About HighlandsGeneral History of the Community
Highlands School District is a merger of the townships of Fawn and Harrison and the boroughs of Brackenridge and Tarentum. The area comprises about twenty-two square miles and has a population of approximately 28,000. It is located in the northeastern corner of Allegheny County along the Allegheny River about twenty miles from Pittsburgh. The area was once highly industrialized, and is near some of the finest research establishments in the world. Living costs are moderate in comparison with larger cities. This region is urban yet in many ways rural; portions are wooded, others very thickly populated. The rolling hills, fine shopping centers, recreational areas and friendly people make Highlands School District a fine place in which to work, live, and raise a family. Highlands School District is within commuting distance of the Penn State Center at New Kensington, the Community College of Allegheny County in Monroeville, and numerous major colleges and universities in the Pittsburgh area.
The history of the area comprising the Highlands School District and the surrounding communities is rich, interesting, and exciting. Before the coming of the white settlers, the territory in the area surrounding Tarentum was inhabited by the Delaware and Shawnee Indians. In the first part of the 18th century, Peter Chartiers, a French-Indian trader, established a trading post for a time near the mouth of Bull Creek. A block house was later built in this vicinity by Captain Robert Orr. In 1797 Felix Negley, a white settler, built the first permanent residence in Tarentum. Negley also utilized Bull Creek, building a saw mill and a grist mill in the area. At approximately the same time, a settler by the name of William Owens was settling in the vicinity of Natrona. Apparently, Indians still lived in the area at this time as records indicate that he was on intimate terms with them. This area today is part of Harrison Township. Also, at approximately the same time, Ezekial Miller settled with his family in the area of Millerstown, presently located in Fawn Township.
Brackenridge, another part of the present school district, was formerly a part of Harrison Township. Harrison Township was organized as a First Class Township in 1900, and one year later, Brackenridge broke away from the township to become a borough.
Sometime during the first part of the last century, the settling of Harrison Township took place with the coming of the Burtner, Beale, and Alter families. This area assumed great significance with the advent of the canal boat era. The area was flat and fertile along the river and the canals furnished an excellent means of transportation to Pittsburgh. The canal started near Freeport, passed through Natrona and then flowed in to Pittsburgh.
The story of salt and oil enriches the history of the Tarentum-Harrison Township area. A group of Philadelphia businessmen in 1850 organized the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Co. for the manufacturing of salt and related articles. The Harrison area reflected the industrial growth of the United States following the ending of the Civil War. The Penn Salt Co. grew rapidly with the importation and processing of cryolite, which later made the production of aluminum possible. From a small beginning, Penn Salt grew to an international industrial network of approximately 50 plants, mines and laboratories located in over 20 countries with some 10,000 employees. The company produced items such as chlorine caustic soda, chemicals for rocket fuels and dental health products. During World War II, Penn Salt produced HF, and essential ingredient in the processing of the first atomic bomb.
Another important contribution of the township to the industrial might of America was the growth of the Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation. Incorporated in 1900, the plant became very prominent in the development of stainless and electrical steels. Incorporated as the Allegheny Steel and Iron Co., the merger with Ludlum Steel Co. in 1938 made it the largest company to produce stainless and high alloy steels in the world.
The industrial development of America could not have taken place without the discovery and processing of oil. The Upper Allegheny Valley played a role in the discovery of oil before Drake became famous with his well at Titusville in 1859.
In 1840, oil was discovered seeping into the salt wells owned by Felix Negley. Attempting to refine the crude petroleum, Samuel Kier, a lockmaster on the Min Line Canal, bottled and sold it as Kiers Petroleum or Rock Oil. He discovered its use as an illuminant and began to sell it for the Kier lamp which he had invented. As the significance of oil increased, George T. Lewis helped to establish one of the most complete oil refineries in the country at the Penn Salt Co. during the 1850s. Some of this oil found its way to markets as far away as London, England. Along with other chemicals, oil continued to be processed at the Penn Salt refinery until 1868. Oil refining ceased with the closing of the canal in 1868. One of the most famous of the chemists, instrumental in perfecting the oil refining process at Penn Salt was Henry Rogers, who later became an employee of the famous oil rich Rockefellers.