Thursday, January 29, 2009

Road Warriors--Tracing Great Grandmother VanGilder's Life on The Mon

A couple of summers ago (August 2006), Ken and I followed the Monongehala River (referred to as The Mon to those of us from Pittsburgh) from North Charleroi , PA down to Morgantown, WV. Least you think that we come up with some rather strange trips, the purpose was to visit the various river towns that our Great Grandmother VanGilder, Jessie Pool VanGilder, lived in from about 1914-1921. On second thought, perhaps this is a rather strange trip!!!

I have had an unquenched fascination with my Great Grandma VanGilder. I was born before she died and I know she held me as a baby and probably saw me as a toddler, but I have no memory of her. My aunt told me that Jessie was her favorite grandmother, the “nice” one, full of life and laughter. My father remembered her extraordinary cooking and baking. Once Aunt Faith mentioned that her bedroom set in the apartment at 168 Lincoln Ave in Bellevue first belonged to Grandmother VanGilder. I was overwhelmed thinking that I used to sleep in that bed as a child when I stayed overnight with Grams and Pop Pop.

For years I had stumbled about trying to find out more information about Jessie…to no avail. The genealogy room at WVU in Morgantown gave me no answers. One day while I was noodling around on up came a newspaper article about Jessie. To say I was in shock would be an understatement. The paper was from Charleroi, PA--a “society article” about Jessie and her sister, Sarah Pool Pinyerd (referred to by family as Aunt Pinny). The quest was on. I put every variation of Jessie VanGilder into the search engine and came up with a multitude of information.

The family story told to me was after her four girls were grown and on their own, that Jessie had become a cook on Captain Fada’s riverboat, La Belle, traveling up and down the Mon. The newspaper reports gave various small river towns between Morgantown and Pittsburgh as her home.

La Belle crossing under a bridge at the "point" of Pittsburgh or where the three rivers meet.

One place she stayed and actually lived in for awhile was her sister’s place in North Charleroi. That, I decided would be the starting point of our trip. Aunt Pinny housed all her sisters in her home at one time or another and her mother, my great great grandmother died in that house. I had struck a gold mine on ancestry.

Charleroi and North Charleroi are river towns built on the side of a hill that runs parallel to the Mon. The hill is so perpendicular to the main street at the bottom, that when Ken drove up one street, I had the feeling that the car would flip end over end back down to the river. Whew!

We found Aunt Pinny’s former home and there was a For Sale sign posted outside. That gave us the latitude to really give the place a good look and also take some photos (Miss Snap Happy strikes again!). I will admit I had a shiver run through me standing in front of the house. Knowing that several generations of my family once lived there and that my Great Grandma VanGilder had walked this same street and perhaps stood right where I was standing was too thrilling for words.

Aunt Pinny's home in North Charleroi, Pennsylvania

North Charleroi was, at one time, called Lock #4. The lock is located at the bottom of the street where Pinny lived. The locks are in the river to allow boats to pass through water that goes over falls. Boats enter the locks and water is either pumped in or out of the lock dependant on which side of the falls the boat is going. I might mention here that Aunt Pinny’s husband, John Pinyerd was a riverboat man. I don’t know much about him. Perhaps he even worked on the same riverboat where Jessie cooked or used his connections to get her the job.

Lock # 4 on the Mon

We stopped in several additional small river towns on our way to Morgantown—Allenport and Rices Landing, both places Jessie called home.

Small towns line the Mon on both sides as it snakes its way from Pittsburgh to Morgantown.

It was an exciting day trip which brought me a little closer to understanding the life my Great Grandmother lived and adding to my admiration of her.

1 comment:

  1. how interesting! When I looked at the picture of Jessie I read it that it was a picture taken before she had a "golfer" removed.
    I thought how scottish!