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Vandergrift in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Vandergrift

Something Better Than the Best

 
 
Vandergrift Marker image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 31, 2016
1. Vandergrift Marker
Inscription.  In the early 1890s, George McMurtry, president of the Apollo Iron & Steel Company, needed to expand his galvanized steel operations. Beset with labor problems and unable to acquire additional land, he selected a 650-acre farm site a few miles downstream on the Kiskiminetas River. He then approached the designer of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and New York's City's Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, to design a town that would be "something better than the best." The result was Vandergrift, a town with gently curving streets that follow the natural slope of the hills.

Everything was made ready in advance: the mill was built; streets and sidewalks were graded and paved; utilities installed; trees planted, and street lights erected. Next, free lots and half the cost of construction were offered to churches. Finally, building lots were offered for sale to workers so that they could build their own homes. In 1895, this was a unique idea in America — that a company would build a town entirely in advance and then turn opportunity for development over to workers.

The Casino Theatre
The Casino Theatre was built in 1900
Marker detail: Vandergrift Casino image. Click for full size.
2. Marker detail: Vandergrift Casino
Pictured is the casino with the original green space and mall that led from the Pennsylvania Railroad Station into town. Note the mechanism lighting the gas street light to the right.
in the Greek Revival Style. From its founding until 1927, the Casino hosted live entertainment and was a popular stop along the "Vaudeville Circuit." Among its historic visitors during the past century were President William H. Taft, world boxing champion Bob Fitzsimmons, composer Hoagy Carmichael, Tex Ritter, and the Three Stooges. In the 1950s, the theater was converted to show wide-screen movies. In 1981, with the building of multi-screen movie theaters throughout the valley, the Casino could no longer attract sufficient audiences and the theater closed its doors. When the building was threatened with demolition in the late 1980's, a community group worked to restore the theater and secured a place on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Today, the Casino Theatre is once again enjoying the reputation and popularity of her heyday.

(background photo caption)
This close-up of the Casino features all of the cars owned in Vandergrift in the early days of the 20th century.

Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail
The Kiskiminetas River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the Commonwealth. Thanks to the efforts of environmental stewards, it has seen an astounding recovery. The water trail is now a key feature in the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway™ and a popular destination for canoeists and kayakers.

 
Erected by
Marker detail: Grant Avenue, Vandergrift, PA image. Click for full size.
3. Marker detail: Grant Avenue, Vandergrift, PA
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: ArchitectureEntertainmentIndustry & CommerceSettlements & Settlers.
 
Location. 40° 36.271′ N, 79° 33.892′ W. Marker is in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, in Westmoreland County. Marker is on Grant Avenue just east of Lincoln Street (State Route 56), on the right when traveling west. Marker is located on the walkway at the south end of the parking lot between Lincoln Street and Washington Avenue, overlooking the Vandergrift Casino Theater. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 145 Lincoln Street, Vandergrift PA 15690, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 7 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. A different marker also named Vandergrift (within shouting distance of this marker); St Gertrude Roman Catholic Church (approx. 0.3 miles away); Nellie Bly (approx. 1.3 miles away); Pennsylvania Canal (approx. 2.4 miles away); D. Leech & Company / Western Transportation Company (approx. 2.7 miles away); Fort Hand (approx. 4½ miles away); In Memory of Lieutenant Michael Schall, Sr. (approx. 7.1 miles away); In Honor of Nellie Bly (approx. 7.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Vandergrift.
 
Regarding Vandergrift. Vandergrift Historic District is
Marker detail: Vandergrift Points of Interest image. Click for full size.
4. Marker detail: Vandergrift Points of Interest
Q. St. Gertrude's Catholic Church
R. Victorian Vandergrift Museum & Historical Society
S. Historic Train Depot
T. Casino Theatre and Vandergrift Public Library
listed on the National Register of Historic Places, #95000525.
 
Also see . . .
1. Vandergrift — the history. Founded in 1895, Vandergrift was the first successful planned industrial town designed to be sold to its workers. The town’s success came swiftly. Soon the mill became the world’s largest rolling mill, hundreds of private homes were built, the population swelled to 11,000, and a delegation from the British Parliament came to study its success. (Submitted on September 10, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 

2. Borough of Vandergrift. McMurtry believed in what was later known as welfare capitalism, with the company going beyond paychecks to provide for the social needs of the workers. A strike and lockout at McMurtry's steelworks in Apollo, Pennsylvania, had prompted him to build the new town. The rates of homeownership and cordial relationships between the steel company and Vandergrift residents fostered loyalty among McMurtry's skilled workers and led to McMurtry's greatest success. (Submitted on September 10, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 

3. Vandergrift Historic District (Wikipedia). Vandergrift Historic District encompasses 625 contributing buildings and 2 contributing sites in Vandergrift. They were built between about 1895 and 1925, and include a mix of residential,
Vandergrift Marker image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 31, 2016
5. Vandergrift Marker
(Vandergrift Casino Theater in background)
commercial, and institutional properties. They are in a variety of popular architectural styles including Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival, and laid out on a plan developed by Frederick Law Olmsted. (Submitted on September 10, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 
 
Casino Theatre and Vandergrift Public Library image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 31, 2016
6. Casino Theatre and Vandergrift Public Library
(looking south from marker)
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on September 10, 2020. It was originally submitted on September 9, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 66 times since then and 3 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on September 10, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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Feb. 26, 2021