July 4 is Dormont Day! Among Other Things

This year the classy little borough turns the Big 1-0-0

I have been riding through Dormont all my life. To get to the Liberty Tubes from my hometown of Bethel Park, you can take West Liberty Avenue straight through the Mountain of Gold and into the tunnels.

Yes, Dormont was named for a "mountain of gold" (a dyslectic twist on the French mont d’or), and it appears to be the only place in the world with that name.

After the opening of the streetcar tunnel through Mount Washington in 1904, Pittsburghers started moving south into these hills that had been farmland, and this borough began creating itself in 1909 from parts of the townships of Scott, Union and Mount Lebanon. The new developing community initially hoped to call itself "Mount Lebanon," but that name was already taken by a post office down the road, and so the South Hills Board of Trade approved the new Frenchified name, and people kept moving to Dormont for a good mix of urban and suburban life.

In the decade after the Liberty Tubes and Bridge were finished in the mid-1920s, the population of Dormont increased 478 percent. That’s an explosion!

So, how do we know all this? Who writes and preserves Dormont history? Well, right now, Muriel Moreland seems to be in charge. A retired language-arts teacher, she’s part of the historical society that oversees the history museum housed in the basement of the Dormont Municipal Center, which used to be Hillsdale School. She also put together the photo history book called Images of America: Dormont, published last year.

I met Muriel at the museum, and just as she predicted, I stayed far longer than I expected. There is so much stuff, so many photos and scrapbooks, matchbooks and yearbooks – "Every high school yearbook since 1923," she said – along with local sports memorabilia, all sorts of business promotional gimmicks, ash trays, duckpins, the original clock from the giant Dormont Pool, all manner of souvenirs, and ticket stubs from the South Hills Theater and the Hollywood (hoping to open again on Saturdays!). It’s a museum showcasing a wonderful American town with a good mix of mom-and-pop stores, beautiful brick houses, the Potomac Bakery and all the everyday joys of living in a good spot, not far from the big city, right along the streetcar line.

Muriel told me she’s lived her whole life here, much of it in this same building. She attended grades one through eight in this Hillsdale School, then came back and taught here for 39 years, and now she’s in charge of these two big rooms full of historic artifacts in the basement. She still seems to get a kick out of telling people about how charming Dormont is. And how old.

So she’s hosting an open house at the museum on Sun., June 28, part of the weeklong centennial festivities: a footrace called the Dormont Dash, a Potomac Avenue car cruise, a Junior Olympics, some paint ball, and a Senior Fest, among other things. And this year, like every year since 1914 (maybe 1912), Muriel says everybody will gather at Dormont Park on Sat., July 4, for the 100-year celebration of this municipality. Take your bathing suit. There will be fireworks. Forget Independence. It’s Dormont Day!

Rick Sebak produces, writes and narrates documentaries for WQED tv13, as well as national specials for PBS. His programs are available online or call 800/274-1307.

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