Unity Township. - Latrobe Borough. - New Alexandria.
Unity Township was formed upon a petition by numerous inhabitants of Mt. Pleasant Township, which was presented to the court in 1789. The petition set forth that they labored under great inconvenience on account of the extent of the township and the long distances they had to travel in conducting its corporate affairs. They prayed that a new township might be erected from that part of Mt. Pleasant which lies next to the Loyalhanna creek. The prayer of the petitioners was granted on the 23rd day of September, 1789, and they were therefore incorporated at that time. It is a very large and very strong and wealthy township. It is bounded on the north by Derry and Salem townships and by Loyalhanna creek; on the east by Ligonier and Cook townships, with Chestnut Ridge as a dividing line; on the south by Mt. Pleasant Township and on the west by Hempfield Township. Considerable attention has already been paid to the early history of Unity Township in speaking of Mt. Pleasant Township, from which it was carved. St. Vincent's Abbey and St. Xavier's Institution are both in Unity Township, and have been described in the general church history. It has within its limits the Unity Presbyterian congregation, one of the oldest and most historic churches in Western Pennsylvania. Nearby is a graveyard known now as Unity cemetery, which is over one hundred years old. The part of Unity township which lies next to Chestnut Ridge is high, rocky, and of little value for agriculture. The entire township is rather hilly. The lower part of the township is drained by Nine Mile Run. Notwithstanding the roughness of the land, by hard labor comfortable homes have been carved out even far up on the ridge. Indeed the earliest settlements were made on the high ground, the general opinion being that the bottoms were marshy and unfit for agriculture. The portion of the township on the west side of Nine Mile Run and between that and the Dry Ridge is one of the most productive, richest and best developed agricultural regions in the county. The land is of a heavy limestone quality, and is indeed excellently adapted for the production of wheat and corn, etc. The ridge part, which was at one time regarded as of little value, later gave rise to a lumber trade which has been very profitable. The Pennsylvania railroad running through the township brought a market for the lumber. Still later came the coal industry. The Connellsville seam of coal underlies the greater part of the township. The coal industry has become so extensive that all industries have been dwarfed by it.
One of the oldest boroughs in the township is that of Youngstown. It was incorporated by Act of Assembly on the 2nd of April, 1831. The inhabitants voted at the house of John Gibson, on the first Monday of May ensuing. The borough is about forty miles east of Pittsburgh, and is situated on the old Pittsburgh and Philadelphia turnpike. It was a very important stopping place in the wagon and stage-coach days of the earlier part of last century. One of its old taverns was kept by a man named Reed, and was known all along the route. Long before the village was incorporated it was a respectable collection of houses. It was on the old Pennsylvania state road, which was used by the Federal troops in 1794, when they came west to quell the Whisky Insurrection. Among the first landowners there was Alexander Young, after whom the town was named. It was laid out by Joseph Baldridge. Martin West was the owner of land contiguous to the town. He took great interest in the village, and sometimes the place was called Martinsburg, in honor of his first name. It was for some years a market town and postoffice of General Arthur St. Clair, William Findley, our first congressman; William Todd, the Proctors, and Lochrys, George Smith, and others who lived near by, and who are well known in the early history of our county. William Todd was a member of the assembly and one of the council of censors. Still later he was an associate-judge of our courts. He came from the same stock that produced the Todd family of Ohio and Kentucky, one of whom was the wife of President Lincoln. Prominent among the citizens of a later period were Alexander Johnston, James Keenan, John Coulter, John Head, Daniel Boonbright, all of whom are familiar to Westmorelanders. The Boonbrights, members of the firm of Hood, Boonbright & Co., wholesale merchants of Philadelphia, were sons of Daniel Boonbright, and received their early training in Youngstown.
Pleasant Unity is an unincorporated village in Unity Township. It was formerly called "Buzzards Town," taking its name from a family who were descended from John Buzzard, who owned the land upon which the town is built. The name is now written "Bossart." Pleasant Unity is situated in the center of a splendid agricultural district, which was wealthy long before the coal industry added to its opulence.
The Unity Presbyterian Church, of which we have spoken, is two miles west of Latrobe, and a short distance north of the Pennsylvania railroad. There is no record of its first organization. It is probable that Rev. James Power preached there first on his first visit to Western Pennsylvania in 1774. It was at Unity Church that he was preaching on the afternoon that Hannastown was burned by the Indians in 1782. The original warrant for the land upon which it and its cemetery are located was taken out in the name of Robert Hanna, Andrew Allison and John Sloan, "for the erection of a meeting house and for the burying ground for the Presbyterian congregation of Unity, under the guard of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia." This warrant is dated March 1, 1774. It is, therefore, one of the oldest congregations in the county. It celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1884. Of Rev. James Power and Rev. John McPherrin, its first pastors, we have frequently spoken. Rev. William Spear became a pastor there in 1803 and continued until 1829, the year of his death. He was followed in 1830 by Rev. Robert Henry, who preached there until 1839. Rev. Peter Hassinger was pastor there from 1839 to 1844. In 1846 George Morton was ordained and was released in 1848. Rev. N. H. Gillett was installed in 1849 and continued there until 1868, when he resigned on account of failing health, about three months before his death. He was followed by Rev. Daniel W. Townsend in 1869.
Until 1839 Unity and Greensburg were united in the same charge. Since that time they have separated, and each supports a minister of its own. Four houses of worship have been successively used by this congregation. The first was a mere shelter for the preacher, called Proctor's Tent, on the farm of the renowned sheriff, John Proctor. The second was a long building, square-shaped at first, but afterwards enlarged by a log addition on two sides. In 1839 they erected a large brick church, which gave way to another brick edifice in 1874, and is yet standing. It is completely finished and beautifully situated, it being one of the best country churches in the county. The congregation owns the farm upon which it stands. It contains seventy acres. The church and cemetery are held and managed by a board of trustees under a charter. Most of the families now connected with the church are descendants of the original settlers who came there in the Revolutionary days and before that. In 1768, indeed, William Greer, an Irish Presbyterian, settled on a farm near the church. It has been owned by his descendants ever since, and is now owned by Samuel H. Miller, a great-grandson. Near by him at a later date settled the Hunters, Georges, Baldridges, Mullons, Larimers, Sloans, Fletchers, Allisons, Smiths, etc., all of whom were among the early attendants at this church. Colonel John Proctor, Judge Robert Hanna, our first congressman, William Findley and Archibald Lochry were all nearby residents, and were useful members of this congregation, none of whom, save Lochry, we believe, have descendants in the county at present. The communicants of this church are now largely well-to-do farmers, owning their own farms and living in the community. The names of the first elders of the church elected some time in 1782 are John Moore, William Waddell, Andrew Allison and Samuel Coulter. The time appointed for the ordination was July 13, 1782, and the news of the burning of Hannastown broke up the meeting. The people hurried to their homes to defend their families, if necessary, and the minister, Rev. Power as we have said, rode rapidly toward his home at Middle Church, near the present town of Mount Pleasant. The next elders elected were Andrew Larimer, William Barnes, William B. Findley, Robert Marshall, John Morrison, and James Montgomery.
The Reformed Church of Youngstown was established in the early part of last century. Prior to that the communicants had been attached to Greensburg and Mt. Pleasant congregations, and at their homes were frequently visited by Rev. Weber in his many long dreary rides over the county. Dr. N. P. Hacke preached to them also in 1821, and continued to administer to them until 1813, when Rev. Boyer succeeded him. After him came Rev. Voight, in the spring of 1833, and continued preaching to them until 1859. Rev. C. C. Russell began preaching to them about that time and continued until 1863. He was followed by Rev. J. I. Swander, who attached the church at Youngstown to the Latrobe Church, of which he was pastor.
The township has forty schools, with 1570 pupils enrolled.
Before the construction of the Pennsylvania railroad the ground on which Latrobe now stands was covered with large forest trees, principally oak and hickory, and with a thick undergrowth such as is found on lands bordering on large streams of water. Early in the present century a large flouring mill, later known as "Chamber's Mill," had been erected on the banks of the Loyalhanna, and this was the nucleus about which the town of Latrobe was long afterwards built. The town was therefore laid out practically in the woods, and there are many citizens living there yet who remember of them cutting down the original forest trees in order to build houses. It is situated forty miles east of Pittsburgh, on the banks of the Loyalhanna. It is, we believe, the most beautifully located town in Westmoreland county as to its topography. In every direction from the center, good building sites, level ground for manufacturing and for the laying-out of streets may be secured. The Loyalhanna affords good water facilities, as it winds circularly around the borough, and this may be one reason why the town has prospered as it has. Before the railroad was built the land was owned by Mr. Kirk. He sold it to Oliver J. Barnes, an engineer in the employ of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who foresaw that town was likely to be built there. He laid out a plan and began to sell lots at once. It is said he realized about $80,000 from their sale. This plan was recorded on May 28, 1851, and the town was named after Benjamin F. Latrobe, a civil engineer, who had been identified with the Baltimore & Ohio railroad and the building of the Pennsylvania railroad. Mr. Latrobe was for many years a resident of the city of Baltimore, and at one time was mayor of that city. Mr. Kirk, after selling to Barnes, removed to Pittsburgh, and after some years returned to Latrobe. It is said that for his residence lot then, he paid nearly as much as he had received from Barnes for his entire farm. Barnes donated to the Pennsylvania railroad three acres of land in the center of the town, upon which the company erected a large depot, a hotel and a warehouse. The building was in the Roman style of architecture, which, though it has since been removed from its original location, is yet a pretentious structure. Within four years after the town was laid out it had a population of between five and six hundred, an increase which in that day was considered phenomenal. The borough was incorporated by order of court on the 24th day of May, 1854. The first election was held at the house of Major David Williams, which at the present time is known as the "Parker House." This election took place June 10, 1854. John Parker was appointed by the court to give notice of the election, and Robert W. Baldridge was judge of the election.
The first manufacturing industry that came to Latrobe was the Pennsylvania Car Works, established there in 1852 by Oliver J. Barnes, the founder of the town. After operating them some six or eight years he sold out to S. H. and Reuben Baker, two brothers, who had come there from Chester county. They took charge of the old brick foundry and factory, and soon added to it several large buildings, and it made a great industry for the infant town. They were also engaged extensively in the lumber business in Indiana County and in Ligonier valley, as well as in Virginia, and in a business way may be considered among the makers of Latrobe. Nearly all of their product was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.
Another early industry was the paper business, which was established in 1865 by Bierer, Watt & Co. They subsequently sold the business to Christy & Co., who in the fall of 1871 sold out to Metsgar Bros. & Co., and this in 1870 was absorbed by James Peters & Co., who have practically continued the business since then. It has increased so greatly that in the last five years they have outgrown the borough of Latrobe, and have moved about three miles east, near Kingston House, where they erected one of the largest paper plants in our state. They also own extensive coal fields in Ligonier valley, from which they mine their own coal and considerable for outside markets.
The Presbyterian Church of Latrobe was established March 1, 1869, with one hundred and ten members. The house of worship had been erected some years previous, the charge being attached to Unity Church, which was situated about two miles from Latrobe. Rev. N. H. Gillett, pastor of the Unity Church had preached to the Latrobe people as a supply. Rev. S. M. Davis was, properly speaking, the first pastor in the church at Latrobe. In 1891 they built their present fine church edifice. Their pastor is Rev. Ebenezer Fleck.
The Catholic Church in Latrobe was dedicated January 18, 1857, its first pastor being Rev. J. Kearney. Previous to this the Catholics were supplied by the pastors from St. Vincent's, which is but a short distance west of Latrobe. It is now a very strong church, and being under the wing of the great monastery and abbey, it has surpassed all other religious denominations in Latrobe in membership and influence. St. John's (Polish) Church was built in 1891. It is a fine brick edifice. Fathers McCullough and Powlowski are the pastors.
The Reformed Church was established in Latrobe in 1855, though it was then connected with the Youngstown congregation. In 1859 they began to hold regular services there, being ministered to mostly by Rev. C. C. Russell. At that time they used the Lutheran Church building until their new edifice could be completed. Rev. Russell retired from the pastorate in 1864, and Rev. E. D. Shoemaker took his place. He retired in 1867 and was followed by H. F. Kenner. On a lot of ground on East Main street, purchased for five hundred dollars, they erected a church in 1868. For some years they were connected with Pleasant Unity, Youngstown and Ligonier. Their present pastor is Rev. C. M. Hartzell.
The Lutheran Church was organized in Latrobe in 1855, the first pastor being Rev. Augustus Robb. He was followed by Revs. Saam, Bosener, Focht, Bochtel, Beeber, J. H. Smith and A. D. Potts. Their present pastor is Rev. G. N. Dietz. The Evangelical Lutheran Church began holding services there in 1860. Rev. I. O. P. Baker ministered to them then, but not regularly. He was followed by Rev. Mechling in '62 or '63, and was succeeded by Daniel Worley, who preached at Ligonier, Latrobe and Derry until 1865. It is now called Trinity Lutheran Church, and was remodeled in 1897. The present pastor is J. K. Wismer.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in Latrobe in 1856, and the same year they built a very respectable brick church for that day. The first pastors were Revs. McCarty and Bracken. The congregation began with fifteen members, and at first worshipped in the schoolhouse. In 1886 they purchased a new lot and built a new and very handsome church, being one of the best in Westmoreland county. The present pastor is Rev. R. C. Wolf, and the congregation is one of the largest in Latrobe.
The United Brethren congregation was early established in Latrobe, and is now one of the leading powers in the church work of the place. In 1902 they built a very fine stone church and parsonage under one roof. It is situated on Ligonier street, and is one of the best buildings in the county. The United Presbyterian and Protestant Episcopal churches have also congregations in Latrobe.
In the last ten years Latrobe has increased very rapidly in population, and has also multiplied its industries. The most important of the latter is the Latrobe steel works. Their large plant is situated in the eastern part of Latrobe. The works are owned mainly by Philadelphians, and are operated independent of the steel combination companies. They have several large buildings and are now (1905) making extensive enlargements of their plant. The town has two large flouring mills, the Gregory furnaces, two planing mills, the Latrobe foundry and machine shops, the latter an extensive plant in West Latrobe; the Latrobe brick works, two large breweries, and the Loyalhanna distillery. The town is also a great coal center, but that industry is considered elsewhere in this work. The borough is well supplied with natural gas.
There are three school buildings, one a frame structure built in 1882, and the others of brick, built in 1893 and 1902. These three buildings contain thirty rooms and the enrollment for 1905 was 872.
An electric street railway connects Latrobe with Youngstown and the coal works beyond, and also with Derry, five miles to the east. The newspapers of the borough are the Bulletin, established 1902, the Daily Advance, established 1903, and the Weekly Advance, established in 1873. The banks are the Citizens' National, organized in 1888, with a capital of $50,000; First National, organized in 1888, with a capital of $100,000; and the People's National organized in 1901, with a capital of $100,000.
The population in 1905 may be fairly estimated at 6,000. It has twenty four schools, with 872 pupils enrolled.
One of the oldest boroughs in the county is the borough of New Alexandria, which was incorporated by an Act of Assembly passed on the 10th of April, 1834, incorporating with it also the borough of Ligonier. New Alexandria, which had formerly been known as Denniston's Town, never increased greatly in population, though lately the opening up of some coal fields near by has awakened it from the lethargy which overcame it in former days. Its chief feature in the past has been the high standing and religious character of its citizens, and the interest which they always take in historical incidents, in which their community abounded. It has two schools, with 109 pupils enrolled.
Source: Pages 554-560, History of Westmoreland County, Volume 1, Pennsylvania by John N. Boucher, New York, the Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2000 by Mary Russell for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Mary Russell for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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