McDonald to celebrate McSummerfest, 125th anniversary

June 24, 2014
The time capsule that will be opened at this year’s McSummerfest celebration - Photo provided by Danielle Steigerwald

McDONALD – A piece of McDonald Borough history has spent the past 25 years of its life underground, and it will finally see the light of day this weekend.

It took a lot of digging to recover the 1989 time capsule buried to commemorate the borough’s 100th anniversary, but it’s ready for the grand reveal at 7 p.m. Sunday as part of the borough’s 125th anniversary celebration.

Council President Marilou Ritchie said she has no idea what lies inside, but “it’s being safely guarded at this point.”

This year’s 125th anniversary also coincides with the 22nd annual McSummerfest. The festival kicks off this Saturday with a performance by country rock band Ruff Creek and continues until July 5 with music, food vendors and fireworks on Independence Day.

Joe Rehak, president of the McDonald Volunteer Fire Department, which organizes McSummerfest, said the event seems to get bigger every year.

“We have people coming from all over the United States,” Rehak said. “A lot of these class reunions for the local schools schedule their reunions around this.”

Anniversary events begin at 9 a.m. Sunday with a 5K race. Other events that day include a pet parade with prizes, scavenger hunt, guest speakers and a chorus performance. McDonald residents Tim Thomassy and Linda Matchett will comment on McDonald’s rich history before the time capsule is opened.

Thomassy, 73, can recite important dates in McDonald’s history to the 1800s, when the area was called Havelock. John McDonald, an Irish immigrant, is credited with settling the area in 1775, but Native Americans also inhabited the region.

“The area developed with these (Scotch-Irish) immigrants coming in, and it was basically agrarian society for about 75 years until the mid-1850s,” Thomassy said.

After that, McDonald took up the coal-mining industry, and the railroad came through around 1865. Thomassy said McDonald really started booming around the 1890s with the development of oil drilling, and for a short stint, McDonald was considered to have the most productive oil field in the world.

“When I was a kid growing up, there were still oil wells all over the place,” Thomassy said.

Peggy Hughey, 93, who is also a McDonald history buff, said, “We had more oil rigs than we did pieces of property in McDonald Borough at that time.”

The economy flourished, and McDonald at one time had a half-dozen grocery stores, two movie theaters, several butcher shops, a bakery and multiple apparel stores. That changed in the 1960s when coal and steel declined, and the malls started springing up. But the economy appears to be making a comeback once again with the development of natural gas in neighboring municipalities, Thomassy said.

Hughey said it’s important to document this history, and she will be submitting a paper she wrote on the McDonald Trail Station to be included in the next time capsule, which will be opened in 2039.

Hughey said, “I just consider it a privilege to have lived long enough to do this and write about things in the community.”

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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