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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  January, 2010

Did You Know?

Last week in this space, (being the dawn of a new decade) I took a look back at some of the developments that took place in the decade of the 2000’s.

This week, I’m looking back at many of the “turns-of-the-decades” of the 20th Century.

A hundred years ago, on December 30th, 1909, just about every story on the front page of the Connellsville Weekly Courier was about the booming coal and coke industries in Fayette and Greene Counties.

That day, an editorial was published that declared, “A controversy is raging between Connellsville, Uniontown and Brownsville as to which is the coking center of the universe.”

Of course the editorial writer made sure to cast his lot for Connellsville’s coke supremacy. “Over and above all, Connellsville has a public spirit, aggressive enterprise and a firm faith in the future destiny,” he said.

Through the 1910’s, the area’s coal and coke fortunes continued to grow, as “The War to End All Wars,” (WWI) raged between 1914 and 1918.

But there were certainly periods of diminished productivity. Shortly after the turn-of-that decade took place (on January 8th, 1920), the Connellsville Courier published a sobering banner headline: “1919 SHOWED (THE) SMALLEST OUTPUT IN TONS AND GREAT SHRINKAGE IN GROSS REVENUE DURING PAST 19 YEARS.”

There were obviously no fears of a long term industrial dry spell in Fayette County at the same time.

A few days before the mediocre coke production numbers (on January 1st) it was announced that the Paragon Motor Car Company was coming to Connellsville to manufacture its four-cylinder cars.

The $3 million plant was going to be built in a 20 acre tract along the Pennsylvania Railroad.

However, as with many businesses during that decade, the Paragon Motor Car Company went into demise. It only built cars from 1921 until 1922 before going out of business.

Yet the earliest days of the decade of the 1920’s were highlighted by something that would have a lasting effect across the country for nearly 14 years – Prohibition.

Prohibition (The Volstead Act) was enacted over a presidential veto in October of 1919.

It went into effect on January 16th, 1920. What a way to start a decade. On that day, the production and sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited.

According to the Associated Press, 1,092 breweries, 236 distilleries and 177,790 bars were put out of business.

Initially, though, there were few resources to enforce the new law. By 1925, in New York City alone there were estimates of as many as 100,000 “speakeasies.”

That was one of the reasons they called the decade “The Roaring Twenties.”

Just 63 days before the end of the decade (on October 29th, 1929), however, there were far more serious national (and even international) concerns, with what was called Black Tuesday.

The entire U.S. economy collapsed and set in motion what would later be called the Great Depression.

Yet, in Connellsville, there was still optimism.

“It has been an important twelve month(s) in the history of the community and is regarded as having been the starting point of a new era of prosperity for the whole region,” said a story on the front page of the January 1st, 1930 edition of the Connellsville Courier.

The prosperity, as it turned out, took many years to arrive.

But there was some relief coming to the nation’s older workers at the beginning of the decade of the 1940’s – Social Security.

A December, 1939 report claimed that nearly a million people (aged 65 or older) would be getting the very first Social Security payments under a new law that was passed in 1935.

On February 1st, 1940, it was reported in the Indiana (PA) Evening Gazette that the first monthly payments (a maximum of $42 for a married couple) had been sent out to the first 3,700 recipients.

With the 1940’s ending after America’s victorious role in WWII, the citizens of Uniontown witnessed another kind of war. Uniontown’s mayor, Edward L. Sittler, Jr., and a Councilman, A.C. Morss, were causing what was being called a
“tempest in a teapot.”

It seems Mayor Sittler had two fluorescent lights installed at the city’s police station, and that managed to “miff” Councilman Morss.

The entire episode made the front page of the Uniontown Evening Standard on December 28th, 1949.

The following day, however, there was an item on the front page of the Evening Standard that didn’t quite manage to make Uniontown’s citizens shake their heads incredulously. Life magazine was about to feature a picture that had been shot near the Summit Hotel in its special edition marking the first half of the 20th Century edition.

According to the story, the picture had been taken in 1918, when Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, naturalist John Burroughs and tire-maker Harvey Firestone visited Fayette County on their tour of six states. They’d stayed the night at the Summit Hotel.

The decade of the 1950’s was a time of economic growth across Fayette County. Three pictures on the front page of the January 16th, 1950 edition of the Evening Standard were a harbinger of things to come.

They appeared under a banner headline that read: “CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITY BOOMING THROUGHOUT THE CITY.”

The pictures were of two supermarkets under construction (on Beeson Avenue and on Connellsville Street) and three new apartment buildings being built on Berkley Street.

The 1960’s were ushered in by the high-stepping Uniontown Joint Senior High School Band.

Under the direction of their legendary band director, Orville Conn, they marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California on January 1st, 1960.

It would the beginning of a long list of honors for Fayette County’s school students.

While the rest of the country was struggling with civil rights, voting rights and the ever-growing war in Southeast Asia, Fayette County’s athletes would enjoy their “Golden Era” of athletic triumphs.

Uniontown, Laurel Highlands and St. John High Schools each won WPIAL and State Championships (and in a variety of sports) during an athletic period unlike in the County’s history.