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South 'Beechwood' origins date to nation's birth

The area now known as South Fayette Township was originally part of a vast territory established in 1790 called Fayette Township.

It included the areas now known as North and South Fayette, Collier, Robinson, Moon, Stowe, Findlay and Crescent Townships.

The territory was named after the French nobleman who did so much to help the American cause for independence from the British, the Marquis de Lafayette.

Seventeen American counties and 44 towns bear some form of the name "Fayette," which means "Beechwood."

Fayette Township was noted for being the site of more Indian attacks than any other section of Allegheny County. The Mingo Indian Trail, which began in Noblestown and ran to Beaver Falls, passed directly through the township and was well-known as the route of marauding and scalping parties.

Many prehistorical relics of aboriginal Indians, the first inhabitants of the area, have been found in South Fayette. Prehistoric refers to the actual commencement of written history in the area in the year 1608.

Indian Graves or mounds were excavated on the tract of land once occupied by John Vance (now Mayview State Hospital).

"Large piles of stones were discovered in several places containing curious remains of the Stone Age (sic)," wrote Pittsburgh Press reporter Kay Ryall in 1933.

Indian mounds were discovered in three areas of Bridgeville during the early 1900s.

One mound was believed to have been formed by King Shingiss' tribe of Delaware Indians.

Remnants of a mound were also excavated near Boyce Station, where archeologists reportedly found an Indian princess and the remains of an Indian colony.

By Ryall's estimation, the mound had been constructed 200 years ago and was more than 20 yards long and about seven feet high.

Whiskey Rebellion

Both in Pennsylvania and in the Fayette territory, the major crops were corn and rye. Settlers often distilled those crops into whiskey because the alcoholic beverage was easier to transport than the crop.

In response to the latter fact, the newly established federal government enacted a tax on whiskey. Settlers were outraged and early South Fayette residents were no exception. One out of every six frontier farmers owned and operated a still. Whiskey was widely used for medicinal purposes, a beverage and even in lieu of money.

Monongahela rye whiskey was carried in eight-gallon kegs by pack horse across the mountains to the east to be sold for a dollar a gallon. In exchange, farmers were able to purchase necessities such as salt, lead iron and gunpowder to take west to their frontier settlements.

Many farmers refused to pay the tax by not registering their stills. The fine for non-compliance was $250.

Revenue collector General John Neville guided U.S. Marshal David Lenox to the home of William Miller to serve a citation for Miller's failure to register his still.

That action triggered the Whiskey Rebellion. Several farmers were wounded and Oliver Miller later died of his wounds. Farmers regrouped at the Mingo meeting house and on July 17, 1794, almost 500 men led by Major James McFarlane made an attack on General Neville's home.

President George Washington responded by ordering a force of almost 13,000 soldiers to quell the rebellion. Many of the farmers were required to sign an oath of allegiance to retain their U.S. citizenship.

Going to school

In 1927, the South Fayette School District was approved in a 639-183 vote by residents of Oakdale and McDonald borough districts.

The school opened two years later as Lafayette School, South Fayette Township.

The name would change with the opening of South Fayette Junior-Senior High School in 1958.

Green and white were chosen as the school colors and the lion was selected as the school mascot.

Dale Houk was the first principal at Lafayette High School.

Those early years brought the school athletic success in winning the WPIAL Class B football championship in 1936.

Through the Donelli family, the township also gained sports fame.

John Donelli coached the 1936 title team, while Allen and Mayo Donelli anchored the team's backfield. Chelso and Fred Donelli were star soccer players.

But the most famous member of the Donelli clan was Aldo "Buff" Donelli, who gained fame as the only person to coach an NFL and college team at the same time.

In 1941, he started the season with as coach of both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Duquesne Dukes, a situation which lasted until mid-season, when the NFL ordered Donelli to choose.

He decided to pick the undefeated Dukes over the winless Steelers.

Information in this story was taken from "Celebrating 65 Years of Education: 1929 to 1993," a 1993 publication of South Fayette School District written by Paula Pradines.

To share memories of local history, send letters to 10 East Mall Plaza, Carnegie, PA. 15106 or call the office (412) 276-4000.

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