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Delmont’s identity is closely associated with landmark

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Bob Cupp
For the Tribune-Review
Friday, January 26, 2007

The position of a natural spring often determined the location of a new town; that was the case at Delmont where a spring provided an ample water supply, undoubtedly influencing early settlers in their selection of a home.
Delmont was originally known as Salem Crossroads and, later, New Salem Borough. The name “Salem” was derived from Salem, Mass., after William Wilson arrived from that state and settled here in 1785.

Wilson built a log cabin, south of present-day East Pittsburgh Street, near what became known as the Big Spring. Hugh Bigham arrived in the community about 1810 and opened the first store. He also laid the first wooden water line from the spring to a wooden trough just east of what became the center of town, in effect, establishing the community’s first “city” water.

A north-south road from Poke Run Church to Greensburg, eventually known as the Greensburg-Kittanning Pike, was built through the village around 1800. The east-west Northern Turnpike, which later became the William Penn Highway, was completed in 1819, linking Pittsburgh with Philadelphia. The turnpike also passed through Salem Crossroads, bisecting the north-south road at the center of town where Greensburg, Freeport and Pittsburgh streets now intersect.

The crossroads village quickly became a prosperous transportation center. As many as five different stage lines passed through town, carrying a large volume of freight and passengers.

Delmont would not have become a major stagecoach stop without the continuous flow of water provided by the Big Spring that’s never been known to run dry. When the stagecoaches reached Salem Crossroads, the passengers, drivers and horses could always look forward to a cool, refreshing drink of water.

The watering trough was originally known as the running pump because a wooden pump was used to fill the trough. The pump was replaced by a pipe in 1886. The trough is about 100 yards from the spring, which is in the vicinity of present-day Fairview Street on land once owned by Squire Patty.

Of course, the original wooden trough eventually rotted. In its place, a longer wooden one was built. It also rotted and had to be replaced, as did later wooden ones. In 1910, a large concrete trough was built; it was about the same size as the previous wooden one. That first concrete trough lasted until the early 1930s when it was hit by a truck and damaged. It was then replaced by the smaller concrete trough that many present-day Delmont residents fondly recall.

“We drank that water all our lives and, so far, we haven’t died,” Bob Yaley remarked. “In the 1930s, people used to come and fill the trunks of their cars with gallon jugs. Back then, there wasn’t much traffic in town and you could park there without any problem.”

Delmont native Dorothy Cochran Lindsay shared some of her watering trough memories.

“During the 1930s, my dad would take his horses to the watering trough whenever there was a dry spell and the spring on the farm went dry,” Lindsay said. “Later, he and a group of local men would ride their horses through town on Sundays. They would always stop there to water them.

“I drank from the watering trough every day on my way to and from school,” she said. “We never went past the watering trough without stopping for a drink. I can’t recall it ever freezing over — even in the coldest winter.

“We used to sled ride down the Lutheran Hill on East Pittsburgh Street all the time,” Lindsay continued. “The watering trough is at the bottom of the hill. I remember when Paul Frye slid into the corner of the cement trough and got a concussion. My parents didn’t allow me to sled ride down the hill after that incident.”

Don Jobe’s great-grandfather hauled coal and freight with a team of horses and a wagon.

“He used to water his horses there at the trough,” Jobe said. “When I was growing up, everyone used to go down there and wash their cars. I stopped there every day to get a drink of water when I delivered newspapers on Pittsburgh Street.”

Eleanor Jobe Kemerer recalls that “the water ran all the time; it was good and cold. I can remember when people would bring their horses in and water them. Later, they would fill up milk cans and haul them away in their cars.

“When Bob and I got married, we lived in an upstairs apartment in Chal Christy’s house,” Kemerer reflected. “We had no running water at that time and we carried all our water in from the watering trough for drinking, bathing, cooking and washing clothes. We brought it upstairs in buckets and heated it on the stove.”

Alice Ewing Cathey grew up across the street from the watering trough. She recalls her father, Fred Ewing, cleaning the trough.

“I remember coming home from college during the late 1960s and finding him standing there in the rain, smoking his pipe upside down to keep it dry, while using a rake or hoe to remove debris from the bottom of the watering trough; it was a hilarious sight,” Cathey said with a laugh.

Cher Anderson’s most prominent memory of the watering trough is a line of cars along East Pittsburgh Street on Sunday afternoons, waiting their turns to be washed. Of course, in those days, there weren’t any commercial car washes in the area.

Lysle Bash recalls, “When I was young, people filled 10-gallon cans to water their livestock, or to use in their houses. I remember one elderly couple, in particular, who would walk from near the Presbyterian church every day to fill up two water jugs.

“That was the place we always stopped after we played ball,” Bash remarked. “Back when I was still in school, they put a sign on the trough warning people not to drink the water, but I don’t know of anyone who died, or even got sick from drinking it.”

In 1973, the Delmont Lions Club rebuilt the watering trough for the Salem Crossroads Historical Restoration Society. The club’s intent was to restore it to its 1850 wooden construction. The design was based on architect’s sketches and drawings derived from old photographs and descriptions from old-time residents.

The trough is 17.5 feet long and 4 feet wide. A tree couldn’t be located that would be big enough for the entire trough in one piece, so a partition was constructed instead, using steel plates with supporting rods on either end. It was built from white oak obtained from Boswell Lumber Co., and assembled at John Wolfe’s residence. Several Lions Club members assisted with the construction and installation.

Over the years, there have been many unofficial caretakers of the watering trough, including A.S. Machesney and, later, Fred Ewing, while the cement version was still in place. During the 1980s, as part of another restoration project, cut stones from the barn on the nearby Shields Farm were used to provide a solid foundation for the trough.

Currently, Jay Anderson, who lives next door to the watering trough, serves as its caretaker. Anderson most recently refurbished the trough in 2004 with assistance from the borough. He has also preserved a 10-foot section of the original wooden pipe that was used to transport water from the spring to the trough.

In the 1970s, after the watering trough was restored, the Department of Environmental Resources determined that the water quality no longer met state requirements and the trough was disconnected from its water supply. That event was troubling for many old-time residents who wanted to see the water flowing again — just as it always did.

The watering trough is located along the south side of East Pittsburgh Street, 50 yards east of Greensburg and Freeport streets. The first trough was located under a tree near where G.A. McLaughlin’s house and, later, Chal Christy’s house, stood. After the lot was sold to George Reicker, the trough was moved a short distance to its current location.

Although Delmont no longer gets its water from the watering trough, the Big Spring continues to flow into a tributary of Beaver Run, which, in turn, flows into Beaver Run Dam. Since the reservoir supplies water to most of Westmoreland County, indirectly the Big Spring is still quenching the thirst of Delmont residents today.

Delmont just wouldn’t be the same without its watering trough. The old landmark is closely associated with the founding and history of Delmont. Although the horses and water are long gone, the trough remains today, restored and maintained by a community that values its past.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633