Passenger trains had all but stopped rolling through Bridgeville by the early 1960s, and the freight lines from Pittsburgh were being used less and less. So the old Bridgeville train station sat unused and unattended for more than a decade. And as it rotted away, it became a symbol for what the railroads used to mean to the borough.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Bridgeville Public Library had already moved out of its cramped space inside the Trust Building on Washington Avenue and into a slightly larger home in a nearby apartment building. Looking to expand even more, Ernie Mihaly of the local Kiwanis Club had a wild idea: rebuild the dilapidated train station and turn it into a literary hub for the borough.
That decision likely saved a century's worth of history.
"The people were very loyal and committed to the train station, and I can't blame them," said Mary Weise, a borough councilwoman and member of the Bridgeville Area Historical Society. "It's a very unique and quaint place."
The tiny train station was built in 1870 and became a main stop along the Pittsburgh line for people looking to visit the Norwood Hotel or natural springs near what is now Chartiers Street.
And in the early 20th century, it was the site of an unsolved murder that has inspired intense research by a few borough residents. Dorothy Maioli-Stenzel has spent countless hours reviewing old newspaper records that tell the story of a robbery gone bad on Oct. 16, 1915.
According to the newspaper reports, two men went to the station and accosted railroad worker John Charles Freemont Franks. As he tried to fight one of the men, the other robber came in and fatally shot Franks in the back.
Two young boys and another man witnessed the killing, and told police the men ran away down Baldwin Street. Detectives from the city of Pittsburgh investigated the murder, but never found a suspect, Maioli-Stenzel said.
Rumors for years swirled about the possible suspects still living in town, but no one was every arrested.
"We have not found who did it, but … we haven't given up," Mailoi-Stenzel said.
As the years went on, train traffic started to dwindle. That briefly changed Thanksgiving weekend in 1950 when a debilitating snowstorm swept through Western Pennsylvania, cutting off most vehicle traffic into the city, Weise said.
"About the only way you could get to Pittsburgh was the train," Weise said. "It was easier for businessmen to get to work that way. Of course, after that the use of the train went down rapidly."
That was all but the end of major train traffic through Bridgeville, which coincided with residents clamoring for a library.
Weise said a book mobile from the Carnegie Library would visit Great Southern Shopping Center every week. But by 1962, Bridgeville residents were tired of driving to the shopping center and wanted a library of their own.
They opened the first library in the Bridgeville Trust Building where PNC Bank is now, and spent two years there relying primarily on book donations. A few years later, the library moved down the street to what is now an apartment complex.
But even that wasn't enough room, and Mihaly from the Kiwanis started pushing for the train station. Weise said the library board and at least 100 volunteers went door-to-door collecting donations to acquire the building and fix it.
"The library board sniffed around and thought they could use it," Weise said.
The board bought the station in 1969 and brought the adjoining caboose to the building in the mid-1970s, Weise said.
The library remained in the train station for four decades until . Although the library on Jan. 3, the legacy of the station will live on when the Bridgeville Area Historical Society inhabits it early next year.
"You have to give (Mihaly) a lot of credit," Weise said. "He had the foresight to look at that building and think it could be a library. He and the Kiwanis got it all scrubbed up."