Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

Established by:
Colonel John Canon in 1789 and incorporated in 1802

40.2619° N / 80.1850° W

~ Introduction ~

( Click the arrow in the buttons below for pronunciation. )

Canonsburg   is a borough in Washington County, Pennsylvania, 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Pittsburgh.

~ Maps ~

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Map: Copyright ©2015 by Marshall J. KATZ

1789 Town Plan: Canonsburg, PA
1897 Map: Canonsburg, PA
Aerial View: Canonsburg, PA
Street Map: Canonsburg, PA
Township Map: Washington County, PA

~ History ~

Canonsburg was laid out by Colonel John Canon, in 1788, who for many years had been an employee of Gen. George Washington, collecting his rents. Gen. Washington had a good deal of properties in the vicinity of what is now Canonsburg, and principally in Cecil Township.

Colonel Canon, a common miller, purchased some land from the state of Virginia around Chartiers Creek, sometime before May 1780. The state had claimed what is now southwestern Pennsylvania in a dispute that would not finally be settled until later in the decade. In 1781, Pennsylvania carved Washington County out of Westmoreland County, and the county seat was established at Washington (PA). Col. Canon had five children, Abigail, William, Jane, Joshua, and John, Jr., by his first wife and three children, Samuel, Margaret, and Ann, by his second wife. He died on 6 November 1798.

On 22 February 1802, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas McKean signed an Act incorporating the Borough of Canonsburg, coincidentally on George Washington's Birthday. Canonsburg is the oldest incorporated municipality in the county. The town was on the stage road between Washington/Pittsburgh and Col. Canon's flour and saw mill (pictured) was at the foot of the Main street.

Early in its history, Canonsburg became a market town. A market house stood at the intersection of what we now know as Central Avenue and College Street. The main street, Central Avenue (known at various times as Market, Main, and Front Street), was lined with shops, taverns, and artisans' workshops.

An academy was founded in Canonsburg in 1791, and in 1802 it was incorporated as Jefferson College (pictured). By 1840, the college had become the economic base of the town and it was by far the largest college in the state and was one of the largest colleges in the country. In the decades before the Civil War, about ten percent of the college students were sons of Southern planters, who carried big knives and heavy wallets.

The Civil War, lack of alumni support, and ill-conceived scholarship schemes drove Jefferson and Washington Colleges to merge in 1865. For three years, the upper classes and the commencement activities were in Canonsburg, but in 1868 the college was united on the Washington campus.

In 1902, when Canonsburg celebrated its centennial, the borough was in a dynamic period. Industrial production was expanding, both in quantity and variety. Sewers, water and gas lines, electric and telephone wires were put in. A trolley line was constructed; first between Washington and Canonsburg, then to Pittsburgh. The town's dirt streets were paved, and new streets were constructed.

The first immigrants to be mentioned in print by the editor of the local newspaper were Italian men who were digging ditches for sewer pipe. New plants were built, and the ones that were here expanded. Manpower was needed, and very soon other accents were heard: Russian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Greek, Polish, Slovak, Yiddish and a host of others.

In 1927, when Canonsburg celebrated its 125th Anniversary, the town was thriving and stable. Much of the celebration was held in what would be developed as Canonsburg's Town Park. Within a few years it would have a large swimming pool. Construction of the pool was accomplished through a number of federal employment programs that provided jobs during the Depression of the 1930s. Some local money was spent, but tax collection by the borough and the school district was far below what was needed.

Even so, Canonsburg was not hit as hard as many towns. The largest plant in town, Standard Tinplate, and Continental Can Co. (pictured), which was adjacent, stayed in production.

Even during the Great Depression, tin cans were a necessity. Then, with the end of the depression and the outbreak of World War 2, shortages in raw materials closed the mill.

The process used at Standard Tinplate was outdated and inefficient.

Canonsburg's other plants quickly shifted to war production.

The Fort Pitt Bridge Works (pictured) broadened its range of products, though the production of bridges and girders for buildings continued. The Standard Tinplate plant was taken over by Alcoa to produce aircraft forgings. The old Canonsburg Iron and Steel Company rolling mill (commonly known as the Budke Works) had been closed, but it was renovated to produce 5-inch shells for the Navy. Just up Chartiers Creek, the plant that had been Standard Chemical when Madame Curie visited, Vitro Chemical Works, was engaged in secret work involving uranium for the Manhattan Project, research that would culminate in the production of the atomic bomb.

After the war, contracts for naval ordnance and aircraft forgings were canceled. It appeared there would be unemployment on a great scale in Canonsburg. As had happened before, beginning with the loss of the college in the 1860s, a committee was formed. In 1946, public-spirited citizens brought Pennsylvania Transformer Co. to Canonsburg from Pittsburgh's North Side. The Transformer used part of the space abandoned by Alcoa, and the following year, RCA also began operation in the mill buildings.

When Canonsburg celebrated its 150th Anniversary, the Sesquicentennial, in 1952, another longtime industrial operation, the Continental Can Company, had shut down the previous year.

By the following year, railroad passenger service and the trolley line were no more.

Changes came quickly in the years following the Sesquicentennial, both economic and social.

Pittsburgh had been a quick trip on the interurban trolley, usually called the streetcar or the railroad (pictured).

With the automobile, a preferred means of transportation, and the interstate highway system, the number of people using the trolleys dropped.

Malls sprang up in profusion. Residents no longer walked or took the City Loop to stores along Pike Street; they got in their cars and went to a mall. Saturday night shopping changed to Friday night in 1955, but gradually the crowds along the streets thinned and the sidewalks weren't crowded at all. For many years there had been two movie theaters and numerous bars along Pike Street. Television reduced the need for entertainment outside the home. The movie theaters are gone and the kinds of businesses in town have changed over the years. A store selling hats would be as out of place today as a computer business would have been in the 1930s. Dress shops and shoe stores have become antique shops. The largest employer in the county, Cooper Power Systems, formerly Pennsylvania Transformer and McGraw-Edison, shut down in 1994.

Canonsburg's newspaper, The Daily Notes (pictured), came off the press for the last time in 1980 after more than a century of informing and sometimes hectoring the residents. Tabloid size newspapers, The Canon being the most successful, was published until 1992. Without a newspaper, there has been no organ to proclaim how dynamic Canonsburg is. No longer is it a market town where farmers visited the stores on Saturday nights. Gone is the college town where boys built bonfires in the street to gain a glance from the young maidens of Olome Seminary. Only vestiges remain of the mill and mining town where men walked home covered with grease and grime.

Change is a part of Canonsburg's history and its future. The Bridge Works is gone, but Colonial Iron Works uses part of the old facility, as Pennsylvania Transformer Technology. Other businesses use parts of the old transformer plant. East Pike Street has been renovated and today, is not recognizable. Dilapidated buildings have been replaced by modern structures with open spaces and adequate parking. Even the creek has been scoured and straightened.

If anything, there is more citizen involvement today than before. The town's Fourth of July Committee meets year-round to put on activities and a parade (pictured) that has grown to be one of the largest in the state.

There is a historical society, formed in the 1960s, when the old college building known as the Chapel Gym was torn down.

In the 1990s, the Heritage Society was formed and erected a statue of Perry Como in front of the municipal building. New projects are in the works.

Today, Canonsburg has about 8,992 inhabitants (2010) and is currently trying to revitalize itself.

The Merchants and Professional Organization and the Chamber of Commerce are active, and a Renaissance organization is studying ways to improve the town and environs.

One constant has been the resilience Canonsburg's citizens—when a need is seen, people will form a committee and meet that need.

Sources (portions):
History of Washington County, Pennsylvania (By: E. R. Forrest - 1926)
Jefferson College Historical Society
Pa. Trolly Museum
The Pittsburgh Press
Wikimedia Commons

~ Early Jewish Settlers ~

The distinction of being the first five Jewish settlers of Canonsburg, a thriving and progressive community, are found in the 1900 Federal Census:
  1. Morris BERNSTEIN, who came to Canonsburg around 1890 (the exact date is unknown). He and his family first appear in records as an entry in the 1900 Federal Census. Morris and his wife, Julia, lived in what was then the Borough of South Canonsburg, a separate municipality. He was a clothier. The Stocking Directory of Washington County 1901-1902 lists his business as being on Central Avenue. By 1902 he was firmly established and erected a substantial building named, The Bernstein Building. It was located at 51 West Pike Street, was three stories high and was the first building in town to have a passenger elevator. The business, Bernstein's Department Store, sold men's women's, and children's clothes. He later move to Pittsburgh.

  2. Joseph AUERBACH, in his obituary in the Canonsburg Daily Notes—14 September 1942—if accurate—he may have predated Morris BERNSTEIN as the first Jew to settle in Canonsburg. The obituary reports, "He came to Canonsburg 49 years ago [1893] and founded the men's store which bore his name since long before the turn of the century." The business was at 58 West Pike Street where he and his wife, Fannie, also resided.

  3. David A. SKIRBLE lived on 31 W. Pike Street and started the D.A. Skirble & Co.

  4. Louis MARKOWITZ, and his wife Jesse (or Esse), lived on Ridge Avenue. Louis was a junk dealer. He is subsequently listed in the R.L. Polk & Co's Washington Directory, 1905-06 as living at 31 East College.

  5. Jacob MORRIS, his wife Julia and his brother-in-law, Louis CAHAN (COHEN) lived on West Pike Street. Jacob was a dry goods merchant. In the Polk 1905 Directory, they are living at 138 Central Avenue, and the business was at 61-65 West Pike. Subsequently, Louis CAHAN's father and mother, Jacob and Mary, came to Canonsburg as well.

~ Polk & Co. Directories ~

By 1910, approximately 40 Jewish families had settled in Canonsburg, perhaps reaching its zenith in the 1930s.

The Polk & Co. Directories, 1905 through 1930, reveals the following Jewish residents in Canonsburg:

Sources (portions):
JewishGen Pgh JGS
Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner
Polk & Co. Directories 1905-1930
Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center

Jennie LALLI
Photo: Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner/JewishGen Pgh JGS

The Jewish community continued to dwindle in Canonsburg until there was only one member, Jennie (née BENOWITZ) LALLI, pictured on steps of her home, 11 Iron Street, in 1996.

Jennie was Sam BENOWITZ's oldest daughter and Marvin LALLI's mother.

Jennie died 24 January 1997.

From beginning to end, the Jewish community lasted in Canonsburg for almost 100 years.

No Jews live in Canonsburg today. (2015)

Sources (portions):
JewishGen Pgh JGS
Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner
Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 51 No. 22 - 25 July 1919
Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries

~ Notable Citizens ~

(Click the images below to view a larger image.)

Following are a few notable citizens born, or with a home of record, in Canonsburg:

Robert "The Grinder" Baker, (b. Canonsburg, 26 October 1926) was a heavyweight boxer whose professional career spanned from 1949 until 1960. Baker was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania and originally fought out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He only lost one amateur fight and won the 1949 Intercity Golden Gloves championship in the heavyweight division. He started his professional career with twenty-six consecutive wins. He was ranked as a top contender for Rocky Marciano's heavyweight title. However, his winning streak came to an end when he was defeated by another leading contender, Clarence Henry, in 1954. In his previous fight, only days before, he drew with bulky Kid Riviera. He also lost to Bob Satterfield, Archie Moore and other contenders during this era. After his defeat to Archie Moore in 1954, he never lost by a knockout again. There was talk of Baker facing heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano in early 1956. However, even though Baker defeated Nino Valdez on December 7, 1955, the championship bout never materialized. He died 23 April 2002.

Captain Henry Harrison Bingham (Home of record: Canonsburg; b. Philadelphia, 4 December 1841) was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during the Civil War. His citation reads, "The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Captain Henry Harrison Bingham, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 6 May 1864, while serving with Company G, 140th Pennsylvania Infantry, in action during the Wilderness Campaign, Virginia. Captain Bingham rallied and led into action a portion of the troops who had given way under the fierce assaults of the enemy." Date of Issue: August 31, 1893. Henry was a Delegate to the Republican National Convention from Pennsylvania in 1872, 1876, 1884, 1888, 1892, 1896, and 1900. In 1879 he was elected to the US House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 1st District where he served 33 years through 17 successive Congresses from 1879 until his death in 1912. Bingham County Idaho is named for Henry Harrison Bingham.

Pierino Ronald "Perry" Como (b. Canonsburg, 18 May 1912), was a singer and television personality. During a career spanning more than half a century, he recorded exclusively for the RCA Victor label after signing with them in 1943. "Mr. C.", as he was nicknamed, sold millions of records for Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and pioneered a weekly musical variety television show, which set the standards for the genre and proved to be one of the most successful in television history. Como was seen weekly on television from 1949 to 1963, then continued hosting the Kraft Music Hall variety program monthly until 1967. His television shows and seasonal specials were broadcast throughout the world. Also a popular recording artist, Perry Como produced numerous hit records; his combined success on television and popular recordings was not matched by any other artist of the time. Como's appeal spanned generations and he was widely respected for both his professional standards and the conduct in his personal life. In the official RCA Records Billboard magazine memorial, his life was summed up in these few words: "50 years of music and a life well lived. An example to all." Perry died 12 May 2001.

Hume Twins (b. Canonsburg, 18 September 1922), Henry Ross (left) was a three-time NCAA champion distance runner and Robert Humiston (right) was the 1941 NCAA champion in the outdoor mile run. The Hume Twins were both inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor in 1990. THe twins became famous in 1944 and 1945 as the "dead heat twins," due to their practice of finishing their races together—hand-in-hand—in an intentional effort to finish each race tied for the win. During the 1944 track season, the Hume twins tied for the win in nine straight mile races, including the Big Ten Conference and NCAA championships. They were co-winners in every mile event they entered in 1944 except one. The exception occurred at a dual meet in which "a meticulous official ruled that one of the Humes beat the other across the finish line by a couple of inches although they were hand in hand at the wire." Their best time in a "dead heat" mile with hands clasped was 4:14.6 at the Central Collegiate Conference meet in 1944; the time broke a school record of 4:16.4 that had been set by H.L. Carroll 28 years earlier in 1916. Robert H. died on 28 February 1999 and Henry R. died on 4 January 2001.

Douglas Alan Kotar (b. Canonsburg, 11 June 1951) was a football running back for the New York Giants of the National Football League.

Kotar went to Canon McMillan High School.

He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of University of Kentucky by the Giants in 1974, and remained with the Giant until 1981. His Jersey number was 44.

He rushed for 3,600 yards and is fifth in rushing in New York Giants history.

He died on 16 December 1983.

Dr. Jonathan Letterman (b. Canonsburg, 11 December 1824) was a surgeon credited as being the originator of the modern methods for medical organization in armies or battlefield medical management. Dr. Letterman is known as the "Father of Battlefield Medicine." His system or organization enabled thousands of wounded men to be recovered and treated during the American Civil War.

He proved his system at the Battle of Fredericksburg, when the Army of the Potomac had 12,000 casualties. Decisions by general officers in preparation for the Battle of Gettysburg, and during the Mine Run Campaign that followed, that battle compromised his supply of medical equipment. His system was, though, adopted by the Army of the Potomac and other Union armies after the Battle of Fredericksburg and was eventually established as the procedure for intake and treatment of battlefield casualties for the entirety of the United States' armies by an Act of Congress in March 1864. Dr. Letterman died on 15 March 1872.

Bill Schmidt (b. Canonsburg, 29 December 1947) is a retired male javelin thrower who won the bronze medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics. He attended Canon McMillan Senior High School, graduating in 1965, and competed in football and track and field. He played linebacker and threw the javelin. His personal best in the javelin was 204'4". He played American Legion Baseball and made the Western Pennsylvania All Star Team. He also had a tryout with professional baseball.

In 1966 he was a walkon track and field athlete at North Texas State University (later named University of North Texas) in Denton, TX. He earned a full scholarship, throwing the javelin. His sophomore year best throw was 219'2", junior year 253'1" and senior year 280'7". He earned All American honors and placed second at the 1970 NCAA Championships in Des Moines, IA. He was also track captain his senior year. He graduated in August, 1970 with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree, major in Business and minors in Psychology and Personnel Management. In September 1970, he competed in the World University Games in Turin, Italy.

Stanley Robert "Bobby" Vinton, Jr. (b. Canonsburg, 16 April 1935) was an is a pop music singer of Polish and Lithuanian ethnic background. In pop music circles, he became known as "The Polish Prince". His most popular song, "Blue Velvet" (a cover of Tony Bennett's 1951 song), peaked at No. 1 on the now renamed Billboard Pop Singles Chart. It also served as inspiration for the film of the same name. He owned, and performed at, the Bobby Vinton Blue Velvet Theater in Branson, Missouri until 2002. Billboard Magazine called him "the all-time most successful love singer of the 'Rock-Era'." From 1962 through 1972, Vinton had more Billboard #1 hits than any other male vocalist, including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

In recognition of his recording career, Bobby Vinton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6916 Hollywood Blvd. His Alma mater, Duquesne University, awarded him an honorary doctorate in music in 1978.

Donald "Don" Yenko (b. Canonsburg, 16 April 1935) was a race car driver best known for creating the Yenko Camaro, a high-performance version of the Chevrolet Camaro. In 1957, he set up a performance shop for Chevrolet vehicles and customers could either order high performance parts or have their car modified by his mechanics. The first popular aftermarket car, made by him in 1965, was a modified version of the Chevrolet Corvair—named "The Stinger." They were modified with different body accessories, engine upgrades that produced outputs of up to 240 hp, as well as upgrades in steering, transmissions, suspension, and positraction differentials. A total of 185 Stingers are believed to have been built between 1965-1967. In 1967, when Chevrolet began selling the Camaro, Yenko began to modify SS Camaros by replacing the original L-78 396 in. (6.5 L) engine with a Chevrolet Corvette's L-72 427 in. (7.0 L) and upgrade the rear axle and suspensions. He also modified the Chevelle and Nova fitting them with L-72 engines. This limited series of cars sometimes began to take the name "sYc" (standing for Yenko Super Car), after the graphics found on the hoods and seat rests. He died on 5 March 1987.

Sources (portions):
Robert Baker -
Henry Harrison Bingham - MilitaryTimes
Pierino Ronald "Perry" Como - Wikipedia
Henry R. and Robert H. Hume - Wikipedia
Douglas Alan Kotar -
Dr. Jonathan Letterman - Wikipedia
Bill Schmidt - University North Texas
Stanley Robert "Bobby" Vinton, Jr. - Wikipedia
Donald "Don" Yenko -

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Compiled and created by:
Marshall J. KATZ, USA
with assistance from:

Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 51 No. 22 - 25 July 1919
Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 104 No. 20 - 15 September 1944
Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
The Pittsburgh Press
and the following:

JewishGen members/descendants and
contributors of Canonsburg Jewish families:

Israel PICKHOLTZ, Israel

Updated: 19 Dec 2021

Copyright ©2015
Marshall J. KATZ
All rights reserved

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