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Butler City

Butler City Hall is located at 140 West North Street, Butler PA 16001; phone: 724-285-4124.

Beginnings [1]

Early in the Nineteenth century the site of the thrifty, progressive and prosperous city of Butler was a wild and uninviting spot. No one then entertained thought of founding a town on these rolling hills, or imagined that a city would be built here. Time, however, brings about unexpected conditions. Robert Morris, patriot, land speculator after the Revolution, once owned 750,000 acres in Western Pennsylvania, 70,000 acres of which were located in Butler County. Of the Robert Morris Warrants, 311 were located and surveyed by his agent, James Cunningham, and became known as "Cunningham's District of Depreciation Lands."

The warrants which finally became a part of the site of Butler had originally been taken out by John Tressler and Andrew Reichert, residents of Eastern Pennsylvania, but in time had passed into the hands of Samuel J. Cunningham and John Cunningham.

Prior to 1802, Samuel J. Cunningham and John Cunningham had made a settlement on the banks of the Connoquenessing Creek on a tract of land called "Butler" and had erected a mill. They were living there when the commissioners appointed by Governor Thomas McKean came to the territory to select the seat of Butler County. Their brother, Davod Cunningham, came a few years later and when the county courts were organized became one of the first members of the Butler Bar. The Cunningham brothers were natives of Lancaster County, Pa.

Samuel J. and John Cunningham, in connection with Robert Graham proposed to lay out in town lots, 300 acres of land, five acres to be set apart for the use of Butler County. This offer was accepted by the commissioners. One wrote under date of June 7, 1802, in his report to the governor, "The situation is beautiful, being on an eminence which descends in all directions, the land, scarce of timber, but sufficiently dry and large bodies of meadow land near the seat. The site will have the advantage of the creek with sundry good springs of water, coal banks near, limestone and freestone quarries adjoining site." March 8, 1803, the legislature authorized the appointment of trustees for Butler County, to survey 300 acres of land on the north side of Connoquenessing Creek for the county seat. The trustees, John McBride, William Elliott and John Davod performed their duties. On August 10, 1803, the first sale of lots was held at Cunningham mill house, now the site of the George Walter&Son Mill. The lots sold for $45 to $130. The latter price was paid for a corner lot near the court house.

The first log cabins, erected in the fall of 1804, were located about Diamond Square and on Main Street from Cunningham to Wayne Street. The experiences and hardships of the first settlers were typical of pioneer times.

The early settlers were patriotic. This is shown by the names of the original streets of the town. Main Street was the central or meridian line. McKean Street on the east side was so named in honor of Governor Thomas McKean; Washington Street was named after the illustrious "Father of his Country"; Jefferson Street was named after Thomas Jefferson, who was a prominent figure in national affairs at that time; Mifflin Street was named for one of the Governors of the state; Wayne Street was named after General Anthony Wayne, hero of the Revolution and the avenger of St. Clair's defeat by the Allied Indians. These streets were practically the boundaries of the original town.

Almost a decade and a half passed before the inhabitants considered incorporating as a borough. The legislative authority incorporating the town of Butler in the county of Butler as a borough was passed May 2, 1817. The first officers' election was held May 30, 1817. The same day the officers-elect were installed. They were, William Ayers, burgess; John Gilmore, assistant burgess; William Campbell, John Potts, Dr. George Miller, Hugh McKee, David Dougal and James Stephenson, members of council.

Before there was another change in the form of municipal government, 100 years elapsed. In 1917 a third class city charter was obtained. The first election was held in November, 1917. The officials took office the first Monday of January, 1918. A modified form of government by commission was adopted as best suited to the new city's conditions. The first officers were: Mayor, Joseph A. Heineman; councilmen-elect-at-large, A. Christianson, Ira McJunkin, James Green, C. H. Barnard; city treasurer, George N. Burkhalter; city solicitor, A. J. Gumpper. The area of the city corporation according to surveys made at the time the city charter was obtained in 1917, is one and one third miles square, or approximately 1,600 acres.

Towns not included are: Lyndora, the steel car town, Highfields, West Butler, Bredinville, Graham Terrace, Oakvale, North Butler, the Boulevard and Bonaire, which lie in Butler Township, adjacent to the city lines, population approximating 6,000.

The pioneers early began the erection of public buildings. The first court house, a small rectangular brick building two stories high, was completed in 1809 at a cost of $4,793.34. In 1852 the county commissioners decided upon a new court house; it was completed in 1855, at cost of $40,000,but was destroyed by fire December 11, 1883. The original of the present court house was completed in 1885, cost $117,700. It was remodeled and enlarged in 1908 at a cost of $155,000.

The first county prison according to early records was a log pig pen located at the alley corner opposite the Second Presbyterian Church on the Diamond. It was new and clean and was used by Judge Jesse Moore to confine a prisoner at his first Butler term of court, in February, 1804. The commissioners later erected a log jail, corner of South Washington and West Vogeley Streets, which served until the first stone jail was completed in 1818. In 1867 a new jail was erected, the commissioners using the old stone prison and erecting a brick residence in front, facing on Diamond Street. The residence and prison were remodeled in 1898 at a cost of $20,000.

From its formation to 1898, each county township and borough provided for its own paupers. After changing the county poor district, the commissioners erected the present county home and other buildings on a farm purchased on the city's edge, at a total cost of $132,000.

Several efforts were made to change the county seat by parties with selfish interests. The last efforts were in 1852, when residents of the northern county townships petitioned for a new court house at the geographical center of the county, about five miles north of the present city of Butler. A mass meeting was held. Resolutions were passed authorizing the commissioners to buy land and issue bonds for building erection. The movement was opposed by residents of the southern and western county sections, whose counsel finally prevailed and the erection of the new court house proceeded as planned.

For more than 50 years after the incorporation of the borough in 1817, the county seat town was little more than a hamlet in size. The corporation boundaries were enlarged in 1869 by legislative act, and subsequently increased by resolutions of the borough and city councils until the present limits were reached. With the railroad's advent in 1872, the town took on new life, business increased, manufacturing concerns were many, new buildings appeared on the principal streets. From 1870 to 1880, the population increased 150 per cent. During the next two decades the streets were paved, a sewerage system constructed, electric lighting system installed and other modern improvements made. The development of the Thorncreek and other oil fields brought many new industries to the town during these two decades. The most important was the Standard Plate Glass Works in 1887. During the first decade of the 20th century the Standard Steel Car Company allied plants, Forged Steel Wheel Company, Spang and Company shops and other industries located in Butler.

Mercantile and banking interest also developed during these years. At the present time banking interests are represented by three trust companies and four national banks, with a total capital$1,900,000, resources $12,000,000.

The pioneers duly considered schools and churches. Schools were among the first public buildings erected. The first brick school house, erected about 1836, still stands on East Jefferson Street. The present city school system includes eight school buildings, the most important being the Senior High School Building which cost $1,750,000, with a capacity of 1,300 pupils. The pupil enrollment for 1922 and 1923 totaled 4,800, including 500 pupils from surrounding boroughs and townships, taught by 145 teachers. John A. Gibson is now superintendent of schools.

The three parochial schools of the city have an enrollment of about 1,600 and three well equipped school buildings. Churches and Sunday schools were organized as early as 1812. Services were first held in the court house and were held in summer in a grove at the foot of cemetery hill. Subsequently churches were erected. There are now 22 church buildings in the city limits and five in Lyndora adjacent to the city.

Butler is located on the Pittsburgh and Erie state highway, 35 miles north of Pittsburgh and also on the Kittanning-New Castle cross county highway. Durable highways connect Butler with the Lincoln highway on the south and the cross continent highways on the north. Four railway systems enter the city, giving connections with trunkline roads of the country. They are the Pennsylvania, Bessemer&Lake Erie, Baltimore&Ohio, and the Buffalo, Rochester&Pittsburgh. Two interurban electric roads, the Pittsburgh, Mars&Butler, and the Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler&New Castle Railways, connect the town with Pittsburgh, with trains every half hour.

The city post office is in the Federal Building, erected fifteen years ago on West Jefferson Street. George N. Burkhalter is postmaster. This office does a business in excess of $100,000 a year, employs 13 clerks, 12 letter carriers, and 2 motor delivery trucks. The free delivery system was established in 1890. Nine rural mail carriers are also employed on the rural routes out of the city.

Butler County and City are named for Gen. Richard Butler, Revolutionary patriot, who was killed November 4, 1791, at St. Clair's defeat in the bloody battle with the Allied Indians at Miama. The legislative act creating Butler County was passed March 12, 1800. The territory is bounded on the north by Venango, on the east by Armstrong, on the south by Allegheny, and on the west by Beaver, Lawrence and Mercer Counties. Its geographical center is in latitude forty degrees and forty-five minutes north and two degrees, forty minutes and thirty seconds west of Washington, D. C.

  1. Rook, Charles Alexander, editor, Western Pennsylvanians: A Work for Newspaper and Library Reference, 1923, Western Pennsylvania Biographical Association; James O. Jones Co., Pittsburgh
**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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