Community Day helps to mark Marshall's 150th anniversary
July 18, 2013 4:00 AM
A historic photo of Northgate Drive near the Brush Creek Inn in Marshall
By Jill Cueni-Cohen
Community Day in Marshall this year will have the added significance of marking the township's 150th birthday.
The celebration will be held July 27 in Knob Hill Park and offer family-friendly activities, including a petting zoo, watermelon- and pie-eating contests, a balloon toss, a Civil War re-enactment, an Abe Lincoln impersonator, a climbing wall and fireworks.
The farming community of about 14 square miles in the northwestern corner of Allegheny County officially became known as Marshall Township on June 3, 1863.
Like many neighboring townships, it was named after the attorney who conducted the incorporation proceedings before the court. Thomas Mercer Marshall was a famous trial lawyer in Allegheny County. Before the incorporation, the area was an election precinct of Franklin Township.
As part of Marshall Community Day, local historian Joe Bullick will host a history show in the Elias Fry Barn in the park that will feature old photos of iconic places in Marshall, including the Brush Creek Inn, the Harmony Shortline trolley tracks and oil wells.
Mr. Bullick, 81, of Pine, is curator of the North Allegheny History Museum, which is in the McKnight Elementary School Annex on Cumberland Road in McCandless. He is a former North Allegheny custodian and golf coach.
Marshall is bordered by Cranberry to the north, Franklin Park to the south, Pine to the east and Economy to the west. It surrounds Bradford Woods on three sides.
Two American Indian trails cut through the township: the Venango Trail, now the site of a housing development, goes from Pittsburgh to Erie, and the Kuskusky Path cuts through the property of Marshall elementary and middle schools and leads to New Castle.
Marshall became a part of the North Allegheny School District in 1947, Mr. Bullick said. Before that, students attended school in a four-room brick building on Northgate Drive, built in 1928 to accommodate the children who were attending the township's four one-room schoolhouses. Marshall School closed its doors in 1972, but the old school's bell can be seen in the township's new fire hall on Northgate Drive.
The rusty old bell had been all but forgotten, Mr. Bullick said, until he found it.
"I had it blasted, cleaned and painted," Mr. Bullick said. "Now it honors the firemen and the memory of the old school."
In 1886, a Marshall farmer found an Achondrite meteorite after hearing it fall.
It now sits in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of only eight known meteorites from Pennsylvania.
Around that time, hundreds of oil wells began dotting the landscape as they pumped from the Duff City oil pool underneath parts of Franklin Park and Marshall.
Warrendale Pool, a popular summer retreat, is long gone, but the Brush Creek Inn, established in 1886, still stands at its same location on Northgate Drive.
Mr. Bullick said the creation of Thorn Hill Industrial Park in the late 1970s brought new opportunities to the region. Previously a reform school for boys, which operated from 1909 until 1978, most of the property's 1,500 acres were bought by the Regional Industrial Development Corp.
Development of the township continued as highways were built in the area.
"As far as us being on the map and developing, it's all happened in the past 25 years," said Neil McFadden, Marshall's first and only manager.
"Once the 279 link was completed, that opened the floodgates for Marshall and the other neighboring communities.
All of our largest residential subdivisions came into being then, and that's when the township had to hire a manager."
Now in his 27th year on the job, Mr. McFadden noted that all of the neighboring communities changed during the mid-1980s. "Prior to that, it was more typical that someone's brother-in-law would function as the manager.
In 1985 to 1986, there was a move towards professionalism, and there was a group of us -- Tobias Cordek from McCandless, Chris Lochner from Hampton and Dean Bastianini from Richland -- who came in with that wave of town managers, and we've stuck. It defied the pattern up until that time. I certainly never expected to be sitting here 27 years later."
Mr. McFadden credits a consistent strategy of controlled growth in the township that perpetuates its rural atmosphere. "We have a valuable resource in all this green space, and we want to make sure we do it right. We had seen some communities around the Pittsburgh area that rushed into development, and then they didn't have a good end product," he said.
"Marshall still struggles for its identity, but it's come into its own and has become a really desirable place to live," Mr. McFadden said.
He added that the North Allegheny School District is the attraction to the area. "But that's part of the package. Corporate transfers come looking for the NA school district first and they find Marshall Township second."
Community Day activities will begin at 4 p.m. July 27 and last until the Zambelli fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. For more information: Heather Cuyler Jerry, 724-935-3090, ext. 114, or www.twp.marshall.pa.us.