It 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.
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.
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.
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
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
Gibsonia'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 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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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