The History of Central City & Saint Mary’s Church
In August of 1894, one Mr. Theodore Gerrish from the State of Maine, arrived in what is now Central City, PA. Mr. Gerrish purchased a large tract of timber and coal land, where Reitz Mine No. 4 is located. The place, at that time, was known as Walker’s Saw Mill.
Mr. Gerrish had plans to build a railroad, beginning in Cessna, Bedford County PA, with the objective of intersecting with the Wabash Railroad in Pittsburgh. He was looking for a name for this locality and struck on the idea of Central City because of the area’s central location on his planned railroad route. At this particular time, three houses made up the town of Central City, with a total population of eleven people.
One year later, in 1895, the development dreams faded, and as Mr. Gerrish failed, the emergence of Central City took a back seat.
In 1906, things began to boom again, as the Babcock Lumber Company bought the timber land, and began logging operations. The territory was all virgin timber, and Mr. Babcock built railroads throughout the surrounding mountains. Work was plentiful, and a rosy future was in store again. In 1911, the Babcock Lumber Company moved on, tearing up the railroads it had built, and once again Central City was left only with its name.
On December 2, 1913, the land was purchased by Mr. William Sunshine and Mr. Howard Cook, who formed the Central City Realty Company and started laying out plots of ground with the idea of selling large lots. A big boom in the sale of lots ensued, and was bringing in very high prices. Houses were going up quickly, and once again a rosy future was in store. At that time, the streets of Central City were in very bad shape, being alternately dusty or muddy but Central City had not yet been incorporated and was still part of Shade Township. There were no tax revenues to build streets, or address any other community needs, so the local residents took it upon themselves, donated and built a sawdust road through the town, what is now Sunshine Avenue (Route 160). In 1918, Central City became a borough, and in 1922 the local Council began to pave streets and put in sidewalks.
The coal mine boom of the 1950’s through 1970’s created a vibrant blue collar town of over 4000. Coal miners and steel workers brought prosperity to hard working community. Those days are now gone. Today, Central City remains a small, quiet, and closely knit community, built on the backs of its industrious hard working forefathers. Although the days of coal, steel, and lumber are all but gone, their heritage lives on. Still vibrant and friendly with its many churches, schools, fire company, community organizations, celebrations, and public buildings, coal is no longer King, but the community lives on.
Built in 1918, The Holy Assumption of Saint Mary's Orthodox Church proudly stands on its original foundation, looking down Bill Sunshine's namesake Sunshine Avenue, still serving the community's needs, and contributing to the beauty and tranquility of this historical Somerset County community. In 2018, Saint Mary's will celebrate its 100th anniversary, once again bringing together the people of this small Southwestern PA mining community in celebration of faith, and in recognition of the strength of its past, while looking forward to a bright future.
Photos from the 1943 Memorial Book of the Holy Assumption Parish