a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Civil War road show on the go

The Pennsylvania Civil War Road Show appears in this cool video on its first stop at Sen. John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. The cool museum and whatever comes with it will be stopping in each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties over the next four years, the duration of the war among the states. The video is courtesy of The Borden Agency. Make sure to check the traveling museum out when it pulls in near you. Click here to read my review on the Pittsburgh tour.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Indians own naming rights to Mon River

The Monongahela River, which traces its name to a Delaware tribe, travels past Pittsburgh and the city's South Side.  (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge,

FREDERICKTOWN, Pa. - Judging from the massive spring landslide that buried a road along the Monongahela River near Fredericktown, the Indians who once roamed the region were onto something when they called it the "river with falling-in banks."

No one knows for sure, though, which European settler stood along its banks and proclaimed it should be named the Monongahela, said historian John K. Folmar of nearby California.

"It was just used by the first white guys who heard them talking. There was no unification as to how to spell it," said Folmar, a retired history professor at California University of Pennsylvania.

Journalists who covered the May 13 landslide at a steep cliff near the river that put 1,700 tons of rock, mud and debris on Route 88 were reminded of what they thought was a legend about the naming of the river.

But it turns out to be a true story about Indians using the word to describe a river with unstable banks, according to Folmar's research.

There is a mention in the 1937 book, "The Monongahela: The River and its Region" by Richard T. Wiley about a Moravian missionary named John Heckewelder hearing the word while laboring among the Delawares, Folmar said. Heckewelder collected in the 1760s the names the Delawares had given to Pennsylvania's rivers, and spelled Monongahela Menaungehilla.

It wasn't until the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 26, 1786, published a story about the naming rights to the river that a reputable source linked the name to the American Indians, Folmar said.

That story indicated the word had signified in some of the Indian languages a river with "falling-in banks," or a stream with collapsing or mouldering banks, Folmar said.

There were still as many as 20 different spellings for the river name, and the county around Morgantown, W.Va., calls itself Monongalia to this day.

Of course the river didn't look as it does today, either, before it was transformed in the 20th century into a network of locks and dams with pools maintaining a navigation depth of at least 9 feet. People could walk across the Mon during drought season, including one in the 1860s when that was possible to do that between Pittsburgh and its South Side, Folmar said.

And, he said, there were no tribes native to Southwestern Pennsylvania living in the area when the European settlers began to arrive in the 1700s. It remains a great mystery as to why the native mound builders disappeared, leaving behind vast archaeological evidence of their primitive settlements, Folmar said.

"It would have been a different history had there been Indians in the valley when the white folk arrived here," Folmar said.

Those tribes had been gone for hundreds of years. The natives who did show up had moved in from the West to take part in frontier battles with the French as the New World was expanding, Folmar said.

He then joked that the river's name would be appropriate to describe the blight the Mon Valley has experienced in the decades since the steel industry collapsed in the 1980s.

"The valley is crumbling in more ways than one," he said.

(This story first appeared in the Observer-Reporter May 23, 2011)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A hot-selling poor man's sandwich

The tasty fried bologna sandwich at Elrama Tavern. (Scott Beveridge photo)

At some point when I was a kid an adult suggested we fry bologna for sandwiches when there wasn't much else in the refrigerator at home.

It was probably one of those days when my dad was walking the picket line during labor problems at his Monessen, Pa., steel mill and the strike pay wasn't enough to meet the bills.

I remember feeling poor until getting a taste of that cheap sausage and lard lunchmeat blackened in butter in a cast iron skillet and thinking it was delicious. It soon became a staple in our house even when times were good and until I grew up and eventually quit buying processed meats.

So it came to my surprise tonight when I discovered a fried bologna - pronounced baloney - sandwich on the menu at a tavern along the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh.

Elrama Tavern on Route 837 in Elrama churches up its version of this Great Depression-era delicacy by topping it with hot pepper cheese between two slices of Texas toast. The spicy cheese was an excellent compliment this great sandwich at the business in Washington County.

"We sell a lot of them," my server said, seeming surprised that I thought it odd that any restaurant would even have such an item on its menu.

The place with a mostly rustic decor around a 1930s Art Deco bar was filled with customers enjoying a Tuesday Margarita party. The staff wore matching blue floral Hawaiian print blouses, and one server's outfit was offset by a bright yellow grass skirt. A guitar playing man was singing beach songs on the back deck on an otherwise sleepy night in this coal patch.

My bill came to cheap $10.07 for a meal that included French fries and two large drafts of Yuengling. Now that was a throw back price to the days when cooks on a tight budget could make anything taste great.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This pen eases my guilt

This is a confession that troubles the environment and me: I drink a lot of water sold in plastic bottles.

Water is the only liquid that satisfies my thirst and I don't like contributing to the flow of new plastic into landfills or recycling bins. But I do. Every day.

Well the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Pilot Corporation of America has come up with a pen that eases my guilt over buying so many of those bottles of water.

It has introduced the world's first ink pen manufactured from recycled plastic bottles. Its B2p gel roller is cool because its body even looks a bit like a tiny bottle of water. And the pens are refillable, which makes me even happier.

In my job as a reporter I use/lose a lot of pens.

I bought mine yesterday at a Rite Aid in Monongahela, Pa. The pens also can be purchased at Staples, Walgreens, Amazon, Walmart and Office Depot and starting next month, Target, the company tells me today in a Tweet.

(This blog does not do paid product endorsements)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A dog's life on a 19th Century farm

A dog powered butter churn on the historic Manchester Farm near Avella, Pa. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Historic Farm is threatened by longwall mining

By Scott Beveridge

AVELLA – Dogs used to be good for something other than companionship or fetching the morning newspaper.

Those owned by 19th Century farmer Isaac Manchester earned their table scraps by churning butter while running on a spinning wheel contraption beside the summer kitchen.

“You just put some food in front of it, and …,” said Manchester’s great-great-great-great-great granddaughter Marcie Pagliarulo, who now owns the farm in Independence Township, Pa.

The churn, along with a treasure trove of antique household and farming artifacts, have survived here thanks to the preservation efforts of generations of Manchesters.

The property likely holds the only existing, intact records of two centuries of farm life in the United States, preservationists said today, when the Manchester farm has become threatened by industrial development.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation today placed the farm on its annual list of America’s most endangered historic places because a coal operator has plans to open a longwall mine in the area. The method of deep mining proposed by Alliance Resource Partners of Tulsa, Okla., usually results in immediate subsidence damage to houses and private water supplies.

The trust is hoping pressure from its powerful influence will convince the company and Pennsylvania’s mining regulators to find alternatives to damaging the 400-acre farm.

“It’s a very important property for America as well as my family,” Pagliarulo said.

She has spent the past five years since she and her husband, Joe, bought the place cataloging thousands of artifacts stored in their stately Georgian manor house and in the farm’s outbuildings, which include a large barn, whisky distillery, tool shed and carriage house.

“I feel like I’ve gotten to know all of my ancestors,” she said.

Manchester was an English immigrant when he first settled in Newport, RI. He stopped en route to scout land in the Midwest at the Independence Township property when it was a frontier fort owned by Samuel Teeter. Upon his return in 1797 he decided to purchase the property on which he first built the distillery and then the brick house, beginning in 1805.

The Washington County farmhouse is unusual to southwestern Pennsylvania because it was constructed in a style common to Newport, complete with a East Coast widow’s walk on the roof. The barn, too, has details such as a large thrashing room common to New England.

“It’s like a time capsule,” Joe Pagliarulo said.

From today’s Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation pleaded with a coal operator Wednesday to mine in the room-and-pillar method to protect a more than 200-year-old Washington County farm from subsidence damage.
Walter Gallas, a regional director of the trust, also urged supporters to send letters to state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett asking them to take measures to ensure the Isaac Manchester Farm is not damaged by longwall mining.

UPDATE: The coal company announced June 17, 2011, it will not mine in the longwall method under the 400-acre farm, a new release indicated. Alliance Resource spokesman  Lee Landon said the company would mine in the conventional, or room-and-pillar approach, to remove the coal reserves it owns there.

(The newspaper has two other stories on the farm on its website)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Houston - we have a problem in national burger contest

The big, sloppy and tasty Vestaburger served at Rye's Bar and Grill in Centerville, Pa., (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

CENTERVILLE, Pa. – Houston may have the best burgers in the United States if you believe the readers of Travel + Leisure who responded to a recent survey conducted by the magazine.

They loved the Texas city’s penchant for serving triple-decker burgers and especially those made with a pound of beef at such places as Lankford Grocery and The Hubcab Grill.

Unfortunately Pittsburgh did not make T+L’s top ten burger joint list because its unlikely the magazine’s comfort foodie readers ever ventured into Southwestern Pennsylvania coal country to eat at Rye’s Bar and Restaurant.

That restaurant on a back road in Centerville has a sandwich named the Vestaburger, which is almost too big to handle and as sloppy as the muddy banks of the nearby Monongahela River. It’s named after a coal patch here where strong men once worked Vesta Coal Co. mine under the hills of the Mon Valley.

This burger reminds me of home because it tastes just like those my mom prepared in her black cast iron skillet using the cheapest and greasiest cuts of ground beef.

Rye’s tops this great sandwich with charbroiled bacon, cheese, sautéed green peppers, grilled onions and mushrooms, lettuce and tomato and a condiment concocted with the restaurant’s homemade spicy Italian salad dressing and mayonnaise.

Everything on the menu is homemade and served in big portions, a server says after I belly up the bar on a muggy spring evening in June. She points me in the direction of a sign advertising the hearty list of the day’s soups, which includes potato dumpling and the staple, French onion.

I notice another sign next to the front door that jokingly advertises “warm beer, cold food" as she returns to take my order for this coal town burger.

“You should see this place on (chicken) wing night. It’ll be packed,” she says.

The customers on this night mostly appear blue collar, judging by the conversations across the bar. However, the owners have installed a free, nonpassword protected wireless Internet signal for those customers who show up with laptop computers.

A guy is whining about cost cutting problems at a local coal mine. A middle aged man sitting on the next stool and wearing a scruffy beard and beer belly rambles about his distaste for lowlifes who receive government disability checks and use the money to purchase marijuana.

By dinnertime the restaurant in the gutted back room is filled with customers, mostly families.

A waitress scurries to serve them in this remote 1800s brick farmhouse, which has been painted blue/gray at 248 Old National Pike. The two-lane is part of the original 1806 National Road, the first interstate ever built by the federal government. This stretch of country road was first bypassed in the 1920s when the National Road was rerouted, modernized and renamed Route 40, and then even further obliterated after Interstate 70 came along.

Yes. Texas just might be too big to notice the finer things in "Little Washington County."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Union giant of the Civil War

A photo of a Civil War veteran known to some as the "Greene County Giant" is on display at Washington County Historical Society's LeMoyne House, a Pennsylvania group that has also claimed him as a local soldier.

By Scott Beveridge

WASHINGTON, Pa. – Civil War veteran William Patrick Bane was a man of great stature, so much so that he has been called the tallest Union soldier to have served in the Civil War.

But just how tall he stood has become a matter of debate, as has his place of residency.

The Washington County Historical Society boasts a photo of Bane with information stating he was 7 feet, 1 inch tall. An online genealogy link listed him as having stood an inch taller.

There also has been a long-standing disagreement as to whether he hailed from Washington County or its southern neighbor of Greene County, sources at the Washington group said.

Many folks over the years have referred to him as the "Greene County Giant." Meanwhile he was photographed, at left, in 1896 outside Sharp Store, a business in Washington, Pa.

Historians have agreed, however, that Bane served in the Ringgold Cavalry, a ragtag Civil War battalion of mostly Washington County farmers, whom kicked ass while protecting the Monongahela River Valley and Pittsburgh from Confederate raids.

Those who have kept the argument going might not have not turned to the pages of the 1914 book, “Elwood’s Stories of the Ringgold Cavalry, 1847-1865,” by Sgt. John W. Elwood of Coal Center, Pa.

The book, one of a few definitive histories of the cavalry, contained the lyrics of a song, “To the Ringgold Cavalry,” penned by May Grant Riggs, a relative of some of the Ringgold boys. It appeared to have solved part of the mystery.

It contained the following passage: “From Greene county then comes tall Pat Bane O’re seven feet and mighty strong.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Coal and a fancy automobile

Props to the Charleroi Area Historical Society for sending along these photos of my hometown of Webster, Pa.

Handwriting behind the one, atop, indicates it was taken by Mrs. A. C. Sarber, Webster, PA - in 1907, and those show are Al Sarber & Tom Giler, Alvin Wenzel & Veron Haywood and Leonard Pierce & Mike Martin.

This is what appears on the side of the other:  Pittsburgh Coal Co. Webster Works, Webster PA  7747. Written on the back:  Mrs. A. C. Sarber, Webster PA  - Equitable Mine. Taken in 1907 by Wm. Sarber.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Digging up clues about an early Monongahela River boatman

Jonathan Crise, 22, a California University of Pennsylvania senior from Perryopolis, Pa., sifts through soil looking for artifacts that might shed light on the social status of a riverboat captain who plied the Monongahela River in the 1800s. (Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter photo)

BROWNSVILLE, Pa. – Archaeologists sifting through the soil where a riverboat captain lived in the mid-1800s are looking for clues that might shed light on the class status of the first men who plied the Monongahela River.

They’re also helping Brownsville, Pa., scholar Marc Henshaw complete the research for his doctoral degree in a study of those who worked the river between the 1830s and early 1900s.

So far the volunteers have unearthed artifacts that mostly predate 1860, when Capt. James Gormley sold his house overlooking the river to a judge and relocated to Ohio.

That suggests the judge “just tore it down when he bought it,” said Henshaw, 35.

Another big find at the dig is a Sheffied folding knife handle made in England that leads Henshaw to conclude Gormley’s occupation made him a man of stature in the community.

“It is a pretty good indicator he was not just an average individual,” he said. Such a knife “would have been expensive to import.”

The house, though, must have been small with rooms just 12 feet wide, judging from the size of its foundation built right atop the ground with river rocks and without mortar.

“They didn’t build a builder’s trench,” Henshaw said. “It’s not a pretentious house. The location is pretentious because it’s downtown. He could walk to the wharf. It would have been expensive property. His boat’s more his home.”

Among the other artifacts found in the dig are glass and pottery shards. Henshaw boasted the other day on his Twitter feed workers had also unearthed an Indian bead at the site.

The Observer-Reporter carried a story about the project not long after it began in early May, and became delayed due to an especially wet spring.

Here is that story:

By Scott Beveridge, staff writer

BROWNSVILLE - Dee Dee Snook, shovel in hand, makes note of several tile shards unearthed by a small band of volunteer archaeologists at Brownsville property that once contained a riverboat captain's house in the mid-1800s.

The small white and faded-green sections of porcelain look similar to those that adorn any number of antique fireplaces in the Brownsville area, and were probably scattered here when the house next door was demolished, said Marc Henshaw, the leader of the dig.

"It's all hand excavation," said Snook, 36, a graduate student at nearby California University of Pennsylvania. "We're trying to find out a little more about Brownsville.

Led by the industrial archaeology research of Henshaw, the volunteers are working on a small overgrown lot once owned by Capt. James Gormley.

Not much is know about Gormley, other than he piloted the "Jesse R. Bell" and sold his two-story frame house in 1862 to a prominent judge before moving to Ohio, Henshaw, 35, said.

"The rest of that is a mystery," he said.

Those digging through the ground Gormley once owned have been looking for glass bottles, shards of china, marbles and any other artifacts the man's family might have discarded. The items should provide some clues as to how well men of that era who worked the rivers lived, compared to those in other occupations.

"It may tell us something about the social stratification," said Carl Maurer, 73, of Washington, a member of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology. "Believe it or not, we'd like to find (evidence of) the outhouse because of the things people threw down in them."

The property on a steep hillside along Bank Street and overlooking the Monongahela River would not be considered a desirable location today. It's just beyond the near-vacant downtown, across the street from a dilapidated clapboard house once used as a set for the 1984 movie "Maria's Lovers," starring Nastassja Kinski, John Savage and Robert Mitchum.

But in the 1850s it was the perfect place for someone of Gormley's stature to live.

"Everybody walked and his work was just down the street," said Henshaw, who lives in Brownsville.

Men like Gormley who traveled the rivers "were almost like celebrities," but they did not make a lot of money," Henshaw said. The captain lived in a frontier economy where wealth was accomplished through traded goods, rather than the estimated $400 he earned a year.

Henshaw is undertaking this project to complete his doctoral dissertation at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

For the most part, archaeological projects in Southwestern Pennsylvania have taken place on ancient Indian settlements, he said.

"Historical archaeology is a real boom around here, but no one is thinking to ask what was here and use it as a research tool," he said.

The project is expected to last a month, and public participation is welcomed.

"When you finish, you go away with this stuff with more questions," Maurer said.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The winning photographs

Well the judges have made their call and selected the winners, below, in the 7th Annual Friends of Citizens Library amateur photography contest in Washington, Pa. The entries, judged in four categories, will be on display through the end of June 2011 at the library at 55 S. College St., where visitors can vote for a People's Choice Award. (Click on each group of photos to see it in a larger format)



First Place:  Danielle Crooks, Nemacolin
Second Place:  Karly Yancosek, Washington
Third Place:  Danielle Crooks, Nemacolin


First place:  Amira Maroulis, Washington
Second Place:  Tammie Wallace, Washington
Third Place:  Debbie Griffin, Washington

Outdoor Scenes

First Place:  Jana R. Jirak, Triadelphia, W.Va.
Second Place:  Kanishka Ray, McDonald
Third Place:  Linda Wherry, Washington


First Place:  Julianna Ronto, Washington
Second Place:  Megan Pendleton, Washington
Third Place:  Nina Jacqueline Manderick, Washington