop on the Butler Shortline, which ran rail cars between Butler and Pittsburgh commencing at the turn of the century.

The farm and barn are built on property originally inhabited by Indians, but granted to George and Michael Gundaker in 1786 as payment for their service as soldiers in the American Revolutionary War.

James McKelvey had one of the original houses in the area (1868), residing in the old home and spring house about 400 feet off of Meridian Road by the cemetery.

The McKelvey Stop Home (pictured here) was owned by the McKelvey family until 1955. This picture was taken from water derrick looking north on Meridian Road. The farmhouse stands 3.5/10 of a mile beyond Dickey Road on the west side of Meridian . In the picture you can see the abundance of farmland, the electric lines (upper right side of picture to middle of picture) that crossed Meridian Road and served the Butler Shortline Railroad, and the David D. McKelvey home (upper right background). This home was built by the McKelveys in 1882 for Robert Milt' s younger brother, David. For years, David's son Harry lived in the home, which stands on Meridian Road, just beyond the cemetery (looking north).

The Milt McKelvey barn (pictured) burned in 1938. Today, a concrete block home sits on the barn foundation. The McKelvey Stop Farmhouse is painted red with white trim and black shutters. Cindy and Paul White are the owners today of the farmhouse and barn.

McKelvey Stop FarmhouseThe McKelvey Stop Farmhouse, 5739 Meridian Road

Built in 1878 by the McKelvey family, the "McKelvey Stop" Farm House (sometimes also called the "Old McKelvey Farm House") is one of the original houses built on "Depreciation Lands" formerly occupied by Indians and granted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Michael and George Gundaker on August 8, 1786, in what would by 1880 officially become Richland Township.

he house is most noteworthy as the site of a Stop for the streetcars of the Pittsburgh and Butler Street Railway Company, commencing in 1907, and thus, the name "McKelvey Stop" is associated with the farm house.

The accidental burning of the "McKelvey Stop" Farm House barn the early 1930's and a turn-of-the-century producing gas well are other features for which the house is known.

A picture of the house and surrounding farm lands around the turn-of-the century appears in Richland U.S.A., a history of the township written by John 0. McMeekin for 1951 publication. Other turn-of-the-century pictures of the house, the gas well, farm lands and McKelvey family are displayed in the farm house.

North Pittsburgh Telephone Company

In the early part of the year 1906 several of the leading citizens of the community of Gibsonia and the vicinity met to discuss plans for obtaining telephone service. After discussing the matter with the Central District Printing and Telegraph Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (now Bell), certain officials of that Company suggested that those interested in telephone service North of Pittsburgh should organize a local company which could be connected to the Telephone Company by trunk lines. On November 1, 1906 a perpetual charter was secured in the name of North Pittsburgh Telephone Company operating under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Within a period of two years from the inception of telephone service the company installed 258 telephones or certificates by bequest. On December 4, 1909 a new building was ready for occupancy.

A new Western Electric switchboard was installed and the new exchange named "Gibsonia." The Wexford exchange was installed on July 1, 1910, and Curtisville during World War I, to serve the coal industry. An interesting sidenote -- until October of 1917, all lines and telephones of the company were serviced by horse and buggy. At this time it was decided to modernize, and an automobile, "Ford, Model T type," was purchased. Mars was added in 1923 and Curtisville in 1940.

St. Barnabas Free Home

The St. Barnabas Free Home was founded by the movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of one individual. Those are the words of the Founder and Manager, Gouveneur P. Hance. To the folks in Richland Township as to countless thousands, St. Barnabas Home is a living example of concentrated Christian living. In 1951, St. Barnabas' Free Home at Gibsonia was an ivy-grown stone house of about 50 rooms in the midst of 147 acres, on which the home's milk and meat is raised.

Eden Hall Farm

Originally the summer home of Sebastian Mueller, senior Vice President of the H. J. Heinz Co., Eden Hall was a health resort for the Heinz women employees. Mr. Mueller, who died in 1938, wanted it that way. Eden Hall Farm is a memorial to his two daughters, EIsa and Alma who died in childhood. Four hundred and seventy acres of beautifully groomed and handsome buildings make this estate a credit to the community.

Return to Top