History of Wall Borough, Pennsylvania
Present-day Wall Borough and surrounding area was a region well fitted by nature for settlement by Europeans and their descendants. Its' geographic situation near the three rivers, its' soil, its' resources in timber, game, fruits and minerals, its' temperate climate and adequate rainfall all contributed to the first settlement and later development.
Before 1750 the inhabitants of our area were Shawnee and Delaware. During this time both France and Great Britain claimed this area as theirs. Settlement was prohibited except by military permit from England. Still some managed to stray in. These were mostly trappers and traders. The first European mentioned in Col. George Washington's journal of 1753 was John Frazier who was living along the Turtle Creek Valley. Trappers and traders were mostly transient moving from place to place.
Our area was rich in forest yielding an ample supply of food. Edible nuts and fruits supplanted the diet of the woodsman. Wild varieties of cherries, plums, strawberries and raspberries were found in some quantity. Our creeks and streams were crystal clear. The forest was so thick that sun barely reached the forest floor even on a sunny day. The early Europeans were often frightened by the darkness.
By the 1760s the first settlers ventured in. They found the area abundant in game and fish. The tradition that the Indians gave Turtle Creek its' name because of the abundance of turtles is apparently true. The turkey undoubtly was the most important game. The early settlers found the animals both helpful and harmful. Among the useful was the deer and bear for meat, skins and fur. Squirrels, fox and wolves were destructive to poultry and crops. The dangerous animals were panthers, wildcats and rattlesnakes.
During his campaigns in the area Colonel George Washington recorded in journals of the swamps, mosquitoes and rattlesnakes in the Turtle Creek Valley. Colonel Washington accompanied General Edward Braddock on his ill-fated campaign for Fort Duquesne. General Braddock was trained in European-style military tactics and not prepared for Indian-style combat. His men were perfect targets in their lovely red uniforms. They were ambushed in the vicinity of present-day Library and Bell Avenues in North Braddock. The men could not see the enemy behind trees and boulders. General Braddock and Colonel Washington tried to reform the lines but soon the army was in disarray. General Braddock was mortally wounded and the whole army began to flee back up the Turtle Creek towards Wall. It is said that General Braddock's paymaster buried army gold somewhere in our hills.
Local settlements grew because the area was endowed with fabulous riches. There were hills of coal, limestone, sandstone and iron ore. The forest supplied wood for boats, rafts, barges, wagons and homes. In 1759 a road was cut from Bushy Run Station to Fort Pitt. The road ran along present-day Harrison City Road through Level Green to the B-Y in Trafford, along Forbes Road to Haymaker Village, then through Pitcairn along the Turtle Creek on to Pittsburgh.
By 1763 the Indians became dissatisfied with the encroachment of the white men. They made it clear that they were unwilling to sacrifice any more hunting grounds and were ready to defend themselves. Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa nation organized a violent rebellion against the British and ordered that only complete withdrawal west of the Alleghenies would ensure peace. War was brewing. About August 1, 1763 the Indians gathered and pitched their war camp along the north bank of the Turtle Creek at the junction of a small stream (present-day railroad tracks near Pitcairn). Wigwams in great numbers were set up. On the 5th the War Chiefs made preparations to ambush and destroy the army of Colonel Henry Bouquet who was coming from Fort Ligonier. The two armies met in savage combat at Bushy Run Station. The Indians were defeated and fled down the valley to their camp. They quickly gathered their belongings and escaped into the hills. The next day Colonel Bouquet marched his army down the valley. Hostilities must have resumed here because a cannon ball was found behind Milan's Bar. Conditions at the camp were so bad he referred to it as "The Dirty Camp" and the stream that came from the north (Wall Avenue in Pitcairn) as "Dirty Camp Run". This ended any wide-scale threat of hostilities between the Indians and settlers.
In 1769 three-hundred acres around "The Dirty Camp" were transferred to Aneas McKay. The land extended from the hill above present-day Pitcairn, across the rail road tracks to Wall. He was the first settler in our area but did not make a permanent home here. He died while crossing the Allegheny Mountains. His daughter sold the land.
In 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Revolutionary War took place. Our area was no longer under British rule. Before this time our area was simply known as the Turtle Creek Valley dotted with small farms or teamster stops. The area now known as Wall was called Pleasant Valley. Later it was designated as part of Westmoreland Co. In 1788 Allegheny County was formed from Westmoreland County.
Sometime in the 1790s the Walls came to America. About 1810 brothers Michael and James Walls set up a homestead, farmed and acquired 850 acres in all. The farm extended from present-day Trafford to Wilmerding, most of Pitcairn in the north to present-day Naser's Farm in the south. Before North Versailles, East McKeesport, Wilmerding, Pitcairn, Trafford, Monroeville and Turtle Creek were here Walls' farm was here. Michael lived on the north side of the Turtle Creek. James resided on the south. Both brothers died while the railroad was still in the planning stages. Their children inherited their land. On record is John, Henry and Francis. John and Henry were sons of James. Francis, also known as Frank, was the son of Michael. When the railroad came through there was only the Osborne farm in Wilmerding, the McGinnnes farm in upper Pitcairn and the Walls Farm. The railroad went right through these lands. A station was situated on Walls property calling it Walls Station. Francis became very wealthy with the sale of his father's land to the railroad. In the 1860-70s John, Henry and Francis sold some holdings to the Valley Realty Company, individual families and various businesses. There was even a Walls land development company. The last of Walls' homesteads was sold or donated in the late 1890s.
In 1788 the first regular mail service began. Mail reached Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in 20 days. By 1805 the first stage coach line was put into operation. The regular time was 6 or 7 days. The fare was twenty dollars. Originally the first passenger stage line ran from Shippensburg to Greensburg. Later stops at Adamsburg, Jacksonville, and a stop near Wall (present day Grandview Cemetery) was added. There was a well worn foot path from Valley Avenue through the hollow across Naser's farm to the stage coach stop toll gate. Eventually the stage ran from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.
In 1851 the first trip was made with great fanfare by a Pennsylvania Railroad train from the station in Pittsburgh to Turtle Creek Station. About this time Walls' Station and Mosside Station opened for business. Soon after Valley Realty began to develop Mr Walls' land. The area called "Spring Hill" apparently came from a name citizens gave to the spring in the hill on Coal Street where they stopped for a drink as they traveled from North Braddock to points east. It still remains today. Later a coal mine owned by the Boyd's took the name.
A need for homes in the Spring Hill section prompted plans for lots and streets. There would be Grant, Greeley, Walls, and Railroad, with Coal, Hugo, and Spring Hill intersecting, although Greeley, Hugo and Spring Hill were never developed. Valley Avenue was developed a little later. A school was built near the present-day DiBiase home. There was about 15-20 lot owners. They were Nasers, McCabes, Mittis, Drugans, Neesers, Ammons, Hugos, Watts, McFeenes, Walls', Grahams, Penrods, Pattersons, Valentines, Ramseys and Mellons. Most of these homes remain with the oldest preserved being the Watt house on the S/W corner of Coal Street and Wall Avenue, the Naser house of the N/E corner of Coal Street and Wall Avenue, the Hugo house on Wall Avenue and the last of Walls' homesteads, the Joseph Blzevich home. There was a saw-mill and a damn in the hollow on Valley Avenue. A reservoir on the corner of Coal and Grant Streets supplied water. There were open streams along Valley Avenue and Coal Street. Foot bridges were built across the streams and later larger bridges for horse and buggy. A swinging cable bridge extended across the Turtle Creek which was replaced with a wooden bridge. Then in 1915 the railroad erected the Spring Hill Bridge, an iron and concrete structure which is still in use today. As housing plans began to move eastward the Spring Hill section became known as "Old Wall". The "s" in the name Walls was dropped.
About 1872 J. H. Dawson and James Irwin laid out an extensive plan of lots at Mosside. It was situated with three parallel streets, one across the top and an alley between. This section was soon buzzing with new families as the railroad expanded. the early residents were the Irelands, Adams, Cholaks, Kralls, Belinskys, Psicas, Doperaks, Oleskas and Wiltiuks. Shortly after WWII the plan of homes east of the VFW were built. Altogether a nice plan of homes.
"New Wall" the area from Wall School on up to Bigos', was largely planned housing. Most of that area was purchased by the Mellon Brothers and resold as individual lots. Contractors and developers soon moved in to do business. Fine three-story Victorian houses with frosted glass and stained glass windows were built on Hampton, Pennsylvania Wall Avenue and the are known as "hilltop". What a view from hilltop! The section known as Marie Street and Seeley Avenue was purchased by the Seeley brothers who sold lots to individual families. The Seeleys still live there. A second school was built in the vicinity of Closson's Garage. That was later replaced in 1898 by a eight room yellow brick school house. Although that school was beautiful to look at in time it became structurally unsafe and deemed a fire hazard. A new school was built next door.
In 1861 Civil War cannons were shipped by rail from the armory at Fort Pitt Steel Works in Pittsburgh to Pitcairn and tested by firing them into the hills near Mosside. The location became know nation-wide as "The Proving Grounds."
By 1880 the terminal yards and shops of the Pennsylvania Railroad located in Pittsburgh were in need of expansion. Space was not available there. Superintendent of the railroad Robert Pitcairn decided to establish the new yards and transfer the engine house to the vicinity of Walls' Station. The yard became known as the Pitcairn yard although it never was in Pitcairn. As might be expected news spread far and wide and people migrated to the area to find employment. In our town railroad employees and passengers were provided lodging, restaurants, bars and restrooms. In time the Walls station was closed to passengers and used as a tool shed and a new station was opened on the Pitcairn side. About 1885 the first Post Office was established. Jacob Dempsey was the first Post Master.
As our area boomed the founding fathers filed a petition to have Wall incorporated as a borough apart from North Versailles. While other villages reaped the benefits of public improvements from the larger townships we received little. It was thought mostly laborers and immigrants lived there and didn't really need paved streets or sanitation. One local official stated that "North Versailles didn't give us nuthin, no sir, nuthin so we'll hike it alone". And so they did.
In 1904 there was about 4,000 residents in Wall including boarders and railroaders. At first the main road was little more than mud holes. Sewer lines were virtually non-existent. Citizens walked on wooden board sidewalks that were constantly in disrepair. A fire department was formed out of shear necessity. Fires in the shanty house area called Red Row behind Hampton Street were a common occurrence. Although the Pennsylvania Railroad was a huge company Wall received not a cent in taxes in 1904 or thereafter because the railroad was located within the confines of North Versailles Township. While Pitcairn got parks and recreation areas the railroad gave us nothing because we were only "Hunkies". Slowly, however, the community persevered. Sewer and water lines were installed. The main road was paved in brick as can still be seen on Valley Avenue. The streams were tunneled under Wall Avenue and Coal. The main street was extended to include Versailles Avenue and later all the way to Mosside. Cement sidewalks were laid much to the delight of our citizens. Then utility lines were installed for gas, light and telephone. When a great influx of people from Eastern and Southern Europe came to America, then to Wall, we became a bustling little town of shops, stores, grocers, hotels and bars all speaking a mixture of Italian, Serbian, Polish, Croatian, Slovak and yiddish with Irish and Scottish accents mixed in.
Valley Avenue, "the hollow", was a vibrant neighborhood in the early years full of families, laughing children, mothers milking cows, mini farms and hard working fathers, mostly of Serbian heritage. It is a bit quieter these days. The street is neatly paved now. It is a delight to see new homes going up there. The hollow is lovely in the morning sun, just a nice place to reside. Indeed, most homes are third generation residences.
In 1914 came World War I, the war to end all wars. Ninety men went to war. Soon after the war was over came the Spanish Influenza which killed twenty million world-wide. Sadly it did not spare our town. Joseph Schmondiuk, age 7, lost both parents and a sister. This was common in many families. Burial of loved ones became a challenge especially in a little town where most were poor and without insurance plans. For transients and railroaders who had no family, tradition has it that many were buried in the hills and hollows.
The "hill", Ross Street Ext, was relatively a late comer except for a few small farms that dotted the hillside. The earliest residences were Miller and the property Matt Milcic purchased on Rural Road (Ross Street Ext) just above what is now the flower house and Harris on "red dog road" across from present-day Channel 40. These were built about the turn of the century, none of which remain today. The next group of homes were the Arlets and Witowskis about 1925 and soon Kozoskis, Swicks and Baba Milcics. Just below Ross was Graham Street with Markovich and another Witowski. Long before recycling became popular our early homeowners were on the ball using discarded lumber from wooden box cars to build homes. The lumber was sturdy and free! The Kozoski brothers remember carrying the planks on their shoulders up the steep hill. The homes closer to Mosside Blvd were erected after WWII, the Guzziks, Elkos, Bartos, Andraskos, Belinskys,Walkos, and Schmondiuks. The snow stays a little longer up there, but it is quiet and peaceful.
In the late 20s it became evident that a modern road was needed connecting Wall, Trafford and Route 30. In 1930 the Mosside Bridge was completed and a two-lane concrete paved boulevard was installed. A blinker was erected just before the bridge. The Wall bus made a U-turn here on the way back to Wilmerding. this new boulevard and bridge made travel to and from the railroad and Trafford safer for our citizens.
The years between 1941 and 1946 were turbulent. We endured rationing, separation, loneliness and mourning. While other communities around us sent a token amount of men for the draft, Wall was stripped with 409 men and 2 women sent to war. Even Father McGarey of St. Aloysius stated that was a disgrace. Wall filled the quota far beyond while other communities sent 4 or 5. The Arendas', Arlets, Bilinskis, Blazevichs, Dibiases, Liscinskys, Oreskis, Smiths, Urichs, Walkos, and Yuskos sent 5 or more from each family. We lost eleven sons including the Congressional Medal of Honor winner, S/Sgt. John Minnick. In 1945 the funeral train of President Franklin D Roosevelt came through the valley. Many in the community went to the stations and bridges to view the train as it passed by. Then relief came, as it always does, and the war was over. A fine celebration was held to welcome back our sons and daughters.
In the 50s the County paved our main street. Our Post Office was closed and we began to receive our mail from the Wilmerding Post Office. In the 60s, 70s and 80s Mayors Evanovich, Walko and Mrdjenovich worked tirelessly to get funds for improvements. We received government grants and matching funds to install new water and sewer lines and to pave our secondary streets. Wall School was closed and renovated. Our municipal offices moved in. The Mayor, Borough Council, United Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Wall Civic Association are seated there. Just recently we received a new playground and flag display area.
From early times in the borough there has been social groups who performed good works for the community. Beginning with the early Firemen and their Ladies Auxiliary and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and their Ladies Auxiliary, the American Citizen's Association of Wall, members of the Holy Trinity Church and finally to the Wall Civic Association. These men and women have donated their time and funds for children's parties (the firemen gave out the best chocolate candy), community affairs and equipment for the firemen. They have sat on committees and rallied government officials to receive funds for improvements. Sadly we have lost so many good citizens but we shall never forget their works.
In recent years we have seen the railroad dwindle down to a fourth of what it had been. The Westinghouse plants are a thing of the past. our borough councilmen and councilwomen are dedicated to keeping the town out of the red while retaining a semblance of prosperity. Improvements and repairs to streets and retaining walls are in the works. We have lost some businesses and gained some businesses. We have lost some homes to fire and decay. We also have seen some fine new ones go up. We are proud of our neighborhoods and wish to instill that pride in newcomers. Home ownership is the backbone of any community and Wall is a good place to live. After all ....
"The Best of All Come From Wall"
Article published in the Wall Borough 1904-2004 100th Anniversary Book.
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