100 years of making a difference

At left: 1953 Mt. Lebanon PTA executive board members.
mtl magazine traditionally closes out the year by recognizing a handful of residents who made a difference in the past 12 months. But Since we are closing Mt. Lebanon’s centennial year, we decided to turn our gaze back 100+ years to acknowledge the people who made Mt. Lebanon what it is today.
We start with the forefathers (and mothers)—the hearty Europeans who began settling this area in the late 1700S. These families include those of Nathaniel Plummer, Andrew McFarland, Alexander Long, William McCully and John Henry. They wasted no time cutting down the forests to establish farms, turning Indian trails into roads and erecting houses, churches, schools and businesses. They faced hostile Indians, freezing cold (with no indoor plumbing) and wild animals (one history book tells of panthers dropping from trees onto unwary travelers and OF bears taking possession of log cabins). In 1794, when the government threatened to tax their primary source of income—whiskey—they rebelled in one of the first tests of our new nation’s government. These settlers are the foundation on which this community was built.
Reverend Joseph Clokey

REV JOSEPH CLOKEY Around 1850, Rev. Clokey, pastor of what would become Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church, took a trip to the Holy Land and returned with two Cedar of Lebanon trees, which he planted in his yard near Bower Hill Road. In 1855, when the newly established post office on Washington Road at Bower Hill needed a name, “Mt. Lebanon”—for Clokey’s landmark trees and the area where they grow natively—was chosen. The name stuck, and citizens even fought a legal battle for it in 1909 when a new borough just north of the post office was incorporated. That borough became Dormont.

THE FIRST COMMISSION AND SOLICITORIn 1901, the trolley reached Mt. Lebanon, and farmland began giving way to residential development. A group of progressive men realized that if the area was to grow and thrive, it would need sewers, electric street lights, sidewalks, police and fire protection and other amenities.

Willis Seigfriend

They decided that achieving those goals required separating from Scott Township and forming a new township—and they stuck to their plan even though it took three elections to get the majority vote needed to secede. Mt. Lebanon Township was formed in February 1912, and during their first few months in office, the first commissioners—Willis Siegfried, Clarence Scheck, J.S. Gilfillan, J.S. Chambers and F.W. Cooke, along with solicitor Samuel Schreiner—hired a road supervisor and engineer, established a board of health, set the first tax rate, established finance and streets/highways committees and—even though there were only six cars in the community—set speed limits. Their vision set the groundwork for future zoning and development ordinances that would keep Mt. Lebanon a community of small business districts and distinctive neighborhoods—instead of strip malls, car dealerships and big box stores.

Justus Mulert

THE DEVELOPERS AND ARCHITECTS One of the first people to see the potential of Mt. Lebanon was Justus Mulert, who in 1902 began developing Clearview, Mt. Lebanon’s second residential housing plan. Many of these lovely homes still stand in the Washington Road, Cedar Boulevard and Cochran Road triangle (although Mulert’s own house was razed to make way for the 900 Washington Road condominiums). Following in Mulert’s footsteps were developers Laurence Stevenson and Johnston Realtors (Mission Hills), F.E. McGillick (Lebanon Hills), James Duff (Virginia Manor), W.A. Bode (Parker Gardens and Sunset Hills) and Joseph Haller (Hoodridge) to name a few. In response to the growing number of automobiles, these developers laid out streets that followed the natural lay of the land instead of using the steep up-and-down grid pattern, resulting in the lovely curving streets we so enjoy driving and walking along today. In Mission Hills and Virginia Manor, they sold houses rather than land, which increased the diversity of architecture styles. And the architects and contactors who were hired, such as Tom Garman (he designed more than 2,300 homes in the community) and the Caste Brothers (Mission Hills, Virginia Manor, Beverly Heights), used their vision and craftsmanship to build a community with character. Thanks to them, Mt. Lebanon may end up on the National Register of Historic Places.

Clarence Scheck, second from left.

CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS One of the first clubs in the community was the Women’s Fortnightly Review, founded in 1911, which gave local women a way to serve their community—they petitioned for garbage collection service, supported worthy causes and, during World War II, made and mailed candy to every Mt. Lebanon boy in the service. Members of the Woman’s Club of Mt. Lebanon (formed in 1924), were behind many community improvements—selecting the site for Mt. Lebanon Park, purchasing the high school band’s first uniforms and giving funds for library expansion and a public safety building. The local Lions Club (formed 1929) organized Mt. Lebanon’s first library, while the Mt. Lebanon Civic League, organized in 1927, sponsored the community’s July 4 celebration and hosted numerous events, including a long-running contest for the best decorated house every Christmas. In 1935, the Mt. Lebanon PTA was formed to oversee safety of the children, enhance the school facilities and enrich the extracurricular programs. Music for Mt. Lebanon, founded in 1946, brought culture to the community by hosting such celebrated musicians as Van Cliburn, Arthur Rubenstein and Joan Sutherland. Indoor Tennis for Mt. Lebanon brought year-round tennis to the community by erecting bubbles over the tennis courts. The men and women involved in these groups set the standard for other groups that followed. Mt. Lebanon is fortunate to have a seemingly bottomless pool of committed citizens who are ready to solve problems, raise funds and promote a worthy cause. Today Mt. Lebanon boasts more organizations than we could possibly name here—from Outreach Teen & Family Services and Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club to the League of Women Voters and the Rotary—all of which continue to give back to the community.

Ralph Horsman

RALPH HORSMAN While every Mt. Lebanon School District superintendent has left a mark, Ralph Horsman stands out. His tenure fell smack dab in the middle of the school district and community’s 100-year history—he served from 1946 to 1969 as the ninth superintendant (eight have followed). Horsman arrived in Mt. Lebanon in 1929 as a math teacher before moving on to several principal positions and then the superintendant position in 1946. At that time, the student population stood at 4,039; when he left there were more than 8,800 students in the district. He set a tone of stability and longevity that helped brand Mt. Lebanon as a solid school district, and it was during his tenure that the school district hired many of the teachers that would lead Mt. Lebanon toward prominence and multiple National Blue Ribbon awards. He was there when Mt. Lebanon got its first Driver’s Ed car (1946) and was there for the planning and construction of Jefferson Elementary (1952), Jefferson Junior High (1952) and Hoover Elementary (1963). Although he retired shortly before construction on the high school’s fine arts wing began, he certainly was instrumental in laying the groundwork for that much needed addition. Need more proof? He is the only superintendent to have a street named after him.

From left: Coaches Saunders, Mollenauer, Jones, Lamprinakos, Capanna, Walker, Doak, Black and Clark. May 1969.

THE COACHES Henry “The Dutchman” Luecht and Victor “Okay” Doak were Mt. Lebanon High School’s first sports coaches, and they set the standard for the many coaches and championships to come. Doak, who coached for 42 years, and Luecht, who left Mt. Lebanon in 1946, coached everything from football to wrestling—and in those early years, coaches were not paid. In 1932, Doak led Mt. Lebanon’s tennis team to the school district’s first championship and from then on there was little stopping Mt. Lebanon. “Mr. Track and Cross Country” Don Mollenauer, hired in 1938, coached his boys to a record winning streak of 144 track meets, 62 WPIAL and three State titles. In 1961, Coach Dick Black led Mt. Lebanon to its first WPIAL basketball championship and five years later, Coach Ralph Fife pulled off Mt. Lebanon’s first football WPIAL championship in 1966, only to be followed by Art Walker, whose teams claimed five. Wrestling coach George Lamprinakos was named State Coach of the Year in 1973 after leading his boys to nine state championships. In 2011, Dori Oldaker took the girls basketball team to three straight consecutive state titles, making Mt. Lebanon only the second girls basketball team in the state to win three straight championships. Unfortunately, there are too many coaches and too many championships to mention here, but all have played a part in making Mt. Lebanon’s sports teams virtually invincible.

INNOVATORS They say necessity is the mother of invention, and during Mt. Lebanon’s 100 years there have certainly been a lot of needs. No ambulance service? Medical Rescue Team South came along in 1975. Stray dogs? Organize an animal control service (1970s). See a need to protect our green space? Start Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy (1984). Need a bigger library or a public safety center? Form a capital campaign to raise the funds. Want to get more information about the community and school district to residents? Form a newsletter—The View started in 1968 and became mtl magazine in 1981.

From left: Coach Ralph Fife with ’67 WPIAL champs Gary Sawhill, Vince Russo, Steve Foster, Vic Surma and Jack Mathieson; Animal Control; MRTSA.

In the 1960s, when two studies—by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Study on Fair Housing and the Mt. Lebanon League of Women Voters—revealed discriminatory attitudes on the part of some local realtors, the league convinced Mt. Lebanon Commissioners to institute a community relations board in 1966. The board was instrumental in the formation of Outreach Teen & Family Services (1974), Mt. Lebanon Extended Day Program (1982) and Senior Partners (1987). One of the most recent organizations is the Mt. Lebanon Foundation, which offers those who love the community a way to fund its future. Mt. Lebanon now has boards for economic development, environmental sustainability, historic preservation, planning and traffic. The citizens who have served on these boards have guided Mt. Lebanon toward the future while protecting the community’s integrity and small town feel. Today Mt. Lebanon officials, employees and residents look to the future and embrace new ideas and technology—such as critical incident response teams, and even Facebook and Twitter—to proactively meet our community’s needs.

From left: Tom Garman; The Women’s Fortnightly Review; Mt. Lebanon’s first library.


photos: mtl magazine and the Historical Society of Mt. Lebanon