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West Newton Borough

West Newton Borough Hall is located at 112 South Water Street, West Newton PA 15089l; phone: 724-872-6860.

Beginnings [1]

In 1837 a petition was signed by various lot holders in the village of West Newton praying the court to incorporate their village into a borough according to an Act of Assembly passed on the first day of April, 1834. This was refused by the court on June 1, 1838. In 1842 the legislature passed an act, a section of which related to West Newton, and read as follows : "That so much of the third section of the Act of the first of April, 1834, entitled 'An Act to provide for the incorporation of boroughs' as requires applications for the incorporation of boroughs to be laid before the Grand Jury be, and the same is hereby repealed as respects Westmoreland county in the case of the application for the incorporation of West Newton in said County, and the Court of Quarter Sessions of said Court is hereby authorized to incorporate West Newton into a Borough, en application, at their first term if the said Court think proper to do so." After the passage of this act the citizens again asked the court to incorporate them, and on the 26th of February, 1842, the court granted the prayers of the petitioners, and the borough was therefore declared duly incorporated, judge Thomas White was then on the bench. The first election was held at the school house where the township elections had been held. By an order of the court of September 3, 1853, the privileges of the Act of Assembly erf the 3rd of April, 1851, were extended to the borough of West Newton.

The whole valley of the Youghiogheny river from McKeesport to Connellsville is one continuous hive of industry. It is filled with towns, villages and hamlets, and manufacturing of almost all kinds is carried on there throughout the entire district. In addition to this, from almost every hill, coal mines, shafts, tipples, etc., may be seen in every direction. Added to these are hundreds of coke ovens which continually send forth their volumes of smoke. This valley is perhaps the busiest in the county.

West New ton is built about half-way between Pittsburgh and Connellsville and about fifteen miles from the mouth of the Youghiogheny river. It is situated on a plane at the southwestern base of a hill which rises high above the floor, a clapboard roof, greased paper windows, and was built in all other way; fertile agricultural region. It is one of the best and wealthiest of the older towns in Westmoreland county. The founders of. the town of West Newton were men of high culture and intellect. Prominent among them were the Markles, Plumers and Blackburns. They were generally of Scotch-Irish and Yankee extraction, and at a later period came quite a number of Germans. At present the population is composed in part of foreigners of almost every nationality, this being due to its diversified industries.

The town was laid out in January, 1796, by Isaac Robb, who came from New Jersey and took up the land upon which it is now built. When the army to quell the Whisky Insurrection in 1794 passed through this section they tore down Robb's fences, and this aggravated him so that he refused to put them up again. He thereupon made a lottery and sold off the lots for a town. The survey and plotting were made by two men named Davis and Newkirk. The founder of the town was, therefore, Isaac Robb, who after this became a trader on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, going down with goods as far as New Orleans. In 1807 his boat lay at West Newton, and, when visiting it one night when the river was rising rapidly, he missed his bearings and fell into the water and was drowned, although he was said to be a splendid swimmer. Originally the town had been called West Newton, but, being founded by Mr. Robb, for many years it was universally called Robb's Town in honor of him. But in 1835, when they began to talk of having the village incorporated, the original and proper name was restored to it, and by this name it has since been known. Still farther back, in 1796, the place was known as Simrall's Ferry, which the reader may have noticed in the account of the Whisky Insurrection. Jonathan Plumer came west as a commissary with General Braddock's army in 1755, and filled a like position with Forbes' army in 1758, and was the father of George Plumer, of whom we have spoken as a member of congress (1821-27).

The town of West Newton began to grow about 1806, and from that time until 1820, when the national road was built, there was a great deal of shipping by keel-boats to Pittsburgh. When slack-water dams were introduced in the Youghiogheny river, travel by steamers became quite extensive. The first steamer to come up that far was the "Tom Shriber." The slackwater navigation was abandoned because the dams were swept away by high water, it being difficult to hold them on account of the fall of the river. The Pittsburgh and Connellsville railroad was opened up and passed West Newton in 1855, and this added greatly to the importance of the town.

The first schoolhouse in West Newton was built before the beginning of the last century, and most likely as early as 1795. Its first teacher was a man named Grim, who was succeeded by William Blackburn, Nathaniel Nesbit, William Baldwin and others. It was a house built of round logs, with a clay flror, a clapboard roof, greased paper windows, and was built in all other ways like the school houses of that early period, which have been heretofore described. In 1809 a schoolhouse was built on the farm of John Caruthers, and its first teacher was William Baldwin. A school was taught in the town in 1816 by N. R. Smith. This school was held in a cabin, and when this became too small the school was removed to the .building owned by Colonel James B. Oliver.

In 1820 the first brick schoolhouse in the town Oliver. In 1820 the first brick schoolhouse in the town was built. It was an eight-cornered structure, and when finished was the finest schoolhouse in the county. Its first teacher was N. R. Smith, who afterward became principal of the Greensburg Academy. Among the other teachers in this school house was Edgar Cowan, who afterward became a United States senator from Pennsylvania. The building is still standing, and is preserved as one of the heirlooms of a former generation to the present town of West Newton. It is still used as a school building, and the picture given in this work is a true representation of it. In 1850, this being found too small, another brick building was provided on Third street, and used for schools for fifteen years. In 1865 the first ward building was erected. In 1884 more room was demanded, and another fine building was erected, now known as the Second Ward School. In the sixties Rev. O. H. Miller conducted a select school, and soon thereafter George Richey organized an academy, which succeeded well for several years. In 1894 Reverends Drs. Eaton, Meloy and Garvin opened the West Xewton Academy as a college preparatory, and normal school. The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized with eleven members on the 28th day of February, 1839, by the late venerable Rev. Dr. Samuel Wakefield. This society built a small brick church on Second street, where they worshipped for nearly forty years. In 1880 they erected their present beautiful edifice. For a more extended sketch of Dr. Wakefield, see chapter on general church history.

The Lutheran Church was the first to form a society in West Newton. It was organized by Rev. Jonas Mechling in January, 1830. For several years they held services in the eight-cornered schoolhouse built in 1820. In 1835, as we have said, they joined with the Presbyterians in erecting the building of which we have spoken. This was used by both societies for seventeen years, at which time (1852) they sold their interest to the Presbyterians. They accordingly built an edifice immediately afterward which they occupied until 1899, when they erected their present commodious structure.

Previous to 1835 the Presbyterians of West Newton worshipped at Sewickley Church, about three miles distant. In that year they united with the Lutherans, and the two congregations erected a two-story frame building on Vine street, the Lutherans owning the one-fourth of it, and to be used by both churches. On January 8, 1851, a regular church was organized in West Newton, most of whose members came from Sewickley church. The same year they purchased the interest of the Lutherans in the partnership building, and in 1875 a new building was begun which was dedicated May 10, 1879. It is a neat Gothic style edifice costing about $22,000. They organized a Sunday school over eighty years ago, and both it and the church in general are in a most flourishing condition.

Bethel Church of God was formed in West Newton in 1845. an,d in 1852 a small brick church was built near the present one, which was erected in 1879 and improved in 1884. "That the pastor may be free from worldly cares and avocations," Mrs. E. Mellender erected and gave to the society a comfortable parsonage. Among those who have been pillars for a long time in this church are the names of Obley and Schoaf.

In 1850 the United Presbyterians organized a church with forty-five members, and the same year erected a building on Vine street, afterwards used by the Baptist people. In 1883 they erected their present church on Main street, costing $20,000. The Roman Catholic Church was organized in 1884, and a year later was erected a $3,000 church on Second street. The last church to organize here was the Baptist Church in May, 1885. Formerly they worshipped at New Salem. In 1896 they built a church, and in 1905 completed one of a larger and more modern style.

The chief industry of this borough is the United States Radiator and Boiler Company. It was first established at Saltsburg, but in a few years removed to West Newton, in 1895. It first occupied the present site of the stove works, but in 1889 bought the old building of the paper factory, to which have been added several modern structures. Their product is radiators and hot-water plante. They employ, as high as three hundred and sixty men, and do a thriving business, selling their goods in almost every part of the Union. The Standard Stove and Range Works of Pittsburgh own a good-sized plant at this point, and employ from fifty to seventy-five men. The Roller Flouring Mills of West Xewton do a large business, as does the one in "West Side" of the town across the river. The railways of the borough are the Baltimore&Ohio, the Pennsylvania, and the Lake Erie railways. The banking business is in the hands of the Farmers and Merchants' and the First National Banks. West Newton has one good weekly paper, the Times. A first class planing mill does a large business in the borough.

The largest industry West Newton has ever possessed was the paper mill built in 1859 by S. B. and General C. P. Markle, though the business had been established in 1808. Here paper was produced with rags until 1865, when straw pulp was employed, and later wood pulp. In 1880 a structure 329 by 534 feet was built, with the largest and most complete set of modern machinery found in Pennsylvania. The company met with loss by three great fires, but rebuilt at once, and continued until General Markle died, when the plant passed into the hands of a Mr. Parsons of New York, who carried on the business until 1893, when the machinery was moved to New England on account of the increasing amount of sulphur found in the formerly pure water. This was caused from the coal land being worked. Nothing but the purest of water will admit of good paper making, hence the plant was removed. The old bridge which spans the river at this place is an old-fashioned wooden structure built by a company incorporated in 1831 by Alexander Plumer, J. C. Plumer, James Bell, Jacob Baughman, Frederick Steiner, Andrew Smith, Joseph Stokely and William Linn. Its original cost was $18.000, of which the state paid $8,000, and the citizens $10,000. Some years after its construction the sheriff of the county was directed to sell the state's interest at auction.

  1. Boucher, John N., History of Westmoreland County Pennsylvania, Volume I, The Lewis Publishing Company, New York, 1906.
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