the way we were II
Chapter 2- Founding Families
Mt. Lebanon’s founding families began arriving in the late 1700s on foot, on horseback and in wagons. They suffered the new republic’s growing pains, some seeing action in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War and Whiskey Rebellion skirmishes.
These pioneers held land grants signed by George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Andrew McFarlane, a Scottish farmer who owned vast land holdings on either side of today’s McFarland Road, bought his land for 25 cents an acre from the William Penn family. He sold it in turn to Mt. Lebanon settlers for their farms and orchards.
THE KENNEDY FAMILY: PROSPERING FROM THE LAND
Among the early settlers who bought land from Andrew McFarlane was George Kennedy. Kennedy, who came to Western Pennsylvania from Philadelphia with his family on the National Pike in a Conestoga wagon, bought 114 acres in 1836 and built a log cabin 150 feet south of the present Newburn Drive.
In 1856, Kennedy’s son William married Mary Anne Baird, a teacher in a one-room school on Scott Road behind the present Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church. William built a house for his bride on his father’s farm at what is now 709 Ridgefield Avenue, and, following his father’s example, planted orchards.
In 1876, the senior Kennedy—after 40 years of living in a log cabin—built a real house for his family. Set amid the property’s orchards, it was rustic but gracious, with a welcoming fret-worked porch, fireplaces in every room and a 10-foot ceiling in the living room. You can see the house today at 101 Dan Drive, looking much the same architecturally as it must have then.
THE BAILEY FAMILY: RESOURCEFUL AND COLORFUL
They all had big, long beards—some down to the waist—overalls, and high, felt boots almost to the knee. That’s how Charles “Pap” Bailey, born in 1891, remembered the fellows who farmed Mt. Lebanon. Pap’s own grandpap was Madison Bailey, a riverboat captain who bought 97 acres just after the Civil War from Stella Long McFarlane, descendant of Andrew McFarlane.
The Bailey family lived at 218 Washington Road (across from Peermont Avenue) in a handsome homestead built in 1836 called McFarland House (it was razed in 1945). At one point, the Baileys swapped some land with Mt. Lebanon Township so that McFarland Road could have a curve installed—the original hill was so steep that horses hauling wagons could scarcely labor up it.
Just four years before the Liberty Tunnels were built, Charles Bailey opened Mt. Lebanon’s first drive-in gas station at the corner of Washington and McFarland roads, a landmark that flourished for the next 50 years.
THE ALDERSONS: INNKEEPERS TO THE WORLD
“If the beds were full, extra guests slept on the floor,” Edward Vero “Ted” Alderson, told Mt. Lebanon Magazine in 1983, describing Five Mile House, the Alderson family’s stagecoach inn, which thrived for 40 years beginning in the mid-1800s. It was supervised first by Ted’s grandfather, Thomas Alderson, and then by Ted’s father, William. Thomas, described as “a genial, easygoing innkeeper, short of stature with a fringe of white curly hair,” welcomed stage drivers and passengers, wagoners and drovers to his inn and stables.
Five Mile House, so named because it was exactly five miles from Pittsburgh, was located at the present site of Mt. Lebanon United Lutheran Church. It also served as a gathering place and watering hole for local farmers driving stock to Pittsburgh markets.
In the inn’s heyday, Thomas’ wife, Jane, cooked the meals for all the lodgers, washed clothing and bed linens on the back porch and ironed using a flat iron kept on the hot vent of the stove.
Thomas and Jane’s son William Alderson was a civic leader, serving as school director of Scott Township for 27 years and a road supervisor and tax collector. In 1876, he married Annie Vero, a waitress at the inn. Annie baked bread in two brick ovens outside, using 50 pounds of flour a week. Water was heated for baths and plumbing was outside.
According to his son, if a person couldn’t pay his taxes, William Alderson would pay them. After some years, the person would tell him, “You take the property.” In this manner, Alderson amassed considerable land. Mt. Lebanon High School and part of the Main Park are located on land Alderson donated to the school district.
DOCTORS ON HORSEBACK: SYLVESTER, MCCORMICK AND SCHREINER
Dr. Ruggles Sylvester was probably the first medical doctor in this area. A call to the doctor in this era was relayed and responded to—at any hour and in any weather—on horseback. The tradition of service continued in Sylvester’s family—his descendants include Judge Charles Sylvester Fetterman and Judge Fetterman’s grandson, the colorful U.S. Rep. James Grove Fulton, who served Mt. Lebanon in the House of Representatives for 14 terms.
Another beloved doctor, Joseph McCormick, born in 1819, graduated from medical school in Philadelphia in 1838 and married Mary Espy, the daughter of St. Clair Township pioneers James Espy and Jane Fife Espy. The doctor and his wife lived on 30 acres then fronting Washington Road, south of Bower Hill Road in a sturdy, gracious house with walls three bricks thick. The house’s stone-pillared front porch afforded a view of rolling hills that for a few years in the early 1900s would become the Mt. Lebanon Country Club. Look for the gold stucco house at 424 Kenmont Avenue.
Cyrus Bryson Schreiner was born in 1852 in the eastern part of Allegheny County and studied medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and at Bellevue Hospital in New York, completing his training in 1877.
That year he began his practice in the area now included in Mt. Lebanon, Dormont, and parts of Pittsburgh, Upper St. Clair and Castle Shannon. From then until the turn of the century, he traveled rural roads by horse-drawn buggy.
He built a frame house for his bride, Myrtilla Reed, at the northwest corner of Bower Hill and Washington roads. Married in 1878, they were parents of 10, three of whom died young.
Dr. Schreiner’s son Samuel, born in 1881, graduated in 1900 from the University of Pittsburgh (then Western University Pennsylvania). He obtained a law degree studying privately with prominent Pittsburgh attorney Alexander Gilfillan. In 1910, after marrying Mary Cort, Samuel built a house at 20 Bower Hill Road—the southwest corner of his parents’ orchard. Throughout his long life, Sam served his community as devotedly as his physician father had—he served as township solicitor for 40 years and school district solicitor for 50 years. He died at 91 in 1973. His son Bryson (1913-2010), also an attorney, liked to tell how Mt. Lebanon began in his parents’ living room. From plans laid there, the town went on to become a legal entity on February 6, 1912.
YOU COULD BUY ANYTHING AT ALGEO’S
“Algeo’s store was known for having everything from a needle to a haystack,” Katherine Algeo Simmonds told Mt. Lebanon Magazine in 1983. In 1898, Katie’s parents bought a frame building—that had been a store since 1876—at the corner of Washington Road and Bower Hill. The building housed merchandise, a post office and a pot-bellied stove that the farmers liked to sit around.
Katherine’s dad, Parker, maintained a stable of horses behind the store, which people could rent along with buggies, sleighs and drivers. In the summer, the horses would bring wagonloads of city folk out to enjoy the country air. In winter, there were sled rides. Her mom heated bricks wrapped in wool for the sled passengers’ feet. In 1906, Algeo’s second floor was remodeled to make space for the town’s first Bell Telephone office.
Mrs. Katie Algeo presided over the store while Mr. Algeo wielded his butcher knife behind the smoked meat counter. Their daughter Pearl, “who practically lived on a horse,” rode out into the country on horseback, taking grocery orders for delivery later.
In 1922, the family retired from the business and rented the store to the first A&P to come into the district. Katherine and her husband, John Simmonds, built the Lebanon Lodge in 1932 at the corner of Washington and Connor roads. They ran the popular restaurant until 1945.
These were some of the sturdy human resources, laying foundations and setting standards for the Mt. Lebanon of today.