Tarentum historian to lead tours, keep past alive
Tarentum historian Cindy Homburg believes that people are always interested in the history of their towns.
In the months ahead, there will be a lot of the past to examine in Allegheny County’s third borough.
In honor of the Allegheny River town’s 175th anniversary year, a variety of free tours will be conducted, beginning June 10 with a look at some of the interesting churches, continuing Aug. 19 with a walk through the history of the town, then a close-up on landmark buildings Sept. 16 and concluding with visits to the community’s three fire halls on Oct. 21.
Participants will be escorted via bus on all but the Aug. 19 walking experience.
Homburg, a member of the sponsoring Tarentum Recreation Board, promises an entertaining and informative time. She has been conducting tours since 2009.
“People ask, ‘How do you remember all this?’ I love the town and the history of it, so I just remember. You remember what you like and what you like doing,” she says.
She has lived in Tarentum since 1972.
“My mother’s family, the Painters, were from Tarentum, so as a child I spent a lot of time in Tarentum and knew people here in town before I moved here,” she says. “I have always loved history, and Tarentum history is very interesting. My mother’s family has roots in this town since the mid-1800s, so that makes it very interesting too.”
She resides in the house that her great-aunt and -uncle, Harry and Georgie Pavitt, built in 1918. Harry Pavitt was the secretary-treasurer for Allegheny Steel. Her Staley relatives had one of the first opera houses in town and another Staley, her grandmother’s uncle, was a pharmacist on Fifth Avenue.
“So my family was very involved with Tarentum and its history, so it seems like I am following in their footsteps,” says Homburg, who was born and raised in Valencia and graduated from Mars High School.
“Because of the 175 years, we thought a tour of the churches would be a great idea,” she says. “There have been so many churches over the years, some still are active and some are gone. But I will tell about all of them, past and present.”
Representatives of the churches and fire stations will review their past for visitors.
“Central Presbyterian is a very beautiful church with a lot of history,” she says. The present church was built in 1914. “One of the highlights will be seeing the new refurbished windows.”
Trinity Methodist in Brackenridge actually started in Tarentum in 1810. It was the first congregation in Tarentum. They met in the homes of the members until 1842 when they built their first little wooden church on the corner of Lock Street and Ninth Avenue.
St. Peter Roman Catholic and Sts. Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church are among the other churches on the tour.
On the downtown Tarentum walking tour, she will talk about the history of various buildings, including the Tribune-Review’s Valley News Dispatch, opera houses, theaters and more, and will take people into some of them. The route is First Avenue to Sixth Avenue and Corbet Street to Wood Street.
One of the town’s former opera houses is on Corbet Street, now the Rite Aid Building. “When they first opened, it was all live performances, plays and operas,” Homburg says.
The Tareco Opera House (later the Harris Theater) was built in 1905 and was billed as “the largest and most beautiful opera house between Tarentum and Chicago and Tarentum and New York. “
“They even had rodeos. Kit Carson was there with one rodeo,” she says.
The Masonic Temple on Lock Street was built 1907. “It’s the only building in Tarentum that is still being used for the reason that it was built, except for the churches,” Homburg says.
She has never conducted a landmarks’ tour.
“A highlight will be for the residents to see all the 15 landmarks’ buildings that we have,” she says. “I don’t think people realize how many and what they are.”
The landmarks include the Tarentum train station, Highview Church (now apartments) and the McFetridge House (now Paz Law Office).
Homburg has previously taken people to some of the fire halls, but not all three of them, “so this will be a very interesting tour,” she says. Highland Hose (1st Ward), Eureka Fire and Rescue and Eureka EMS (2nd Ward) and Summit Hose (3rd Ward) will be visited.
“All the fire halls have their own history, stories to tell and museum items to talk about,” she says. “The people will actually get to see the first fire truck that was purchased by the Independent Hose Company, now Eureka Fire and Rescue.
“There was a big fire in 1885 and it destroyed most of the 300 block of North Canal Street, now East Sixth Avenue,” Homburg says. “We did not have a fire department at that time. In 1886, Independent Hose Company was established.
“There is so much history in Tarentum and I love to share what I know with the residents of the town,” she says. “I learned so much from Bob Lucas, former historian, and from reading all the books that I can on Tarentum, reading old newspapers and talking with older residents of the town. … I just love what I do, keeping the history of Tarentum alive.“
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.