Villages and Population Centers
Upper Burrell Township
Westmoreland County Pennsylvania

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Centennial Booklet 1879-1979
transcribed by Marilyn Blair,


Although Upper Burrell Township has remained a rural community, ther have been four small population centers emerge over the years; three of these had rural post offices in years gone by and were recognized on the maps of Westmoreland county.

McLaughlinstown and the surrounding area, later known as McLaughlinsville, then Merwin until 1973, when it was renamed Alcoa Center, has long been a site of activity and interest. One of the earliest settlements in Upper Burrell, this vicinity witnessed Indian attacks, prosperous farming, the emergence of a thriving village, and finally the development of a modern research center.

Even before the development of the village, however, there was a great deal of activity at this crossroads. Although it is not situated on one of the well known Indian paths, such as the one along nearby Pucketos Creek, it was the junction of vital roads linking the frontier places of refuge at Fort Hand, Fort Crawford and Reed's Station during the years of the Revolutionary War. Captain Samuel Miller was close to the crossroads when his detachment was ambushed by Indians. This story is told in a letter August 1, 1778 , from Thomas Scott to T Matlack: 

"... The Indians have made several breaches on the inhabitants of late in different parts of this county. Captain Miller of the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment, wit a party of nine men, chiefly continental soldiers, were bringing grain from the neighborhood to a fort called Fort Hand, about 14 miles north of Hanna's Town, on the seventh of last month, and on their return were surprised by a party of Indians who lay in wait for them and killed the Captain and seven others..."

According to an accout by Gresham, the names of two of the others were Wilson and Bennett, and the eight casualties were buried at the site. This ocurrence was on the northeast corner of the patent acquired a few years later by John Anderson. the information in this paragraph was supplied by Mrs Anderson's great great great grandson, Tom Yetter, who has lived most of his life in the vicinity and now owns a piece of the original patent located at the top of Hunter Hill Road. The road was named after Tom's grandfather, Robert Hunter, who once owned a 130 acre farm in that area.

Some time prior to the 1798 tax assessment of the properties in this area, the William McLaughlin family became situated at the crossroads. the tax record for that year showed that he had a weaver's shop and a smith shop , and a 250 acre farm just adjacent to the Robert Wiley farm. He must have had a fair sized house too, because according to the 1790 US cenus, he had a wife, four sons, (one over 15 yrs), and four daughters. Presumably this is the same William McLaughlin who lived in the McKibben caben adjacent to Fort Hand when the Indians in April 1779, made a strong attack on the fort and burned the cabin. He may have relocated in Upper Burrell around that time, because in the preceding year (Feb 26,1778), he had obtained a warrant for the 407 acre tract for which he eventually received a patent on Feb 28,1828. (Patent Book H , Vol 22, p. 179)

We could find very little additional information about the activities of the McLaughlin family in those times. From other community history books we note that one of the first houses in Apollo was built in 1820, by an Isaac McLaughlin, who became postmaster when the first post office in Washington Township was established at North Washington, in 1827. The Census of 1790 also lists a Samuel McLaughlin family of nine. Thus, it is not surprising that in later years the McLaughlin name shows up in many places.

William McLaughlin died June 6, 1829, aged 88, and was buried in the cemetery at the Poke Run Presbyterian Church beside his wife Elizabeth. Because there was no will, his land was divided among seven children: Isaac, James, Matthew, William, Elizabeth (Means), Esther (Boner), and Nancy (Lyon). James negotiated a deed of partition with some of the heirs Feb 26,1835, Deed Book Vol 21, p444, by which he acquired a one hundred forty five acre tract that included the crossroads, known at that time as McLaughlinstown. He laid out a plan of lots at the crossroads, and sold nineteen lots and parcels in the years 1842 to 1850. A lot 4 perches by 8 perches (66' x 132'), sold for $26! Early deeds indicated that the plan was laid out for the beginning of a town with alleys behind the lots and one unnamed cross-street. He renamed the village McLaughlinsville, and the five intersecting roads were given names according to places which they would take you.

James McLaughlin died in 1855, and the real estate 'boom' was over. Only a few homes were built in the village, but people continued to come into the area, and by the year 1879, there were 175 inhabitants. McLaughlinsville then boasted a blacksmith shop, store, and a post office, a Methodist Episcopal Church, and two doctors. After a few years, a school house was built. However, McLaughlinsville never did develop into the town envisioned by James McLaughlin.

The small building lots changed hands a number of times, and eventually were recombined into farms, as shown in the 1911 map.

Lot No. 1, which was purchased in 1842 for $40 by Rudolph and Mary Weister, had five other owners before being purchased in 1874 by Philip and Mary Love for $400. The Loves lived there and operated a blacksmith shop for many years, and then sold the property in 1911 to William and Julia Swank for $625.

Bill Swank operated the blacksmith shop until his death in 1948, after which his son-in-law George Lange kept the shop going on a part time basis until the property was purchased by Alcoa in 1957.

Some time around 1880, the village became known as Merwin, but the origin of the new name is a mystery. It can be speculated that it was changed at the request of the US Postal Service to avoid duplication of names of post offices in Pennsylvania. The name Merwin may have been selected by a process similar to that of Drennen, but a considerable amount of searching has not turned up any association of this area or the residents with the name Merwin.

Merwin remained predominantly a farming community with very little change for many years. The church and the shops and the school gradually disappeared, and by 1960 there was not much left of the village. Residents of the area became excited in the 1940s by the news that the Westmoreland County Airport Authority had purchased 335 acres of land lying between the Merwin crossroads and the new Elementary School. This area was chosen by the Authority because it could provide convenient air service to the northern end of Westmoreland County. Five municipalities in the immediate vicinity became members of the Authority, and plans for an airport were drafted by a consulting engineering firm. Then after several years, the plans were dropped as the project turned out to be not economically feasible at the time.

In the late 1950s, rumors again buzzed as residents questioned each other about the mysterious agencies that were picking up options on various properties in that area. Nobody knew who was behind the quiet real estate activity until plans for the new Alcoa Technical Center were announced in 1959. Ground was broken in 1962 on the site previously considered for the airport. 

Today there is no trace of the village that once existed at this crossroads, as most of the old buildings were torn down after Alcoa acquired the property. A number of other dwellings in the area are being maintained as rental housing. Even the crossroads has changed, as the Markle Road was re-routed around the Alcoa Laboratories. The one remaining building at the old intersection was formerly the site of Farneth's Tavern. Only one Landmark Home remains in this district.

Contributed by Marilyn Blair for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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