Joshua Meek House

Following are extract from a series of articles published by the by The Tribune-Review from July 2000 to February 2001. It concerns an old house in Moon Township, Allegheny Co., PA which was thought to belong to Joshua Meek born in 1731.

Township treasures on agenda
Group seeking mandate for historic preservation
By Howard McClellan

An organized effort to preserve Moon Township's history could begin Thursday, if the supervisors vote to support creation of a township historic preservation commission.


Moon Township was incorporated in 1788, making it Allegheny County's oldest township.

Yet hundreds of Pennsylvania municipalities of all sizes have preceded it in forming advisory boards that evaluate historical and architectural treasures.

Joseph D'Andrea decided that Moon had an urgent need for an organized historic preservation effort last year, when Scott Station - a historic family farm house - was demolished to make way for an office building on Montour Run Expressway.

Many residents became concerned last summer when Community Builders submitted plans to demolish the historic Meek House and build townhouses between Forest Glen Condominiums and Sharon Hill Manor.

The Meek House, which dates to 1785, is thought to be the oldest dwelling still standing in Moon. It also might be the first place in Allegheny County where citizens voted.


"We have lost a lot of old homes," said DiNardo, calling the commission "an opportunity to start preserving what's left."


Historic site may be razed
Moon officials eye future development

Moon Township supervisors are to vote tonight on a controversial townhouse development that would raze the home of one of the area's first European settlers.


The plan, proposed in August, calls for 60 new townhouses on a 5-acre site between Forest Glen Condominiums and Sharon Hill Manor. Forty units would be for low- or moderate-income families.

Forest Glen resident Jack Davis, a member of the township's newly formed historic preservation committee, said his main concern is losing the John Meek House, completed in 1785 by one of the first three European settlers in the area. The building would be demolished to make way for the townhouses.


Three supervisors contacted Monday said they were undecided on how they would vote.

New Moon complex will preserve home pieces
By Howard McClellan

Moon Township's newest development will preserve pieces of the area's oldest home.

The Joshua Meek house, built in 1785, will be razed to make way for Forest Green Commons, a complex of 60 townhouses on 5.5 acres between Forest Glen Condominiums and Sharon Hill Manor south. Foundation stones from the Meek house will be used in the development, which will include 40 units for low- and moderate-income families.

Community Builders of Boston, Forest Green's developer, got the go-ahead Tuesday from township supervisors.

Community Builders donated the 215-year-old house to the township, but Moon's newly formed Historic Preservation Commission determined that the building could not be moved because of deterioration and two additions to the house.

Instead, Community Builders will work with the commission to use as many of the foundation stones as possible in the development's community center walls, neighborhood sign, retaining walls and a historic marker at the site.

That will be the first historic marker placed in Moon Township, said Joseph D'Andrea, chairman of the preservation commission.

Joshua Meek was a relative of John Meek, one of the original European settlers in the area. The house was used as a voting place in 1787, the year before Allegheny County and Moon Township were formed.

Greg Smith, township manager, said the house's double stone fireplace could possibly be taken apart and rebuilt in another location. Smith and D'Andrea met Thursday at the site to take photographs and number the stones.

Besides the Meek House fireplace and foundation stones, the property includes a one-story stone building that could possibly be taken apart and rebuilt elsewhere, D'Andrea said.

He plans to ask the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, of which he is a member, to advise Perkins Eastman Architects, the firm designing Forest Green Commons, on how to use the old stone and other artifacts that might be discovered during demolition.

Smith said Community Builders agreed to donate $50,000 to the township "to use as we see fit." Supervisors have not decided how the money will be used.


Meek House claiming place its place in area's past
By Howard McClellan

As its day of demolition approaches, the Joshua Meek House is starting to get official recognition of its place in history.

Moon Township supervisors last month gave final approval for Community Builders to develop Forest Green Commons, a mixed-income, 60-unit townhouse rental community on the 5.5 acres where the Meek House stands.

At 3 p.m. today, members of the new Moon Township Historic Preservation Commission plan to meet at the site with John Ginocchi, project manager for Community Builders, along with township supervisors and staff members.

Their goal is to photograph the site and develop a strategy to preserve the mid-19th century house's stone fireplace, foundation and a one-story stone lodge on the property. commission chairman Joseph D'Andrea said.

Ginocchi said Community Builders has offered to use the house's foundation stones to build decorative walls in landscaped areas of the new community, "provided that the budget will allow such improvements."

The firm will take apart the old stone fireplace and rebuild it as part of a new community center or as a fixture elsewhere on the site, he said. Plaques identifying elements of the Meek House that have been preserved will be placed at the site.

Moon Supervisor Doris Heinlein said she favors using the foundation stones and placing markers as a way of preserving the site's history.

Community Builders also offered to move any old stones that are not incorporated into the new development to another township location, Ginocchi said.

Ted Magel, a member of the historic preservation commission, said he favors storing all the old stones in another location for a few years. After that, some of them could be used to build an historic monument to the Meek site.

"The location has meaning as an early home site and voting place," he said.

"If it were the original house, I'd be more aggressive in trying to save it." The original house burned and was completely rebuilt some time before 1850.

D'Andrea called the new commission's work on the Meek House "a positive step in preserving township history."

He has asked residents to inform commission members about other sites and dwellings of historical importance by calling (412) 262-XXXX.
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Meek House History

1773: European settlers, including John Meek, came from Virginia and elsewhere in Pennsylvania and settled along Montour Run, Narrows Run and Thorn Run streams.

1785: Joshua Meek, John's son, built his house on land between what is now the site of Forest Glen Condominiums and Sharon Hill Manor South. The younger Meek and Joseph Scott were the area's two most prominent farmers.

1787: Meek House was used as voting place for Robinson Township, Washington County. The farm also held the first schoolhouse in the area.

1788: Allegheny County and its seven original townships, including Moon, were created. Later, the original Meek House burned and was rebuilt.

Meek House falls today
New township historic preservation chairman makes it his goal to try to salvage some items
By Howard McClellan

Joseph D'Andrea had planned to preserve as much as he could when the historic Joshua Meek house in Moon Township is demolished today.

But his plans are not working out as expected.

The chairman of Moon Township's new historic preservation commission, D'Andrea was told Thursday that he cannot be on the site during demolition of the house that once belonged to a prominent, early farm family.

That's because Mistick Construction's insurance doesn't cover D'Andrea's presence on the site, said Timothy M. Fisher, general superintendent with the contractor.

D'Andrea said he'll observe the demolition through binoculars from a safe distance, searching for items of historic value.

Over the weekend, he planned to "come here and observe nature. I will smell the fresh-cut pine trees and look at the falcons flying over.

"I will walk here and think about these pioneers ... everything they had came from the earth."

The Meek house, first built in 1785, is being demolished and the 5.5 acres it sits on is being developed as Forest Green Commons, a 60-unit mixed-income townhouse community. The site is at Beaver Grade Road and Forest Green Drive, between Forest Glen Condominiums and Sharon Hill Manor.

Community Builders of Boston, the developer, has offered to work with D'Andrea and the commission to collect and reuse the house's foundation and fireplace stones. These are probably the only original elements, because the house is thought to have burned down and been rebuilt twice.

Some foundation stones could be used to build retaining walls and an entrance sign, as part of the community's landscape architecture, said John Ginocchi, Community Builders project manager.

He said the fireplace could be rebuilt as part of the Forest Green Commons community center.

Elements preserved, he said, would be marked with bronze plaques, which would describe their historic significance.

"We could have had a beautiful park here, if we had known," D'Andrea said of the site's recently discovered historic significance.

On Thursday and Friday, workers cut down and chipped more than 100 trees, mostly evergreens, from the densely wooded acreage surrounding the house.

Fisher said healthy trees would not be removed from buffer zones. According to the ordinance in effect when the development plans were filed in the summer of 1999, buffer zones must be 10 feet wide between Forest Green and Forest Glen, and 25 feet wide between Forest Green and Sharon Hill.

A new zoning ordinance, adopted last month, would have doubled the width of the development's 10-foot buffer and added 15 feet to its 25-foot buffer.

Fisher said Mistick has marked other trees on the site for transplanting into the buffer zones. Trees up to 20 feet tall can be successfully transplanted, he explained.

D'Andrea, who lives nearby on McIntosh Drive, said Community Builders should be commended for its extra effort in preserving trees on the development site.

Last-ditch effort saves Meek House
By Howard McClellan

While it was scheduled for demolition on Tuesday, the Joshua Meek house in Moon Township remains standing because of a last-ditch effort by preservationists.

Jack Davis, a member of the township's new historic preservation commission, recently asked whether the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission had the date of the Meek house's original construction in a report it got from Community Builders of Boston.

He also asked whether state officials were confusing the Meek property with McKees Rocks Terrace, a nearby site that also involves Community Builders, and he provided other information about the property.

The development firm intended to tear down the Meek house, first built in 1785, and use the 5.5 acres it occupies as the site for Forest Green Commons, a 60-unit mixed-income townhouse community.

But the work was postponed yesterday because of a letter that the state historical commission sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is financing part of Forest Green Commons.

"The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has recommended that the demolition be postponed," said John Robinson, a spokesman for the state commission, "and the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development has very responsibly agreed."

Davis, HUD officials and representatives of Community Builders could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Robinson explained that the state historical commission has received numerous phone calls from local residents, and now has new information about the Meek house.

Besides the original construction date, the state officials learned about another stone building on the land, and that the early owners and occupants came from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

"Our responsibility to look at that new information caused us to request the delay," he said.

Robinson said it often happens that when an historic property is close to being lost to demolition, local residents become concerned.

Formal public comment, Robinson said, "is not absolutely required, but may happen if it is determined to be necessary."

What is required is that the state commission's Historic Preservation Advisory Board meet and re-evaluate the house's eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The advisory board meets quarterly and has sessions scheduled in September and December, he said.

Robinson said it is unlikely that all the advisory board's work on the Meek house will be done this winter, but December is the earliest that it could finish its re-evaluation.

Joseph D'Andrea, chairman of Moon's historic preservation commission, said yesterday he considers the latest development to be merely a postponement.

No meek ending
Developer shuns orders, razes house
By Howard McClellan

A 195-year-old Moon Township house was razed Wednesday to make way for a town-house development, despite federal and municipal orders to postpone demolition.

Community Builders of Boston, which received final approval last month to build Forest Green Commons on the site, directed Mistick Construction to demolish the Joshua Meek house, which predated Allegheny County.

Using the trunk of a tree cut on the 5.5-acre tract as a battering ram, a Mistick crew pushed in the walls of the house around 3:20 p.m., said Jack Davis, a neighbor who has opposed the demolition.

Davis said he immediately called Dave Meinert, Moon's code-enforcement officer, to the scene. Meinert said he told workers to finish the razing because by that time, the house was too unsafe to stand.

Community Builders' attorney Joel Aaronson said the attempt to designate the house as historical was a "smoke screen and a misuse of historic preservation law."

Aaronson said Community Builders had a valid demolition permit from the township.

"The township had no legal authority to revoke our permit," he said.

The state reviewed the property twice and found nothing of historical or archaeological significance, Aaronson said.

"This whole assertion of the historic character of the property has been part of a strategy to prevent mixed-income development from going forward," he said.

About 100 people gathered at the site last night for what originally was intended as a celebration of delaying the demolition.

They applauded when Kevin Cooney of Sharon Hill Manor said the unexpected demolition could backfire on the developer.

"It's going to be a lot harder for (Community Builders) to prove now that it was not historic," he said.

Forest Green Commons will have 60 town houses, including 40 that will be rent-subsidized for low- and moderate-income tenants. The site is between Sharon Hill Manor, a single-family housing plan, and Forest Glen Condominiums.

The Meek House, which had burned twice and had been reconstructed, was built first as a log cabin in 1785 by a descendant of one of the area's first settlers, according to a township history by Dr. Robert Jockers. At that time, the land was in Robinson Township of Washington County. Allegheny County was carved out of Washington County in 1787.

Meinert issued a stop-work order to Community Builders yesterday morning on the advice of township Solicitor John Rushford.

He said his order was based on U.S. Housing and Urban Development's agreement with a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recommendation that the demolition be postponed.

John Robinson, a spokesman for the state historical commission, said the agency had received numerous phone calls from local residents and had found new information about the Meek house.

"Our responsibility to look at that new information caused us to request the delay," he said.

Community Builders, though, ignored the stop-work order, Meinert said.

"I don't believe (they) have any grounds to do that," he said.

Meinert said township officials will meet today with the solicitor to decide what to do about the demolition.

Aaronson said federal law required Community Builders to submit to state reviews, which it did.

Community Builders, though, didn't tell the whole story, according to Davis, who lives in Forest Glen Condominiums.

A member of Moon Township's new historic preservation committee until he resigned in August, Davis has been researching the history of the Meek house for several months.

He said Community Builders did not allow the public input required by the National Historic Preservation Act.

"It's historic to us - and that's one of the things that really would make a difference" in having the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, he said.

Landmark complaint
Moon seeks $500 daily for start of demolition
By Howard McClellan

Moon Township supervisors filed a civil complaint Thursday against a developer who razed a 195-year-old house despite an order to delay demolition.

Supervisors took the action against Community Builders over the destruction of the Joshua Meek House, built by a descendant of one of the area's first settlers.

The house was demolished Wednesday after township code-enforcement officer Dave Meinert issued a stop-work order. The township had also revoked Community Builders' building permit.

"They defied our official order with police on the site," said Greg Smith, township manager. "This is unprecedented in my 25 years of experience."

The complaint says that, by proceeding with the demolition in defiance of the stop-work order, the developer violated the township code. The township said it will seek $500 a day from the start of the demolition through "continued construction activities."

Karl Schlachter, director of Pittsburgh operations for Community Builders, said the firm had a legal right to proceed with the demolition.

He contended that Moon's stop-work order and building permit revocation were not legal.

State Rep. John Pippy, whose district includes Moon, said he will ask Attorney General Mike Fisher to investigate. Township solicitor Ira Weiss said he would do the same.

A spokesman for the county agency overseeing the demolition said his department saw no reason to delay it.

Community Builders earlier received permission to tear down the house to build Forest Green Commons, a complex of 60 townhouses, including 40 that will be rent-subsidized for low- and moderate-income tenants.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, in a Sept. 1 letter, recommended to the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development that the demolition be postponed for a third study of whether the property should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The department administers state and federal funding and oversees demolition for the townhouse project.

Department spokesman John Dowling said the letter gave no reason to delay the project or withhold funding.

"How many times does it need to be re-evaluated?" he asked.

In July 1998 and October 1999, the historical commission ruled that the Meek house did not meet criteria for listing on the National Register, Dowling said.

Pippy said he would ask Fisher to determine if Community Builders violated laws on the preservation of historic sites.

"It is unconscionable that the developers would defy an order by Moon Township officials and destroy this piece of history," Pippy said.

Sean Connolly, Fisher's spokesman, said the attorney general had not received Pippy's request.

John Robinson, spokesman for the state historical commission, said the agency requested a third evaluation of the Meek House "to be responsive to the community."

"Even though (the Meek House) is not eligible for registry, it obviously is important to the community.

"We regret the loss and hope that the community will be more aware of their historic resources and, perhaps, in the future be able to protect them."

Schlachter said Community Builders is still determined to be a good neighbor. He said the firm will allow members of the township historic preservation commission to search for artifacts on the site after demolition debris has been removed and it is safe for them to be there.

Schlachter believes the community will be pleased with Forest Green Commons and with Community Builders'management of the property.

"Time will tell," he said.

Historians forced off razed Meek site
If locale is deemed safe, search resumes Monday
By Howard McClellan

People hunting for clues to Moon Township's history must wait until Monday to sift through rubble of a 195-year-old house razed by a developer.

Joseph D'Andrea and Sheryl Fries of the Moon Township Historic Preservation Commission were at the site of the Joshua Meek House on Friday, but construction workers asked them to leave, citing safety concerns. D'Andrea and Fries arranged to do their search Monday, if enough debris has been removed to make the site safe.

The preservationists will search the ground underneath the house in hopes of finding remnants of household items and logs suggesting the house was built on the site of Meek's original cabin. They also want to examine rafters and beams for evidence of 18th century construction techniques.

Workers for Mistick Construction, which razed the house Wednesday despite orders to delay the demolition, stopped removing debris yesterday and started erecting a fence around the site.

Community Builders of Boston ordered the razing of the house despite a last-minute order from the township to wait.


Dr. Robert Jockers, Moon Township Historical Society member and author of a township history, said he thought Joshua Meek settled in the area in 1774 and built a log cabin in the vicinity of the house site. Jockers guesses that Meek built a house between 1805 and 1810 to replace his log cabin.

Meek brought three slaves with him when he moved here from Virginia, Jockers said. At the time, the site was in Washington County; Washington County tax records for 1788 list the slaves' names as Ann, David and Grigg. Allegheny County and Moon Township were carved out of Washington County that year.

Jockers will join D'Andrea and Fries at the site on Monday.

The razing has caused a stir in Moon, with state Rep. John Pippy and township Solicitor Ira Weiss asking the Attorney General's Office to investigate the demolition.

After a stop-work order was ignored, township code-enforcement officer Dave Meinert said no construction activities are permitted until clearance is obtained from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

"We're trying to lessen the tension and come to a solution," Karl Schlachter, director of Community Builders' Pittsburgh office, said of yesterday's work stoppage.

"We are well within our legal rights to proceed with the demolition," he said. "There needs to be a clarification of our ability to move forward. Our intention is to complete the development."

Contractor to clear Meek house debris

Debris from the demolished Joshua Meek house in Moon Township can be cleared away, although a stop-work order was still in force Monday.

Dave Meinert, Moon Township code enforcement officer, gave the go-ahead Monday to remove debris from the site of the house, which dates to 1805.

Meinert also told Paul Worthington of Mistick Construction, the general contractor, to remove the remaining tree trunks and stumps on the development site, where 60 townhouses are to be built. The Meek house was razed last week despite a municipal order to delay demolition.

Preservation efforts will go forward as agreed between Community Builders, which is developing the Forest Green Commons complex, and Moon Township Historic Preservation Commission members.

Township weighs preservation v. renovation
By Howard McClellan

Moon Township is looking for the proper balance between protection of historic buildings and preservation of the rights of current property owners. Township supervisors, members of the Moon Historical Committee and residents are hammering out what types of renovation should be allowed on buildings in historic districts. Moon is attractive to commercial developers because it is adjacent to Pittsburgh International Airport. But its history as a township is as old as that of Allegheny County - both were created in 1788. Moon's first European settlers came in 1773.


Township officials began considering a historic preservation ordinance last year after developers of Forest Green Commons housing plan razed the 195-year-old Joshua Meek house, which predated the formation of Allegheny County.


Joseph D'Andrea, chairman of the Moon Township Historical Committee, said Carnot was a stopover between Fort Pitt and Fort McIntosh, on what is now Beaver Grade Road, during the French and Indian War in the 1750s.

Sharon Community Presbyterian Church, the township's first church, was built in Carnot Village in 1817, and a school house was built there around 1825.


Message, in a bottle
Artifacts found at Meek House site tell tales from another time
By Howard McClellan

Anne Maderasz learned a surprising fact about local history after studying a green glass bottle found in Moon Township.

Namely, Pittsburgh's second-richest man in 1886 wasn't an industrialist, but a purveyor of patent medicine. David Hostetter and partner George N. Smith manufactured Hostetter's Stomach Bitters and sold it throughout the United States and in Mexico, South America and Australia.

Maderasz, chief curator of the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, recently looked into the bottle's origins for Joseph D'Andrea, chairman of the Moon Township Historic Preservation Committee.

D'Andrea and Cheryl Fries, the committee's vice chairwoman, found the bottle - minus the stomach bitters - last summer in the ground near the Joshua Meek house, and D'Andrea now wants to unearth other treasures where the old house stood.


Joshua Meek, an early settler in the area, built the original house in 1805 on the site off what now is Beaver Grade Road.

A much-remodeled version of the house was torn down in September, drawing protests and the ire of township officials who had hoped to stop the demolition.


Madarasz said through researching the bottle, she also learned more about medical practices of the time. Dr. Jacob Hostetter, David's father, had invented the formula, and the stomach bitters were very popular with Civil War soldiers, she said.

"One wine glass full of these bitters, taken three times each day, before meals, will be a sure cure for dyspepsia," an advertisement said, and will remove "heaviness" from the stomach and "give a good appetite."

Regarding the Meek House site, Madarasz said old maps or drawings might provide clues to locations of privy sites.

Privies often were brick-lined, and were used as trash receptacles. As such, they "hold a lot of clues about the way people lived - what they ate, their recreational activities," Madarasz explained.

D'Andrea said while the old farm house was historic, it wasn't structurally sound and couldn't be moved. So the question became, how to save as much as possible, he said.

"I was angry that it was demolished, when I was going to take an inventory the next day," he said of the house.


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Created 20 Nov 1998 by Christopher A. Meek/Revised 6 Dec 1998