Monroeville Historical Society offers glimpse of frontier life

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Julie Greenawalt urged her daughter Jenna to view the double image in the stereoscope.

“Instead of watching TV, this was how people would entertain themselves,” she told the 8-year-old.

The stereoscope, which lets viewers see a three-dimensional image from two slightly different pictures of the same scene, is one of hundreds of items on display in Monroeville’s McGinley House.

The building is the oldest stone house in the suburban community better known for its “Miracle Mile” and other shopping areas.

The Greenawalts, who live in North Huntingdon, and Mrs. Greenawalt’s mother, Jan Callanan of Monroeville, recently visited the McGinley House for an event sponsored by Monroeville Historical Society.

The Native American Experience, held Sunday, was one of multiple activities that society members offer each year to help bring the story of their community to life. “The promotion of history is what we do,” society president Lynn Chandler said.

While Ghost in the Head, who is of Huron ancestry, demonstrated traditional Native-American skills outside, Mrs. Chandler provided a brief history of the McGinley House and the families who had lived there since 1830.

Westinghouse Electric Corp., which bought the house and land for its nuclear center in 1967, agreed to donate it to Monroeville so that it could be used as a museum. Restored and refurnished, the building is operated by volunteers from the historical society.

Rooms are filled with a variety of displays, including a large collection of children’s dolls and dollhouses. Many of the dollhouses, which show miniature rooms in log homes and Victorian mansions, along with a corner grocery and butcher shop, were made by the late Diana Caplan and donated to the museum.

Another room is dedicated to Joel Monroe, the community’s first postmaster, for whom the municipality eventually was named.

Nearby is a log home built around 1810 by John McCully. The structure had stood west of its present location on Queen Drive until 1992, when Monroeville and the historical society took it apart and reassembled it on the McGinley house property.

“I’d love to live in that log cabin,” Theresa Herman said. She is a history buff who lives in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood.

Frank and Pat Hiler had driven from their Westmoreland County home in Washington Township to get a look at the society’s collection of 19th century farm and carpentry tools.

Mr. Hiler, who is himself a tool collector, said many of the items on display were familiar to him. “That’s a froe,” he said, pointing to a metal axe with a long, narrow blade. “You hit it with that wooden hammer to split wood and make shingles.”

Donald McClain, who lives in Turtle Creek, and several other members of his family, are volunteers at the site. His specialty is baking in an outdoor oven during the society’s annual fall festival.

Mary Lou Span, 81, who has lived in Monroeville for 53 years, said events like the presentation by Ghost in the Head help draw attention to the community’s historic architecture. She is the special events chairwoman for the society.

Monroeville’s early 19th century houses are at 2381 McGinley Road, southeast of Forbes Regional Hospital.

The society also maintains the Old Stone Church, a community landmark that served Presbyterian congregations until 1958. After the building was closed as a church, it was donated to Monroeville by the Sylves family. In 1976, a bell tower was built next door and dedicated to the memory of industrialist George Westinghouse and inventor Nicola Tesla.

The church is open for tours and can be rented for weddings.

The society also oversees the McGregor Road stone bridge, a 19th century one-lane span north of Route 22 near Beatty Road.

More information on reservations for tours of its buildings is available at the society’s website,, or by calling 724-327-6164. Members meet at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at Monroeville Public Library. There are no meetings in August and December.

Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184.

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