THE DONORA STORY
By John P. "Moon" Clark
March 09, 1951
Typical of the many robust industrialized towns throughout America is Donora with its 12,000 people. The town, situated on a stiff slope of land which rises sharply out of the Monongahela River Valley, is inhabited by a heterogeneous group of people whose manifold cultures have been swirled into one to make Donora the Home of Champions. The Monongahela River which collars Donora almost makes an island of the community as it winds its way northward to Pittsburgh.
Donora, snuggled between the hills of Western Pennsylvania has reached national importance in two fields; industry and athletics. Its chief industries are the Donora American Steel and Wire Works, Donora Zinc Works, and coal mining is also extensive in the area immediately surrounding the town itself. The Pennsylvania Railroad reached a branch of rails through Donora, connecting it with Pittsburgh and the Donora Southern Railroad rolled the huge steel output to the rails of the nation. It was a steel town, a zinc town, and a town of healthy, cheerful, hospitable people.
Donora has given Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals to an acclaiming nation of baseball fans and an idol to the youth of the nation. Arnold “Pope” Galiffa, All American quarterback at West Point in 1949 has thrilled the nation with his superlative general ship on the football field and his skill as a forward passer. In 1945, Donora High School was rated as having the second best high school football team in the nation.
The people are justly proud of their athletes and industrial importance to the nation, but they were also proud of their civic, religious and educational organizations. The twenty two churches and one synagogue, six large school buildings and 135 civic cultural, religious and nationality organizations and clubs are worthy of a people's pride.
Donora is a town sanguine and singing with the customs and health and rough strength of a people who came from many different countries to live and work and grow together in a priceless amity and truly American fashion.
The twenty two churches and synagogue, with their architectural variety lent the town a cosmopolitan and religious motivation and speak for the spiritual significance within the people. And from the sloping neck of land the boisterous shouts of the mills rose to meet the silver chimes of the church bells in a surprising harmony of sound. Frequently, the mournful moan of a steamboat wafts up to join the harmony in a lonely undertone, and in a rare, still moment in the night the muffled pounding of its fiery heart steals across the town, echoing the fierce strength and purpose of its people.
The people are alive and interested – vitally interested – in its community government and its schools. It not only speaks strongly in its political elections but it is purposefully aware of the rights of the individual and the freedom that is America. The story of Donora is the story of its people, all of its people through its industries, churches and schools.
As far back as authenticated history can take us at this writing, all of Southwestern Pennsylvania including the land Donora now claims, was possessed by the Iroquois Indian group. The Iroquois had their headquarters in New York State and used this section as hunting and fishing grounds. It is known, however, that migrating tribes of Delaware, Shawnees and mongrel Mingo's inhabited this section, possibly at their peril.
Highly interesting and enlightening facts about more ancient Indian lore has been unearthed in and around Donora. These ancient Indians buried their dead in the position of a baby in a mother’s womb. The grave itself was rounded and the sitting, curled body was heavily covered with shells gathered from the forest floor and streams.
The land that is known now as Donora and all the land stretching westward from the mountains and north to Erie were claimed both by Virginia and Pennsylvania. This section apparently was not in the grant William Penn received from Charles II of England. If it were, Virginia disputed that claim successfully for a time. George Washington surveyed this area for the Virginia Colony and it was known at that time as Virginia. It wasn’t until the Baltimore Agreement on August 31, 1779 that this disputed area became a part of Pennsylvania. At that time it lost its name as Augusta, Virginia to become a part of Pennsylvania. It is believed that Benjamin Franklin’s influence helped Pennsylvania gain this territory. The line drawn at the Baltimore Agreement set the boundary of the new Pennsylvania to include the land west of the mountains and north to Erie. The southern boundary at this time was drawn at the Mason-Dixon Line which was at this time the southern boundary of Washington County. This county, of which Donora is a part, was named after George Washington who surveyed it sometime previous to 1770.
In 1781, Washington County was re-drawn and patterned after the thirteen colonies in that it set aside thirteen townships to form the county. At this writing, there were thirty four townships. Before this enactment, Washington County had two townships; Fallowfield and Nottingham. The land that Donora now occupies was Knox Township in the latter enactment.
This section that is now Donora was called Horseshoe Bottom in 1769. Possibly the name seemed appropriate due to the curve of the Monongahela river which outlines the territory in a wide, sweeping horse shoe shape.
At this time, 1769, a man named Strasburg and another Nicholas Crist had some of this section surveyed. They built and operated a grain mill and laid out streets, Market Street, Chestnut and Walnut, which retain the same position and name today.
In 1794 Grist sold property to Robert Galloway. He in turn sold it to Harmonious Cole in 1795. Then, Cole sold it to Manuel Hoover. Hoover sold to Charles DeHaas and DeHaas laid out the town into lots in 1814 and then sold a part of his property to John Neal in 1815.
About 1775, Peter Castner, of German extraction, beheld the rich and abundant river valley and settled here. On the third of June, 1794, he secured the property by patent from the commonwealth. The patent was signed by Thomas Mifflin, Governor of the Commonwealth.
Then Peter Castner’s family hailed from Philadelphia and young Peter settled first in Latrobe before making a clearing and rearing his log cabin near the riverbank on a gently sloping knoll. The tract of land which he took up soon became know as “Walnut Bottom” and comprised 282 acres. When Peter Castner died, the title passed to his two sons, John and Michael, the former holding the portion which was situated in and around the old homestead. Michael Castner sold 118 acres of his farm to Josiah Allen in 1830. The next to succeed to the Castner land was Daniel. When he died in 1875, Bert W. Castner, a son, became the sole owner.
Meanwhile, John Neal, in 1815, advertised in a paper that there were twenty houses built there. This section then was known as Columbia. About this time, 1815, De Haas left Columbia for West Alexander. He had hoped the community would become the county seat and was disappointed. About four years after this, in 1819, the postal laws effected a change in the name of this community. It seems that another community had previously been named Columbia and this Community or horseshoe Bottom then changed its name to West Columbia.
In May, 1899, R. B. Mellon bought for the Union Improvement Company of Pittsburgh, all of the Castner estate and 70 acres from the Heslep Family, 130 acres from Bradford Allens and 30 acres from Alexander And Company. Since these purchases were made large portions of adjoining tracts of land have been added. Then the Union Steel Company began the erection of the steel mill which was the Donora Steel and Wire Works of the American Steel and Wire Company.
The Union Steel Company broke ground that was to be the heartbeat of the modern community on May 29, 1900 and production was begun the following September. A second rod mill was started late in 1902. Ground was broken for the open-hearth plant on March 27, 1902.
Another family whose name has been linked for almost two centuries with the land that is Donora is the Heslep Family. Tom Heslep came over the old trail from Philadelphia 1769. He had land surveyed that had been purchased from a family named Proctor. Tom settled his family on the 304 acres adjacent to the Castner acres and built his home near where 10th street now stands. Tom, who was a captain in the militia, fought in the Revolutionary War. It appears that Tom left much of the farming of the place at Horseshoe Bend to his two sons, John and Thomas, for he was appointed to take account of the stores needed for the poor in West Fallowfield and Chester County. In 1778, he was granted $6,000 by the Superior Council to purchase provisions for the Colonial Army in Chester County.
Captain Tom Heslep’s claim to his land was disputed but in 1796 with 400 pounds, he had it patented. He then divided his property between his two sons, giving Thomas 118 acres that would approximate the land between where 12th street and 15th street now stands. John received the remaining acres.
Camp meetings were later held near the river shore on the Heslep estate and this beach was a popular meeting place for the folks around the district.
John Heslep had two sons in the War between the States, Robert and George. Robert was a captain and George was a major in the 6th Company, 4th Division, 2nd Brigade of the Pennsylvania Militia. There were 115 officers and men of this company who were residing in Carol Township at this time. It was formed for service in the Mexican War but it was not called up for service then.
The Heslep place was sold to W.H. Donner for the Union Steel Company in 1900 and James Heslep, the heir, moved to a house he built on the hill and operated the “System” mine, located near Eleventh Street and Meldon Avenue.
The Gilmore Family, for whom the Gilmore Cemetery is named, moved in at a later date. In 1863 John Gilmore came here from Pittsburgh and bought land from the Bissell’s. John operated a steamboat line of eight vessels on the river. It was known as the Gilmore line.
Captain John Gilmore and his sons steamed south with their river fleet and took part in naval engagements against the Rebels during the War Between the States. Captain James Gilmore, a son, was particularly adroit when he joined his steamboat, the “Wild Cat”, with a fleet of northern gunboats on the Cumberland River. Another son, Frank Gilmore, enlisted and fought with Company A, 155th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Another son, George, farmed the land. It was Captain John Gilmore who deeded the land on the hillside to the people of the district for a cemetery.
Captain John Gilmore was one of the first men to use "red dog" or burned slate for the repair of roads. He also operated a coal mine and the old slack pile is still visible near the entrance to the Gilmore Cemetery. This mine was known as the "Wildcat Mine."
“Bisselltown”, a typical mining community with a long row of frame houses stretching along parallel with the river furnished housing for the employees of this mine. The ferry land, which led to the river shore and the ferry, was the main street of this little community.
Leading down past the sawmill, and paralleled with the river was a driveway, at the terminus of which was “Gilmore’s Landing.” Here the passenger and freight packets which plied the Monongahela in these days would land on a “hail” from shore and take on passengers and freight. The boats plied between Pittsburgh and Brownsville and later to Morgantown and Fairmont. The Gilmore Ferry, adjacent to the landing was operated by a man named Koechlein for many years.
Across the river, on the Webster side, above the ferry landing was a large grass plot known as “The Widow Green.” It was here that the Volunteers assembled in the spring of 1861 and organized for entering the service of the Union Army against the rebellion. Webster, Bakertown and Sunnyside furnished many men in Company M, 100th Pennsylvania Volunteers, more familiarly known as “The Roundheads”. It was at the “Widow Green” they assembled before embarking on a boat for Elizabeth, Pennsylvania where they joined the balance of the Company.
In 1900, the community of buildings in West Columbia was removed to make room for the Union Steel Mill on the shores of the river. The name Donora is a fusing of W.H. Donner and Nora Mellon. It was Donner’s choice of a site for the mill in cooperation with Mellon and it was Donner who came in to buy the property for the mill from the incumbent land owners, some of whom have been mentioned here.
The United States postal authorities sent a supply of money orders to the new Donora Post office with Donors misspelled. The name on the money orders was spelled D-E-N-O-R-A. It caused some confusion for a while until new forms arrived.
On February 11, 1901 the court approved the application to incorporate the town of Donora. The Donora Citizen’s Band paraded for the first time in celebration of the event.
A preliminary meeting of the members of the council-elect held March 1, 1901 was called to order by the first Burgess – elect, Bert W. Castner. Present were the councilmen-elect of the first council: C. Devall, E. Jeffries, John G. Parks, W.W. Latta, Dr. William Lewis, Gustav Schaaf and J.P. Power. The purpose of the meeting was to take the oath of office. Burgess Bert Castner swore them in and the first town fathers assumed their responsibilities for the new town.
These men were all leaders and filled with enthusiasm and hope for the future of the town that had just been born. There was John G. Parke, who laid out the town of Donora and surveyed the site of the various plants for the Union Steel Company and was one of the first to arrive in Donora in 1900. He was employed as chief of the Engineering Department and won fame in 1889 when he warned people of the Johnstown Flood. His dashing ride on horseback ahead of the deluge saved many lives on that tragic day. And Gustav Schaaf, who had been a captain of Company A, 10th Regiment, 28th Division, National Guard of Pennsylvania won fame leading his company in battles in the Philippine during the Spanish American War. There was Doctor Lewis, the first doctor in town and who lived to see the remarkable growth of the young burgeoning town and the modern records it set. All these men were leaders with a strong civic pride and the force of personality to get things accomplished – and there was much to be done.
The first council committees were formed at this time also. They were:
W. Lewis, W. T. Whitledge and L.J. Altenhoff on the Finance Committees; Whitledge, Altenhoff and Erdyle on the Highways and Sewers Committee; Z. W. Mullin, Lewis, and Ederlye on the Police – Fire Committee, Whitledge, Parke and Devall on the Printing – Ordinance Committee, The Borough Property Committee had Parke, Erdyle and Altenhoff, Altenhoff, Parke, Devall on the Legal Committees, and on the Light and Water Committee, Devall, Whitledge and Lewis.
The first bills to be
accepted by the Council were as follows:
Police duty – John Sommerville $80.00
C. H. Wilson $60.00
Richard Bowden $60.00
Summerville - Meals for prisoners $06.75
In September 10, 1901, excitement reached a feverish pitch. People were pouring into Donora with all the zest of their pioneering spirit to carve a prosperous town out of the land that had once been the Iroquois hunting rounds. Lots were staked out between what is now Eight Street and Twelfth Street. Tags were placed on the stakes and the time for buying set at 10:30 AM the following morning.
After the manner of the times, the people camped on the boundary of the staked lots and waited for the morning and the 10:30 signal. At 10:30, a gun was fired and the rush for lots started. On that day, 200 lots were sold for a total of over $100,000.
It was a new town with the high pitched excitement of starting life with a challenge from mud and trees and shrubbery. It was rough from the necessity of living roughly. But the adventure was worth it all in the heritage that is Donora today.
The following May, the Cascade Hotel, which was the Tri-Plant Building, was erected and the Jennisee Land Company organized to sell lots in South Donora. The same month, a contract was let to build the Donora Hotel and the Erbeck Brothers were awarded the contract to pave the downtown streets.
A jarring note obtruded itself here when it was discovered that Donora was in dry territory and liquor could not be sold. The Budke Bill was introduced in the state assembly to repeal the law so far as Donora was concerned but it was defeated on the first vote. A petition was circulated in Donora to reconsider and taken to Harrisburg by a delegation which included John G. Parke, Burgess Bert Castner, Dr. William Lewis and John Ailes. This delegation was successful and the law repealed.
The first meeting of the Donora School Board took place on May 1, 1901. The officers elected were: President-Edmond Jeffries, Secretary-James F. Castner, S. T. Claybaugh, W. H. Farrell, and James Boyd.
On June 3, the school board met again and elected the first staff of teachers for the borough of Donora. J. C. Caldwell was appointed Principal and Laura Tomer, Margaret Maloy, Emma Haywood, Eva Claybaugh, Lucy Sphar, Mary Campbell, and Mrs. Grace Orr were elected teachers.
School opened for the first time in the Donora borough on September 9th with 252 pupils enrolled.
On May 5 of this eventful year, African American residents of the town met at the home of James Minney and organized the First A.M.E. Church of Donora. Then, on June 26, ground was broken for the first church in the borough of Donora.
Foreshadowing the coming fame of Donora in athletics, a group of business and professional men met to organize Donora’s first baseball team on July 23, 1901. Present at that meeting were: Walter S. Spragg, James P. Castner, J. W. Mullin, William B. Curry, Walter Leeper and W.W. Latta.
Under the leadership of these strong and intelligent men of the town, Donora grew miraculously. In October the first free library received books from the Carnegie Library at Homestead, Pennsylvania. The Greensboro gas Company turned natural gas into the lines and made gas available to Donora residents. Ground was broken for the construction of the Matthews Woven Wire Fence plant shortly after this in November. A telephone exchange opened with nineteen subscribers signed up for service. A portable saw mill was set up near Eighth Street and Meldon Avenue for sawing trees cut down on back streets and alleys. Charles L. Latta, presented borough school truant officer, started making daily trips as messenger between Donora and Pittsburgh.
Donora was growing with the speed and efficiency that has made America rich and powerful. But the people of Donora did not overlook the necessities of culture and religion and education in their speed. Neither did they forget to safeguard their homes and property, for on July 5, 1901 a meeting was held to organize a volunteer fire department. Then, at a later meeting on September 3, with twenty-three members, the organization was complete. The officers of the first Volunteer Fire Department of Donora were; President: L.M. Carpenter, Secretary: J.G. Robinson, Treasurer: Walter S. Spragg, Chief: D.F. Milison, Assistant Chief: S.S. Kelly and Captain: William Kirkwood.
The first purchase of fire equipment included 1400 feet of fire hose, two hose carts, one for the hill district and one for the downtown district, and on hook and ladder wagon. These vehicles were pulled and shoved by the men and it is easy to imagine the arduous task it must have been to propel them over unimproved streets and up the hills.
From this modest beginning the Donora Volunteer Fire Department now boast the most up-to-date equipment and one of the best fire fighting organizations in this section.
Transportation for Donora was already excellent with the growth of river trade and Gilmore’s packets. There were five ferries operating to cross the river at different points and on April 8, 1867, the Monongahela Valley Railroad Company was organized. This company was authorized to build a railroad from Pittsburgh to Rice’s Landing. On February 4, 1870, the name was changed to the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railway Company. Construction of the road started in 1870 and was completed in 1881. The Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the franchise of the company in 1879 and began operating it under the name of the Monongahela Division. The right of way in this section was bought from the Gilmores, Hesleps, Castners, Allens and DeHaas.
In 1908, the Donora station had the biggest business of any station on the Monongahela Division, aside from the Southside, Pittsburgh station. There were nineteen men employed at the Donora freight office.
The first locomotive to arrive here for the Donora Southern Railroad to transport materials from the mill was Locomotive Number 1 on January 6, 1903. It had its first run on January 16, 1093 with the following crew: Engineer: William Bowmaster; (who at this writing is an engineer for the same company.) Conductor: J.D. Foster; Fireman: Charles Phillips; First Brakeman, Thomas Behanna; Second Brakeman: James Sickles.
On Saturday, December 22, 1906, the first trolley car, an old timer, arrived in Donora perched proudly atop a Pennsylvania Railroad flat car. It attracted as much attention as a circus. The people of Donora swarmed around the vain vehicle and cheered as two teams of horses pulled it to Eight Street and McKean Avenue. This old Pittsburgh Railway Car was christened “Maude” and bore the scarred number 429. The streetcar named “Maude” brayed, trembled, balked, squealed and flung fiery sparks as she traveled between First and Twelfth Streets on McKean Avenue. The first day a total of forty-seven Donorians paid to ride.
The bridge connecting Donora with Webster and the town across the river was dedicated on December 4, 1908. This was a gala day in the history of Donora and marked the end of the ferryboats.
James Castner had charge of the parade that day which included horse drawn floats. Rebecca Donora Castner, who was the first baby born in Donora, cut the ribbon at the dedication of the new bridge. In the carriage of honor that conveyed “Becky” to the bridge were the Reverend John Fulton, Presbyterian minister, Mose Miller and John N. Mullin.
People came from far and near to witness the event. New York, Philadelphia and Chicago had interested crowds here to aid in the celebration of the opening of the bridge which was to add another important link to the march of progress in Donora. Squire Kelly of Webster, across the river, and George Allen of Donora worked arduously toward the culmination of the bridge.
The earliest school in this immediate vicinity was at Baird Station, somewhere between where the Donora Zinc Works stood and Black Diamond. In 1790, a log cabin school was operated for the children hereabouts. There are no signs remaining of this log cabin now.
Sometime after the War Between the States, however, a schoolhouse was located about where Fifteenth Street and Meldon Avenue join. The property for the school was given by Captain John Gilmore. It was called Gilmore’s School at the time and was a one-story frame structure set back about fifty feet from the highway to allow playroom for the children. In later years, an additional building was needed for the increased enrollment and it was made larger. The property reverted to the Gilmore estate when it ceased its function as a school.
The first teacher is believed to have been Hibbard Phillips of Brownsville, whose son was the famous correspondent of the London Daily News, Sir Percival Phillips.
There are some records of Number 9, Victory Advanced, Number 10, Gilmore’s Primary and Number 11, Gilmore’s Advanced schools with teachers listed as Mr. Hetherington, Miss Ida Cummings and Miss Kate B. Beazell. Bert W. Castner was also a teacher in this school. This was in the early 70’s after he had attended California Normal School. Another teacher was William L. Bird who resided in either Brownsville or California and later practiced law in Pittsburgh. For a number of years his daughter Mary was a member of the Donora Public School faculty.
The Territory served by these schools was, roughly, from the entrance to Palmer Park along the highway up to and including the old Heslep homestead and as far back in the country as the William Rabe Farm.
The families attending these schools were: Beazells, McIlvains, Molsbergers, Rabes, Browns, Bairds, Flints, Gilmores, Bakes, Hesleps, Thomas, Shaws Binleins and Butlers. The families in Bisselltown all attended school also.
A popular form of entertainment was called “Literary” and was held during the winter months at the different schoolhouses. Readings, essays and debates were given. Debates were the most popular activity and the debaters tackled domestic and national problems to the satisfaction of themselves and the visiting parents and friends.
A complete listing of the schools in this area which includes Carroll Township in the early days is as follows: Number 1, Columbia-William Smith; Number 2, Star, Miss Mary Hootman; Number 3, Galbraith, Miss Effie Johnston; Number 4, Stone, Charles E. Kennedy; Number 5, Valley Inn, Mrs. Annie Weygandt; Number 6, Mingo Primary, Miss Lena Lee Boyle; Number 7, Mingo Advanced, H.L. Hetherington; Number 8, Victory Primary, Miss Florence Grant; Number 9, Victory Advanced, (No election); Number 10, Gilmore’s Primary, Miss Ida Cummings; Number 11, Gilmore’s Advanced, Miss Kate Beazell.
Before the first sale of lots in Donora was held in 1900, the Union Improvement Company knew that the young community would need a school. Therefore, before a lot was sold, the foundation, for the school had been laid. It was a modern, brick building of eight rooms on the hill at Second Street. The school was called the Allen School.
In that first year, 252 pupils enrolled but when the second year rolled around, 625 pupils enrolled. It was necessary to obtain five temporary rooms. Two of these rooms were in the house later occupied by Mrs. John Hauck near Tenth Street on McKean Avenue.
The second school board consisted of President John Ailes, Secretary James Castner, W.H. Farrell, J. G. Parke, J. Add Sprowls, M.D. and J.D. Foster.
In 1903, Castner School was started on McKean Avenue near Tenth Street. The land lying between Eighth and Twelfth Street had been added to the borough to take care of the expanding population. Castner School, when completed, compared very favorably with city schools of the time. This school had twelve rooms and an auditorium. A high school class was started here with a two- year course. The first class consisted of two girls, Edna Lewis and Nannie Hodge. They graduated in May, 1904.
Donora’s population leaped ahead and again more classrooms were needed. In 1909 the Fifth Street School was opened. The First Street School was opened in 1913. This was a gala occasion in the community for Governor Brumbaugh made the principal address. In 1816, an addition was added to the First Street School. But the population of the town kept increasing and in 1920, the Sixth Street was opened and a large addition was added to the Castner School in 1926.
The culmination of the school building program came when the Senior High School building was dedicated December 19, 1930. The School Board at this time consisted of Mrs. Mertie B. Traugh, President and the only woman ever to serve on a Donora School Board; J. H. Eyman, Vice President: C.M Kennedy, Secretary: C. S. Forkum; F. T. McCue; M. M. Neale and H.L. Steward, Directors.
In 1903, the High School term was two years in length. This continued until 1909 when the term was lengthened to three years. During this time the High School was conducted in the Castner School. In `1913, the High School was transferred to the First Street School and in 1914 the four year plan was introduced. This continued until December 1, 1925 when the State Department of Public Instruction authorized a change to the 6-3- 3 plan.
The following men have lead the schools of Donora as Superintendents:
J.D. Boydston 1905-1907
O. E. Rose 1907-1911
Marcellus DeVaughn 1911-1912
Edgar Reed 1912-1916
J. M. Layhue 1916-1917
Thomas M. Gilland 1917-1918
A. J. Martin 1918-1919
Thomas M. Gilland 1919-1930
Rex W. Dimmick 1930-1934
John E. Shamback 1934-1950
Andrew S. Sukel 1950-
Athletics has always played a prominent part in the history of Donora. During the last decade, athletics reached a point in Donora that focused the eyes of the nation on the little borough. Donora's most renowned athlete is heralded as one of the "greats" in big league baseball and knows everybody in town by his first name. He is a graduate of the local high school and played baseball and basketball for the varsity team.
Ken Griffey, Senior, also a renowned athlete, is a Donora lad who started his baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds and was considered the second fastest runner in professional baseball.
Arnold Galiffa, another local boy who participated in football, baseball, track and basketball became nationally famous. At West Point he became a 1949 All-American and the only cadet, other than “Light Horse” Harry Wilson, to win five letters in sports at that institution.
Louis “Bimbo” Ceccone went to the University of Pittsburgh from here and was famed on the gridiron and on the basketball court. He was mentioned on several All-American teams and was named Captain of the All-State team.
“Deacon Dan” Towler, a local high school football player went to Washington and Jefferson and became the second leading collegiate high scorer in football. Dan was with the Los Angeles Rams professional team.
Lee Sala, another local boy, was listed in the top ten of the middleweight boxing picture.
In 1944, and again in 1945, the football and basketball teams won recognition as champions. The football team was unbeaten and untied in these years and was judged to be the second best football team in the nation.
Other years did not reach this height in records but they did produce outstanding athletes and out-standing teams. College coaches flocked to Donora to tempt the local athletes to their respective colleges. Donora athletes represented an unusual number of colleges in sports scattered over the country every year.
Although baseball, football and boxing are the sports that have been most successfully represented in Donora, other sports have a claim to fame too. Dan Towler set a new collegiate record in this area at Washington and Jefferson in the shot put. Basketball has always been popular and produced exceptional teams and athletes and, with so many Scottish and Spanish people in the town it is only natural to list soccer as a popular sport here.
All the national magazines have carried stories of Donora athletes. It is perhaps the only town so represented with so many outstanding athletes.
Some Significant Historical Facts:
The first Post office in Donora was about 12 X 20 feet and was situated where the car tracks now are on McKean Avenue between the present State store and Donora Bowling Alley. The first postmaster here was L.T. Claybaugh. Before that the people received mail from West Columbia.
The first doctor in Donora was William Henry Lewis, who had become a regular practitioner in Webster and then came to Donora in 1901. He brought with him his brother, Albert V. Lewis who was the first dentist in town. Albert was later a star on the first baseball team.
The first child born in Donora was Rebecca Castner, granddaughter of Bert W. Castner, one of the original settlers here. She was born around 1901 and later married James Burke. She is a niece of William Henry Lewis, M.D. Mrs. Burke.
Some of the principal landowners in Donora were: George Allen, Clint Steeple, Bradford Allen, Bert W. Castner, Margaret Heslep and Eliza Grant.
The inauguration of parcel post at the local Post Office created excitement on January 1, 1913. C. F. Thomas and A.F. Rood sent the first packages from Donora. G.E. Koedel received the first package by parcel post in Donora.
The Parks and Playground committees of the local Chamber of Commerce with Chairman Spragg heading it are responsible for Donner Park. J.M. Mullin of the Union Improvement Company assisted them and W.H. Donner gave what amounted to $7,000 for the park. This occurred shortly after New Year’s Day in 1913.
Ben Binns, Ewing B. Todd and John Minney were the first to ride the first streetcar –the streetcar named “Maude.”
On December 14, 1906, the first basketball game to be played in Donora was played in the Palace Ring. Donora won against Monessen 27 – 14. The Donora players were: Jackson, Boyd, and Captain's Murray, McClelland, Houston.
Jacquiline Ossko, of Donora, made good in Hollywood. She played the lead in The Doctor. Her stage name was “Donora Penn.” Here is the note she pinned on the back of the picture of The Doctor. The note was addressed to Doctor W. Lewis.
November 1, 1939
My Dear Dr. Lewis,
About a month ago I took the leading part in
this Technicolor picture.
It is a very dramatic story, so don’t forget to see it when it comes to my home town.
"The Doctor" is a story taken from the portrait painted by Sir Luke Fieldas by the same name.
Mr. W.H. Donner gave $60,000 to the town of Donora for a community and Library Center on October 27, 1945. Mr. C.F. Thomas of Donora talked to Mr. Donner and the purchase of the Donora Hotel was authorized for this purpose. W.W. Dennis was elected the first President of the corporation to handle the Community Center.
Harold Cope, general superintendent of the Donora Steel and Wire Works was on hand when construction of the Donora Zinc Works started as one of the engineers. As a local boy in the graduating class at the Donora High School, Harold won the state oratorical contest in 1910.
Doctor Heatter was the oldest medical doctor in town that was graduated from Donora High School. He was graduated in 1909
History of the Steel Industry in Donora:
The American Steel & Wire Company was organized in 1899 and became a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation in 1900.
In May 1899, Mr. R. B. Mellon purchased approximately 380 acres of land from Bert W. Castner, the Heslep heirs, Bradford Allen and Alexander and Company for Union Improvement Company. During the same year the Union Steel Company was organized by W.H. Donner and the Mellon interests.
The Union Improvement allocated all of the land lying between the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railroad and the Monongahela River to industry and all of the land lying west of the railroad for a two site.
The Union Steel Company, W.H. Donner President, broke ground for the construction of the Wire Mill in May 29, 1900. Mr. W.H. Farrell who was widely experienced in the Steel and wire business was secured as manager of the plant.
The original wire plant consisted of two rod mills of the Garrett or looping type, a wire drawing department, wire nail department, wire galvanizing department, varnished wire and barb wire departments.
Simultaneously with the construction of the Wire Mill, Mathew Woven Wire Fence Company, F.C. Mathew’s president and general manager, constructed a plant for the manufacture of Woven Wire Fencing. This plant formed the nucleus of the present Woven Wire Fence and Welded Wire Fabric department.
One rod mill was started in September 1901 and the second late in 1902. The capacity of the two rod mills at that time was 1200 tons in 24 hours.
The plant was operated by the Union Steel Company under the direction of Mr. W.H. Farrell until 1903 when the American Steel and Wire Company leased the property from the Union Steel Company.
In 1901 the Union Steel Company secured the services of Niven McConnell to design and construct the steel and blast furnace plant for which ground was broken March 27, 1902. Prior to the completion of the plant the Union Steel Company leased the property to Carnegie Steel Company. Under the direction of Mr. McConnell the plant, consisting of two blast furnaces, twelve open-hearth furnaces and a 40’ blooming mill including accessories was completed. Carnegie Steel Company operated the plant until 1907 when it was closed down on account of the depression. In 1908 the American Steel & Wire Company acquired the property from Carnegie Steel Company and has operated the plant without interruption since that time.
During the time the Wire Mill was operated by Union Steel Company, its requirement of steel billets was purchased in the open market. After the property was acquired by American Steel & Wire Company steel billets were secured from subsidiaries of United States Steel Corporation. This arrangement continued until 1907 when a 30” mill for the production of billets of suitable size was installed at the steel works.
In 1907 the wire drawing equipment was remodeled and modernized for increased and more efficient production.
World War I stimulated the demand for wire and rods and to meet this demand a third rod mill was installed at the Wire Mill in 1916.
In 1921 the first machines were installed for producing wire welded wire fabric for reinforcement for concrete roads and concrete reinforcement in general.
The demand for wire and wire products continued to increase and to meet this demand two modern, electric motor driven continuous rod mills, and a continuous billet mill were installed in 1930-31 and the two original looping rod mills and the 30” billet mills were dismantled. In 1940 the wire drawing equipment was again modernized by the installation of continuous individual motor driven wire drawing machines.
Since the original installation, the open-hearth furnaces were enlarged and increased in capacity from 50 tons to 110 tons per heat and auxiliary equipment improved to handle the increased tonnage. During the intervening years the blast furnaces and auxiliaries were modernized for greater efficiency and increased tonnage.
The following men served as superintendents and general superintendents from the time the plants were constructed to date:
1901 – 1904 W.H. Farrell 1902 – 1905 Niven McConnell
1904 – 1906 Aug. Mann 1905 – 1907 A.A. Corey
1906 – 1909 Charles W. Lutz 1908 – 1912 Ephrian Baird
1909 – 1912 F.D. Haynes 1912 – 1929 J. B. Clark
1916 – 1928 Aug. Mann 1929 – 1938 A. Fred White
1928 – 1938 C.J. Brown
General Superintendents Donora Steel & Wire Works
1942 – 1944 L. F.
1944 – 1949 L. J. Westhaver
1949 - to date Harold Cope
Donora Zinc Works:
On June 16, 1915, engineering work was started for the construction of the Donora Zinc Works. It was a coincidence that both the present superintendent of the Zinc Works, Mercer M. Neale and the present superintendent of the Donora Steel & Wire Works at the time of this writing, Harold Cope, were on hand that day as young engineers. Mr. Neale drove the first stake in the ground upon which rose on of the most important links in the history of American industry. He never suspected then that later he would head the plant.
On September the 21st, the first re-fractories were made at the Pottery. On October 20th, the first spelter was produced on No. 10 Furnace and on December 23rd of the same year the first sulphuric acid unit was placed in operation. The other units of each department were completed in close order.
H. A. Barren was in charge of construction and the plant was constructed in record time.
The American Steel and Wire Company operated the world’s largest Zinc plant and on October 29, 1915, the Donora Zinc Works produced its first zinc. The plant occupied 4000 feet of land parallel to the Monongahela River on 45 acres of land.
Mr. M. M. Neale in this “The Story of Zinc” in the September, 1941 issue of Wireco Life gives an interesting history of how zinc rose to prominence.
The German philosopher, Albert Magnus, who died in 1280, is said to have been the first of the first of the more modern writers to mention zinc and Paracelsus (1493-15410 was the first to class it among the metals, the name "zinken" being used. It was not until the seventeenth century, however, that ships sailing from the shores of China, India and Sumatra brought zinc to Europe on a commercial scale. Many of the ships carrying this metal were attacked by pirates, and the Dutch, capturing one of these ships named the metal “Speauter.” This name has been gradually changed to “Spelter,” a term which is used today throughout the industry to indicate metallic zinc.
The chief by-product of the Donora Zinc Works was sulphuric acid. It was one of the most widely used chemical compounds and played a vital role in the National Defense program as it is an important raw material in the manufacture of explosives. It is also used in refining crude petroleum, pickling steel and recovering ammonia as ammonium sulphate.
Cadmium and lead were also by-products in the manufacture of zinc in the Donora plant.
Zinc’s value as a protective coating was long known and most of the Donora Zinc Works production was shipped to other mills of the Company and subsidiaries of the Corporation where it was used to galvanize wire, nails, sheets and many other steel products.
Zinc played an important part in peace and war. As a component of brass it was used in the manufacture of cartridges, shells, fuses and detonators. Alloyed with aluminum, magnesium and manganese, it was used in the manufacture of shafts, propellers, bearings, castings and forgings for airplane parts. Its protective coating properties were utilized in galvanizing marine hardware, cables, pipes, tubes, canisters and drums for the navy. Die-castings of zinc are used in the production of tanks.
Donora, therefore, was a very important center of the nation’s high standard of peacetime living and a vital cog in the defense of the American Way of life.
The first superintendent of the Donora Zinc Works was R.D. Jonston, 1915 to April, 1925. Then K.E. Miller became superintendent in 1925 and died in October of that year. Mercer M. Neale, was appointed as the new superintendent on December 1, 1925.
Mr. Neale was known in Donora not only as the superintendent of the Donora Zinc Works but as a civic leader. When he came to Donora on September 30th, 1909, he was most active in community affairs. It was he who organized the Donora Steel Works Band in 1912 with Andrew A. Patton as director. He has been a member of the school board and in many phases of community life that meant progress and a better town.
The following list of churches and the synagogue in Donora is a remarkable tribute to the people here. It points out, as nothing else could, the strong religious faith that is imbued within them.
The early churches, before Donora was chartered as a borough, were located on both sides of the river. It is felt that, in those days, people were scattered and thought nothing of traveling lone distances to attend church services. Such being the case, we have listed all the churches in the surrounding area of Donora also.
Fells Methodist Church, first minister, Reverend John Cooper and Reverend Samuel Breeze. First location, log church on present site in 1792. It was founded in Donora in 1784. The location was Fellsburg and that church was founded in 1834. It is said to be the oldest Methodist church west of the Alleghenies. Reverend W. S. Van Ryn was the minister and its membership totaled 150.
The Webster Methodist Church was founded in 1840 in Webster. Its members gathered first in the shop of Walter Brown. The first minister was Reverend Alvah Chapman. It had other locations before the present site was decided upon, such as the Webster School house and a frame church on Railroad Street. It was located at the intersection of Webster Hollow and the Monessen Road. Reverend Louis J. Wallis was the pastor and the church had a membership of 125.
The Eldora Mission Church of Jesus Christ was founded in 1862 in Monongahela. The location was at Eldora and Reverend Walter Anderson was the Elder. The church had a membership of 50.
The Webster Presbyterian Church was founded in 1877 and the first minister was Reverend A. R. Boyd. The first location of the church was at the home of A. A. Perkins. Reverend George Guest is the present minister and the church had a membership of 106.
In 1889, the Sampson Union Church was located at the Sampson Star School. The first pastor was Reverend Raymond Colas. The church was located on the Eldora Road, Eldora, Pennsylvania, and its membership totaled 50. At one time in its history, it held services in the Alexander School.
The First Methodist Church was founded in 1900 in the old school house in West Columbia. Reverend W. H. Kirkland was its first minister. It also was located at a later date on Chestnut Street between the railroad and McKean Avenue. Reverend Edward H. Miller was the minister and the church was located on Fifth Street and Thompson Avenue. It had a membership of 700 and Donora recognized the beautiful chimes that were heard from the church on Sunday morning.
The Quinn Chapel, A.M.E. was the first church built in the borough of Donora. That was in 1901 and the first minister was Reverend S.P. West. Reverend J. W. Barrett was the minister at this writing and the church was located at Second Street and Allen Avenue. Its membership now totaled 65.
The Primitive Baptist church was founded in Donora in 1901 with Reverend George Bretz its Elder. At first it met in homes and later the church was located on Allen Avenue between Second and Third Streets. Elder Corvin Dove was in charge and it had a membership of 20.
The Ohav Sholom Synagogue was founded in Donora in 1091 at Third Street between McKean and Thompson Avenue. It was also located at Third and McKean before moving to Second Street and Thompson Avenue. The first Rabbi was Rabbi Levin. Rabbi Benjamin Krohn was later in charge and it had a membership of 50.
Saint Dominic’s Roman Catholic Church was founded in Donora in August, 1902. Its first location was in the Walter S. Spragg Building, 733 McKean Avenue and the first priest was Father Pohorenec. The church is still located at Sixth Street and Thompson Avenue and the Very Reverend Joseph A. Kushner was the pastor at this writing. Saint Dominic’s had a total membership of 2000.
The First Presbyterian Church was founded in 1902 in Donora at Tabernacle on Prospect Avenue. It was also located later in the First National Bank Building. The first minister was Reverend R.P. Lippencot and the present minister is Reverend Harry C. Coleman. The church was located at Eighth Street and Thompson Avenue. It had a membership of 400.
The United Presbyterian Church was first located in Donora at the Odd Fellow’s Hall in 1902. It was also located in a tent between Fifth Street and Sixth Street and the Castner School House. The first minister was Reverend John W. McClenahan and the later minister was Reverend Clarence J. Sutton. The church was located at Ninth Street and McKean Avenue with a membership of 300.
The Cumberland Presbyterian was founded in 1902 with Reverend G. T. Neel its first minister. It was located in the Old Post office Building at Fifth Street and Prospect Avenue. It merged with the First Presbyterian Church in 1906 and at that time Reverend G. G. Kerr was the minister. They sold their property to Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in 1906.
The Holy Name of Mary Roman Catholic Church was founded in Donora in 1902. Its first location was in a store on Thompson Avenue. Father Frances Pikulski was the first pastor. Father Joseph Forysiak was pastor of the church at this writing which was located on Second Street. It had a membership of 550.
The First Baptist Church was founded in Donora on June 29, 1902. At that time it was located in a chapel at the corner of First Street and Waddell Avenue and Reverend W. B. Johnston was its first pastor. It was located at 713 Allen Avenue and Reverend C. W. Ingram was its pastor. Between its first and later sites it was also located at Eighth Street and Allen Avenue.
The Saint Charles Roman Catholic Church was dedicated in 1903 in Donora and Father Charles Steppling was the pastor. The parish heard mass in the Old Spragg Building and Watkins’s Storeroom before that time. The church was located at 735 Thompson Avenue and Father Joseph W. Lowney was the pastor at this writing and Father Richard Scherer was the assistant pastor. The first mass was offered in October, 1901 in the Spragg Building. Frank O’Donnell was the first alter boy in the parish. The membership of the parish was 1000.
The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in Donora on August 11, 1903. It was located in the First National Bank Building at the time and Reverend H. E. Berkey was the first pastor. At the time of this writing, Reverend Carl E. Maier was the pastor and the church was located at Tenth Street and McKean Avenue. It had a membership of 160.
The Emanuel Baptist Church was founded here on August 14, 1904. Reverend T. T. Lake was the first pastor and the church held services at Goodwin Hall and the Odd Fellow’s Hall. It also was located on First Street and Watkin’s Avenue. In August, 1911 it officially began its administrations in Donora. Reverend R. A. Unger was the pastor at the time of this writing and the church was located on Second Street and Castner Avenue. It had a membership of 196.
Saint Michaels’ Greek Catholic Church was founded April 11, 1904. Father Emil Sheregelly was its first pastor and it had a wooden structure on its present location at that time. Father Gro. J. Chegin was the pastor at the time of this writing and the church was located on Fifth Street and Murray Avenue. St. Michaels’ had a large choir of fifty mixed voices and the choir master was Paul Yatzko. The membership of the parish was 1200.
The Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1907 and located on Fifth Street and Prospect Avenue. Father Elias Gusis was the first pastor and the later pastor was Father W. Sadauskas. The Membership of the church was 125.
It was located at first in the Sunday School in the United Presbyterian Church. The church was located at Tenth Street and Thompson Avenue and the church was dedicated on September 6, 1925. Reverend Lee W. Burnett was the pastor at this writing and the total membership was 300.
The Hungarian Reformed Presbyterian Church was first located in Donora at the First Presbyterian Church in 1915. Then it moved to its location on First Street and Watkins Avenue. The first minister was Reverend Alexander Kalessey and the pastor was Reverend Stephen Szoke at this writing. The membership of the church totaled 35.
Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church under Reverend Nicholas Podlusky was located at first on Eighth Street and Meldon Avenue. It was founded in Donora on September 1915. Father John Skvir is the present pastor and the church is now located on Lucretia Avenue. There are 500 members in the church and they have an excellent choir consisting of forty voices.
The Saint Paul Baptist Church was founded in Donora in 1917 and was located in the basement of the present location of South McKean Avenue. Reverend W. E. McBrayer was the first pastor and Reverend J. R. Phillips is the present pastor. The membership of the Church is 400.
The Brethren Church was founded in 1923 at 427 Thompson Avenue with Elder William Kiddy its first pastor. Elder Leslie Wolf is the present pastor and the church is now located at First Street and Watkins Avenue. Membership of the church at present is 50.
Saint Philip Neri Roman Catholic Church was founded on its present location at 714 Norman Avenue in 1923. Father Joseph Ronconi was the first pastor and the present pastor is Father N. A. Biondi. Membership of the church is now 1200.
The First Pilgrim Church was founded in 1926 at 702 McKean Avenue with Reverend J. L. Muir its pastor. The church is now located at 1004 McKean Avenue and Reverend Samuel A. Byers is the pastor. The membership of the church now totals 50.
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints was founded on January 1, 1927 at Fifth Street and McKean Avenue. Its first pastor on January 1, 1927 at Fifth Street and McKean Avenue. Its fist pastor was Reverend Samuel H. Gaskill and its present pastor is Reverend J. W. Winters. The church was later located at Sixth Street and McKean Avenue before ac2uiring its present site at Seventh Street and McKean Avenue. The total membership is now 65.
The Bethlehem Temple (Apostolic Faith) was founded in 1943 at 832 McKean Avenue. Its first pastor was Bishop F. M. Thomas and its present pastor is Elder F. M. Thomas. The church is now located at 216 Twelfth Street and has a membership of 38.
Early Business Ventures in Donora:
The Donora American began as a weekly newspaper in 1901. It was established on April 19th of that year. Vernon Hazzard of Monongahela was the owner of the plant and Roman Koehler was the manager and editor. During the first year of the paper’s existence Roman Koehler purchased a half interest and the publication continued under the name of Hazzard and Koehler. Roman Koehler resigned the office of burgess of Reynoldsville to come to Donora to assume his duties with the infant journal. Mr. Koehler is now retired from the paper and is president of the Donora Historical Society.
The paper is now a daily under the name of The Herald-American and Robert H. Robinson, of Monongahela is the President.
The First National Bank of Donora was organized in the spring of 1901 and formally opened on July 15, 1901. The first Board of Directors of the bank were: W. I. Berryman, John Ailes, W.H. Donner, A.W. Mellon, Bart Castner, J. N. Mullin, and C. F. Thompson. The officers were: W. I. Berryman, president and John Ailes, Cashier. Latter W. H. Donner resigned and Frank Donner assumed the vacancy. The working force was increased later by the addition of Assistant Cashier James G. Binns and again strengthened by procuring Ben Binns as bookkeeper.
The Bank of Donora began on January 2, 1902. Its first officers were: N. H. Biddle, president: Theo. J. Allen, First Vice President and R. L. Biddle, cashier. The first board of directors included: Theodore Allen, U.H. Biddle, W.H. Binns, William Clendaniel, G. T. Craig, and J. O. Cunningham, E. l. Porter, W.S. Spragg, J. A. Sprowls, A. J. Vernon and J. B. Wood.
The Union Trust Company was the third and youngest bank to rise with the new town. The officers of this bank were: John W. Ailes, President; John N. Mullin, Vice President; W.H. Binns, Secretary and Treasurer. The Executive Committee: J. W. Ailes, Bert Castner, J. N. Mullin, R. L. Biddle and W. H. Binns. The directors: John W. Ailes, William I. Berryman, John W. Donner, Joseph S. Eliott, M. J. O’Donnell, A. W. Mellon, William H. Donner, John G. Coatsworth, A. B. Duvall, Joseph Underwood, R. L. Biddle, J. N. Mullin, George W. Allen, B.W. Castner, William H. Farrell, C. F. Thompson and William H. Binns.
B.W. Castner and Son conducted a general insurance and real estate brokerage business in 1901, as did Schooley and Kenyon; W. E. Todd another; W. W. Goodwin another and the Jenisee Land Company which began in 1900 with Amos Steck, President and General Manger and H. B. Steck, Manager.
The flour, feed and grain warehouse of W. A. Markell was the first building completed in the Borough of Donora. He started business in Donora September 4, 1900.
Sturgis’s Furniture and Undertaking was a going concern in 1901 in Donora also. E. G. Sturgis operated a furniture store and sold elegant caskets too. In the rear of the store was the morgue where bodies were properly prepared.
Campbell’s Shoe Store was operated by E. C. Campbell on McKean Avenue at this time, and A. A. Hardesty and Company operated a hardware store on Fifth Street.
The “Famous” was Donora’s first clothing store. It was operated by William Altman in 1901.
J. B. Stewart operated a News Agency, the only proprietor of a book and stationery store in Donora.
The National Pool and Billiard Parlor was operated by S. B. Robinson. William Clendaniel conducted a shoe store and R. M. Munson a hardware and plumbing store. The Corner Drug Store was owned by John W. Mullin and later by Fred Allison and Harry B. Wiley.
Furniture and undertaking seemed to go well together in Donora at the turn of the century for Comfort and Kelly operated another such business on McKean Avenue.
J. C. Laing established a dry goods store in 1901 and J. J. Boltze engaged in decorative painting.
Thomas Smith came to Donora in 1900 and accommodated the people with a Transfer and Drayman Business. He owned seven head of horses and “delivered the goods.” Thomas Smith was appointed street commissioner and high constable in Donora also.
Paul Nordstrom aided the town by establishing himself as an Artist an Decorator; E. L. Jones operated a “Butter and Eggs” store; McCune Brothers Department Store was popular in the dry goods market; Emmet S. Compton had a grocery store; Theodore Herring operated a Grocery and Meat Market up the hill on Fifth Street; Spragg and Son had a hardware store. The Spraggs erected one of the first buildings in Donora Called the Spragg Building; Faller Brother’s Furniture opened on July 1, 1901 and they erected a building which bears the same name today; household goods could be purchased from Hopton and Evans; Bertha Dodson operated the Donora Millinery Parlors; the first bakery in Donora was undertaken by Adolph Kapp in August, 1901; B. H. Hodge met the civic need as a Tinner and Roofer; George T. Michener prospered with receipts amounting to $50,000 a year in his Meat Market; E. F. Segner was a Jeweler and Optician; Ben Roth had a boot and shoe store on McKean Avenue; Wallace and Pruitt were grocers; W. H. Siebert, a plumber; John W. Mullin opened another drug store, the Mullin’s Pharmacy; George Ferguson’s grocery store was on the corner Fourth Street and Thompson Avenue; R. O. and George S. Bennet had a plumbing business on McKean Avenue and Frank Catapan had a grocery store on Third Street.
The Irondale was the first licensed hotel to open in Donora under C. F. Cardon and later under Nat Harris and Clarence L. Egbert.
The Hotel Columbia was opened by Eneas Coulson in November, 1901.
Luker's Boarding House and Restaurant was first located in South Columbia. It was a Bed and Breakfast establishment. The boarding rooms were upstairs and a restaurant was located on the first floor. In later years, it was moved to Eighth Street on McKean Avenue across from Petro's Bakery and later settled in the last location at First Street on McKean Avenue.
Allen’s Livery Stables was located on Meldon Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets. It was first owned by J. P. Power. Arthur Allen, the next owner was a descendent of the old Allen family that founded Allen Township. He was a brother of George Allen, R. F. Allen and Theodore Allen. The Allens came from Belle Vernon.
George W. Allen was on the ground here in Donora when lots were first sold. He had a real estate business, as did G. A. and Fred C. Van Pelt. The Van Pelts came here in August 1901 at the invitation of W. H. Donner, president of the Union Steel Company.
The Hotel McManus, Thompson Avenue and Fourth Street was opened by Bartley McManus April 15, 1901. Bartley McManus was the father of ten lusty children. He was born of Irish parents in Scotland about ten miles from where Bobby Burns followed the plow and composed his songs.
The Hotel Donora was presided over by “The Prince of Bonifaces” Frank E. Garwood, from Greensburg. It was located on Seventh and McKean.
Luker's Boarding House and restaurant was first located in South Columbia. It was a Bed and Breakfast establishment. The boarding rooms were upstairs and a restaurant was located on the first floor. In later years it was moved to Eighth Street on McKean Avenue, across from Petro's Bakery and later settled in the last location at First Street on McKean Avenue.
The Hotel Indiana, J. H. Lollar, proprietor, stood at the corner of Meldon Avenue and Sixth Street.
The Miller Clothing Company, M. Miller, manager, opened for business in the Donora Hotel building on March 22, 1902.
J. N. Mullin and Paul Mullin operated a Real Estate business.
The Donora Ice and Cold Storage Company was incorporated in March, 1901. C.M. Gay was president; Clyde T. Lewis, secretary and Dr. J. Add Sprowls, treasurer.
The oldest grocery and general merchandise house in this vicinity was the store conducted by G. A. Watkins, at West Columbia station. At the time the town of Donora was started this place was known as the Donora Supply Company. He had a formidable trade in both Donora and West Columbia.
The Union Lumber Company had a prosperous business in these early days with officers: C. W. Lynn, C. S. McClosky and Walter Byerly.
Eggers and Graham aided Donora as Contractors and Builders in 1901, and the Kirkwood Electrical Company under the supervision of William Kirkwood wired much of the town for electric lighting. Kirkwood used over 200, 000 feet of wire in the buildings in Donora.
The Wachtel Brothers and Company operated a “Men’s Outfitters” store on McKean Avenue.
In the Spring of 1902, R. F. Allen of Belle Vernon associated himself with Charles Coatsworth of Monongahela and purchased the lumber and yards of the Willson Lumber Company on Meldon Avenue. The directors of the company were: Charles Coatsworth, George Allen, B. C. Strickler and Charles Teeple.
The Union Pharmacy was conducted by a limited partnership composed of James P. Castner, Lewis G. Tomer and John S. Culbert. The pharmacy was opened April 1, 1901 on Meldon Avenue.
The J. C. Heslep Coal was obtained from the “System” mine on the Heslep property. James Heslep owned and operated the mine assisted by his two sons Frederick and Robert. The mine was situated near Eleventh Street and Meldon Avenue.
Donora is justly proud of the many individuals who were blessed with particular talents and of those who have achieved their goals in a period of time, but one thing they have in common, part of their success was in some way influenced by Donora.
Success is difficult to define. However, those who alleviate the troubles of others certainly deserve mention. Therefore, we will mention first the members of various medical fields.
Dr. W. H. Lewis Sr. practiced in the Donora-Webster vicinity for over fifty years and received recognition from the American Medical Association for this service. His son W. H. Lewis Jr. is a Harvard graduate and is a recognized heart specialist in New York City.
Lee O’Donnel, head surgeon at Mercy Hospital, and an associate of the Medical School of the University of Pittsburgh, is widely known for his success in operating on “Athletes Knees.” His hobby is the University of Notre Dame Alumni Association.
John, his brother, is a medical diagnostician at the Allegheny General and St. Joseph’s Hospitals in Pittsburgh. He is president of Allegheny County American Medical Association.
John Urbaitis is a psychiatrist and is Assistant Superintendent at Warren State Hospital. His borther, Peter, is also an M.D.
Captain Ralph Fielding U.S. N. latest assignment has been the Naval Medical Attaché at the American Embassy at Moscow.
Commander George S. Watkins U. S. N. has specialized in Industrial Medicine. Locally he was known as “Tackle” and “Football Captain” in his school days.
Albert Roode is a medical missionary in Sudan, Africa. This followed an interesting war history in medical corps, aboard the destroyer “Quick.” One of his sons was born in Africa.
Kenneth McPherson was the medical attendant of the late Theodore Roosevelt, at the president’s personal request. His death at the Front in World War II was of international importance.
Pomeroy Polevayis a plastic surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Rufus Parrish is our first renowned colored doctor.
Milton Applbaum is a specialist in various skin disorders and centers his services in this valley.
Lewis Weiss is an ear, nose, throat specialist in Sewickley, Pennsylvania as is John Cacia in Evansville, Indiana.
The Keefer girls are an interesting pair. Julia is an M.D. and Frances a dentist.
Dr. George Traugh Jr. D. H. S. 1905, practicing physician in Fairmont, West Virginia was one of the early mathematics teachers in his own high school before completing his medical studies. His brother John is an M. D. and they are the sons of one of the town’s doctors that served for many years. The old Doctor was also an ordained minister. Their mother Mertie Traugh was a member of the local school board that served earnestly for the welfare of Donora’s youth.
Dr. Morris Heatter gave his service as team physician of Donora High School for many years. He is at present the school physician. His brother Max is located in Monessen, Pennsylvania.
Serving locally are the two Rongaus Brothers, Walter and William, Dweese Brown, Ralph Koehler, Joseph Novotny and Edward Roth. Others that have adopted various communities are William and Chester Tomaseski, George Toth, John Neill, Mercer Neale Jr., William Mitro, Michael Kolczum, and the two Johns brothers, Donald and Nicholas plus the late Doctors Perri and Isaacs.
In summary, we note that this totals thirty-five medical doctors that lay claim to being “Donora Boys.” Donora, too, is proud of the many family physicians of the past and present that have seen fit to locate and work so industriously in our community.
In the other medical branches we have our dentists. Henry Schmitt, diminutive Donora High School and University of Pittsburgh athlete was the first local boy to locate at home. He is an outstanding citizen, and the father of eight children. His hobbies are hunting and fishing. Brother Joseph, W. P. I. A. L. halfback 1921 has offices in Erie, Pennsylvania. Lewis Ferretti, recent graduate, has chosen his home town in which to practice. Jacob Graham settled in Pittsburgh as did Francis Keefer. John Purcell is in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.
These six might call themselves “Donora Boys” yet Donora has been fortunate to be adopted by the other men who chose to locate here and thus helped protect our health.
The members of the nursing profession are numerous and truly serving everywhere. In industrial nursing we have had many local girls but one name revered by Donora workman for the past three decades is Grace Hickman.
The Donora School District officially started the school nursing system in 1921 with Gertrude Hayes. She was followed in later years by Anna Burkhardt and Mary Daugherty. In earlier years Marie Watson and others helped with the school work but they were employed by civic organizations, such as the Visiting Nurse Association.
Captain Annabelle Watkins is serving with the army in Japan as a dietician. She is the sister of Commander Watkins of the Navy.
Harriet Latta Clark, former teacher and speech therapist was a physical therapist with the army during World War II.
In the field of Religion, we have Mose M. Shaw, a leader in the youth movement of the United Presbyterian Church. His fellow graduates of 1905 called him Max.
Myrtle Stump McCulloch is an ordained minister of the Baptist church as is her husband, Walter. Each has his own parish in Homestead, Pennsylvania.
There are two Pipiks in religion. They were ordained in the Greek Rite of the Catholic Church. John, known as Father Michael is on of the very few Benedictine Monks in the United States of this Rite.
Lawrence Connair, known in religion as Father Roger, served as a Commander in the Chaplains Corps in the U. S. N. in two theatres of War – African and Pacifics.
For many years our synagogue was in charge of Rabi Elefant. Three of his sons, local school products, Maurvin, Milton and Benjamin are Rabbis serving in Boston, Massachusetts, New York City and Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
It is to be expected that individual churches will recognize their own sons and daughters who have dedicated their lives to God in serving mankind. Many priests, nuns, and ministers could be listed.
Some of these not mentioned above are the Reverend Fathers, Krysmalski, Adamek, Ribik, Elco, O’Connell, McCullough, Marconyak, Felepchak, Conway and Hruska, and the late Fathers Odelga and McNamara. The ministers are the Reverend M. McPherson, Londom, Hogg, Boettiger, and Chilcate.
In the field of Art, we have two interesting contributions. They are the Renzo and Renato Rutilli, twin brothers. Both attended Donora Senior High and have won international art prizes. Renzo had the honor of designing the school seal which is still in use and which may be found on every class ring. He also designed the furniture display for Macys and the display for the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company at the New York World’s Fair. During the war Renzo designed multiple gliders for the U.S. army Air Force. Renato has specialized in the field of advertising. His work may be seen in many nationally advertised magazines.
Earnest E. Compton, a Donorian, with his father designed the Senior High School Building. Both men are well known as architects.
In the field of music, Chuck Evans is distinguished by playing in and serving as president of Fred Waring's Orchestra. Edith Sagul is a concert artist and has taught the study of the flute at the Juillard School of Music.
In the field of education, Andrew S. Sukel, local school superintendent co-authored a widely used citizenship textbook. Dr. David Moskovitz is a long standing member of the mathematics department at Carnegie Institute of Technology and co-author of several mathematics textbooks.
James Charlesworth is a pioneer in the establishment of courses in labor relations and government.
Marvin Shogam is our only student at Oxford University, England.
Twenty-five years ago it was noted that fifty-nine local high school graduates had taught in Donora. At present (55) teachers in our public schools were local school products. One of these, Edwin Ore, has composed the school Alma Mater.
In the broad field of education we have men who have earned distinction by attaining a doctorate, the ultimate in formal education in the field. There is Clarence Genovee, a former Donora schoolteacher and psychologist who is now a consultant in Industrial Psychology in New York City. There is Michael Duda who served as both teacher and administrator in the local schools and is now superintendent of schools in Monessen. There is Michael Joseph Balogh who is at present assistant professor of sociology at Bowling Green College.
The following are adopted Donorians! Grant Furlong M.D. has been Donora’s contribution to Federal Government. He served as congressman from this district. He has held other positions such as Postmaster, State assemblyman and numerous county positions and is County Sheriff at present. He is probably Donora’s best know citizen and knows the greater portion of the population by their first name. He is a busy man for he has always continued his active medical practice.
Judge D.M Anderson – Washington County, Orphans Court is Donora’s best known legal representative and our only judge.
J. Add Sprowls M. D. – deceased was an assemblyman and a member of the Board of Directors of Morganza.
Vincent Campana-local attorney, served as assemblyman.
M. M. Neale – local mill executive and a leading citizen is on the Board of Directors at Torrance State Hospital.
Ben Binns, local realtor and better known as the town’s banker, is on the Board of Trustees at California State Teacher’s College.
Added to these are many local men admitted to the bar. Among these are Paul Neal, George Frazier, John Koedel, Nicholas Polkabla, Malcolm and Dwight Anderson, Daniel E. Cannon, Arnold and David Hirsch, Achilio D’Emedio, and Leonard Greenvalt.
Major Margaret Goodman Brown has continued her relationship with the WACS.
In the field of Science Donora has contributed Myron Fair, formerly a teacher of physics at Duquesne University and who is now working on Atomic Research at Oakridge, Tennessee. Another is Walter Kaufman, a research engineer who designed the catapult on aircraft carriers and who is now pioneering in jet propulsion. We also have Walter Houseler a well-known authority on high explosives as well as American Stamps. Jean Colgan and Paul Yavorsky are two among very few ever to receive fellowships in scientific research to the Mellon Institute. Dwaine Edwards was also honored by receiving a fellowship to Columbia University.
In Industry we have our
local Superintendent of the Donora Steel and Wire Works, Harold Cope – D.H.S.
1910. Our local industry has been the opening link for many in successful work
in Industry. Fred Carpi is a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. His
start was the P.R. R. Freight office in Donora. James B. Castner of
Wilmington, Delaware is an executive in the plastic Research of the DuPont
Company. He is one of the descendants of the town’s first settlers. Vincent
Sweeny, former editor of the Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Press directs all
publicity of the
C. I. O. J. J. Joy inventor of the Joy Coal Loader is a name known to all coal men. He is often given credit for revolutionizing the coal industry.
Gregg Neal, D. H. S. 1908, has headed the real estate groups in Pennsylvania or Western Pennsylvania.
Alfred Zeffiro is a name often repeated along the nations highways. His trucks and vans are likely to be seen most anywhere in the eastern part of United States.
Harold Cope, general superintendent of the American Steel and Wire Works here was chosen by the people of Donora to head their celebration that heralds the fifty-year period of its existence. Mr. Cope is an enthusiastic and vigorous civic leader and a Donorian. After graduation from the local high school in 1910 he studied engineering at Penn State. His first job here was as a “Blue Print Boy” which was followed for a brief period in 1915 in a surveying capacity known industrially as a “Red Man.” In 1917 Mr. Cope worked in the Blast Furnace department and in December of the same year he became Turn Foreman in that department. In 1922 – 1924 he was on a student apprentice-training program He became General Foreman at the Blast Furnace in 1926 and in 1934 he was elevated to the position of Superintendent of the Blast Furnace. In 1940 he was made Assistant General Superintendent of the plant and then, in 1942 he went to Cleveland as a Division Metallurgist. On January 1, 1945 he became General Superintendent of the Central Furnace and Coke Works of Cleveland. On August 1, 1949, Mr. Cope came back to Donora. He was active in church work and was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, American Foundry Society and the American Iron and Steel Institute.
"At this time, in closing our brief story of Donora we offer Donora’s “Official Family and the members of the School Board.”
August Chambon, Donora’s present burgess, came here from Besseger, France on August 3, 1907. He was graduated from Donora High School in 1918. Burgess Chambon was elected to the borough council in 1937 where he served until 1943. Then he assumed the unexpired term of Dr. Grant Furlong as burgess. After that he was elected burgess is now fulfilling his second term. Mr. Chambon is in the transportation business but, aside from his duties here and at the borough building, he is enthusiastically striving to better the firemen’s Association and one of the originators of that organization in Washington County. He was the first president of the Washington County Fireman’s Associating in 1940. At present he is the Treasurer of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Fire chiefs Association and for the past five years has served as Fire Warden in Washington County.
The borough council members are: John Marasocich, James Gallenton, Charles Wunderlich, Andrew Sasko, Rudolph R. Schwerha, John Duda and John P. Jaso.
Sylvester Erdelyi is Borough Secretary, W. W. Dennis, Borough Engineer; Joseph Polkabla, Borough Treasurer; Paul Barna, Solicitor; J. J. Norton and Joseph Drobiszewski are Justices of the Peace; George Saxon, constable and John Hornbake, Tax Collector.
Donora’s Board of Health is comprised of Dr. William Rongaus, Chairman, Chester Glinka, Charles Stacey and John Gidick. The Secretary is Miss Elizabeth Ostrander and the borough health office, Frank Sczymezk.
Schools-"The Donora Dragons"
It has been noted that a native Donorian, Andrew S. Sukel is Superintendent of the Donora Public Schools.
The present School Board Members are: President Charles Stacey, Patsy Amatangelo, Louis Demter, Paul Johnston, Louis Busto, Thomas Puglisi and Michael Culyba with Paul Barna as School Solicitor and George Frazier as School Secretary.There is no conclusion to the story of Donora, for history is the unfolding of the lives of people and their influence upon one another and the impact of their lives upon the future. What that future in Donora is going to be will always harken back to the influences and actions of the people in this story added to the unraveling thread of lives of Donorians today.