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The Story of Woodlawn--Part Two

Milestones Vol 29. No. 1

We have tarried long over our narrative of early Woodlawn, for the account of a beginning is always of interest, but here our story must start afresh. There is little connection between the old Woodlawn and the new. The town did not grow through its own enterprise nor following the coming of the mills, but from its very foundations, was planned and built by the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company.


This picture presents Woodlawn around 1909-1910. Besides showing part of the town, also pictured is the building of the tunnel under Franklin Avenue.

Fifteen years ago this concern had reached the limit of its growth in Pittsburgh and was compelled to find room for expansion elsewhere. Its choice fell upon Woodlawn, and in 1905 its agents began to purchase property here. The McDonald tract and several farms adjacent to it, were first acquired, and early in 1906 the company made public announcement of its intentions. The summer was spent in preliminary engineering work, and before the end of the year actual construction was under way. P. M. Moore, who was to have charge of the excavation and grading, arrived on November 10, and a few days later the slag fill at the coke works was commenced. Mr. Moore was the first of the J. & L. men to come to Woodlawn; he was soon followed by several others, among whom were J. H. Gano, H. J. Johns, C. B. Lewis and Joseph Turney. Before long hundreds of laborers were busily engaged in putting the grounds in shape, and early in the spring of 1907 the foundations of No. 1 Blast Furnace were laid.

The problem of providing lodgings for as many workmen was a serious one at first. Temporary expedients of box cars and bunk houses were resorted to, and in the summer the company started two rows of permanent dwellings, one on Plan 2 and the other on Plan 5. Meanwhile, some merchants, attracted by the promised boom, had gathered here and opened up for business in a group of flimsy frame buildings on Sheffield avenue.

Almost at the same time the P. & L. E. started to put in its four-track system, which required an enormous fill through Woodlawn and the tearing down of its old trestle. Thus, with the mill, the town, and the railroad all under construction at once, the hitherto quiet village was transformed into a scene of bewildering activity.

The effects of the panic of October, 1907, were felt here as elsewhere throughout the country, and for a year or so the work progressed slowly, but in 1909 full speed was resumed. By that time system had superseded the confusing bustle which prevailed at the start. One after another the buildings to house the different departments of the mill were completed and their machinery installed; power plants, water systems, railway switches, and all the other essentials to the operation of the plant were completed; and the opening of the year 1910 found the big enterprise ready to emerge from its period of construction into that of production.

No. 1 Blast Furnace was blown in on December 1, 1909; No. 2 followed it on February 14, 1910, and No. 3 on April 12. No. 4 was not completed until August 8, 1912, and the second day of its operation saw one of the few major accidents which have marred the history of the plant. When lightning deranged the machinery at the pump house, low water caused the furnace to explode with terrific force, killing one man, Sam Steele, assistant master mechanic, and injuring several others. The furnace was repaired and restored to service on October 1. No. 5, the youngest of the quintet, went into Blast on September 9 of the present year.

The dates of the first production in other departments of the plant follows, the arrangement being chronological:

Tin plate department May 16, 1910
Tin house June 11, 1910
Rod, wire and nail mill Aug. 8, 1910
Blooming mill Jan. 3, 1912
Open Hearth Jan. 6, 1912
Converter Aug. 2, 1912
Coke Ovens Jan. 24, 1913
Skelp mill July 25, 1916
Tube mill Sept. 4, 1916
# 5 Sept. 8, 1919

During the war the plant was devoted almost entirely to the manufacture of material for the government. A shell steel department was created, and the shrapnel steel which was sent out from here was said to have been among the best furnished by any of the mills at the disposal of the American or allied governments.

The first general superintendent of the plant was W. H. Lewis, who was in charge of its construction. In 1912 he was succeeded by the present manager, Mr. F. B. Hufnagel.

Aliquippa Works, as it is known to distinguish it from other plants owned by the same company, has become one of the largest of its kind in the country. It employs over 7,000 men and pays out annually in wages nearly $20, 000,000. Since it has started operation it has made an unusual record for steady work, its mills and furnaces having seldom been idle except while undergoing repairs.

At the start, both town and mill were under the direct control of the officials of the plant. In May, 1909, the Woodlawn Land Co. was incorporated to take over the real estate holdings of the company outside of the mill, and to manage the building of the town. Mr. M. B. Moore was made superintendent, which position he still holds. Though a subsidiary of J. & L., the affairs of the land company are managed independent of the mill, and its policy has always been to work enlargement and betterment of the town.

Soon after Mr. Moore took charge, foundations were laid for 170 new houses on 1st hill, Plan 6, and Franklin avenue. One of these, at the corner of Larimer avenue and Jones street, was finished in time for A. L. Dean to eat Thanksgiving dinner in it, and the others were ready for occupancy before winter. For the first year of its existence, the Land Company averaged better than one finished house a day, and up to the present time, has built more than 1,500. These are mostly of brick, modern in type and distinctive in design, and are sold or rented to the mill employees at prices considerably less than would be charged by individual owners for the same property.

Franklin avenue, the main street of Woodlawn, is located very nearly over the old bed of Logstown Run. The big sewer, through which the stream now flows, was completed in September, 1909, filling and grading being finished very soon thereafter. The first building in the business section was the Legoullon block, the Schwartz building came next, and the third was the large structure of the Pittsburgh Mercantile Company.

Plan 1 had been laid out and largely built upon before the borough was incorporated; the dates on which the other plans were recorded, follows:

Plan 2 September, 1910
Plan 3 July, 1912
Plan 4 December, 1912
Plan 5 April, 1913
Plan 6 April, 1913
Plan 7 April, 1911
Plan 8--Franklin Avenue Sept., 1909
First Addition Sept., 1912
Orchard Feb,.,, 1914
Plan 9 October, 1912
Plan 11 July, 1913
Plan 12 August, 1913

In most cases, however, actual building work preceded the recording of the plans by several months.

The petition for the incorporation of the borough was filed on July 13, 1908, being case No. 16, June Sessions of the Court of Quarter Sessions. It was signed by E. H. Wilder and F. D. Baker. The case was heard in the fall and the petition granted on December 15. The case was carried to the Superior Court by certain property owners, who were displeased with the boundary lines as laid out, but on May 10, 1909, their appeal was dismissed and the decree of the lower court affirmed.

The organization of the borough government, however, went forward without waiting the result of the appeal. The first election was held in Academy building on February 16, and on March 9 the first council met. J. F. Wilker was Burgess and Paul M. Moore president of the council, the other members of the body being Ed. H. Owens, F. L. Sharp, James H. Shirk, George T. Swogger and J. T. Willetts. J. F. Reed was elected solicitor, W. G. Cochran, treasurer; A. W. Anderson, engineer, and John A. Golla, secretary. H. M. Brown was made chief of police and T. P. Shane, street commissioner, entering upon their duties September 1.

The Health Board consisted of Dr. O. J. Stevenson, C. A. Dinsmore and H. G. Miller, with W. J. Wilson as Health Officer. H. G. Miller was justice of the peace, and George H. Gray, constable.

Wilker resigned as burgess in 1912, his place being taken by Dr. J. A. Stevens. In 1914 Fred Auberle was elected to the position, and on January 1, 1918, was succeeded by the present incumbent, Mr. A. W.. Coombs.

The police department has been in charge of H. H. Brown, J. C. Blakeley, H. A. Tadder and M. J. Kane, who took the office on March 4th, 1918. Besides the chief, the present force consists of five members. It has made a remarkable record for efficiency, there having been no serious crimes of violence committed within the borough during the period of its control.

The Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1909. On March 12, 1912, C. B. Ransom was elected chief, being the first man to devote his entire time to the service. At present the department has two salaried men in its employ, Chief Ransom and Captain U. G. DeMoss, besides a full company of volunteers. An American La France Automobile truck, one of the finest pieces of fire fighting apparatus made, was purchased for it in 1916, and its other equipment is of the latest and most approved types. The department has made good use of its facilities, and the fire losses in Woodlawn have been kept remarkably low.

Succeeding Mr. Wilson as health officer was George H. Gray, who, in turn, was followed by E. C. Wells. After two years' absence from the city, during which time the office was filled by S. V. Todd, Mr. Wells returned to the work in February, 1918. Though confronted by many difficulties, the Board of Health and its Officer have waged a determined fight to keep Woodlawn clean and sanitary, with results that are well attested by the appearance of the borough.

On March 3, 1911, Woodlawn dedicated its new municipal building. It is one of the finest, for a town of its size, in the country, and was erected at a cost of $30,000. Here all the borough agencies are housed, and during the war it was used as a headquarters by the local draft board and the Red Cross.

The public school system of Woodlawn was started in 1909, the first board being composed of H. J. Johns, president; J. T. Bell, secretary, and members G. H. Gray, D. G. Scott, G. W. Prosser and J. H. Robb. Instruction was begun that fall with Calvin Springer, principal, a corps of seven teachers, and an attendance of 225. Four rooms were held in the Academy building on Sheffield avenue, two in the old Logstown school, and a portion of the old Dinsmore house on Hopewell avenue was fitted up to accommodate one of the grades. It was a year of beginnings rather than achievements as, indeed, it could have been nothing else. Prof. O. H. Locke was elected principal in 1910, and under his supervision the system has grown both in size and efficiency. The schools now have an enrollment of over 2,000, employing, besides the principal, a high school faculty of nine, fifty-two grade teachers, three supervisors in special subjects, and a stenographer. Five modern school buildings have been erected; the Highland, built in 1910; Logstown, completed January 1, 1911, the High School, 1913; Plan 12, 1917, and Plan 11, opened February 1, 1919. The high school was organized in 1910, graduating its first class of six members in 1913. Prof. H. S. Gilliland is its principal.

Scarcely had the sound of its building died away than Woodlawn was roused by the nation's call to war. Its response was instant and willing. First to last, more than five hundred men from here entered the service. Woodlawn boys helped the navy overcome the menace of the U-boats; with the Marines they fought at Chateau-Thiery; they served in the Argonne and in Flanders, in sunny Italy and frozen Siberia. Some returned being honorably discharged; some did not come back at all; but there was not one who failed to "carry on" with credit to himself and the town which sent him forth.

Woodlawn also had good reason to be proud of its record in home war activities. It subscribed over $5,000,000 to the various Liberty Loans, though the total asked from it was less than $1,000,000. In the third loan campaign it exceeded its quota 700 per cent, a record which, so far as can be learned, stands unequaled in the country. It gave liberally to the various relief agencies and supported an active branch of the Red Cross.

Woodlawn, today, has a population of 20,000, and is still growing rapidly. Though a new town, and yet showing traces of its recent origin, it has long since left behind the crudeness of its beginnings and offers all the comforts and conveniences of an older community. It has its own trolley system, miles of paved and macadam streets, churches of all denominations, good schools, public play grounds, park and swimming pool. The plans of the town were moulded so as to preserve, as far as possible, the natural beauties of the site, which are being enhanced by smooth lawn and rows of shade trees, for it is Woodlawn's ambition to grow, not only bigger, better and busier, but more beautiful--a place where the worker may find employment, and a chance for himself and family to live among pleasant surroundings.