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Baldwin Borough history to be published to mark 50th anniversary

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

By Virginia Peden

History buffs spend a lot of time in research when they find an unusual fact or artifact that piques curiosity.

"It's amazing how much time it takes to find one little item," said Norman Schwotzer of Pleasant Hills, who has checked records at Carnegie Library and other sources for the 4-year-old Baldwin Historical Society, organized by Joyce Chiappetta of Mt. Lebanon, director of the Baldwin Borough Public Library.

Members researched Baldwin's history and hired writer Bill Brubach to produce a 64-page book, which is expected to be on sale by the first of the year for $10. It will mark the 50th anniversary of the borough's founding.

The society's most intriguing artifact so far is the Civil War tombstone found and donated by a Gardenville Road resident.

"He uncovered it when he was running a backhoe behind a wall," said Richard Gaetano, historical society vice president.

Members are trying to unearth more about the man whose name is incised in the approximately 3- by 5-foot cement slab.

James Haley of Allison Park has done most of the research on the tombstone that reads, "Fred'k Weiss, Co. E., Knap's PA. Battery." Haley found spelling variations on the name Weiss. The battery was mustered out of the Army in Washington, D.C., in 1864 and Weiss "died of indigestion" in 1865, leaving Christina a widow.

Baldwin Borough was one of seven sections in Baldwin Township, which seceded to become separate boroughs or part of Pittsburgh. In early days, first came farms, then mines, the last ones closing in the late 1940s.

The society uses a room in the library in the old Wallace School. A bookcase holds numerous folders that Anne Nath and her daughter, Karen, of Bethel Park filled with donated documents.

Residents and former residents have contributed records, photos, and oral and written family histories, which the society welcomes.

With a grant in 1999-2000, Karen also designed a borough flag, which represents the past with its symbols of wheat and a coal car and points to the future with a child. Its purple and white reflect the school colors.

One society photo shows the Baldwin Cornet Band in 1895, and another is of a class from one of the three McGibney schools. They existed from 1856 to 1876, 1876 to 1929, and the third on Churchview Avenue, built in 1929, houses a day care and other businesses.

Claims to fame are that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, graduated from Baldwin High School in 1952 and Dave Wannstadt, class of '70, was hired to coach the Miami Dolphins.

In 1966, the school district was renamed Baldwin-Whitehall.

The Bruce Hotel, originally the First Pool Hotel, burned in 1958. Federal agents raided it in speakeasy days.

The annual Community Day began in 1960. The late Truman Staggers organized the first library in 1970 in the borough building, and it moved to Wallace in 1988.

Of 18 log homes in Baldwin, one remains. A story about the cabin that was on the borough building site is in a 1996 South Hills Record, of which the society has a collection.

Historical society meetings are held the second Monday of the month, alternating at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. January's will be at 1 p.m. Besides Gaetano, officers are LaVerne Oberle and Patty Woehler, co-presidents; Pat Lombardi and Dolores Kirsch, co-secretaries and Ken Haberman, treasurer. Dues are $10 a year.

To join, buy a book or for information, call the library, 412-885-2255. If books are mailed, postage will be added.

Virginia Peden is a free-lance writer.

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