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Connellsville is a city in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, USA, 57 miles (92 km) southeast of Pittsburgh on the Youghiogheny River, a tributary of the Monongahela River. Connellsville was officially founded as a township in 1793, then as a borough on 1 March 1806 by Zachariah Connell, a militia captain during the American Revolution. In February 1909, balloting in New Haven and Connellsville resulted in these two boroughs joining and thus Connellsville became the first city in Fayette County, on 12 May 1911.
Due to the city's location in the center of the Connellsville coalfield, coal mining, coke production, and other accompanying industries became the major sources of employment and revenue during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Connellsville became known at the "Coke1 Capital of the World" due to the amount and quality of coke produced in the city's many beehive ovens. During this time, Connellsville had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States.
1 "Coke" is the solid residue of impure carbon obtained from bituminous coal and other carbonaceous materials after removal of volatile material by destructive distillation in a coke oven. It is used as a fuel and in making steel.
Centennial History of the Borough of Connellsville, 1906, J. C. McClenathan
~ History ~
On their way to confront the French at Fort Duquesne, British forces under General Braddock, crossed the Youghiogheny River in 1755 at the present site of Connellsville, which at the time was known as "Stewart's Crossing" (pictured) after early pioneer, William Stewart. During the war, Colonel William Crawford of Virginia, saw the lands of southwestern Pennsylvania for the first time. After the conflict was resolved, Crawford returned with his brother to the shores of the Youghiogheny River, surveying a site on its west bank.
Crawford was an acquaintance of George Washington, who had taught him how to survey land when they were both starting their careers; Crawford would later survey a number of large tracts in western Pennsylvania for Washington and he also pursued the fur trade. The Colonel constructed a modest cabin on the river bank and soon moved his family there. Crawford served in the Revolutionary War until retiring in 1781. A year later he was enticed to undertake a campaign against American Indian groups in Ohio, where he was killed.
Zachariah Connell, also from Virginia, arrived in the area in the early 1770s and soon married the daughter of Colonel Crawford. Like his father-in-law, he was a surveyor and had worked in that capacity and as a land agent for the colonial governors of Virginia and Maryland. Connell recognized that at high flow the Youghiogheny River was deep enough to accommodate flat-bottom boats or rafts, which settlers heading west could build and float down the watercourse to the Monongahela and finally to the Ohio River. In 1793 he chartered a town and plotted land (pictured) on the east side of the river for a settlement named after himself—Connellsville. In the charter, he gave residents free access to a local quarry, coal mine, and springs and donated land for public buildings. Connell would go on to build the first toll-bridge across the river. He is buried in the Connell cemetery (pictured).
As in many frontier towns, saw and grist mills were important early industries in Connellsville, and in the first few decades, brick factories, a wagon manufacturer, and other businesses opened. The town grew, but it was not until the successful production of coke in the 1830s that the true values of the town's location and natural resources were made evident. Interestingly, the first coke oven—noted for its beehive-like form—was built close to the former home of Connell, who had died in 1813. Its designer was a gentleman from Durham, England, who was responsible for efficient coke production, and subsequently fueled the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain.
By the end of the century, the coke-region stretched for 20 miles in every direction with Connellsville as its hub (pictured).
Connellsville enjoys a singular distinction. It is the first city of Fayette County. Impetus to its expansion in 1909 when, at a special election, consolidation of the boroughs of Connellsville and New Haven was overwhelmingly approved. J. Lewis Evans became the first burgess of "Greater Connellsville" and on 12 May 1911, during the administration of Governor John K. Tener, Connellsville officially became a third class city - the first in Fayette County.
The industry peaked around 1910, when the region boasted of 40,000 coke ovens (pictured). The Connellsville coke industry produced 60 percent of the nation's coke and the product was shipped around the world. Henry Clay Frick owned about half of the coke ovens; in partnership with Andrew Carnegie they dominated the steel industry from start to finish and became some of the most powerful businessmen in the United States. The importance of coke to the economy was apparent in 1906 when the town celebrated the centennial of its designation as a borough.
To mark the occasion, the Frick Coke Company erected a giant $1,000 coal and coke arch that spanned a downtown street (pictured) showing streetcar tracks running beneath it.
The Youghiogheny river acted as a natural highway to ship the coke to downriver ports and iron and steel centers such as Pittsburgh and even Cincinnati. Pictured is the Steamer B.F. Fairless, built in 1927, pushing barges on the "Yough" river.
However, in time, coke producers and others in the steel making industry saw the need for a faster method of transport that could carry larger loads. Therefore, many coke producers and others in the steel making industry were willing to invest in the railroads to fulfill this need for a faster method of transporting their products.
Much of the railroad building effort in Pennsylvania was devoted to connecting the two major cities on opposite ends of the state—Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—which was accomplished in December 1852 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. As this road began to ship western goods to the cities of the east, new lines were planned and built, including the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad (P&C). Incorporated in 1837, the rails connected Connellsville and West Newton by 1855, but the final link between Port Perry and Pittsburgh was not made until 1861. The Connellsville Borough voted $100,000 in aid to the railroad. Two decades later, the P&C came under the control of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, allowing that company access into Pittsburgh.
The last major line to enter the city—the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie (P&LE)—used the left bank of the river rather than the right, which was crowded with B&O facilities. The PRR line crossed the river and the town, but its station was on the right bank. The P&LE served the steel industry and was affectionately known as the "Little Giant;" although small, it moved enormous amounts of freight—coal, coke, iron ore, limestone, steel—and operated a passenger service. In 1884, it gained a lease on the Pittsburgh, McKeesport, and Youghiogheny Railroad between Pittsburgh/Connellsville; in 1912 it connected with the Western Maryland Railroad, allowing service to points east of the Appalachians. The two companies built a union depot in Connellsville which still stands (pictured) and soon after, the P&LE would be controlled by the New York Central network.
With three major railroads lining the river, Connellsville was a busy hub that included rail yards, shops, a roundhouse, bridges across the Youghiogheny, and of course various passenger stations. Little is known about the old PRR station, and only a few images remain showing a bustling scene and a long canopy extending down the side of the tracks near the intersection of N. Pittsburgh Street and Grape Alley. By the mid-20th century, the station was torn down, the tracks removed, and the bridge across the Youghiogheny dismantled. During the 1906 Centennial celebrations, a small exhibition of early pioneer memorabilia was assembled in the PRR station, and "visited by thousands of people."
During two years of World War II—1944 to 1946—the B&O station hosted a canteen (pictured) run by 800 women volunteers who provided drinks, small food items, and conversation to 600,000 members of the armed forces who were on troop trains crossing the country. That trip that could take five to seven days since the rails were congested due to wartime activity. Midway between B&O mainline division points at Pittsburgh and Cumberland, trains stopped at Connellsville to change crews or engines, and therefore paused in town for at least a few minutes. The volunteers kept the canteen staffed at all hours, ready to dispense snacks and comfort.
Connellsville was the repair center for the Pittsburgh Division of the B&O. The P&C constructed shops where cars were built and locomotives were repaired and rebuilt (pictured). The B&O yard contained a facility where the railroad could produce the coke its purposes. In South Connellsville, the railroad had a stockyard with 100 pens for cattle, sheep and pigs. It closed in 1967 when refrigerated cars carried prepared meat products from the Midwest to eastern markets. Other independently owned shops made parts for cars and locomotives located in Connellsville, to take advantage of the rail lines. The old B&O rail yard is still used by CSX Transportation.
As the coke industry declined after 1910, so too did the fortunes of Connellsville, but recently the city has begun to reposition itself to take advantage of its prime location on the Great Allegheny Passage, a hiker-biker trail that connects Pittsburgh with Washington, D.C., via the C&O Canal National Historic Park at Cumberland, Md. The trail follows the path of the old P&LE and Western Maryland Railroad tracks that were removed in the early 1980s. Connellsville is unique in that the trail actually runs right through town on Third Street.
Nearby Connellsville is the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport (pictured, ICAO: KVVS, FAA LID: VVS), that was used during World War II by the United States Army Air Force Air Technical Service Command as a sub-depot of the Middletown Air Depot, near Harrisburg. It also served as the site of a Taylorcraft airplane maintenance facility where Taylorcraft airplanes were built and/or repaired in the late 1940s and 1950s.
In the 1950s, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Reserve had a training center on the airport and the two story brick building remains with a gymnasium, a weapons range, locker rooms and maintenance building. Today, the airport is a public-use airport located four nautical miles (7 km) southwest of Connellsville. It serves general aviation community of the south-eastern segment of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, but with no scheduled commercial airline service.
Connellsville city leaders have undertaken an economic development and urban design initiative that would encourage trail users to stay in town or browse its collection of stores. Plans include a river overlook on the west bank next to the W. Crawford Street Bridge, and a new plaza that will better connect the new Amtrak shelter building with downtown Connellsville. Infill development to include shops and residential units would help grow the waterfront on the east side of the river. Town leaders believe that cyclists could take Amtrak to and from Connellsville and then ride the trail towards Pittsburgh or Cumberland. The plans also call for restrooms and other amenities for bikers near the Amtrak station that will encourage visitors to linger in town. Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station, which is served by two daily trains.
Today, Connellsville has about 7,637 inhabitants (2010) and is currently trying to revitalize itself. The Chamber of Commerce and a Renaissance organization are also active studying ways to improve the town and environs, for example, the restoration of the Aahron Building (pictured, before restoration). This building was once the best furniture store in the area, built and owned by Israel AAHRON, a Jewish merchant.
One constant has always been the resilience of all of Connellsville's citizens.
Connellsville Historical Society
First City of Fayette County - W. L. Lewis - 1 Jun 1956
Library of Congress
United States Geological Survey
~ Early Jewish Settlers ~
Around 1859, the first Jews settled in Connellsville and among the first families were the GOLDSMITHS, who always took a prominent part in the development and promotion of Jewish life and Jewish interest in the city. There is a record of another Jewish man, Gustav BOASCH (or BASCK), prior to 1859, but there is no authentic information existent about him or any other Jews who may have live here at the same time. In 1919, there were 75 Jewish families in the city.
It is worth contemplating what other group of people—numbering 75 families—would do in a city of 18,000 population in 1919. We marvel at the impression, and the influence, a handful of our people made upon a community, even though they were in the minority. They were able to make their power felt through the mind and education, which has always been their forte, but also this combination made other groups successful in Connellsville society at large. In every phase of activity in which our coreligionists have engaged, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, whether in business or civic life, that direction was more than a credible one to our brethren in the Coke region. People and their faith, maintain the excellent records as citizens of the United States of America.
There are still a few Jews living in Connellsville today (2015).
Following are a few notable citizens born, or with a home of record, in Connellsville:
Robert Michael Bailor, (b. Connellsville, 10 July 1951), is a former Major League Baseball player best known for being the first player selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1976 Major League Baseball expansion draft. He played with the Connellsville American Legion team, and there he caught the eye of Baltimore Orioles scout, Jocko Collins. After graduation in 1969, he signed with the Bluefield Orioles (1969), then moved to Aberdeen Pheasants (1971), Baltimore Orioles (1975) and the Toronto Blue Jays (1978). He was twice was named the "Blue Jays Player of the Year." In 1983, he began as the Mets' starting shortstop, and in December 1983, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in 1986, was released to become a player-coach. A year later, he accepted a position with the Florida State League's Dunedin Blue Jays, later managing Syracuse (1988-1991), and was named "International League Manager of the Year." Bailor served as a coach with the Toronto Blue Jays (1992-1995).
Harold Betters (b. Connellsville; 21 March 1928), is a jazz trombone player who received music education at Ithaca College for two years, and then at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. A prominent jazz musician in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Betters released nine LPs on Gateway Records, and three LPs for Reprise. In the 1950s he made a tour with the Ray Charles big band, playing at the Apollo Theater. Then he led his own quartet which included pianist John Thomas and Jerry Betters on drums. Betters, plays in the style of Trummy Young and Bennie Green. He performed at The Encore in Shadyside for so many years, known as "The House that Betters Built." His appearances at renowned nightspots are too numerous to mention, but a few include Pittsburgh's Holiday House, Shaker Heights Virginian, Cleveland's Theatrical Grill, And The Cabana Club's Nero's Nook In Palo Alto, California.
Scott Blasey (b. Connellsville, 1964),
graduated from Connellsville Area Senior High School in 1982, and graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in 1987. There, he met and played with the "The Administration," later names the "the Clarks," releasing several hits. In 1995, his first solo album released, "Don't Try This at Home." In 1999, his second solo album, "Shine," was released. In 2000, he appeared on Donnie Iris and the Cruisers' ninth studio album, Together Alone, on which he sang guest vocals on "Amazing Grace." Over the 2000s, he recorded four studio albums with the Clarks: Let it Go (2000), Another Happy Ending (2002), Fast Moving Cars (2004), and Restless Days (2009). In 2007, he released his third album, "Travelin" with much of lyrical content is based around his home life, move from Pittsburgh to Texas, and it includes a song about his daughter, Sofia.
William Andrews Clark, Sr. (b. Connellsville, 8 January 1839), was a politician and entrepreneur, involved with mining, banking, and railroads. He moved with his family to Iowa in 1856 where he taught school and studied law at Iowa Wesleyan College. After working in quartz mines in Colorado, in 1863, Clark made his way to Montana to find his fortune in the gold rush. He soon changed careers again and became a banker in Deer Lodge, Montana. He repossessed mining properties when owners defaulted on their loans, placing him in the mining industry. He made a fortune with small smelters, electric power companies, newspapers, railroads and other businesses, becoming known as one of three "Copper Kings" of Butte, Montana, along with Marcus Daly and F. Augustus Heinze. Between 1884 and 1888, Clark constructed a 34-room, Tiffany-decorated, multimillion dollar home in Butte, Montana, incorporating the most modern inventions available. This home is now the Copper King Mansion bed-and-breakfast and museum. He died on 2 March 1925.
Charles Eugene "Gene" Hasson (b. Connellsville, 20 July 1915), was a Major League Baseball infielder from 1937-1938 for the Philadelphia Athletics.
Gene, a First Baseman, is best known for hitting a home run in his first Major League at-bat. During his baseball career, he played baseball on several minor league teams.
From 1937-1938, he played for the Philadelphia Athletics major league team. Later on, he also coached minor league teams. He died on 30 July 2003, in Pomona, CA at age 88.
John Christopher Lujack, Jr. (b. Connellsville, 4 January 1925), is a former football quarterback and 1947 Heisman Trophy winner. He is currently the oldest living Heisman Trophy winner. He was on the Connellsville High School football team from 1939 to 1941, and was also senior class president and valedictorian. He lettered in four sports; baseball, football, basketball, and track, in high school. His 1941 high school team, named the Cokers for workers in the coal milling industry who feed the ovens, went 8-0-1, but did not get to play for the WPIAL league championship because their last game, with Brownsville, ended in a 13-13 tie. Next he played for the University of Notre Dame, and then professionally, for the Chicago Bears. Lujack was the first of several successful quarterbacks who hailed from Western Pennsylvania. Others include Pro Football Hall of Fame members Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana and George Blanda.
Edwin Stanton Porter (b. Connellsville, 21 April 1870), was an early film pioneer, most famous as a director with Edison Manufacturing Company. Of over 250 films created by Porter, the most important films include Life of an American Fireman (1903) and The Great Train Robbery (1903). After attending public schools in Connellsville and Pittsburgh, Porter worked, among other odd jobs, as an exhibition skater, a sign painter, and a telegraph operator. He developed an interest in electricity at a young age, and shared a patent at age 21 for a lamp regulator. Porter entered motion picture work in 1896, the first year movies were commercially projected on large screens in the United States. Briefly employed in New York City by Raff & Gammon, agents films and viewing equipment made by Thomas Edison, and then left to become a touring projectionist with a competing machine, Kuhn & Webster's Projectorscope. He traveled through the West Indies and South America, showing films at fairgrounds and in open fields, and later made a second tour through Canada and the United States. He died on 30 April 1941.
John Youie Woodruff (b. Connellsville, 5 July 1915), was an athlete and winner of the 800 meters at the 1936 Summer Olympics. "Long" John Woodruff was only a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in 1936 when he placed second at the National AAU meet and first at the Olympic Trials (in the heat 1:49,9; WR 1:49,8), earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Woodruff was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He graduated in graduated in 1939.
Despite his inexperience, he was the favorite in the Olympic 800 meter run, and he did not disappoint. In one of the most exciting races in Olympic history, Woodruff became boxed in by other runners and was forced to stop running. He then came from behind to win the Gold Medal in 1:52.9. The triumphs of Woodruff and teammate Jesse Owens—both African American—were an actual and symbolic rebuke of the racial beliefs and policies of Nazi Germany. In addition to his gold medal, the he received an oak tree from the famous Black Forest—today it still stands tall by the Connellsville football stadium. He died on 30 October 2007 in Fountain Hills, AZ, age 92.
Bob Bailor - markdeutsch39.blogspot.com
Harold Betters - haroldbetters.com
Scott Blasey - Facebook
William A. Clark - Wikipedia
Charles E. Gene Hasson - blog.imagekind.com
Johnny Lujack - Wikipedia
Edwin S. Porter - Wikipedia
John Woodruff - post-gazette.com
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