John Turner and Independence Day

Today, Independence Day, I went to Turner Cemetery and stood beside the grave of John Turner. What an poignant experience! Turner took part in the momentous events that created our great country. He was not a soldier, but he worked as a scout and translator for the army before and during the Revolutionary War and the Indian Wars that followed. Afterwards he settled into a prosperous farming life in Squirrel Hill. And today, amazingly, I can stand by his grave on the Fourth of July. A great gulf of time separates us, but the location endures.

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Portage Railroad

On June 30 my sons and I drove to the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site near Altoona and Ebensburg. One reason I wanted to go there was because an obituary of William Hughey Brown, husband of Mary S. Brown, says he was born “without any advantage of position or education … in Westmoreland county, and during the early days of the old Portage railway, commenced life as a driver on the canal.” William H. Brown was ambitious and innovative. He wanted more out of life than to be a canal boat driver. The story of his rise to immense riches will be told at a later date on this website.

The Portage Railway was the way the problem was solved of getting the canal boats up the steep slopes of the Allegheny Front on their passage from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. It’s an amazing story. Find out more at

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About Churches

This past Sunday at the MSBA church service, board member Kevin Rim talked about his experiences last week in Montreal. He visited two churches, the ornate Basilique Notre-Dame and the austere St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. Kevin movingly related his mixed feelings on being in the churches. Notre Dame was over-the-top ostentatious, built to glorify God by building Him a palace. St Joseph’s was a stairway to heaven that put earthly concerns aside and turned Kevin’s thoughts to eternal truths.

Then Kevin’s, and our, thoughts turned to Mary S. Brown-Ames Church. The church was built in 1908, at a time when wealthy industrialists helped finance some of Pittsburgh’s most gorgeous churches: Calvary Episcopal, East Liberty Presbyterian, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and many others. Mary S. Brown-Ames Church, although built on a smaller scale, is as grand as the others. The Browns spared no expense in building this memorial chapel to their beloved mother.

As the church–and the neighborhood–adjusted to post-steel mill contraction, the congregation became so small it now meets in the downstairs community room. In that small space the warmth and love the people have for each other is deeply felt, and the energy, compassion and religious devotion of the new pastor, Jeff Lucaks, challenges ¬†us to think, wonder, laugh, learn, and believe.

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