from: A History of Washington County, Pennsylvania
By: Earle R. Forrest
Published By The S. J. Clark Publishing Company, Chicago 1926
The first settler and proprietor of the Town of Canonsburg was John Canon, after whom the place is named. Colonel Canon settled in this section of the Chartiers valley about 1773, and for many years was one of the leading citizens of Washington County. In May, 1780, he was granted Virginia certificates for 1,200 acres of land in four tracts called Mount Airy, Abbington and Canon's Hill, on Chartiers Creek, and Sugar Tree Grove some distance away. About 1781 he erected a mill on Chartiers Creek which was one of the first in that section. This mill has already been mentioned in other sections of this work. The author is informed by Mr. David H. Fee, editor of the Canonsburg Notes and the best informed man on the history of that borough. that this mill stood on the site of the present mill of the Canonsburg Milling Company, which was erected about 100 years or more ago. John Canon has been mentioned frequently in the Indian wars and the early settlement of the county and needs no further introduction. He derived his title of colonel from his appointment in 1777 as a colonel of the Washington County militia.
In 1787 Colonel Canon laid out the first town plat of Canonsburg. with the main road, now Pike Street, as the central or main thoroughfare. On March 15, 1787. he sold the following lots: No. 3. to Dr. Thompson; No. 4, to Daniel McCoy: No. 5, to James Morrison; No. 6, to David Gault; No. 7, to Donald Cameron; Nos. 9 and 10. to Andrew Monroe, all on the west side of Market, now Pike Street; and Nos. 11. 12 and 13, on the same side of the street, to John Todd, June 1, 1787. On the east side of Market Street the following lots were sold on March 13. 1787: No. 3, to Capt. Craig Ritchie; No. 4, to Col. Matt Ritchie; No. 5, to William Marshall; No. 6, to Abraham DeHaven.
No date is on the next plat, but it was between 1790 and 1800. During this period we find the following to be some of the property owners: Abraham DeHaven, Dr. Hugh Thompson, Daniel McCoy, shoemaker; John McDowell, David Gault, tanner; Thomas Speers, merchant; Dr. Thomas B. Creaghead. Andrew Munroe. tavern keeper; Jefferson Academy, John Todd, cooper; Charles White. hatter; William Webster. carpentcr; James Foster. brewer: William Criswell. weaver; Ann Cook, Elizabeth Andrews, Adam Johnson, weaver: Robert Bowland, miller; Craig Ritchie, Esq., Matthew Ritchie. Esq. William Thompson, mason; John McGill, George McCooke. James Witherspoon. William Roberts. William McCall; John Anderson, carpenter; James Morrison. butcher; Thomas Morrison, tailor; J. Alex Miller, cooper; John Miller, schoolmaster; Samuel Miller. Dell Weaver, mason; David Ralston, stiller.
Canonsburg is the oldest incorporated municipality in the county, its charter dating from February 22, 1802, eight years before the borough of Washington was incorporated. At an election held May 3, 1802. in the college, the following were elected as the first officers: Samuel Murdoch, burgess; William Clarke, Thomas Briceland. William \Vhite, John Johnson, and John Wattson, council; and John McGill. high constable. The first meeting of council was held May 6, 1802.
A market house was erected in Canonsburg on Main Street(now Central Avenue) below the college grounds, before the first meeting of council; and on May 6, 1802. Andrew Munroe was appointed clerk to have entire charge. An ordinance regulating the sales in the market was passed March 19, 1804; and on June 4, 1808, it was ordered that the stalls be rented at $1.50 per annum. This market stood for a number of years, the exact time not being known. On August 25, 1820, council moved that it be razed and a new one erected, but this was held in abeyance until May 16, 1821, when it was voted down. The building stood for some years after that date.
The "Hibernia," a hand fire engine, was purchased by council in 1829, and it was used in the big fire of 1835; and in February, 1836, a volunteer fire company was organized. This existed for several years and was then discontinued for lack of attendance. Later the engine was sold for $35. In recent years two fire companies were organized, one with quarters in the borough building and the other on Ridge Avenue, both being supplied with fire fighting equipment. Canonsburg's worst disaster was the big fire of November, 1898, when several business buildings in Pike Street were destroyed with large loss. It was necessary to use dynamite finally to stop the progress of the fire. Among the buildings destroyed was the borough building, which was replaced in 1899 by a new pressed brick building of two stories.
The first tavern kept in Canonsburg was by Andrew Munroe, who was licensed at the October term, 1787. This was located at the southwest corner of Main and College streets and was kept by him until 1801, and Jennet Munroe succeeded him until 1805, when it ceased. In December, 1790, William Dehaven was licensed to keep a tavern, and Abraham Dehaven in 1791. Francis Irwin kept a tavern from June, 1793 to 1801.
Henry Westby, the proprietor of the Black Horse Tavern, famous as the meeting place of the Whisky Insurrectionists in 1794. was licensed in January of that year. He remained as proprietor until 1814. when he moved to Washington and was succeeded by his son, John, who conducted it for many years. This was Canonsburg's most noted tavern of the early days.
Briceland's Tavern was probably the most noted in all Canonsburg's history. This old building stood on the present site of the Citizens Trust Building, and was a landmark of the town for many years. The date of the erection of this building and by whom is not known; but when the old Washington-Pittsburgh Pike was at the height of its glory, in the days before the Chartiers Valley Railroad was completed in 1871, this tavern was a famous stand. Its history began back in the '40s and extended through a period of thirty years or more. It was conducted for many years by John Briceland, son of Thomas Briceland, one of the town's first residents, and from him this stopping place received its name. For years before the Civil war it was the popular stopping place for all visitors at college events, and on the muster days of the militia it was headquarters for military men. During the Civil war all soldiers gathered there when preparing to go to the front or when passing through the town on furlough. When Company G, of the famous One Hundred and Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Canonsburg's own company, returned at the close of the Civil war, the survivors were welcomed home at a big banquet in this tavern. It continued as the town's principal hotel under the name of Sherman House and Central Hotel until it was razed in 1903 to make room for the trust building.
McFadden's Tavern at the corner of Central Avenue and East College Street was opened by Hector McFadden in November, 1822, and kept until 1835. During those years it was a popular place, especially for college students. This building is still standing.
For ten years, beginning with 1819, William Finley kept a tavern on the site of the old opera house. As early as 1794, David Lock and Mary Hill were licensed to keep a tavern. Others who were licensed to keep taverns in the early years of the past century were George Sellers, in 1806; John Patterson, in 1809; John Lowry and Joshua Emory, in 1810.
In January, 1811, Rev. D. D. Graham advertised that he would give instructions in rhetoric, belles-lettres and the science of philology. The first schoolhouse of which we have a record was erected of brick in 1816 by subscription of a number of prominent citizens. This school was in operation for a number of years, and among some of the early teachers as far back as 1828 were Samuel Hindman, John Hindman, Samuel Guess, John Roberts, Mrs. Rankin, Mrs. Grier, Joseph Gray, Samuel G. MeNeill, Nancy Knox, Mary Ray, Davis Bascom, Thomas Wilson, Hugh Sturgeon, John Strean, Robert Curry, Benjamin South and William G. Fee.
When Chartiers Township adopted the school code in 1834, the schools of Canonsburg were a part of that district and remained so until 1857, when it became a separate district. The old town hall, built in 1843 by the borough on the site of the old stone college, was used by the district of Chartiers and Canonsburg for about thirty years. The old brick schoolhouse mentioned above stood for seventy-seven years.
A brick school of four rooms was erected in the '70s, and at that time it was large enough to house all of the pupils of the town. At the present time Canonsburg is an independent district with F. W. McVay as the superintendent. In addition to a school nurse, supervisor of music and two assistant teachers it has twenty-five teachers in the Central Schools; a principal and sixteen teachers in the First Ward School; a principal and seventeen teachers in the Third Ward School; four teachers in the White Lawn School, and a principal and twelve teachers in the new high school. The total number of teachers is seventy-eight with a total of 3,237 pupils, and an average daily attendance of 2,900. The assessed valuation of the property of the district is $4,534,385, and the amount of taxes collected for school purposes last year was $132,031.90 at 26 mills.
On September 18 to 21, 1784, Gen. George Washington visited Canonsburg in connection with the claims of squatters on his lands in Mount Pleasant Township. This is the only time that General Washington was ever in this county.
On September 5, 1817, James Monroe, President of the United States, visited Canonsburg and was escorted into the town by Miller's Company of Light Infantry and a number of men on horseback. He was entertained with refreshments at Emorys' Tavern on the corner of Pike Street and Central Avenue, after which he visited Jefferson College, where speeches were made.
President Grant passed through Canonsburg once while on his way to visit W. W. Smith in Washington.
On July 4, 1866, the Eureka baseball team of Pittsburgh defeated the Mechanics team of Canonsburg by a score of 50 to 15; and on July 21,, 1866, the Jefferson College nine of Canonsburg defeated the Hygeia Club of Pittsburgh by a score of 67 to 17.
William McEwen was the first person in Canonsburg to use natural gas in his residence. This was in the spring of 1885.
On December 9, 1885, the residence of Wesley Greer, at the corner of Central Avenue and Pike Street, was wrecked by an explosion of natural gas. Mr. and Mrs. Greer, two small children and Mr. Greer's mother were in the house and were injured, but not seriously. Fire broke out immediately after the explosion, and the house was destroyed.
The worst flood in the town's history was on the night of August 21, 1888, when the bridge at Houston, the bridge at the foot of Central Avenue and many buildings were carried away by the waters of Chartiers Creek. No trains were run on the Chartiers Railway for nearly a week.
During the winter of 1850-51 a young man named Wilson was killed in a fight between college students and boys of the town. Someone plunged a knife into young Wilson. A student named Ammon was implicated in the affair, but he made his escape. Another student named Robinson was arrested and tried in Washington, but was acquitted.
On December 31, 1925, the plant of the Standard Chemical Company, manufacturers of radium, was damaged by fire to the amount of $40,000. The origin was unknown. In this connection it is interesting to note that the Standard Chemical Company, located at Canonsburg, which is the largest manufacturing plant for radium in the world, was started about 1911 through the efforts of the late Joseph Flannery, of Pittsburgh. From the very beginning the plant has been in charge of L. F. Vogt, of Washington, a chemist and metallurgist, and one of the foremost authorities on radium in the United States. This is the pioneer plant in this country for the manufacture of radium, which is obtained from carbonite which is shipped from Colorado. where this company owns extensive mining operations for this valuable mineral. In appearance it resembles yellow sandstone, the yellow appearance being caused by uranium. The ore contains such a small amount of radium that it cannot be reckoned on a percentage basis, and it takes up to 500 tons of ore to produce a single gram of radium. Up to 1921 a total of 120 grams of radium, valued at $14,400,000, covered the world's supply of this preciouS mineral; and of this amount the Standard Chemical Company had produced 72 grams, valued at $8,640,000. An ounce of gold is worth approximately $20, but an ounce of radium is valued at $3,480,000, and a single gram is worth $120,000. The Canonsburg plant produces more radium a year than all of the rest of the radium plants in the world combined.
One of the most important historic events in the history of the Canonsburg plant was the visit there on Friday, May 27, 1921, of Madame Curie, of Paris, the Frenchwoman, who with her husband in 1898 discovered and gave radium to the world. During her tour of this country Madame Curie was presented by the people of the Pittsburgh district with a gram of radium. valued at $120,000, which was produced at the Standard Chemical Company's plant. This gift was presented to her at the White House on May 20, 1921, by President Harding. On May 27 Madame Curie, accompanied by her daughter and a party from Pittsburgh, arrived at the Canonsburg plant and made a tour of inspection, when all of the various processes in the manufacture of radium were explained in detail.
The Chartiers United Presbyterian Church, which celebrated its sesquicentennial September 22, 1925. was one of four churches in the county which were 150 years old last year. This congregation was organized in 1775. Rev. Matthew Henderson, the first pastor, was called in 1781 and served until he was killed by a falling tree in 1795. Other pastors who succeeded him were: Rev. John Smith, 1797-1802; Rev. James Ramsey, 1805-49; Rev. D. H. French, 1850-53; Rev. John B. Clark, May. 1853, to August. 1860; Rev. D. M. French, 1861-66; Rev. D. M. B. McLean, 1870-80; Rev. W. B. Smiley, and Rev. William P. Aiken.
The first church was built of logs in 1782, on the present site of the Oak Spring Cemetery, which is one of the old burying grounds of that section. The second building was of limestone, built in 1834, and it in turn was replaced by a brick structure. In 1868 the present church was erected on Pike Street, Canonsburg.
The Canonsburg United Presbyterian congregation, commonly known as the Greenside Avenue Church, was organized in 1830 as the Speers Spring congregation. \Vorship was held in a tent near a spring on the Speers farm a mile east of Canonsburg until a brick church was completed in 1831, at the Speers Spring Cemetery, at the end of East Pike Street. This was enlarged in 1851 and was used until the present edifice was erected on Greenside Avenue in 1885, at a cost of $17,000, being dedicated March 25. The first pastor was Rev. Alexander McCahon, who installed in April, 1831, and resigned in 1843. The present pastor is Rev. H. Ross Hune.
The First Presbyterian congregation was organized in 1830 and worshipped in the chapel of Jefferson College. It used the chapel until 1889, when the present building was erected on the site of old Olome Institute. The cornerstone was laid August 22, 1889. and the church was dedicated June 22, 1890, the cost being about $32,000. Rev. Robert L. Brackenridge, the first pastor, was installed December 12, 1845. and resigned two years later. The present pastor is Rev. George G. Kerr, and the membership is 597.
The Central Presbyterian congregation was organized December 1, 1888, with Rev. L. M. Lewis as the first pastor. He remained until 1896. It worshipped in the chapel of Jefferson College for a number of years. before the present church was erected. The present pastor is Rev. David Demster, and the membership is 284.
The Methodist Episcopal congregation was organized about 1845, through the efforts of J. C. Pershing, a student at Jefferson College, and John Hagerty, a stone mason. In 1847 John Ramsey donated a lot on Greenside Avenue, upon which a church was erected and used until 1888, when the present church was erected at West Pike and Iron streets. It was dedicated April 22, 1888. The old brick chapel on Greenside Avenue stood until 1907. Rev. C. R. Wolf is now the pastor.
The Roman Catholic denomination held meetings monthly in Canonsburg in the early '80s, and from that beginning St. Patrick's Roman Catholic congregation developed. About 1887 a room was rented in the Kerr Building and services held at regular intervals until 1891, when the old Methodist chapel on Greenside Avenue was purchased, and it was dedicated April 12, 1891, by Rev. J. F. Canevin, of Pittsburgh. Services were conducted twice a month until 1903, when this was made a separate parish and Rev. Apolonius Tyszka placed in charge. The present building, which cost $30,000, was dedicated April 7, 1907. Rev. Thomas Zacharski is the present rector.
St. Genevieve Roman Catholic congregation grew out of the First congregation. Its first building, erected in 1905, was destroyed by fire, July 4, 1907, but another was erected later. The present rector is Rev. Edward Piculick.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church was organized October 1, 1890. Worship was conducted in halls throughout the town until 1900, when a lot was purchased and the present building erected in 1901-02 at a cost of $5,000. It was dedicated December 20, 1902.
The First Baptist congregation was organized in 1906 by a few families of that denomination holding cottage prayer meeting in their homes. The present building on North Jefferson Avenue was erected and dedicated May 31, 1908. The present pastor is Rev. J. W. Parker.
The Christian Church organized a congregation in Canonsburg a number of years ago, and meetings were held every Sunday for several years with Rev. J. F. White, of Washington, in charge. About 1909 the congregation was compelled to vacate its hall in the Ritchie diamond, and services were discontinued for a time, but later a church was erected on West College Street. Rev. E. K. VanWinkle, pastor.
The Payne African Methodist Episcopal (colored) congregation dates back, according to some authorities, to 1833, but there are no early records. Worship was held for several years in private residences, after which the congregation was regularly organized, with Rev. S. Chingman as pastor. John Chase, a colored man, had died intestate, leaving a lot in the west part of the town. About 1853 or possibly 1854 the legislature granted a petition of the congregation to invest a body of trustees with title to this land for the purpose of erecting a church. This was built in 1856 and remodeled in 1875. It was used until 1903, when a new church was erected and dedicated in May.
The Mount Olivet Baptist (colored) congregation was organized about twenty-three years ago. Services were first held in the Ritchie diamond and later in the frame schoolhouse in the rear of the Central Avenue School until the new frame church was erected on Vine Street in 1908.