Property in Charleroi was marketed block by block to different ethnic groups as the borough developed rapidly around a giant glass factory more than a century ago.
As a result, each block had its own ethnic hotel, bakery, cigar shop, shoe store and confectionery, said Terry Necciai, a Philadelphia architect who prepared Charleroi’s nomination to the National Register that was approved in 2007.
“If you were paying attention, the language on the signs kept changing as you went along,” said Necciai, who will speak in Monongahela next week about Charleroi’s rise and how it related to its neighboring towns.
Developer M.J. Alexander began marketing the borough March 4, 1890, and, within a year, he had to lay out a second set of 1,000 lots because they were selling quickly, giving the town the nickname “Magic City.”
Several board members of Alexander’s company died within two years, requiring him to reorganize before using the same pattern to develop Monessen and Donora in 1897 and 1900, respectively, Necciai said. He also developed Jeannette in Westmoreland County, similarly around a glass factory
“Charleroi is a totally different phenomena. It got so big, so fast. It was like an accordion. It spread out without a core.”
Industrialists created Charleroi Plate Glass Co. to compete with Pittsburgh Plate Glass, but the company quickly failed while experiencing labor unrest. There were, however, other glass works in the town, including the MacBeth-Evans Glass Co., businesses that located near places where natural gas was discovered.
John K. Tener, who would go on to serve as governor of Pennsylvania, was brought to Charleroi in 1891 to work at First National Bank, and he quickly formed a local chamber of commerce and a company to build the original Charleroi-Monessen Bridge.
“He recognized the stores were more important than the glass industry,” Necciai said.
At its peak, Charleroi had one of the highest retail sales per capita in the state.
Alexander went on to develop 15 more towns, using the Charleroi pattern.
“It sounded as if Charleroi was his biggest success,” Necciai said.
Necciai will speak at a joint meeting of the Monongahela and Charleroi area historical societies at 7 p.m. Nov. 21 in First Presbyterian Church, Sixth and Chess streets, Monongahela. The event is free and open to the public.