Monessen to mark its founding with festival

Two days of festivities celebrate city's 115th anniversary with visitors from the past

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Clara Barton and Mary Todd Lincoln will stroll around Monessen City Park this weekend as part of the community's Founders Day commemoration.

Re-enactors in period costumes will portray Barton, a Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross, and the first lady.

"They'll answer questions in character as they talk with visitors," said Virginia Fisfis, secretary of the Greater Monessen Historical Society, which is sponsoring the two-day event on Saturday and Sunday.

Two troops of military re-enactors also will take part.

The celebration marks the 115th anniversary of the city's founding in 1898 on the banks of the Monongahela River in Westmoreland County. It became a third-class city in 1921.

This year's event honors Col. James M. Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker was a Union cavalry officer who won the Medal of Honor for leading his dismounted troops in a charge that captured Confederate artillery during a battle at Star Fort, Va., in 1864.

Born in 1842 in Pittsburgh, he made his fortune after the Civil War in coke, railroads and banking. He died in 1927 and is buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.

Schoonmaker and William H. Donner, founder of the National Tin Plate Co., are the best known of Monessen's founders, Mrs. Fisfis said. National Tin Plate, which later became part of United States Steel, was the new community's first major employer.

Weekend activities will include a soldier encampment and a Civil War-era church service at 11 a.m. Sunday in the park.

Monessen Boy Scout Troop 1510 is sponsoring an overnight camp-out for youth groups interesting in learning more about the War between the States. "It's our intention to show them what life was like in a Civil War camp," Assistant Scoutmaster Tom Wilson said. Recruits will have to take a physical proving that they have four teeth and three fingers. "Four teeth to bite open a [musket] cartridge and three fingers to fire their gun," Mr. Wilson explained. For more information and reservations call 724-797-1185.

The re-enactors who will set up tents and do demonstrations of military drill and weapons firing are from Company K, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and Company F, 11th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry.

The founders weekend will feature food booths, vendors, local authors, displays, demonstrations, vintage toys and music.

Children also will have a chance to "enlist" in Civil War units and drill with wooden muskets, Mrs. Fisfis said. Visitors of all ages will have a chance to dress up in period clothing and have their photos taken.

The historical society operates a museum at 505 Donner Ave. Its current exhibit is a look at the history of the region's schools. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Admission to all Founders Day activities is free. Monessen City Park is at Grand Boulevard and City Park Road. Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Details: 724-684-8460.

neigh_south - neigh_washington - neigh_westmoreland

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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