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Collection Inside an American Factory: Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904

Life in Wilmerding

The Ideal Home Town

(From The Wilmerding News, September 2, 1904)

Wilmerding, as Described by the Pittsburg Sunday Leader--Its Advantages and Shortcomings as Viewed by an Outsider--Credited With Being the Leading Center of Socialism of the Peaceful, Sane Variety--Reporter Selects His Prominent Citizens.

How Wilmerding is viewed by outsiders is aptly told in the following article, which appeared in the Pittsburg Leader of last Sunday:

Arrival of the Workmen

"Wilmerding, the Ideal Town," would not be a misleading title for the little industrial center of 5,000 inhabitants fourteen miles from Pittsburg on the Pennsylvania railroad.

No other town in Allegheny county can show such a beautiful park or such broad acres of closely cropped lawn, green as the sward of Old Erin. It is this park and the big expanse of emerald carpet that helps so materially to give the town its ideal appearance. From the lawn rises the beautiful and artistic building occupied by the Wilmerding Y.M.C.A. and the general offices of the Westinghouse Air Brake company. Fronting the park with its trees, shrubbery and charming walks is one of the stately Wilmerding school houses. The ensemble effect is like that of a college town, the Y.M.C.A. and office building representing the college, the school house a lecture hall, the lawn a great campus and the park an academic grove.

Nor is this picture altogether visionary, for there is actually a college flavor imparted to the life of the town by the Tonnaleuka club and the Y.M.C.A.

The first named is composed almost entirely of the more enlightened and prominent men employed by the great Westinghouse plant which forms the sole industrial basis of the place. Electricians, engineers, clerks, surveyors, heads of departments and mechanics are found in the ranks of this organization, a delightful fellowship pervading the whole. Many of the members are college graduates, coming from such standard schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Yale, Harvard or University of Chicago. The features described, however, do not constitute the sole basis for the superiority of Wilmerding as an attractive residence quarter and as a town in general. The streets are excellently paved and kept as clean as can be and the business buildings erected of late bear the stamp of beauty as well as being perfectly adapted to their uses. The residence streets, particularly Marguerite Avenue, are beautiful with well kept shade trees and lawns and are lined with handsome, substantial houses. There are many artistic front yards in Wilmerding, thanks to the broad minded policy of the Westinghouse interests in offering annual prizes for the best examples of this kind. The company sets a signal example itself in the beautifying of the spacious grounds around the big office building. There are rows of magnificent plants of all kinds and beds of beautiful collas, all maintained in faultless condition by expert gardeners.

The perfect blending of the utilitarian with the artistic in Wilmerding is patent to even the dullest witted observer, and it may be mentioned that there are quite a few other towns in the county that could follow Wilmerding's example. The park covers one square and was given to the town by the Westinghouse company with the proviso that it should be used for park purposes alone. The company beautifies it and does all the work of landscape gardening and keeping it in order, the borough paying the bills. In the center of the square a steel tower lifts its lofty proportions bearing four big arc lamps which bathe the pretty green in a silvery haze. There are miniature hills surmounted by charming groves, winding paths, and great beds of beautiful flowers.

Socialism is Strong

In yet another respect is Wilmerding distinguished from its sister boroughs of the county. It is a strong hold of socialism, not militant socialism, such as is sometimes linked with anarchy and violence, but the peaceful, sane variety. William Adams, borough assessor, is recognized as the most prominent and influential Socialist (the word "leader" not being recognized by true Socialists). The party is second strongest in Wilmerding, being exceeded in this respect by the Republicans. The Democrats rank third. According to Adams there are now about one hundred Socialists. So far the followers of Eugene V. Debs (he being the Socialist nominee for President of the United States) have elected an assessor, William Adams, and a justice of the peace, but in time it is believed the party will seat a burgess. Adams says that many of the voters not professing Socialistic beliefs cast their ballots with the party, thus swelling its strength.

There is universal complaint among the Wilmerding business men as to the industrial conditions prevailing there. Of the 4,000 men employed by the air brake company in normal seasons, only one-half find work at present, as the force has been cut down owing to reduced orders for air brakes from the railroads of the country. The town has this misfortune, that it depends almost exclusively on the big works, three-quarters of its bread winners finding employment there, so that naturally when business is slack there is slack in the town, also. The laying off of men, together with the reduction in wages and the increased price of living, have produced this unsatisfactory state of affairs. There are a number of the best business locations in Wilmerding to rent, whereas two years ago room could scarcely be had for love or money. Such periods, however, have occurred ever since the town was laid out, in 1889.

One of the things that is attracting foremost attention at present is the new electric light company, backed entirely by Wilmerding capital. This is the United Electric Light company, Henry Harris, president. According to the latter the formation of an independent illuminating company was absolutely necessary because of complaint against the service and the rates of the Monongahela Light, Heat & Power Company.

Mr. Harris says that the new company will be ready to start business by September 10.

The company is capitalized at $50,000, divided into shares of $100 each. The following men of Wilmerding constitute the board of directors: Henry Harris, president; B. F. Stedeford, secretary; W. J. Hally, treasurer; Edward Geiss, L C. Rockefeller (no relation of John D.), George Wasmund and John J. Shenkel.

[man on train]

The borough is well off as far as public utilities and improvements are concerned. With the work of street paving now in hand every foot of street will have been paved in the near future. Fire brick is the material used, the paving being of the most finished sort. All the streets are sewered and practically all are lighted by arc lamps. There is a very efficient police force of five officers, much more than the average borough of this size maintains, four being on at night and one in the daytime. The volunteer fire department is equally efficient , consisting of about 40 members with a hose cart and ladder truck. The fire laddies are paid by the hour when called out. William J. Dick is chief of the company.

Good water is furnished by the Pennsylvania Water Company and there is plenty of gas for fuel and light. An excellent feature of improvements in Wilmerding are the fine paved sidewalks.

The borough has a neat frame building on one of the principal streets. It is said there is no shadow of graft existing in the government of the town, both council and the borough officials working in complete harmony for what they think is the best interests of the town. The officials are as follows: Burgess, R. J. Pounds; treasurer, P. W. Morgan; tax collector, J. H. Cunningham; assessor, William Adams; solicitor, S. M. Myers; chief of police, ordinance and health officer, H. F. Davenport; and borough secretary, William McCurdy. These gentlemen constitute council: John Boyle, president; H. H. Welsh, Jr., George Munro, W. T. Toohill, George Hugo, Thomas Campbell and Thomas Holland. Financially the borough is in good condition. The tax rate for borough purposes is 10 mills and for school the same. The assessed valuation for 1904 is slightly over $2,000,000. Frontage on the main business streets is held at $100 a foot, the lots being 74 feet in depth in some instances. The borough is not overburdened with bonds.

Well Provided Educationally

In both education and spiritual lines Wilmerding is in the [van]. There are two large schools, one of sixteen and the other of eight rooms, but so rapidly does the place grow that another temple of learning will soon have to be built. The school house fronting the park is one of the handsomest as well as largest in the county. Prof. W. G. Gans is principal of the schools. High school pupils are sent to the Union High School, in Turtle Creek. There is only one school district in Wilmerding, although it is divided into three wards. The school board is composed as follows: Richard Bostock, president; Christopher Horrocks, secretary; Jas. Mason, Dr. F. L. Muth, Jackson Kerr and Hugh Young.

Seven denominations are represented in the churches of Wilmerding--Roman Catholic, the largest in point of membership; Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian; United Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and United Brethren. The last named congregation is building a new church in Wall borough, adjoining Wilmerding, so will soon abandon its present house of worship.


Wilmerding is fortunate in having few foreigners and negroes of a low type among its population. On the contrary, the standard of intelligence and conduct in general is unusually high, for the air brake works employ skilled mechanics and other men of more than ordinary mental acquirements. The great majority of the bread-winners draw good wages, so then in prosperous times no town presents a livelier or more contented appearance than Wilmerding. So substantial has been the growth of the town that within the last year or two whole rows of dwellings have been built across Turtle Creek to the northwest of the main part of the borough. Along the creek is the Pennsylvania railroad, which runs numerous trains stopping at Wilmerding. During the last year the company built at great expense a fine brick-lined tunnel affording access from the station under the tracks to the main part of the town. Between the tracks and the creek are the great works of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, and its neat, handsome office building, in which the superintendent and others stay. Other officials and an army of clerks have their quarters in the big castle-like structure opposite the park, noted previously.

The people of Wilmerding and the Turtle Creek valley in general do not have to depend entirely on the Pennsylvania railroad, for there is a trolley line to this city via McKeesport. This is a branch of the Pittsburg Railways company. The trip from Pittsburg to Wilmerding consumes about an hour and a half, while the train covers the distance in half an hour.

At diverse times efforts have been made to form a single large borough by consolidating Wilmerding, Turtle Creek and East McKeesport, but political opposition has always stood in the way. The entire Turtle creek valley, from East Pittsburg to Pitcairn, however, forms one homogenous settlement of 30,000 people, a remarkable industrial community, in the precincts of which are some of the greatest plants in the world. It is altogether probable that within a decade all these populous suburbs of Pittsburg will be taken into the city to help make the Greater Pittsburg of truly imperial proportions so long strived for but so persistently defeated through political influence.

In politics Wilmerding has been generally Republican, although, as mentioned, the Socialists have scored minor victories on several occasions.

Among the leading men of the borough may be mentioned: Henry Harris, tailor; W. L. Hankey, druggist; John C. Boyle, president of council; R. J. Pounds, burgess; T. S. Patch, H. D. Patch, J. H. Cunningham, tax collector; B. F. Stedeford, councilman; Richard Bostock, president of the school board; Prof. W. G. Gans, W. J. Hally, hotel proprietor; P. W. Morgan, banker, and others. The head officials of the air brake works do not live in Wilmerding.

Dining Hall, Casino

The Tonnaleuka club has a large [club] house on Marguerite Avenue, the handsomest street in the town. It was organized three years ago last May for the purpose of providing desirable boarding quarters for the many young Westinghouse employees, the boarding house keepers of Wilmerding having become too independent and careless of the needs of their patrons to suit the men's taste. The Glen hotel building was secured from the Westinghouse company, the latter granting six months rent free to help the project along. About 25 members joined the club. The aim was not to form a club pure and simple, but simply to provide desirable meals and living quarters. So it comes about that the big hotel building is composed of living rooms, a dining room, smoking room and other quarters, to the number of 28 or 30, but no bar room, library, billiard room, bowling alley or other features of the ordinary club of the better class. There is indeed no need for a library, as the Y.M.C.A., a square away, has an excellent one. Men of all professions and callings are members, some being on the active list and others on the associate list.

Tonnaleuka, or Tonaluca, as it is sometimes spelled, was the Indian version of the name of the paymaster of Braddock's army, Tony Lucas, who, tradition has it, buried some gold and other treasure in a hill in the Turtle creek valley, after Braddock's awful defeat in 1775. Many people have expended time and treasure searching for this wealth, but to no avail. History fails to substantiate the story, as it is on record that the French secured the money chests and even Braddock's private papers. According to the tradition, Lucas was guided to a cave by a young Indian girl, where the money was emboweled. The girl died and was buried in the hill near the treasure, it is said.

Mechanics and artisans of all kinds mingle with clerks, surveyors, draughtsmen, and officials, there being a delightful good fellowship in the club. At the third anniversary of the organization's existence last May, a fine banquet was given in the club house. A. B. Little is president of the club.

The leading social and recreation force in Wilmerding is not the Tonnaleuka club, however, but the Y.M.C.A. It is organized especially to meet the needs of the employees of the various Westinghouse companies. The great work it is doing is largely possible through the generosity of the same, the air brake company being especially generous in that it provides the home for the association and in many other ways co-operates with employees in making the association work successful.

A prominent feature of the work is the gymnasium and its classes of boys and girls under the tutelage of C. H. Burkhardt, physical director. Mr. Burkhardt will leave on September 1 for one year to take a post-graduate course in physical culture instruction in Milwaukee, at the end of which time he will return and take up his work in the Y.M.C.A.

The gymnasium is the best equipped in the valley. It is 32x61 feet, well lighted, and ventilated and equipped with the latest apparatus. There are classes in fencing for both men and young women, tennis courts, basket ball grounds, on which teams of the association play and other features that add to the enjoyment of life in Wilmerding. Special work in fencing and wrestling is carried on. Adjoining the "gym" locker rooms are shower, needle, and bowl baths. There are two excellent tennis courts for the use of members at the corner of Westinghouse avenue and Florence Street. Facilities for vaulting, jumping, shot putting, etc., are to be found there. Cross-country runs are arranged weekly during the outdoor season and jaunts are taken to places of interest in various directions.

The association carries on an educational work of ambitious scope, [prising] departments such as lectures, practical talks, clubs, evening classes, library and reading room. In the library are more than 2,000 volumes, including many books on technical subjects. Included in the course of study is one on the general principles underlying the construction and operation of the air brake. All the parts are studied by aid of the stereopticon and sectional parts. Other subjects are electricity, machine design, penmanship and correspondence, bookkeeping, geometry, algebra, arithmetic, grammar, shorthand and typewriting, vocal culture, English for foreign speaking men, etc.


Courses of lectures are conducted by the association and attractions such as concerts, soloists, comic lectures or readings, etc., are given. A game room, together with a chess and checker club, are features. In the parlor is a grand piano and many easy chairs, while the walls are beautified with pictures. There are about 160 different students in the evening school, requiring the services of nine instructors, who teach about a dozen branches of study. The gymnasium is often crowded beyond its capacity. Of course the religious side of the association's work is not neglected. Every Sunday afternoon, at 3:30, services are held. There are bible classes, a social study club and Sunday school classes.

The membership is divided into classes to conform to the ages of members, juniors, intermediates and seniors, while the girls' section is distinct in itself. Altogether the Y.M.C.A. is doing a noble and uplifting work among all classes and ages in the pretty air brake town.