UPCOMING EVENTS and LATEST NEWS (as of 08/28/16)
facebook - find us and like us by searching on Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum.  All of our upcoming presentations and events will be announced here on this website, on facebook, and various newspapers.

In June 2015, executive producer Harvey Moshman and host Will Clinger of Wild Travels TV from Chicago visited the Smog Museum to learn more about the 1948 Smog.  Wild Travels is a distinctive half-hour travel series from the makers of the Emmy-award winning Wild Chicago, celebrating the uniqueness of America in its unusual, eccentric, and downright quirky people, places and events....all across the USA.  The show aired in the Chicago area and the Midwest in July 2016 and was well received.  Click on the link Smog Museum  to view our TV show segment or on link Wild Travels TV to learn more about the show in general.

In August, 2016, the Donora Historical Society was awarded the Washington County Community Foundation, Inc. Hart History Fund $1,000 grant -- which is awarded to fund projects related to the field of history.  We will use the grant to develop a portion of our Bruce Dreisbach glass plate negative collection.

Cement City Home and Walking Tour date set for Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. - see "Cement City" for more info.   Post-Gazette - Smog Museum and Cement City
The RSVP list  is already 60% full.  Please contact the Historical Society to be added to the list before it's too late.
“Wildflowers:  The Nellie Sickels Album” on Saturday, October 8th at 1:00 p.m. will feature Architectural Historian and Preservation Architect Terry Necciai from Monongahela who will present images from his grandmother’s ca.1920 photo album who was born in 1893 in the town that existed before Donora called West Columbia.  This presentation will be a look  back into the latter days of West Columbia and the early days of Donora through the eyes of one of the original families.  Nellie would eventually marry Harry Ashcraft and relocate to Monongahela where he had his business, but one day joined the Donora Historical Society.

The Founding of Donora -- The Big Bang...
Well, not all of a sudden...  
Once roamed by Iroquois, and then the Delaware, Shawnee and Mingo Native Americans, in 1769, a village 30 miles south of Pittsburgh known as Horseshoe Bottom because of its horseshoe river border, was formally recognized as a settlement when grain mill owner Nicholas Crist surveyed the area.  He later called it Strasburg in 1784.


In 1814, Charles DeHaas attempted to start a town in the same area called Pittsborough, but then later changed it to Columbia and then finally to West Columbia.  In the summer of 1815, twenty houses were built, and in 1819, a post office was established.  Shortly after, the prosperity of the place seems to have waned and the lots passed from one owner to another during the next three-quarters of a century.  The photo to the left shows Watkins General Store in West Columbia probably in the 1890's. 


In the late 1800's, America was being transformed by two powerful forces:  Industrialization and immigration.  "Company towns,” sprang up almost overnight and were the instant creations of steelmasters, bankers, and mining and railroad barons.  The immigrants search for work was successful in the industrial and mining communities of Western Pennsylvania. 


The photo to the right shows Webster, Pennsylvania in the foreground on the Monongahela River just opposite of what was the relatively undeveloped town of West Columbia in the background, probably in the late 1800's.  This is the earliest picture that we have of our town.


OK, now...


It wasn't until 1899, when Andrew Mellon, Richard B. Mellon, Henry Clay Frick and William H. Donner formed the Union Improvement Company, that the area surrounding West Columbia had much growth.


The next year in 1900, this company purchased over 500 acres with the intention of building an industrial complex and community.  The Monongahela River Valley was already well established as one of the largest steel-making centers in the world and this new town would be the final piece.  When lot sales were opened (see photo to the left) on August 30, 1900, there was a rush of people to the new town.  What was once a village of only four houses with twelve persons residing therein, the new town would swell in three years to 1,000 buildings and over 6,000 people.


The Union Improvement Company broke ground for the Union Steel Company on May 29, 1900, and at the time was one of the largest plants of its kind in the United States, occupying a 300 acre footprint along the riverfront.  The Union Steel Company was later purchased by the United States Steel Corporation under the name of the American Steel & Wire Company.
Mellon Bank provided the financing for the new town and as a gesture of good faith and success in their venture, Donner's name was combined with the name of Andrew Mellon's bride Nora to create the community's unique name of Donora.  The photo to the right is the corner of McKean Avenue and Fifth Street.  The building on the left was once Mellon Bank, but not in 1900.
The borough of Donora was incorporated on February 11, 1901, and in May, 1903, the village of West Columbia was taken in as part of Donora.
Aside from the 1948 Smog incident, the steel mill would serve Donora well for the next 60 or so years until it started to close in the late 1950's and finishing in the late 1960's.  Although the mills have long since gone, today Donora has a thriving industrial park in the footprint of the original mill.


Always more than just a mill town, Donora was a dynamic and diverse community:  22 churches and a synagogue, numerous ethnic social, political and beneficial associations, dozens of social clubs and fraternal organizations, sports teams, bands and an orchestra.  The education system, always a priority and point of community pride, produced doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, business people, entrepreneurs, politicians, college presidents, journalists, teachers, entertainers, sports celebrities and more.
Donora tells the story of industrial America:  immigration, hard work, sacrifice and a devotion to faith, family, education and country.
Donora has a rich history and the Donora Historical Society has been preserving that history since 1946.  Please learn more about our history while visiting this website or stop by our museum to see our vast collection of artifacts related to our town -- next to yours the best town in the USA!