A Valley in the Hills Delmont, Pennsylvania
By Bob Cupp
Growing-up a helf-century ago in Delmont, Pennsylvania, Ihad no real appreciation of my hometorw’s long, rich history. There was nolocal history peogram or class to educate Delmont’s young people about the sacrifiices and accomplishments of their ancestors.
I had no knowledge of the original purposes of the town’s old buildings and only knew that the watering trough was a good place to stop after a ball game for a cool, energizing drink of water. I often wondered what purpose the abandoned rail line, just north of town had once served, and searched for the remains of Anderson’s Cave in Shields’ woods.
Unfortunately, with the increasingly fast pace of life, there is little time to reflect on the past. We’er way too busy focusing on today and planning for tomorrow.
It seems that only as we grow older do we learn to fully appreciate our heritage. That interest is often triggered by the discovery of a dusty book on a living room bookshelf, or a family heirloom stored in the attic.
The following is a look back at two centuries to a time when there was nothing here but the “Big Spring” that attracted Delmont’s first settlers, and is still flowing through the heart of town today. It was written to preserve Delmont’s history for the enlightenment of future generations. Delmont’s youth represent the community’s furture and, the best is yet to come.
These are only a few of Delmont’s stories. Many other remain to be told. Otherwise, with the passing of our elders, those pieces of Delmont’s history will soon be lost forever.
Additional stories include Delmont’s churches and cemeteries, as well as numerous social, civic and service organizations. The restoration efforts of the Salem Crossroads Historical Restoration Society could fill an entire book. Most important are the town’s outstanding citizens who make the “Delmont Story” well worth telling!
The following history is from Bob Cupp’s book on Delmont. If you would like a copy, contact the Delmont Borough Office, at 77 Greensburg St. Delmont, PA 15626 Phone:724-468-4422.
A Valley in the Hills
Originally known as Salem Crossroads or New Salem, Delmont in one of the oldest towns in Westmoreland County. THe Name “Salem” was derived from Salem Massachusetts after William Wilson arrived from that state and serrled here around 1785. THe land where part of town is now located was surveyed by Wilson following the receipt of land warrant issued to him on November 8, 1784, just 11 years after Westmoreland County was formed. It is believed that the original tract of land contained about 300 acres.
Wilson built a log cabin, south of present day East Pittsburgh Street, near what became known as the “Big Spring.” Through his will, dated March 7, 1796, upon his death later that year, his estate was divided between his sons, Thomas and George. However, they didn’t validate the patent untill 1812. Durring the next two years, George, his six sisters and the husbands of two of them all conveyed their deeds over to Thomas, and he became the sole owner of the land.
Thomas Wilson laid-out a portion of the property in 48 lots, foming a crossroads village. The lots were sold at public auction two days before Christmas, 1814. The price paid for each lot ranged from 14 to 25 dollars.
Hugh Bigham arrived in the community about 1810 with a minimum of worldly goods and maximum confidence in the future. He opend the first commercial establishment in the village and devised a way to transport water from the spring to what is now the center of town.
A north-south road from Poke Run Church to Greensburg-Kittanning Pike, and later Greensburg Road, was built through the village around 1800. THe east-west Northern Turnpike, which later became William Penn Highway, was completed in 1819, linking Pittsburgh with Philadelphia. The turnpike also passed through Salem Crossroads, bisecting the north-south road at the center of town where Greensburg, Freeport and Pittsburgh now intersect.
The Crossroads village quickly became a prosperous transportation center. Several stage lines passed through town. Carrying a large volume of freight and passengers.
The Salem Crossroads Post Office was established on November 7, 1812. Hugh Bigham was the first postmaster. The town was carved out of Salem Tomship and incorporated as “New Salem Borough” by an act of assembly on April 8, 1833. However, the name of the post office remined unchanged.
Two years later, Henry Hugus was elected the borough’s first Burgess, a position the equivalent od a present-day Mayor. Other elected officers included six councilmen and a Constable.
In 1866, Zachariah Zimmerman was appointed Postmaster; he also operated the town’s drug store. His appointment followed a fire that destroyed the post office operated by the formere postmaster John Doncaster. Zacharicah, who had served as Doncaster’s clerk, held the position untill 1881. His brother, John Zimmerman, had been the postmaster before Doncaster.
The post office was the place where locals gather when the stagecoach arrived with the mail. They were always anxious to hear the latest news and gossip. Before the post office burned, it was located across the street from the watering trough. When Zahariah became postmaster, it was moved to the building housing his drug store.
It was Zachariah who, on May 23, 1871, had the name of the post office changed to “Delmont” because he found that mail was being mistakenly delivered to New Salem in Fayette County, as well as several other communities in Pennsylvania bearing “Salem” as part of their name.
He also concluded that the town had been handicapped by the generic name “Crossroads,” which signified the existence of only a blacksmith shop and a store, when in fact the town had many thriving businesses. The name “Delmont” was derived from the French “Del” (meaning valley) and “mont” (meaning hills) -a valley in the hills.
The use of two different names (New Salem Borough and Delmont Post Office) caused a great deal of confusion, but that situation remained unchanged untill 1967. When visitors and residents entered town, they were greeted by a sigh erected by the Delmont Woman’s Club: “WELCOME TO DELMONT-NEW SALEM BORO.”
Over the years, suggestions were made that the borough name be officially change to Delmont. Although there was never oppostion, the name change process didn’t occur untill Mayot Franklin Mangery promoted the effort, and successfully circulated a petition to have the question decided by the ballot. A poll taken by the Jennette News-Dispatch also indicated that the residents felt “the change should have taken place long ago.”
On Tuesday, May 16th, 1967, New Salem Borough residents went to the polls and voted on the name change referendum. Which would it be New Salem of Delmont Borough? It was the only special issue on the Westmoreland County ballot for that promary election. THe rest is history- the voters approved the change and the name was officially changed to “Delmont,” a valley in the hills. After all, the town is nestled among the scenic, rolling hills of southwestern Pennsyvania.
Regardless of what name you use-Salem Crossroads, New Salem or Delmont, it’s a community that takesa great deal of pride in its history!
Delmont Watering Trough
Town’s identity is closely associated with an old landmark
The position of a natural spring often determined the location of a new town; that was the case at Delmont where a spring provided an ample water supply, undoubtedly, influencing early settlers in their selection of a home.
Hugh Bighan liad the first wooden water line from the spring to a wooded trough just east of what became the center of town, in effect, establishing the community’s first “city” water.
Delmont would not have become a major stage coach stop without the continuous flow of water provided by the “Big Spring” that’s ever been known to run dry. When the stage coaches reached Salem Crossroads, the passengers, drivers and horses could always look forward to a cool, refreshing drink of water.
The watering trough was originally known as the “running pump” because a wooden pump was used to fill the trough. THe pump was replaced ny a pipe in 1866. The trough is about 100 yards from the spring, which is in the vicinity od present day Fairview street on land once owned by Squire Patty.
Of couse, the original wooden trough eventually rotted. In its place, a longer wooden one was built, it also rotted and had to be replaced,as did the later wooden ones. In 1910, a large concrete trough was built; it was about the same size as the previous wooden one. THat first concrete trough lasted until the early 1930′s when it was hit by a truck and damaged. It was then replaced by a smaller concrete trough that many long-time Delmont residents fondly recall.
The early part of the 20th century, many residents had no running water, and carried all their water from the watering trough for drinking, bathing, cooking and washing clothes. They carried it in buckets and heated it on the stove.
Durring the 1930′s and 40′s, people filled 10-gallon milk cans to water their livestock, or for use in their houses. In the 1950′s and 60′s, they filled one-gallon jugs and hauled them away in the trunks of their cars.
Local farmers would bring their horses into town and water them, especially when there was a dry spell, and their own springs would run dry. Later, whenever a group of local men would ride their horses through town on Sundays, they would always stop there to water them.
School children drank from the watering trough every day on their way to and from school. Many residents still recall that they never went past the watering trough without stopping, Because the spring water ran constantly, it always provided a cold, refreshing drink, anf the trough never froze-over even in the coldest winter.
Durring the 1960′s many residents stopped there and washed their cars. Before the existence of commercial car weashes, there was always a line of cars along East Pittsburgh Street on Sunday afternoons, waiting their turns to be washed.
For several generations, that was the place local boys stopped for a thirst-quenching drink after playing ball or delivering newspapers. At one time, a sign was place on the trough warning people not to drink the water, but no one can recall anyone who died, or even got sick from drinking it.
In 1973, the Dlmont Lions Club rebuilt the watering trough for the Salem Crossroads Historical Restoration Society. THeir intent was to restore it to its 1850 wooden construction. The design was based on architect’s sketches and drawings derived from old photographs and descriptions from old-time residents.
The trough is 17.5 feet long and 4 feet wide. A tree couldn’t be located that would be big enough for the entire trough in one piece, so a partion was construced instead, using steel plates with supporting rods on either end. It was built from white oak obtained from Boswell Lumber Co., and assembled at John Wolfe’s residence. Several Lions Club members assisted with the construction and installation.
Over the years, there have been many unofficial caretakers of the watering trough, including A.S. Machesney and, later Fred Ewing, while the cement verion was still in place. During the 1980′s, as part of another restoration project, cut stones from the barn on nearby Shields Farm were used to provide a solid foundation for the trough.
Currently, Jay Anderson, who Lives next door to the watering trough, serves as its caretaker. Anderson most recently refurbished the trough in 2004 with the assistance from the borough. He has also preserved a 10-foot section of the original wooden pipe that was used to transport water from the spring to the trough.
In the 1970′s, after the watering trough was restored, the Department of Environmental Resources setermined that the water quality no longer met state requirements and the trough was disconnected from its water supply. That event was troubling for many long-time residents who wanted to see the water flowing again-just as it always did.
The watering trough is located along the south side of East Pittsburgh Street, 50 yards east of Greensburgh and Freeport streets. The first trough was located under a tree where G.A. McLaughlin’s house and later, Chal Christy’s house, stood. After the lot was sold to George Reicker, the trough was moved a short distance to its current location.
Although Delmont no longer gets its water from the watering trough, the “Big Sprin” continues to flow into Beaver Run Dam. Since the reservoir supplies water to most of Westmoreland County, indirectly, the “Big Spring” is still quenching the thirst of Delmont residents today.
Delmont just wouldn’t be the same without its watering trough. The old landmark is closely associated with the founding history of Delmont. Although the horses and the water are long gone, the trough remains today, restored and maintained by a town that values its past.
R.J. Shields family farm part of Delmont’s history
Delmont’s R.J. Shields Family Farm is, perhaps, best known as the home of the annual Apple ‘N Arts Festival. Thousands of visitors flock to Delmont every year to enjoy the festivities at this old-fashioned family fall festival.
Additional crowds make an annual December pilgrimage to the farm in a celebration of “Christmas in Salem Crossroads.”With the exception of longtime local residents, most of the patrons have no knowledge of the farm’s history, or how it came to serve as the home of these popular events.While the farm was acquired by the Shields family in 1834, its history can be traced to the 1700s.The farm has many unique features, such as its geology, wooded area, rolling terrain, wildlife and wildflowers, making it a special place that has been preserved for the enjoyment of future generations of Delmont residents.Delmont originally was known as Salem Crossroads. A north-south road from Poke Run Church to Greensburg was completed around 1800, passing through the town. The east-west Pittsburgh and New Alexandria Turnpike (old Route 22) was completed in 1819; it became a section of the longer Northern Turnpike that linked Pittsburgh with Philadelphia. The turnpike also passed through Salem Crossroads, bisecting the north-south road that became known as the Greensburg-Kittanning Pike.The Shields family was prominent in Salem Crossroads’ early history.In 1798, James and Elizabeth Wilson Shields moved to Westmoreland County from Chambersburg, Franklin County, settling four miles northeast of Salem Crossroads in Salem Township. Together they acquired extensive acreage in both counties. Robert Shields, one of their eight children, went to what became known as Shieldsburg at the age of 19 to learn the tanning business.By 1825, Robert Shields was running a tannery at Salem Crossroads where his father had purchased two lots from John Hutton. That was eight years before the town was incorporated as New Salem Borough, but the village already was a popular stopping point for stagecoaches along the turnpike. Shields made additions and improvements to the tannery, continuing to run the business until 1870.In 1871, the town’s name was changed from New Salem Borough to Delmont, meaning a “valley in the hills.” The change was suggested by New Salem postmaster Zachariah Zimmerman because of confusion with mail delivery involving several other Pennsylvania towns with “Salem” as part of their names.Robert Shields was closely identified with New Salem’s business interests. He bought out the saddlery and harness-making business of John B. Plumer, and also owned a boot and shoe factory, as well as a vast amount of land. Shields was appointed one of the town’s original councilmen, and later served as a New Salem burgess. Robert and his wife, Mary Borland Shields, had 11 children. Samuel was their middle child, born in 1836.Samuel married Mary Jackson and was listed in the 1910 Delmont Census with the occupation of “farmer — working out.” Before the Civil War, he operated a grocery and mercantile store on present-day Greensburg Street. A 1912 Westmoreland County property map shows the “Sam Shields” 160-acre farm at Delmont.Robert Jackson “R.J.” Shields, Samuel and Mary’s son, became a well-known local teacher and, eventually, Delmont School principal. R.J., who never married, assumed responsibility at age 50 for raising his niece and nephew, Marjorie, 14, and Fred Shields Ewing, 5, after his sister, Annamary Madge Shields Ewing, died suddenly in 1920. Her husband, John Ewing, had passed away two years earlier.Shields and the Ewing children resided in the log cabin on East Pittsburgh Street where Robert Shields previously operated the tannery. In the early part of 20th century, the Shields Farm was occupied by “tenant” farmers.Homer and Anna Cochran rented the property from 1927 until 1946 and operated Cochran’s Dairy there. They lived in the Shields farmhouse on East Pittsburgh Street that is now occupied by the Salvation Army. Their daughters, Dorothy and Josephine, helped to herd the cows and wash the milk bottles.Dorothy Cochran Lindsay recently reminisced about life on the farm.”We moved to the farm when I was 4 years old,” she said. “Daddy planted corn, potatoes, wheat and oats; I always helped to plant the potatoes. I usually worked in the milk house and Josephine worked in the kitchen. There was a dirt road from the barn to the pasture field and a springhouse was located behind the barn. Before milk cooling equipment became available, Daddy stored the milk in the springhouse to keep it cool. I was never allowed to go in the ‘big woods,’ but I remember R.J. Shields taking walks there all the time.”A wagon, pulled by a single horse, was used to deliver the milk,” she recalled. “Eventually, the wagon was replaced by a milk truck that was similar to a panel truck. Daddy used another wagon, pulled by two horses, to go to Shuster’s Mill, at what is now Delmont Agway, to get corn ground and buy feed. The dairy equipment and the cows were sold in 1943 when the dairy business was discontinued.”In 1980, The Shields Farm was acquired by Delmont, in conjunction with the Salem Crossroads Historical Restoration Society, from Shields family descendents, Fred Shields Ewing, of Delmont, and his sister, Marjorie Ewing Snyder, of Baltimore, Md. They generously donated half of the $288,000 purchase price toward the property acquisition. The remaining funds came through a matching grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs.Fred’s daughter, Alice Ewing Cathey, described memories of her great-uncle, R.J. “Bert” Shields.”When I was a little girl and my family moved back to Delmont, he became my best friend,” Cathey said. “Uncle Bert was a very fascinating person — my favorite person in the world. When Daddy and Aunt Marjorie turned the farm over to the historical society, they named it after him because he had such a positive influence on their lives. He was solely responsible for preserving ownership of the farm for Daddy and Aunt Marjorie.”The 145-acre R.J. Shields Family Farm was officially dedicated on Saturday, June 21, 1980. The dedication included parades, craft and farm demonstrations, an authentic 1850 stagecoach, a log-pulling contest and a wagon train.An estimated crowd of more than 8,000 people attended the three-day weekend festivities. Pieces of wood from the farm’s old barn were cut up and converted into commemorative plaques in appreciation of those who made significant contributions to the event’s success. The barn was located where the amphitheater is today.That day, Fred Ewing explained why the family was willing to share the land with the public.”I’m concerned with the availability of open space for future generations,” Ewing said. “I’m convinced there won’t be any left if we don’t save it now.”About 45 acres of the farm are wooded. It was in those woods that Anderson’s Cave was located.Abraham Anderson was a schoolmaster in Greensburg in the early 1800s. Between 1837 and 1840, after giving up the teaching profession, Anderson held up stagecoaches and robbed the passengers of their valuables and trinkets. The steep grade of the nearby hill on the old Northern Pike forced the stagecoach to slow down, making his job much easier. After robbing the passengers, he would return to the cave to hide his ill-gotten treasures.In 1840, Anderson was finally captured, tried and sentenced to Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. He attempted suicide by drowning in his cell. When that failed, he refused nourishment or water and died 50 days later.During the 1950s through the 1970s, it was in “Shields’ Woods” that generations of Delmont’s youths learned to hunt deer and an abundance of small game; inquisitive children caught crayfish and families took spring wildflower hikes.Now a nature trail provides an easy walk for nature lovers and exercise enthusiasts to enjoy the lasting gift bestowed upon the town.The Delmont Area Athletic Association currently maintains Little League and Pony League Baseball Fields on the property, and plans to develop additional facilities in the future.The farm also provides a location for the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association to store and demonstrate the operation of early farm machinery.
The generosity and vision of Fred Shields Ewing and Marjorie Ewing Snyder have created an enduring tribute to their Salem Crossroads ancestors.
When ownership of the farm was transferred to the town in 1980, Fred Ewing concluded, “I’m so happy that Delmont accepted the property. It’s one hell of a good place to raise a family.”