Much of the information which follows was taken from the Anniversary Book of 1970. Much of the early history of East McKeesport was written in 1929 by Alfred Mann. The Book Committee has attempted to add to and update the history.
When George Washington wrote in his journal on December 31, 1753, "As we intended to take horses here, and it required some time to find them, I went up about three miles to the mouth of the Youghiogheny to visit Queen Aliquippa, who had expressed great concern that we passed her in going to the fort. I made her a present of a match-coat and a bottle of rum, which latter was thought much the best present of the two," he thereby made the first definite and authentic record of a visit of a white man to the present site of McKeesport.
East McKeesport, the East End of McKeesport, was named after the McKee family, pioneers in the area.
David McKee was born in Scotland in 1710. His parents were strict Presbyterians and deeply religious and for that reason they were persecuted. About 1750 David McKee and several of his brothers, with their families, came to America.
David McKee's son John, the founder of McKeesport, was born in 1746 in northern Ireland. He was about 22 years of age when the family arrived at the present site of McKeesport. John McKee became a trader in land for profit. He bought and sold land in Pittsburgh, Beaver County, along the Allegheny River, and in Versailles Township. Through his real estate operations and other business ventures, he became one of the wealthiest men in Western Pennsylvania. However, financial reverses and disappointment came later in life, and he died a broken-hearted man, the victim of his own generosity, on January 11, 1807.
East McKeesport is a borough located four miles north of the Monongahela River in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. It is bounded on three sides by North Versailles and on the north by the borough of Wilmerding. The borough, which has an altitude of 1200 feet, is located on a beautiful plateau sandwiched between the Turtle Creek, Monongahela, and Youghiogheny Valleys. The area of the community is 0.4 square miles.
The property was originally owned by James McClure and James Carson. Deeds were transferred to the Monongahela Investment Company July 5th, 1892.
After the purchase of the farms, Mr. Stiling blocked off a portion and developed the land which was then called Stiling Terrace. Later, two brothers named Devenny developed that portion of the land from Stiling Terrace south to the North Versailles Township line. In the Court of Quarter Sessions of the peace of Allegheny County, a petition was presented at No. 51 December Sessions 1893, requesting the incorporation of a portion of North Versailles Township into the present borough of East McKeesport.
This petition was signed by resident freeholders: W.D. Repper, John F. Hughes, James Carson, Elizabeth Carson, George L. Good, Alice A. Good, Harvey S. Welsh, E.W. Gordon, and Lena Gordon. At No. 51 December Sessions 1893, the Court ordered and decreed incorporation of the borough of East McKeesport as petitioned to be granted.
At the time of the incorporation of the borough, a toll-gate had stood for many years at the intersection of what is now the Lincoln Highway and Fifth Avenue. This toll-gate was not owned or operated by the state but by a stock company and was later removed by a resident, Thomas H. Taylor.
Following the incorporation of the Borough, East McKeesport elected its first officers. The man elected to serve as the first burgess, Mr. James Carson, was born in a log house near what is now Carson Street and Broadway.
The first council meeting was held at the home of H. G. Curry on March 2, 1896. The members of the original council were as follows: Oscar E. Lindbom, John T. Muse, Harvey S. Welsh, H.J. Harris, H.G. Curry, W.S. Brashear, and G.B. Watkins. At a meeting March 17, 1896, the tax rate was set at four mills for the ensuing year.
On December 10, 1896, an ordinance was passed granting the East McKeesport Water Company the right to lay mains and pipes for the purpose of supplying water to all parts of the borough. An article in the East McKeesport News reported, "East McKeesport has a complete water system and mains are laid on every street. The water is clear as crystal and absolutely pure all the year round."
Religion has always been an important part of the community. The Methodist Church, the first in East McKeesport, was dedicated on September 13, 1896. Other denominations quickly established congregations within the borough.
Schools are an important part of any community, and ours was no exception. On June 1, 1896, the men who were to comprise the first Board of Education took their oath of office. They were J.M. Duncan, president; W. C. Gillis, secretary; L. A. Brooks, Charles Devenny, C. B. Bayne, and M. D. Householder.
The first action of the Board was to levy a tax of six mills. The second was to provide a means of securing $7000.00 for the purchase of ground and the erection of a suitable building.
A short time after the borough was incorporated, Council granted the Pittsburgh Railway Company the right to lay tracks through the borough on Broadway. As a result of this action, street car service became available to Wilmerding and McKeesport. The fare was five cents and service was available every ten minutes. Sometime later the tracks were moved from Broadway to Fifth Avenue.
Many improvements were made to streets and roads in the years following. In 1912 Broadway was paved and in 1914 was bricked. In 1927 Punta Gorda Avenue was paved and a concrete street made. The Lincoln Highway was improved in 1928.
A few years before the community marked its twenty-fifth anniversary, the United States became involved in World War I. Almost 90 men from East McKeesport left the town to serve with the military. A memorial in their honor was erected. Originally, it stood on the property of the old Borough Building. Its present location is in front of the VFW on Broadway.
Not many years after the end of World War I, the United States was plunged into the Great Depression. Most East McKeesport men had been employed at the Westinghouse Air Brake, and with the onset of the depression, many of them were without work. There were no food banks as we know them today, but there was some relief available in the town. People who had children in the family could obtain jugs of milk at the Elementary School on Josephine Street. Food staples were made available, on a weekly basis, to families in need. Men were permitted to dig coal in the area of the Ice Plant on Ice Plant Hill. They received little pay, but they were permitted to have the coal for their own use in order to heat their homes. Eventually some people in the town received employment through the Works Progress Administration.
With the end of the Great Depression, came World War II. Five hundred and sixty-six men and women left the town to serve with the military. People throughout the town participated in whatever ways possible to help the war effort. Many women went to work in factories, replacing men who were in the Service. Men and women alike worked days much longer than the usual eight hours. People learned to shop using ration books. Children purchased savings stamps which they exchanged for war bonds. Victory gardens were a common sight in the summers, and it was not unusual to see chicken coops in backyards. An honor roll, listing the names of all East McKeesport residents serving in the military, was erected outside the Borough Building and maintained by the Kiwanis. Those families who had family member sin the Armed Services proudly displayed blue stars in their windows. Tragically, some of those blue stars were exchanged for gold ones when a resident of the town was killed in the service of his country. In later years men and women would again leave the town to serve their country in Korea and Vietnam.
An important source of entertainment in small American towns was the neighborhood movie theater. The Urban Theater opened in East McKeesport in 1940 and continued to be a significant part of the community until it closed some fifteen years later. The Urban, which was located on Broadway just off Route 30, featured three different programs a week with each movie, or double feature, presented for two days. The original ticket prices were thirty-five cents for adults and ten cents for children. The theater thrived in East McKeesport until the mid 1950's when the popularity of television in people's homes made the neighborhood theater much less popular then it had been. The Urban eventually closed, and the building was sold to the St. Robert Bellarmine Church. Today the building houses Irene's Restaurant.
East McKeesport has been the home of a number of businesses during its hundred year history. One of the earliest stores was Leffler's Meat Market which located on Route 30 where the radio station is today. Among other stores which were familiar to townspeople over the years were McCall and Hallser, the B and B Market, and the Star Meat Market. For many years East McKeesport had two drug stores. The first was Wilson's Drug Store, later know as the East McKeesport Pharmacy, located on Fifth Avenue a few doors from where the Integra Bank stands today. Jones' Pharmacy was located on Fifth Avenue near Argo Avenue. Jones' Drug Store was very popular with the high school students.
With the end of World War II, more houses were built in the town until virtually all property which could be developed was in use. During this period our population continued to increase until it peaked at 3,470 in 1960.
It was in the 1960's that the East McKeesport School District merged with neighboring communities to form the East Allegheny School District. For some years our two school buildings continued to be in use, but eventually the decision was made to close them and tear them down. For a period of years following the demolition of the school on Josephine Street, no building was erected on the site. Eventually an apartment building, Punta Gorda Place, was built on the lot where the first school had stood for nearly seventy-five years. The two-story, twenty unit building was opened in July of 1985. Several life-long residents of East McKeesport reside there.
In recent years East McKeesport has established organizations in order to help people in the community who are in the need of assistance. Meals on Wheels delivers meals at low cost to citizens who are unable to prepare nourishing foods for themselves. MA's Pantry and Pa's Trading Post make food and clothing available to those in need. These groups are non profit organizations and are staffed by volunteers.
At the beginning of our history, the Victory Hotel was a landmark identified with the new town. It stood proudly for many years at the intersection of Broadway and Route 30. Later, travelers, driving through our town, could spend the night at a "tourist home" on Greensburg Avenue. For a few years there was a motel located on the site of the Victory Hotel. Today, visitors may stay at the bed-and-breakfast known as the "Gate House". It is a lovely Victorian home, which dates from the 1880's, located at the corner of Broadway and Chicora Street, owned and operated by Chuck and Donna Taylor. It opened in 1990 and has attracted visitors ever since. The Gate House has become a modern landmark.
The business section on Fifth Avenue has been improved recently as result of the efforts of the Revitalization Corporation. Nearly a million dollars in grants have made it possible to replace damaged curbs and sidewalks, install decorative light poles, replace street signs, and plant trees. An attractive town clock now stands where Argo and Fifth Avenues meet.
As we begin our second hundred years, it is our hope that East McKeesport will continue to be the attractive and friendly town that its residents know and love today.