The Native People of Butler County
Human occupation of what is today Butler County began more than 12,000 years ago when ancient hunters arrived in pursuit of large game animals such as the mammoth. Archaeological evidence of their presence can be found in the freshly plowed fields of many local farms. Another important archaeological site that testifies to prehistoric occupation can be found in the northern part of the county along Wolf Creek. These prehistoric peoples eventually gave way to historic tribal societies that entered the region to escape the press of European settlement along the Atlantic seaboard.
Among the more important Indian groups to emigrate into the area were the Delawares, Shawnees, and Iroquois. The Iroquois people were made up of five confederated tribes who spoke a similar language. These included the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas. The Indians established hunting camps and villages throughout modern-day Butler County. George Washington, in a journal that he kept while on a 1753 expedition through Western Pennsylvania, mentions passing one of these important villages, known as Murdering Town, located near present-day Harmony. In 1758, the missionary Christian Frederick Post recounted his visit to another Indian town called Connoquenessing – a Delaware word which means “for a long way straight.”
The land that is today Butler County was also crisscrossed by numerous trails which the Indians used to connect their surrounding villages. One of these wilderness roads, the Kittanning Path, linked the Delaware town of Kittanning, located along the Allegheny River in present-day Armstrong County, with Kuskuski (New Castle, Pennsylvania). Motorists can still approximate the journey along this trace by driving US Route 422. Perhaps the most important Indian path to cut through Butler County was the Venango Trail which linked Shannopin’s Town (Pittsburgh) to the Delaware village of Venango (Franklin). This route served as an important military highway for Indian warriors along with French, British, and American troops during both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Young Major Washington used a variant of the path during his 1753 journey to the French forts. Also, according to local legend, the noted partisan ranger, Captain Sam Brady, miraculously escaped from an Indian war party along the trail while scouting for the army during the Revolutionary War.
At the end of the American Revolution, many of the Indian people retreated westward into Ohio to continue their struggle against white encroachment. Nonetheless, the legacy of their place in Butler County history remains in local names such as Chicora, Connoquenessing, Allegheny Township, and Venango Township.
Immigration from Many Places Enriched Butler County
Since the founding of Butler County in 1800, there have been two major waves of immigration into the county. The first were the early settlers, mostly from the British Isles, the Scotch-Irish and English, and from Germany. The second wave came later, with the industrial revolution. The first immigrants came seeking land, the second came seeking jobs.
In July of 1887, Standard Plate Glass of Butler began production of sheets of plate glass that put Butler in the global marketplace for glass. The Butler location was chosen because of the proximity of natural gas, which was necessary for the process. Glass workers from Belgium, France, Germany and England came to work in the new plant. Between 1887 and 1902 a minimum of 80 of these immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens in Butler County. In the 1890s, the French speaking community was so large that a French and Belgian Club was founded.
Just as the glass industry's need for immigrant workers was waning, another industry was in the planning phase. In 1903, Standard Steel Car Company was opened in Butler. This state of the art factory was designed to build all steel railroad cars on a standardized assembly line, the first of its kind in the world. Men who came to make their fortune in this plant were mostly young men from Eastern Europe. Some were skilled workers, most were laborers willing to take on the physical demands for money they could send home to their families.
They were to change the area forever. The town of Lyndora was named for the daughter of one of the founders of Standard Steel Car. Before that, the area had been a farm for growing nursery stock, then a racetrack and the fairgrounds. Hansen Ave., named for George Hansen, one of the founders, became the divider between the factory and the community that grew up to service the factory.
Immigrants came from such places as Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine, Hungary and others in Eastern Europe. They came seeking a better way to support their families. And while most sent money home, they also brought their families to this country and supported the community in which they lived. Their money built churches and supported grocery stores and bars.
In many ways, the stories of these 20th Century immigrants can be told in the domed churches of Lyndora. At one point, there were at least 12 to 15 churches there, Catholic, Byzantine and Orthodox, each congregation celebrating their religion in a different language. Only four remain in use today, Saints Peter & Paul Ukrainian Orthodox, St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic, St. John's Byzantine Catholic and St. Andrew's Orthodox. And just a few blocks out of Lyndora, on Pillow Street in Butler, is St. Anthony's Antiochian Orthodox.
One of the benefits of working at the car works was the company housing it provided. Row houses, painted red, lined the other side of Hansen Ave. Aptly known as Red Row, many of these "homes" contained only one or two rooms. Because the factory operated on three shifts every day, a room could house several men, taking advantage of the fact that they worked different shifts and could share a bed since they wouldn't be sleeping at the same time. Men with families received slightly larger quarters. The water came from a pump in the alley and the outhouses were in the backyards. As men were financially able to do so, they built houses on the streets above Hansen Ave. Many families eventually moved to Highfield or Meridan.
An entire economy grew up around the plant, and the building boom created by the workers brought even more skilled immigrants, many from the same countries, to answer the demand for new homes.
Lyndora and Butler County have been enriched by the culture, heritage and skills brought by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of immigrants who came here seeking a better life. And their heritage still lives in Lyndora.