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Happy Birthday, Moon: Township Celebrates 225 Years

The Old Moon Township Historical Society will reflect on the township's roots during a months-long commemoration of its anniversary.

Earl Edwards said it's a lousy story. 

It goes like this: Settlers arriving in what is today the western portion of Allegheny County named the region "Moon" after the crescent-shaped curvature of the Ohio River. 

And for the past few centuries, the peculiar name—Moon Township—has stuck. 

"Well, that's the official story," said Edwards, president of the Old Moon Township Historical Society.

"It's a lousy story, and that's really the only story we've got," he said. "If you look at a map, it really doesn't look much like a moon, so I think there's probably really something else behind it. But we just don't know." 

Moon Township celebrates its 225th anniversary this year, marking the 1788 founding of the community. 

Pennsylvania legislators voted that year to establish both Allegheny County and several townships within its vast boarders, which at the time spanned north to Lake Erie. 

To commemorate the milestone, the historic society has partnered with Moon Community Access Television to produce a series of historical documentaries about the township's roots. The shows will air later this year. 

The 'Old Moon Township'

"Both Moon Township and Allegheny County were much bigger then than they are now," Edwards said. "Moon would have extended all the way from Chartiers Creek to what is now West Virginia—that was the old Moon Township." 

In the late 1700s, modest homesteads and cabins punctuated the countryside, said historic society member Deborah Kennedy, who has studied historic estates in Moon.

Local officials celebrated the community's rustic roots during Moon's bicentennial, when crews pieced back together a Washington County log cabin and placed it on the grounds of Robin Hill Park.

"Moon was a very dangerous place to live," Kennedy said, of Moon's early years. "There were Native Americans who didn't want settlers here. It was claimed by Virginia and by Pennsylvania so there were skirmishes over that. George Washington surveyed this area for Virginia." 

Portions of the MCA-TV documentaries will examine travel journals recorded by pioneer-era settlers first arriving to Moon, Edwards said. 

"At first, there were very few citizens in Moon, because the Indian wars were still active," Edwards said. "Gradually, Moon became a farming community, and that was really true right up until World War II." 

A Farming Community and a French President

As the 20th century neared, Moon became a haven for Pittsburgh industrialists seeking a rural estate or summer cottage. By 1911, 16 millionaires called Moon Township home, Kennedy said. 

Many of the wealthy purchased property along Thorn Run and Coraopolis Heights roads.

The former Nimick Estate now houses the township's Robin Hill Center and park. Once called "High Skeog," the Montour Heights Country Club was built as the estate for the McCune family. 

Business leaders from Kaufman's department stores, Colonial Trust and J&L Steel once called Moon home. 

"There was a Realtor who put out brochures to wealthy people in Pittsburgh, advertising the benefits of living in Moon Township—the clean air and things like that," Kennedy said. "Right up and down Coraopolis Heights Road, and in that area. It was called 'Montour Heights Estates.'" 

Some of those former grand estates served as fertile ground for development in Moon. In the 1940s, the federal government acquired the John Bell Farm, building what would become Pittsburgh International Airport. The former Robert Morris College in the 1960s bought a mansion and gardens from the Oliver Kaufman family, with plans to grow its campus in Moon.

Township life centered around Sharon Village in the 1890s—the intersection of University Boulevard and Beaver Grade Road today. 

"But when they went to get a post office, they couldn't because there already was a Sharon, Pennsylvania," Kennedy said. "So they decided to name the village Carnot, after the newly elected French president." 

From Dairy Farm to Airport

In 1940, the former federal Works Progress Administration purchased the Bell dairy farm and built a military airport in its place.

The airport was supposed to protect Pittsburgh's abundant steel industry from the Nazis. It also brought new development to its host community, though Moon's reputation as a farming town has been hard to shake. 

"I'm a 1970 graduate of Moon, and if we told someone we were from Moon when we were teenagers, they thought we were farmers," Kennedy said. 

Mooncrest, the community's most densely populated neighborhood, was constructed for Neville Island shipyard workers in 1943. In the post-war decades, development sprawled outward from Mooncrest and the community's longstanding homesteads. 

The historic society documentary will provide an overview of historic structures and events in Moon. Edwards said a few "Moon Township old-timers" will be interviewed about their time in the community. 

"So many people don't know the origins of Moon," Kennedy said. "I think it's because Moon has traditionally been such a transient community, with the airport. But I think it's important for us to remember our roots."

maureen April 03, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Wow what a great story. I love Moon Twp.

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