A road by any other name wouldn’t be as sweet

Recently I read an article in the local newspaper about how some local towns got their names.  I always find these sort of articles very interesting.  It reminded me of a related subject….the names of local roads and streets.  Roads and streets can sometimes provide a great genealogical story.

Every day we drive around from here to there never thinking about the names of the roads we drive on.  I will never forget the first time after I had been doing genealogy, driving down the road on I-376 East towards Pittsburgh from Monaca and seeing the exit for McClaren Road.  It suddenly dawned on me….I know the surname McClaren and why it’s called McClaren Road!  I have never looked at the McClaren Road Exit sign the same again.  Ever after that I am always “on alert” of street and road names while driving.  It is somehow comforting even at times to be on my way to a local place or event and see the street names during the journey and to know why they are the names they are.  I see them and know I am home.

Suddenly it dawned on me....I know why it's called McClaren Road!

Suddenly it dawned on me….I know why it’s called McClaren Road!

I came across the surname McLaren while doing research on my Revolutionary War Patriot Thomas Thornburg.  At one time, Thomas Thornburg owned approximately 1,000 acres in the Moon/Findlay/Robinson Township area of Pittsburgh.  Today there is a small town called Thornburg near Crafton.  This town was developed by a descendant of Thomas Thornburg who took 100 acres of  his inherited property from Thomas’ initial 1,000 and made the town of Thornburg.  But back to McLaren.  The McLarens were a family from Moon/Findlay/Robinson Township and one of the many local families that intermarried with the Thornburg family.  The furthest I have gotten back is to Hugh McLaren who was born about 1767 in Ireland and died in 1825 in Findlay, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  He is buried at the Clinton U.P. Cemetery.  The surname is also sometimes written as M’Larn, McLarn, McClaren, or McClarren.  He was a farmer in what now is Moon Township, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  He married Jane “Jennie” Harper, daughter of John Harper and had several children including William McLaren born about 1814 who married Dinah Thornburg, daughter of Samuel Thornburg, granddaughter of Thomas Thornburg.  McClaren Road is named after Hugh McLaren and is on what once was McLaren’s farm and property.

Many roads are named for families who once lived there and owned property. A few local to me that come to mind…. Creese Street (Hopewell, Beaver County), Biskup Lane (Center Twp. Beaver County – Previously Davis Lane),  McCracken Drive (Center Twp. Beaver County)….many, many others.

Sometimes roads are named for places or landmarks near or on the road.  In Center Township, Beaver County, two roads’ names that locals may not think about are Chapel Road and Center Grange Road.

This sign and the cemetery is all that remains of McGuire Chapel

This sign and the cemetery is all that remains of McGuire Chapel

Chapel Road is named for McGuire Chapel, a Methodist Episcopal Church.  Unfortunately, all that remains is a cemetery on the side of the road.  The chapel was located just a short distance from the intersection of what is now Chapel Road and Center Grange Road.  It was named for Reverend Latshaw McGuire. Before the chapel was built, Rev. McGuire and others were holding services in the Davis School House (a local one room schoolhouse).  In the Autumn of 1857, they began to erect the new church, McGuire Chapel.  Corban Prophater made a donation to the church of two acres of his grove and gave a deed for the same to the board of trustees.  The church edifice was completed early in 1859.   Quite a number of members of the McGuire Chapel lived in Phillipsburg (now Monaca) and while they considered it a light task to walk three miles to church, it was too far to take their children.  So they organized a Sunday School in Phillipsburg, a school building was secured, and Daniel Carey was elected Superintendent.  This organization was the seed sown that grew up into the Methodist Episcopal Church in Phillipsburg in 1866.   At the annual conference held in March, 1866, McGuire Chapel was dropped from the Circuit and attached to Phillipsburg.  The church being unattended fell into disrepair and the furnishings were disposed of and the building torn down.

Some people I have talked with in the community have no idea that the white building at the end of Center Grange Road near Brodhead Road is “The Grange” (currently being used as a church).

Photo Courtesy:  http://www.yourbeavercounty.com/pastor-doug-dragan-and-city-reach-central-valley/

Photo Courtesy: http://www.yourbeavercounty.com

Many don’t even know what the Grange is!  The Grange is a farmers’ association that was organized in 1867.  The Grange sponsors social activities, community service, and political lobbying.  The first meeting of the Center Grange was held in January 1921.  Minutes of the first meeting showed that 51 persons joined and selected the name “Center Grange”.   Henry Hartenbach was elected first master and S.J. Preece was named overseer.  Mr. Hartenbach donated property for the grange hall in October 1921.  The grange bought the former Grammille Dairy Barn for $275 and tore it down for lumber that was used in construction of the grange hall.  Members later contributed $244 to finance construction.  Volunteer workers labored on Mondays and Thursdays each week and on holidays until completion of the hall July 4, 1922.  A picnic and square dance celebrated the occasion.  Later a juvenile room was added that was later used for a kitchen and dining area until completion of a basement and kitchen.  Center Grange community services and activities have included assisting the state welfare office in aiding needy families during the depression, cooperating with the Beaver County Tuberculosis Association in conducting free x-ray clinics, and assisting many other township and county organizations in other campaigns and civic-betterment projects.  The Grange young people belonged to the Grange Youth Club and attended Youth Camp each year at Raccoon State Park.  In 1957, approximately 185 people attended a traveling program depicting a history of Center Grange.  Community fairs were once held at Center Grange and even members of the Faith Lutheran Church held their meetings in the Grange for several years before their new church on Center Grange Road was completed.

Other road names in Center Township, Beaver County that are named for places or landmarks….Stone Quarry Road, Mine Drive (there used to be a coal mine about 1/2 mile at the end of it!), Elkhorn Road (Elkhorn Run), Moffett Run Road, and many others.

There are so many roads in every community around the world that tell a story.  They can provide us with a history of the area, the people who once lived there, and places that existed that may not even still be there today.  This post is just a sampling of a local few but I hope that the next time you are out and about, you might notice the name of a road or street….and ask yourself….What’s in a name?




My personal Thornburg genealogy

“All About Center Township” by Mrs. Mildred Dyke, Community Service Chairman, 1958  Center Grange No. 1870

“Pastor Doug Dragan and City Reach Central Valley” by Andrew Selby, March 19, 2015, http://www.yourbeavercounty.com/pastor-doug-dragan-and-city-reach-central-valley/

Find a Grave listing for McGuire Cemetery, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=44562 , McGuire Cemetery Sign Photo Courtesy M. Nail






About Kerry Coombs

Genealogy and Family History Research in South Western Pennsylvania, specializing in Beaver, Lawrence, Washington, and Allegheny Counties
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