When South Fayette Township figuratively blows out the candles on its 175th birthday cake, a breeze of transformation will accompany the breath of more than 14,000 residents.
The township will honor this milestone on March 16 — 175 years to the day — at the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department Sunset Room, 3326 Washington Pike.
Once a rich farming and mining community, South Fayette has morphed into a bustling Pittsburgh suburb with business and residential developments.
“You could see that coming,” said Charles Mills, a former night watchman and supervisor at the former South Fayette Boys Home. “The land was made for development. Some of the housing units are gone and the play areas for children. But you knew they would be torn down and eventually built up into bigger and better opportunities.”
Mills worked at the Boys Home in the early 1960s until its closing in 1972. While the main building for boys ages 13 to 17 was in Oakdale, satellite buildings several miles away, near where the current South Fayette High School stands.
Not far is the home of Bob Rank, one of the founders of the Oak Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.
“I’ve been in the same place for 60 years,” he said. “As I look out my front window, I see the school campus. My father (Gaston Rank) was on the school authority board in the early ’50s when they were trying to buy some property. They bought the farm where the school is located now.
“There was a small store on that land and people would come into the store and complain that they were wasting money on that amount of property,” he continued. “If they were to see it now, they would realize they were wrong.”
South Fayette, once part of Moon Township, was not invited to join other school districts, according to Emily Williamson-Brady of the Historical Society of South Fayette.
“The township has now built an excellent educational facility with all grades on one campus and is considered a top draw in Pennsylvania,” Williamson-Brady said.
It’s that top-notch educational system, along with a convenient location and 21 square miles of land that have allowed South Fayette to be at the forefront of Allegheny County commerce. Williamson-Brady expects that trend to continue in the future, too.
“There are many reasons that our development or move to the growth we are seeing today happened,” she said. “We have the required land to build and the educational facility to attract people, yet are physically close to the cultural district and medical centers of Pittsburgh along with a major airport nearby.”
The land opened up when local farmers retired or sold off their land to builders who could purchase these large tracts of land for multiple home building, Williamson-Brady said.
When Ellen Cramer, now in her 90s, was growing up, she played in a drum and bugle corps and walked the unpaved and dark streets of the township.
“There weren’t many streetlights,” she said. “It was a much simpler time.”
She attributes many of the townships benefits to her father, Richard Weir, a South Fayette commissioner.
“He served the community for many years and I heard a lot from him,” Cramer said. “He was involved in a lot of the decision-making and development. He worked with other good commissioners and made things happen around here.”
The memories of many citizens remain in their minds and hearts. They are invited to share their photographs and mementos in a time capsule that will be buried this year.