Early History of the Borough of Swissvale
A glimpse into the past and down through the years, as based from the 1948 Swissvale Golden Anniversary book. Swissvale celebrated 100 years in 1998.
Swissvale was known as a "Hamlet" from 1850 to 1866. Following this period, the title was changed to "The Village" and this name clung to our community from 1866 to 1898. On the 30th day of July, 1898, the village was incorporated into a borough to be known as "The Borough of Swissvale."
About the time the first gun was fired on Fort Sumter, announcing to the world the beginning of the Civil War, the beauties of the sylvan hamlet of Swissvale, situated in what was part of Wilkins Township, were being brought to the attention of many of the people of Pittsburgh.
Surrounded by fertile and well kept farms, the wooded hills, bountiful orchards and waving fields of grain, provided a picturesque and delightful setting for the dozen or so homes which formed the Hamlet of Swissvale.
William S. Haven, whose homestead occupied what is now the Edgewood Town Center, was the proprietor of the largest printing and stationery establishment west of Philadelphia and was one of the wealthiest men in Pittsburgh.
During the Civil war, Mrs. Haven made daily trips to what was then known as Camp Copeland (which is now part of the present day Braddock Borough), where the Union soldiers were drilled before being sent to the front. At her own expense she provided soldiers with generous supplies of home-cooked food, and helped to nurse the sick and comfort the dying.
The patriotism and generosity of the Haven family and their solicitude for the welfare of the soldiers, was such as to earn for them the profound respect and admiration of all who knew them.
Andrew Carnegie, who at this time was the Superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was an intimate friend and frequent visitor to the Haven family. On one of his last visits, having stayed later than usual, he had to run to catch the train for Pittsburgh. In his haste, he fell into an open culvert at the side of the railroad crossing but climbed out and with his temper and clothing, a little worse for the experience. The next day, the railroad carpenters came out and boarded up the culvert, as Andy did not wish to have a repetition of the occurence.
Jane Grey Swisshelm lived in a log house adjoining the Haven property, in what was known as the Nine Mile Run Hollow. She so loved the beautiful hamlet, that she bestowed upon it the name of Swissvale and that is how the Borough received its present name. Mrs. Swisshelm's activities as a writer and one of the promoters of the Underground Railroad for the succor of slaves fleeing from the South to the North and into Canada for freedom, earned for her fame and prestige which will remain and endure as part of the history of Western Pennsylvania.
John McKelvy owned and operated one of the finest farms in the area, at the time. The broad acres comprising his farm covered the greater part of what is now known as the "the 'hill' district" of Swissvale.
The Robert Milligan Farm occupied that section of what is east of Dickson Street and Westmoreland Avenue to the intersection of Woodstock and S. Braddock Avenue, and from Milligan Avenue into present day Rankin Borough.
The Samuel Deniston farm occupied all that territory from what is now the Kopp Glass Company, west to McClure Avenue and from Monongahela Avenue to the Monongahela River.
The Thomas Dickson farm lay between what is now McClure Avenue and Nine Mile Run, and extended from Monongahela Avenue to Nevada Street in Swisshelm Park.
The Alexander Gordon and J.S. Newmyer homesteads covered from the East Busway west of Westmoreland Avenue and extended to present day Edgewood Borough.
The farms of James Swisshelm, husband of Jane Grey Swisshelm, lay between the Haven property and the current day East busway on the north, and the Deniston and Dickson farms on the south, and from what is now the Kopp Glass Company to Nine Mile Run.
The farm of Colonel William G. Hawkins, adjoining the Milligan farm on the west, extended east to Tassey Hollow and south into, and covering, a large portion of what is now Rankin Borough.
(Note how many of our past and present day schools and streets are named after these farms).
The references herein given as to the location of the various farms are approximate and are for the purpose of giving a general idea of their relation to each other. With possible exception of the Haven family and Jane Grey Swisshelm, these good folks, both before and after the Civil War, led the quiet and peaceful lives of tillers of the soil amid scenes of true Arcadian beauty and simplicity. They have all long since ceased from their labors and entered into their final resting place, leaving behind tender memories of the happy days of yesteryears.
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