The borough of Belle Vernon is throwing a party, and everyone is invited.
In celebration of its 200th birthday, the borough's bicentennial committee is organizing a multi-day celebration with activities taking place throughout the borough beginning this month.
"We want to celebrate the town," said Kimberly Ringstad Gray, fundraising chairwoman for the bicentennial committee.
The official bicentennial festivities will begin in June, but fundraising events start with a Chili Cook-off Jan. 26 in the social hall of the Belle Vernon municipal building. The chili competition is open to all individuals and local restaurants for a $25 entry fee. Doors will open at 4 p.m., and judging of the chili will begin at 5 p.m. At 7 p.m., the Evans Brown Band will provide music for dancing. Admission is $5.
Other fundraisers include a Valentine's Dance at 6 p.m. Feb. 16 and a St. Patrick's Day Dinner from noon to 6 p.m. March 17 that will include potato leek soup, corned beef and cabbage, soda bread and bread pudding. Both events are open to the public and will be held in the social hall of the Belle Vernon municipal building. Admission to each is $5.
The committee also is sponsoring a raffle March 29, with prizes including cash, a home theater system, a 50-inch high-definition television, a 9.2-cubic-foot freezer and an assortment of meats and groceries.
Proceeds from the fundraisers will be used to help pay for the main festivities, which will be held June 12-16.
The celebration will begin with a carnival June 12-15 behind Belle Vernon Fire Company No. 2 on Main Street. On June 13, a battle of the bands will be held followed by a parade at 9 a.m. June 14. On June 15, a motorcycle ride will benefit the bicentennial and the town's Southwest Regional Police Department. The evening will conclude with a fireworks display. The celebration will wrap up with a car show June 16 on Main Street.
In addition, Ms. Gray said, a series of smaller events will be held throughout the weekend, including displays about the histories of Belle Vernon businesses and the unveiling of a new sign in the town's original green and white colors.
"There's a lot of history in Belle Vernon, and this is actually to draw people's attention to its history," she said.
Bellevernon -- originally spelled as one word -- was laid out in 1813 by Noah Speer in northwestern Fayette County, according to the Friends of the Monongahela website. The name is French for "beautiful green" and was chosen by both Noah Speer for his little community on the Monongahela River and later by his son Louis, who founded North Belle Vernon in Westmoreland County.
Louis M. Speer was born in 1810 in a log cabin on the Speer homestead/Gibsonton farm. He was a businessman and played a large role in the development of Belle Vernon. During his lifetime, the population grew to about 700 and a steam ferry connected Belle Vernon with Allen Township across the river. The little hamlet had five dry goods stores, four groceries, two glasshouses with 87 employees, two sawmills, blacksmith/tanning shops and businesses selling boots and shoes, cabinets, chairs, wagons, and saddles and harnesses. Louis Speer owned a sandbank outside of town, a coal works and a boat yard with more than 50 employees.
North Belle Vernon was laid out in 1872 by Louis Speer and was incorporated in 1876. He died in 1878 and is buried at the Rehoboth Presbyterian Church Cemetery. The small village of Speers across the river, laid out in 1860 by a kinsman, also gets its name from the family.
Ms. Gray said she fell in love with the rich history of Belle Vernon and she hopes it will draw others who have a special place in their hearts for the town to join in the celebration.
"We want people who were born and raised in Belle Vernon and moved away when they got older to plan a vacation and come back to help us celebrate our town," she said. "We want to make this as successful as possible."
More information about the bicentennial celebration can be found on the group's Facebook page, titled 200 Years of Belle Vernon History.
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.