For all the inquiries about family history I get from visitors to the PA Room, I also field plenty of unusual questions about local history. One patron wondered where his uncle might have bought a Studebaker in Uniontown in the 1950s. (The Detweiler dealership, perhaps?) Another was trying to track down the name of the last man to be hanged for murder in the county. (Frank Wells, a century ago this year.)
Sometimes a single resource will cough up the answer you need. The Studebaker question, for example, was solved by a quick search through a Uniontown City Directory from 1950. But more often than not, you’ll have to do far more footwork.
That was the case with the most recent mystery to come across my desk, which arrived in the form of a photograph:
According to the caption, this stone was hauled down West Main Street in Uniontown on January 15, 1909. But where exactly on West Main Street? And what was the stone for?
There are a lot of interesting things to look at in this picture. It appears that there were eight to ten horses and mules hitched up to pull the load, giving credence to the caption’s claim that the stone weighed more than 18 tons. (You can even see that they blocked one back wheel when they stopped, to keep the cart from rolling back.) The lack of leaves on the trees also supports the idea that the photo was taken in the winter time.
Look also at the diversity of the people in the shot: wealthy and poor, black and white. Note the well-dressed gentleman standing on the back of the cart; his shoes are shiny enough to catch the sun. Not far away, men in mud-spattered overalls carry whips to drive the horses and mules along. The man near the cart’s front left wheel falls somewhere in between. While he’s clearly better dressed than the drivers, the dirt caked on his boots and splashed on his long coat suggests that he had been working alongside them.
You can probably tell that whenever I receive a photo like this, I can’t help but lean in and absorb every detail! But let’s solve this mystery, shall we?
At first glance, I figured that the rock was one of two things: a headstone, or a cornerstone for a building. Being familiar with the local geography, I was inclined to think they were heading out of town, which made the cornerstone idea a little less likely. Going west on Main Street would also take them right to Oak Grove Cemetery, where there are many large monuments.
This is where photo-editing software — or at least, a magnifying glass — can really come in handy. Here’s what I found when I looked closer:While I knew that Marshall’s Monuments in Uniontown had been around for a while, I was surprised to learn that they’d been in business since 1865. This gave me enough confidence that the rock was a tombstone that I began searching our January 1909 newspapers for a Gallagher obituary.
And I found . . . nothing.
All right, minor setback. I reined myself in and did what I should have done in the first place: I checked the Pennsylvania Room’s obituary index. Lo and behold, there was an obituary for a John Gallagher, Jr., who passed away a full year earlier in February of 1908. A trip to FindAGrave confirmed it: The mystery stone belonged to him.
Now we are left with the question of where the photo was taken. At first, I was inclined to place it somewhere between the Heritage Inn and the Sunoco gas station on Main Street. The “Street View” option on Google Maps can be a terrific resource for this sort of research, so I hopped on there and took a look.
Needless to say, a great deal has changed on that road in the past century. The trick is to line up the Street View as close to the photograph’s orientation as possible, and then look for bits of the landscape or architecture that have lingered: A house has been repainted, perhaps, but the shape of its eaves and the alignment of its chimneys has stayed the same. Churches often remain as fixtures in the skyline even as the rest of the landscape evolves.
At first I couldn’t find any similarities in the architecture. I looked for other clues in the environment, and when I did, my eyes caught on something in particular.
Remember the block behind the wheel on the cart?
The part of West Main Street that I was interested in was mostly flat, apart from the section that rises out of Five Corners. It has been that way for a very long time. If the team of horses and mules were stopped somewhere on that hill, the crew would likely want to block the wheel.
It was just a guess, of course, but I decided to focus more closely on the foreground of the photograph. Was there any architecture that looked familiar or unusual?
The house nearest to the photographer has a rather unique design, with its archways and decorative cresting. The more I looked at it, the more I felt like I had seen it before. Returning to Google Maps, I found that I had overlooked 210 West Main Street on account of the large trees in front of it. There it was — the house in the picture!
The windows had changed and the cresting was gone from the main rooftop (but not from the carport). Yet, the house remained, marking the spot where the tombstone and its bearers had paused for a photograph over a century before.
So, who exactly was John Gallagher, Jr.?
According to his obituary, Mr. Gallagher was a former city councilman and surveyor borne of a prominent Uniontown family. At age 76, he lived with two elderly siblings on his family’s original homestead on North Gallatin Avenue. He fell sick with the flu, developed pneumonia, and passed away shortly after midnight on February 8, 1908.
(If you followed the link to FindAGrave, you might have read a much more dramatic story about a John Gallagher who was killed in a shooting. That’s a totally different person. More reasons to follow-up on whatever you find in the course of your research!)
Mr. Gallagher’s sister, Mary Louisa, died just two days after he did. The shock of her brother’s death “completely prostrated her” and, already weak from her own bout with the flu, she quickly succumbed. The pair was subsequently buried in a double funeral at Oak Grove Cemetery.
Local newspapers expected their other sibling, Jacob, to pass away directly. He survived, however, and went on to make some alterations to his will.
Specifically, he added instructions that part of his money be used to erect monuments to his deceased family members, should he not live long enough to see it done himself.
This explains why the Gallagher family’s tombstones in Oak Grove are so perfectly uniform in design, despite the decades between the times of their deaths. Seeing as Jacob lived until 1910, he likely oversaw the improvements to his family’s final resting place — including the addition of his brother’s impressive monument.
I wonder . . . Is Jacob somewhere in that old photograph, too?