THE HISTORY OF WEST VIEW
The Borough of West View has a rich history. This page serves to provide a summary of the history of our community, from its earliest Native American inhabitants to West View Park. To discover and share more of our history, check out the West View Historical Society page on Facebook!
Our summary of West View's history would not have been possible without the help of several external sources for research and images. Click here for a list of sources that may be useful for additional research. Many of these pages are still being added to and new pages are still being created. Stay tuned for future history pages! If you notice any errors or have questions, you can contact Andrew Bensch.
Southwestern Pennsylvania has had numerous Native American inhabitants throughout its history. The Adena people inhabited the area from 1000 to 200 BC, followed by the Hopewell people from 200 BC to 500 AD. The Monongahela tribe then lived in the area from 1050 AD until the early 17th century, when they disappeared, likely from disease or merging with another tribe. Starting in the 18th century, several Native American groups who were forced off their land started heading west towards the Pittsburgh area. Delaware, Erie, Seneca, Shawnee, and Wyandot Native Americans all traveled through the area.
Origins of the West View/Ross Area
This all changed in October 1784, when the “Last Purchases” were made at Fort Stanwix. Prior to the treaty, all the land west of the Allegheny and north of the Ohio was considered “Indian country.” The Treaty of Fort Stanwix designated the West View/Ross area as the “Depreciation Tract.” To help fund the revolution, the Continental Congress issued paper money known as “Continental Currency.” This money depreciated very quickly, to the point that it was basically worthless by the time the war ended. The depreciation lands were specifically set aside by the state government in order to redeem the Continental money that had been accepted by the soldiers during the war and was to be given to Pennsylvanians who had enlisted in the Continental Army. The area was particularly attractive to settlers because a road, the Venango Trail, ran through the area. The path, used by Cornplanter Native Americans, started in Pittsburgh and went north through West View and continued north to Presque Isle.
Casper Reel was born in Frankfurt, Germany on May 11, 1742. He and his family immigrated to America and originally settled near Baltimore, where his mother and two of his siblings were killed in a Native American attack. By 1774, he had moved to Fort Pitt, where he eventually enlisted in the Continental Army, serving under George Washington and fighting at the Battle of Brandywine. In 1791, Reel obtained a 727-acre farm in Pine Township for his service in the army. He built a cabin in 1792 but was constantly under attack by Native Americans, so he left his cabin temporarily and returned in 1795. He went on to own over 800 acres of land and was one of the wealthiest men in the area. He died on October 10, 1824 and is buried in the Reel family cemetery, located near the 18th hole of the golf course.
Barnabas Hilands was another early settler who moved into the West View/Ross area shortly after the land was opened to settlement, in 1795. After moving here with his family, he died from exposure to the elements. His widow, Martha Hilands, and his children inherited the land.
Fred Schwitter was born on March 3, 1847 in Canton Glarus, Switzerland. He immigrated to the United States in 1866 and made his way to Allegheny County. After taking several odd jobs, he started a small dairy business in 1871. His dairy business did well, and in 1881, he purchased the old Morrow homestead, which contained 75 acres. He built a large mansion on Perry Highway at the current location of Bellaire Apartments. In addition, he was an early supporter of the railway system and helped get it extended to his home.
Frederick Christian Martsolf was one of the first developers to build homes on undeveloped land in the area. Martsolf built 50 homes after coming to West View in 1904. During this period of home-building, he was inspired to create a new community. He was the driving force behind the incorporation of West View and was elected its first president in 1905. Meetings of the first borough council were held in Martsolf’s residence at 212 Martsolf Avenue. Today, Martsolf is considered the “Father of West View.” Unfortunately, Martsolf would not live to see the great community West View would become, as he passed away unexpectedly in 1907.
Creation of West View
The name “West View” came from pioneers, traveling north from Pittsburgh, who enjoyed the view to the west as they traveled the Venango Trail. However, the name “West View” was actually used to describe three different places along the trail at one point in time. In the early 1900s, the Allegheny-Bellevue Land Company began purchasing lands that had once belonged to people such as Casper Reel and Barnabas Hilands. The purchase price for the 1.3 square mile which became West View was $276,500. The Land Company started on six housing projects between 1903 and 1914.
The Venango Trail was used by Commodore Perry to bring supplies up to Lake Erie and helped him win the Battle of Lake Erie. The path was eventually widened and became Franklin Road. In 1849, Franklin Road became the Perrysville Plank Road. The plank road was a toll road which cost an average of 5 cents per toll. In 1911, the plank road was paved with bricks. Finally in 1927, Perry Highway was commissioned to be built (with asphalt). It was named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to commemorate his use of the road during the War of 1812. Construction was completed on November 23, 1929.
Pittsburgh had an extensive electric railway system that went through the suburbs. Pittsburgh, Butler, and New Castle Railway Company started operations in 1907. The Allegheny-Bellevue Land Company formed the Allegheny-Bellevue Railways Company which allowed streetcars to extend into new developments like West View.
View of Highland Avenue looking down from Columbia Ave (Casper Reel's log cabin is visible), 1910