Bolivar borough in Westmoreland County, PA is a small town formed 150 years ago and it is celebrating its 150 anniversary in August 2013 with a 3 day event Aug 16, 17 & 18 2013. This celebration will consist of a parade, vendor booths, antique car show, concerts in the park, fireworks and a queen contest for girls 16 to 18 yrs of age in the Fairfield Township, Bolivar Borough, and West Wheatfield Township surrounding area. Contestants must write an essay no less than 250 words and not more than 500 words on the Advancements in Technology from 1965 until present. Bolivar is also working on a civil war re-enactment, with more information on this to be posted at a later date. Advance orders are being taken for a cookbook, a sesquicentennial history booklet on the town, a commemorative coin, and other items.
Check out the following page on the Bolivar Borough website for additional information: www.bolivarborough.com.
There is also an article online with the Indiana Gazette: www.indianagazette.com.
Following are some notes about the History of Bolivar supplied by Bolivar Borough.
History of Bolivar
Bolivar was settled by a group of Irish & Scots about the time of the building of the Pennsylvania Canal. After the canal was planned these few families of Irish and Scotch descent sent money to bring their relatives here. There was no post office in the settlement. The nearest post office was in Armaugh about 14 miles away. About 1838 these immigrants petitioned the Post Office Department in Washington DC for a post office. The Post Office Department returned saying they would have a name for the settlement and the post office.
The Beginning Times of Bolivar
The settlers then held a meeting in one of their log cabins to decide a name for it. These immigrants decided it should be named Washington in honor of their heroic General George Washington. They wanted this name because they knew of his feats in bringing everyone to this country for freedom and liberty. The Post Office Department suggested to them, they should think of another name since Washington was the name of many towns, cities, and villages. They also knew of Simon Bolivar the great liberator of South America, who was sometimes referred to as the George Washington of South America. Since he had liberated all the people in the 13 colonies, his great deeds reflected upon those of George Washington. They called the town and the post office Bolivar. The town of Bolivar was then part of Fairfield Twp. in Westmoreland County.
- The blacksmiths at the time were Joseph Henderson and A P Dushane; The first railroad clerk was James S. Norris, Wilson P France was a train brakeman, and the first residential doctor was S. S. Miller. James Hammond built the first sawmill on Tubmill Creek; the lumber from this was used to make Bolivar houses, Carpenters at the time were Joseph France and William Henderson.
- In 1880 there were no street lights or paved streets whatsoever, therefore oil lamps were placed on every other corner. Our present day burgess J.E. Snyder and his brother Albert lit these posts for many years.
- In 1865, the town was finally incorporated into a Borough. Before the incorporation the town was laid out in streets, Water Street, Shaffer Street, Market Street and Washington Street. The vertical streets were 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th. The industry at the time was the brickyard, built for the manufacturing of fire bricks. Its owners were Boyd, McCarthney, and Murrow. It was located between the Pennsylvania Central and the Pennsylvania Canal. The other business patrons were Nicolas Hughes, owner of the Hughes House. The merchants were William McClure, Hammond dealer in general merchandise and first Postmaster. Peter Rafferty built a gristmill for the manufacture of flour on Tubmill Creek.
Changes in Bolivars’ Industries
In later years his son took over the brickworks and formed the Reese- Hammond firebrick company. He expanded by building what we know as Number 4 in Indiana County. It folded, however, a number of years later. The bricks from the buildings of Number 4 were used in paving the streets in Bolivar in the depression of 1927. The first church was built by the Methodist Episcopal Church and is now used as a Post Office. The first Catholic Church was built on land donated by Barney Clark, it still stands on 2nd street by the ball-field. Bolivar now has three beautiful church buildings, a 14 room school with a large auditorium and cafeteria. It also has natural gas piped into every home and electric lighting on the street.
Following Information by: Scott Mears in 1958
During the Depression of the 30’s Bolivar lost the following businesses:
- 6 Brickyards
- 2 Coal Companies
- Flour & Feed Mill
- RR Station
- 2 Banks
- Lumber Yards
- Opera House
- Movie House
- Dentist Office
- Bolivar News Paper
- Cornet Band
- Swimming Pool
- Jewelry Store
- Furniture Store
- Coffee Shop
- Street Lights
Building Completion Details
Following Information Copied from notes by Mr. McHail
in a History book given to Della Muir. Nov 17, 1959.
- First school house for Bolivar Borough – One story building built between Sept 15, 1866 and April 2, 1867.
- Second Bolivar Borough school house – Two story building built from Aug 1, 1885 to Oct 1, 1885, the total cost was $1027.00.
- Anderson & Company Brick yard burned Saturday night April 23 1887.
- Bridge across the Creek at Tub Mill washed away on August 23, 1888. The new bridge finished on October 1890.
- Cyclone over through the ridge and Garfield May 10 1886.
- Will Bond Home 1885 – well dug on 1888.
- Bolivar Cornet Band organized on Sept 4, 1884.
- Bolivar Lockup built and completed June 1889 with a total cost of $245.00.
- Catholic Church built in Bolivar on 1885.
- Disciple Church built in West Bolivar on 1886.
- Dunkard Church built in Garfield on 1887.
- West PA Railroad completed on 1883.
- First train elevated PA Railroad in Bolivar was completed on Sept 15, 1904. The people lowered one track of West Penn Railroad in 1907.
- January 20, 1890 was passenger trains last trip to Bolivar Junction under old station.
- Bolivar new station was completed on April 1 1890.
- Old county bridge was taken down January 23, 1893.
- New bridge was finished on February 21, 1894.
- The bridge was 17 feet wide compared to the old bridge, which was 14 feet wide and the new length was 275 feet.
- Township bridge was built in 1891, the county paid $630.00 for it. It fell again on February 28 due to heavy ice and re-built same year from March to October 18, 1895
Associations and Organizations
First meeting of Bolivar Town Council was May 28, 1866
Town council at time was:
- William McHammond
- B.C. Seaton
- James Robertson
- J.L. Vann
- S.A. McClellan
- Jas. B Hammond
Bolivar Library Association organized Jan 30, 1886 at Borough School House. It was moved to J. West Hall Mary 9, 1889.
Bolivar street lamp light – first time used on November 1, 1888. Money was raised by subscription in 1888.
First election held at the Township School House near Bolivar on November 7, 1888.
Tough Times for Bolivar
The Iron Bridge across the river was built on 1880 and completed in 1881. Sadly this bridge was taken down on May 31 1889, when the Conemaugh River was higher than ever before an broke the Reservoir at South Fork broke on Friday causing the destruction of the bridge. That same fateful day at 3PM, the river destroyed towns east of Johnstown and nearby all of Johnstown, from 3 to 5 thousand people drowned and all the county bridges along the river were washed away. The New Bolivar county bridge began started Oct 18, 1890 and finished on January 10th, 1891.
- Robinson brickyard burned July 28, 1898
- Hall and Hammond Furniture store burned August 27, 1901
- R Hammond & Co brick yard #1 burned March 8 1902
- Garfield Brick Yard burned July 29, 1898 and again Feb 4 1915
- Town Hall was used from 1892 – 1902
- School House was used 1893 to 1903
- Borough laws revised by Jacob Turney for $15.00 to take effect August 15, 1889
- Fire destroyed D. Kline department store at 4 AM January 16, 1926
- Worst fire to hit Bolivar was September 14, 1958 when a drug store and Simpson’s garage burned
- July 16, 1972 local landmark Mary Graney home located on Kelly field burned
- May 10, 1974 the Cunningham home, formally the Rugh family home on Shaffer Street burned
622 Washington St.
Please visit: www.BolivarBorough.com