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Wilkinsburg Borough Celebrates 125th Birthday This Weekend

Reception planned for Friday, parade and party on Saturday as borough celebrates its founding.

Wilkinsburg Borough turns 125 years old today (Friday) and its birthday will be marked by a weekend full of events to celebrate the historical marker.

The borough was incorporated Oct. 5, 1887, and named after the Wilkins family. Wilkinsburg remains its own borough thanks to resident James Kelly, who objected to Pittsburgh annexing the town in 1873. He alone filed a suit against the city that reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which returned Wilkinsburg to its independent status on Jan. 31, 1879.

The history of the town goes back more than a hundred years before that. On April 20, 1769, Andrew Levi Levy Sr., filed application number 3122 to the Colonial Land Office for a tract of 266 acres and allowances on both sides of the Great Road, about seven miles east of Fort Pitt. The land tract was known as Africa. He sold the patent to General William Thompson in 1788. General Thompson died soon after his acquisition of Africa, and his heirs quickly sold the patent to Dunning McNair in 1789.

In 1790, McNair laid out a plan for a village. He named it McNairstown, but started calling the area “Wilkinsburgh” as early as 1812 in honor of resident William Wilkins. Banker and county judge, he’d later serve as ambassador to Russia and President John Tyler’s Secretary of War.

Wilkinsburg’s true heyday was mid-century when the borough was a place where people came to shop at places like Kregars for bread and nuts and Caldwell and Graham’s Dry Goods.

“It was a center of commerce for well over 75 years in the east suburban area,” says James B. Richard of Wilkinsburg Historical Society.

Wilkinsburg even had its own airport, located in Brackenridge in the 1930s.

The town’s population peaked in the mid-to-late 1950s with a population of 37,000. It was one of the most densely populated town’s in America with all those people stuffed into 2.3 square miles. Current population stands around 15,000.

Organizers are hoping a good portion of its current citizenry will enjoy the events planned to celebrate the borough’s 125th. The theme is “Celebrating the Past, Present and Future.”

On Friday, the birthday party begins at the Hosanna House, where Mayor John Thompson will join historians and other community leaders for a reception from 6-10 p.m. They plan to recognize and speak about the citizens and business that have shaped Wilkinsburg. There will also be music and refreshments.

A parade will take place Saturday at 11 a.m. It starts at 230 Park Ave., continues on Montier Street to Swissvale Avenue, takes a right onto Penn Avenue, turns right onto Wood Street and finally a right onto Wallace Avenue where it will end at the Wilkinsburg High School.  

Later on Saturday, a Gala Event takes place at the DoubleTree in Monroeville from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $125 and can be bought at the Wilkinsburg Borough Building and at the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp.'s office located at 1001 Wood St.

The celebration concludes at Wilkinsburg High School, beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday with an ecumenical service.

Additional information is available at the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. website.

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Marsha Stein-Orowetz October 05, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Speaking as someone who was born and raised in Wilkinsburg I am reminded of the days long ago with the tree lined streets, wonderful manicured lawns, friends and neighbors who would sit out on their front porches saying hello to all that walked by, the churches at every corner, the potluck dinners, youth dances, playground activities, Christmas caroling every year on the various streets, hot chocolate and cookies passed out by the grateful recipients of the music, sled riding at the home for the aged, the movie theater on Wood street with Saturday afternoon matinees where kids would gather together for the afternoon, The soda fountains at the corner drug stores, Murphy's five and ten cent store, Woolworth's penny candy and the infamous Isaly's chipped ham....Those were the days.....Those were the days.....
Zandy Dudiak October 05, 2012 at 07:59 PM
I remember taking the bus with my brother from Penn Hills to visit the eye doctor in the Shields Building. We stopped at Caldwell & Graham so I could buy a pattern, material and sewing supplies to sew myself a pair of culottes (I had just finished a junior high home ec class). As a much younger child, I'd go with my parents to Wilkinsburg on a Saturday morning, often shopping at Kregars and getting baked goods from Scheuermann's Bakery or sporting supplies at Sol's. My shoes always came from Harold Harrity's. You're right Marsha! Those were the days!

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