1.Origins of the Township
As the Township updates its Comprehensive Plan, it is fitting to reflect on Chartiers Township’s unique history which is filled with events of a regional significance to Southwestern Pennsylvania. The historical character of Chartiers Township has been significantly influenced by its agricultural history, its natural resources such as coal and oil and its location along major transportation routes. Chartiers Township is located in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The County was formed during the Revolutionary War period on March 28, 1781 from part of Westmoreland County. It was the first County formed after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The new County was quite large and contained what would later become Greene, Allegheny and Beaver Counties. (Washington County Comprehensive Plan, 1981 and 2005)
Chartiers Township was erected by the Washington County Court of Quarter Session from the southern part of Cecil Township on March 23rd, 1790 with a petition from the inhabitants residing in its boundaries. The bounds of the Township were reduced in 1791 by the erection of Canton Township and Mt. Pleasant Township in 1808. After some adjustments, the Township has maintained its current boundaries since 1863. (Crumine, 1882) The name “Chartiers” is that of a French-American trader, Pierre Chartiere, anglicized to Peter Chartiers, who in 1743 came to the territory from Philadelphia and established a trading post on the stream now known as Chartiers Creek.. Peter Chartiers was the son Martin Chartiere, a glovemaker from Philadelphia. The son Peter, was licensed by the English court in Lancaster County in 1730 to trade with the Indians in this area. (Knestrick, Observer Reporter 11/23/68) The emergence of the Chartiers Valley Railroad and then the local Interstate Highways mitigated the creek’s use for transportation but its significance at the end of the 18th century is demonstrated in the name for the Township.
Colonel James Allison settled in the Township in 1774 as one of the first settlers on Chartiers Creek. He and his family were one of the twenty families who came to this area in that year, among whom were the Scotts, McDowells, Parks, Morrisions, Struthers, Norris, and others. (Crumine, 1882) At this time, there was navigation on Chartiers Creek. US Congress declared this creek as navigable and in fact some local entrepreneurs used it as a point of shipping flour to New Orleans. (Funk, Observer Reporter, 6/29/2003) Colonial John Cannon, the founder of Canonsburg, loaded two boats with flour from his mill and shipped them to New Orleans via Chartiers Creek and the Ohio River. In 1793, the state legislature declared “Chartiers Creek a public highway for boats and rafts”.
When coal was discovered in Washington County in the 1880’s it was shipped down Chartiers Creek to the Ohio River in times of high water. Coal had also become one of the main products of Chartiers Township for many years. Bituminous coal was first discovered in Washington County on the James Allison tract about 1800. It was mined for a long time for domestic use and for blacksmith purposes at twenty-five (25) cents a bushel. By 1876, twenty (20) or more coal banks could be counted and with the coming of the railroads, mining became a big business. (Knestrick, Observer Reporter, 11/23/68) The wealth of coal drew interest in the Township for its solid employment opportunities though the work could be dirty and dangerous. Soon the extraction and transportation of coal become more advanced and the need for workers escalated. Mining was the chief occupation with mines in the Meadow Lands, Richhill, Arden, Midland and Westland areas. Early towns were Arden, Meadow Lands, McGovern, Shingiss, McConnells Mill and Gretna.
In 1850, the Township’s population was 1,677 persons and by 1900 it was 2,141 persons. In 1834 the Township was divided into seven districts, and in 1836 comfortable school houses were erected in each district. School funding in 1836 was $876.15 but had decreased in 1837 to $696.62. (Crumine, 1882) By 1880, there were ten districts with ten teachers and 369 students and in 1908; there were twenty schools and 830 students. Average salary for a teacher was $57.50 (males) and $48.00 (females) in 1908. The Township began building its own highschool in the early 1940s. Chartiers and Houston formed a jointure and the Chartiers-Houston School District had its first graduating class in 1956. (Herron, Jefferson College Times, “Houston High School”) By 2005 and 2006, Allison Park Elementary and Chartiers Houston Junior/Senior High School had 1188 students. (CCD Public School Data)
2. Significant Historical Sites and Events
Chartiers Township has been the site of significant historical events over the past three hundred years. The “Concord Coaches” stage coach line ran through the Meadow Lands on the Pittsburgh and Washington line, whose function was later replaced by Chartiers Valley Railway also located in the Township. The Chartiers Valley Railroad Company was begun in 1830 and was the second railroad project of its size in the United States. (Funk, Observer Reporter, 9/29/2004) The Railroad Company started to build rail lines from Pittsburgh in 1857, to Canonsburg in 1869, finally completed to Washington in 1871. This railroad brought a great change in the valley as coal mines were opened and farmers could ship their produce and milk to Pittsburgh and many other kinds of trade were carried over the new railroad. (Knestrick, Observer-Reporter, 12/16/68)
In 1886, Ewing Pump Station was erected by the Southwest Pennsylvania Oil Company and was located in the Meadow Lands. It pumped about 50,000 barrels of oil per day, to and from different points within a radius of thirty-five miles. (Connors, 1998) The total tankage stored at the station was about 2,409,000 barrels, contained in seventy tanks. On June 23rd, 1908, two 50,000 barrel oil tanks were struck by lightening. One tank exploded sending thousands of barrels of burning oil floating down Chartiers Creek, killing all vegetation and trees along the stream for a mile. The town was in danger of destruction by fire.
In 1911, the Washington County Fair Association was chartered and the first fair exhibition was held at Arden Downs in the Township. The Hagan Stock farm at Arden was chosen to purchase as the fair’s location due to its excellent race track. The farm had been used for training and racing horses, with complete facilities for horse boarding year round. The principal attraction of the fair at that time and for years to follow was this racing track. The fair has expanded over the years drawing thousands to view its agricultural events and exhibits and for traditional fair rides, entertainment, games and local food. Other events are also located at the fairgrounds throughout the year. The Washington County Fair has continued through the century as a growing and flourishing enterprise and continues as a showcase for the region’s agricultural enterprises.
The site of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is also located in the Township on the former Pittsburgh Railways Company’s trolley line to Washington which was abandoned in 1953. This trolley system served as an important link for the south hills of Pittsburgh and Washington County residents who traveled for work, shopping, and recreation. The Pennsylvania Railway Museum Association non-profit organization purchased a 2,000-foot section of railway line of the Pittsburgh Railways Company’s abandoned Washington interurban trolley line from Washington to Pittsburgh near the Washington County Fairgrounds in Chartiers Township. On February 7, 1954, the museum’s first three cars were moved to the site. The museum was opened to the public in June 1963, providing visitors with short demonstration trolley rides and an informal tour of the car house. Since then, using mostly volunteer help, new cars and facilities including the Visitor Education Center, Museum store and Trolley Display Building have been built and more than thirty (30) cars are on display to the public. Today a “spur” off the original section of trolley track has been built across the road to the County Fairgrounds to allow visitors to experience a ride on a restored trolley for a scenic 4-mile ride. The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum exceptionally preserves the historical significance of this once vital form of transportation through the region.
In the early 1950’s, a one-room office building with garage was constructed for a municipal building. In 1993, the Board of Supervisors entered into a building project to renovate the existing Township Building and garages into administrative offices, tax offices and Police Department, plus razing a portion of the Fort Pitt Fixture Building to make room for a new meeting center and parking lot. The remaining section of Fort Pitt’s building was steel-sided and houses the Public Works Department.
3. Present and Regional Setting
An important aspect of this comprehensive plan is to identify the key regional relationships that influence Chartiers Township and to determine the implications of these relationships for the future of the community. An understanding of a community’s regional setting is important to thecomprehensive planning process because it identifies the factors that influence the character and land use patterns of that community within the larger county and region. Regional relationships include social and economic ties as well as the provision of services such as transportation, schools, water and sewer service.
Chartiers Township is a 24.53 square mile municipality located in central Washington County, five (5) miles north of the City of Washington and twenty-five (25) miles southwest of the major metropolitan area of Pittsburgh. The Township is bordered on the northwest by Mount Pleasant Township, northeast by Cecil Township, the east by Canonsburg Borough, Houston Borough and North Strabane Township, the southeast by South Strabane Township and the southwest by Canton Township. Along its southeastern border, runs Chartiers Creek separating it from North and South Strabane. (see Map I: Washington County Municipal Map). Regional access to the Township is provided by Interstate 79 on to Racetrack Road and Pike Street. The Township is governed by a Board of Supervisors, with the assistance of municipal staff and Commissions, such as the Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board. The Chartiers-Houston School District services the educational needs of the Township in addition to the residents of Houston Borough.
Chartiers Township can be categorized as primarily a residential and agricultural community. Many seek rural parcels in the Township for the keeping of private horses, and farming is still a viable enterprise. There are many post World War II housing developments along with new residential developments making it an attractive well-maintained ‘bedroom community’. A bedroom community can be defined as an area in which most residents live but do not work, similar to a “suburb” or an area that has a much larger residential presence than commercial. Residential development pressures have increased from nearby growth areas such as Peters Township, North and South Strabane and Allegheny County. New residential development in the Township over the past ten years includes Arden Mills, The Ridgeview Plan and The Summit. Despite this, much of Chartiers nearly twenty-five (25) square miles is still rural in nature. Together, this combination of suburban and rural lends the Township a uniquely hometown character. Most suburban development in the Township has and will occur on agricultural land and/or on wooded sites, both of which help establish the character of the Township. If this kind of development is not carefully managed, not only will the character of the Township be drastically altered but other Township resources, both natural and cultural could be jeopardized.
The Meadow Lands is home to most of the commercial establishments. There are a number of light industrial sites between the Washington County Fairgrounds and Chartiers-Houston High School. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the region suffered with the loss of traditional mining and manufacturing employment base. As some of these mining and industrial enterprises in the Township have closed, new industry has located in the Township such as the DBT National Headquarters. The Arden Landfill is located in the Township and the Department of Environmental Protection has issued a major permit modification to Arden Landfill Inc., authorizing an expansion of the existing municipal landfill in Chartiers Township from 280 acres to 434 acres. Historically, the Township is best known for the two important cultural amenities of the Washington County Fairgrounds and the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. These two resources and the events held at them should be utilized to promote the Township in the region.
Chartiers Township’s resources and convenient location in the regional transportation network has attracted increased development pressures. The Township’s proximity to the retail development along Route 19/Interstate 79 from Allegheny County and the substantial development of the North and South Strabane corridor with Trinity Point, the Foundry, the Meadow Lands Racetrack and Casino and the Tangeer Outlets will have a significant impact on the community in the upcoming years. The easy access and proximity of these employment and commercial activities will make the Township even more attractive as a place to reside. These centers provide employment, shopping and cultural opportunities while their proximity will continue to place growth and development pressures upon the Township. The availability of land in the area will act as impetus for the attraction of development in the community. The lack of water and sewage service in many areas will be one of the few impediments to this growth.
Chartiers Township is now more than ever an attractive location for new residential, commercial and industrial enterprises. The Township has always been an important part of the social, agricultural and business enterprise in the region and this legacy can be built upon for a solid future. Faced with development pressures, the Township is at an important juncture; development is necessary to provide homes and new employment while it must be controlled to maintain a functional and attractive community. Sensible development should balance the economic, social, and land use priorities of the community and should enhance the quality of life for residents and businesses alike. As the Township moves forward into the next century, growth must be controlled in a desirable and sensible manner to ensure the livability of the Township for generations of residents to come.