By Beverly Pini
Throwback with TODAY
Daytrip: Destination USC by Beverly Pini
May 1995 (3rd issue) pages 22-23 and map on page 7.
Our first Daytrip article in the last issue of UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY set forth the three ingredients for a successful daytrip - something to see, something to buy and something to eat. Daytrip II breaks the rules, but with good reason and without remorse. This is a special request daytrip which we hope you will take and hope you will share with others. All of the points of interest are right here at home! If you feel compelled to follow the rules, buy a wildflower book and pack a picnic lunch, then put on your hiking boots and stuff the family into the van and let's go...
A call to Walter Jarosh, our Forester here in Upper St. Clair, was "Good Idea #1." Walter was very kind to share with us all of his favorite haunts in the Township. A call to Nancy Trice was "Good Idea #2," as she had a wealth of information on all of the places in USC with historical significance. I've combined the most interesting and hope you learn something about, or find someplace in, Upper St. Clair you never knew before. As the saying goes, "America starts here!"
Beginning at the north end of the Township, stop and view the yellow house behind Chi-Chi's on North Highland Road. This home was built by Hugh Scott in 1845 and was the primary residence of his daughter, Annie, who lived in the house until her death in 1962. She kept the house as it had been built with no modern conveniences. In 1962, Congressman James Fulton bought and remodeled the house and used it only for entertaining.
Now proceed to Fort Couch Road and turn right, then left, onto Seegar Road. Note the Trice home on your right at 170. This is the oldest home in USC, dating back to 1806. It was built by Joseph Philips who paid to ensure that no mining would be done under the one acre of land on which the house sits. The coal reserve is still there. In the mid-1800's, the Seegar family from Clarion bought the house and ultimately willed it to their heirs, the Hoffmans. The Trices added the log cabin addition, c.1800, several years ago. They brought it numbered, piece by piece, from its original location in Speers, PA, and reconstructed it to adjoin their existing home. The addition adds much needed living space but also maintains the integrity of the home. Immediately past the Trice home, note the giant Old Sycamore tree in the parklet at the intersection of Manordale and Seegar Roads. The tree is approximately 240 years old. Prior to Walter's arrival here in the '70's, some neighborhood children built a big tree house in the Sycamore. It isn't very healthy now and fading fast, but Walter hopes it doesn't have to be cut down because there are about 10 pounds of nails in it from the construction! Rumor has it that the Sycamore was a "message tree" where early inhabitants of the area left messages for each other.
Now from Seegar, continue to 1907 Murdstone Road. This recently updated home was the original farmhouse for the Orr Farm and is over 100 years old. It sure looks good for an antique!
Turn left on Orr Road and pull over at the Gilfillan Trail This is a popular spot in the Township for many of you. The trail and accompanying 65 acres were acquired by the Township from the Gilfillan family in the mid-1980's and provide recreation for joggers, families and the casual solitary wanderer.
As you walk the trail, notice the grouping of sassafras trees to the left of the path as you climb the hill through the woods. The large tree in the middle is between 300 and 400 years old. Sassafras trees clone themselves and spread outward from the center - the larger the grouping, the older the stand of trees. Right across the path from it stands a large American Beech tree which is about the same age. In the spring you can see waves of daffodils, spring lambs and a bevy of bunnies on the Orr Road side of the trail! Note the Gilfillan Farmhouse as you pass it. It is in the National Register of Historic Places and dates back to 1857. Members of the Gilfillan Family still reside there.
Now follow Washington Road south, exiting at the cloverleaf and note the 1830 Log House on your right below the high school. This house was built by the Gilfillan family as a home for tenant farmers. It passed through several owners including a wagon maker and a blacksmith from the town of Clifton. Take a tour there on Community Day when the docents can give you more information.
Proceed down McLaughlin Run Road and turn left on Morrow Road and go until it deadends into Morton Road. Turn left on Morton and bear right at the fire station. Stay on Morton until you come to the garden plots at Boyce Toad. If you're lucky, you might see some cows grazing alongside the road.
A must on any tour of USC is the Wetlands. This area sits between the Boyce Road Garden Plots and Mayview State Hospital. You might remember a few years back when archaeologists in the area uncovered the remains of an Indian encampment. Well, it's all under water now as PennDot required that it all be converted into Wetlands as part of the state environmental conservation program. You might be interested to know that we got this 200 acres from Allegheny County because it was not large enough for a county park. There are two places to park to get to the area. The first is at the garden plots which would require a walk to the top of the hill and down the other side.
The second option is to continue down Boyce Road and turn at the next right behind the little house that is occupied by Global Junction Travel. Please don't park in their lot, but on the access road, making sure to pull to the side to allow township vehicles to pass, and proceed in on foot. Follow the main road in and bear to your left at the clearing, continuing until you come to an orange barrier fence. Go around it (you're allowed) and bear left and follow the path down to the lake.
There are two observation decks in the Wetlands, one at the lake and one down the path to the right of it, that are just the place to eat that lunch you packed! (Of course, we know you'll carry your trash back out!) Be sure you take your binoculars with you so you can get a look at some of the wildlife up close and personal. And I do mean wildlife! The Wetland area is home to red fox, beaver (I saw one!), osprey, green and blue heron, Canadian geese, bluebirds, wild turkeys and, Walter tells me, he once sighted between 75 and 100 deer grazing in the fields. I saw 15 on a sunny Sunday afternoon!
Remember to sneak in and sneak back out and try to blend in with the scenery! This really is a lovely place, an easy walk, and a must if you love the outdoors. If you park on the Morton side and go over the hill, notice the pine woods as you walk by. There are several great horned owls in the pine woods there and under the trees you can spot owl pellets. "What are owl pellets?" you ask. Walter tells me, and I believe him, that they are the bone, teeth and fur that the owl does not digest which becomes little pellets. People actually collect the to investigate what the owl has recently eaten. Walter seemed to think you would want to know where you could find them in the Township, so now you know. Beat the rush.
We are very grateful to the Boy Scouts who have been working on the trail in this area and have finished 1.5 miles. If you take this trip in the summer, the garden plots are worth a look. If you see an area in the woods nearby that appears to be raked evenly, it isn't the gardeners, it's the wild turkeys. Walter tells me he has come across 20 by 20 foot areas where they have scratched the surface smooth. Another thing to look for!
As you leave the Wetlands, go down Boyce Road to the railroad tracks. The building on the left adjacent to the tracks is the original Boyce Station. The Chartiers Railroad came through the western side of USC and was completed to Washington, PA, in 1871. The crossing was part of the Boyce farm, known as "Content."* Boyce Station was built in 1884. It was the first general store in the area and also housed a post office and a blacksmith shop.
Now turn around. You might have no choice as the bridge over the creek will be closed for six to nine months for reconstruction. Cross over Route 19 and turn right and then left onto Hays Road. At the intersection of Hays and Lindenwood Drive (go past the corner on Hays and turn around and come back for a better look) is a beautifully maintained home, c.1881. Continue on Lindenwood to Fife Drive and turn right. Note the Walker home at 2535 Fife. John and William Fife were two early settlers in this area.* This home was originally owned by John and deeded to William in 1884. The Fifes owned and farmed the property until 1950. Go back out Fife to Johnson Road and turn right and proceed to Southvue Drive on your right. The Ellis home at 2430 Southvue is the oldest brick home in Upper St. Clair, c.1830. The bricks were fired on the premises and the walls are 13 inches thick!
Go back up Southvue to Johnston and turn left and go down to Old Washington Road. Make a right and pause as you pass 2421. The Farmer home, which sits will back off the road, was originally owned by Wil Fife, a direct descendant of John. The original 1000 acres were purchased from a friendly Indian for a pair of leggings and held under a Virginia claim until 1786 when Fife was given patent by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This home was a part of the underground railroad system during the Civil War.
Cross Route 19 again and note the first home on your left. This is another Fife home built around the turn of the century. Although there is a barn on the property, this Fife was a coal miner and not a farmer.
Go straight ahead on Old Washington Road to the bottom of the hill at McLaughlin Run Road, turn right and go under the overpass and then head back up onto Route 19 North. If you can pause there, note the house directly beside the ramp. This home, at 9 McMurray Road, was built in 1834 and was directly in the center of the town of Clifton. It was originally owned by a blacksmith name Trimble and sits on 1 1/2 acres of land.
And that's the end of our tour. If it wasn't as exciting as you had hoped, well, that's about as exciting as it gets here in USC. Just remember that it didn't cost you anything and you didn't have to pack a suitcase.
Whatever season you decide to take the Grand Tour of USC, give Walter a call first and he'll tell you what not to miss at the various locations at any time of year. It really helps to have a knowledgeable tour guide when you're a novice explorer. I probably would have cruised right by those owl pellets!
'Til next issue...
*See Settler's Map on Page 7 for locations of "Content" and Fife's" properties.