WESTMONT BOROUGH 1892 - 1992

Westmont was nothing more than a few farms at the time of the Johnstown Flood of 1889. Since the results of the Flood were so devastating to the city and to the Cambria Iron Company, the city’s major employer, the officials of the Cambria Iron Company decided that they wanted a safer place for their top personnel to live, especially since the city was so flood-prone. Thus, they purchased the hilltop above the city, the so-called “Yoder Hill” and began laying out the area as a suburban residential district. The original name of this district was “Tiptop”, but it was later renamed “Westmont.” The Cambria Iron Company commissioned the famous landscape architect, Charles Miller. to lay Out the grid for the settlement. Knowing that the few existing roads to the hilltop were steep, muddy and, at times, impassable, the Cambria Iron Company constructed the Inclined Plane in 1891 at a cost of $133,295.90. With its grade of 71%. it is the steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world. With its transportation solved. the new settlement began to grow, and it was incorporated as the Borough of Westmont by Decree of the Court of Quarter Sessions of Cambria County, on June 13, 1892.

The population of the new settlement, whose boundaries stretched from the Inclined Plane to what is now the Middle School, began to grow rapidly upon completion of the Inclined Plane. By mid-1893, Westmont had a population of 312, including most of the officials of the Cambria Iron Company. However, there were also increasing numbers of average workers living in Westmont. This was due to the fact that the Cambria Iron Company was building and leasing many “Company Homes" in its new suburb. The rents were reasonable, the surroundings beautiful and clean. The area attracted more and more people of all income levels, excepting those of the lowest levels.

Westmont was also home to the Johnstown Driving Park Association, which rented twenty-eight acres of land from the Cambria Iron Company from 1895-1905. The Association constructed a race track, which was bounded by the present-day streets of Dartmouth Avenue to Hood Avenue and Wayne Street to Tioga Street, with Luzerne Street as the central vertical axis. The racetrack was one-half mile long and sixty feet wide, and was enclosed by a wooden railing. There were fifty first-quality stables and a separate building which housed a secretary’s office, a private dining morn, and a public dining room. The grandstand provided seating for 2,500 people.

As the residential core of the borough continued to expand, the Cambria Iron Company instituted ordinances and restrictions to control development. Deeds to homeowners contained clauses barring the operation of tanneries, distilleries, public houses and any business deemed to be a public nuisance. The Johnstown Tribune reported that the Company would prohibit the sale of liquor in the borough “as it is proposed to make this a place of homes.”

According to local inhabitants, Westmont has always been divided into two parts: the more affluent southern section was referred to as the “dinner” side, while the northern section bordering Brownstown was known as the “supper” side. The Cambria Iron Company contributed to these divisions by building a number of identical, smaller, double and single houses in the northern section to rent to its company miners and millhands. Yet it also built mid-range houses throughout the borough. both for sale and for rent. The Company sold these houses “on easy payments” and also established a fund from which i would finance and build homes for people who paid for their own lots.

Thus, due to these inducements by the Cambria iron Company, the ease of accessibility, and the desirable surroundings, the population of Westmont grew rapidly. Furthermore, those with the highest positions in the Cambria Iron Company quickly relocated to Westmont. Tax records for 1899 showed that the General Manager, Charles S. Price, all five superintendents and four foremen of the Cambria Iron Company all lived in Westmont. Most of these men owned their own homes, but of the fifty-five laborers who resided in Westmont, few were actual homeowners.

By 1912, 228 houses had been erected in Westmont, and most of these were privately built. Architects Walter R. Myton and Henry M. Rogers were two Johnstown architects responsible for many of Westmont’s finer homes. Many of the outstanding homes in Westmont are located along Luzerne Street. in the area which the Cambria Iron Company originally named, “The Elm Grove.” today there are 195 elms planted along Luzerne Street. making them the longest continuous stand of American Elms in the country. It is the last cathedral-arched boulevard left in the United States. There are other elms throughout the Borough. and most of the streets in Westmont are tree-lined, making it one of Johnstown’s most pleasant suburbs.

The Borough of Westmont continued to grow, both in population and size. On July 7, 1924, Westmont annexed the land from the present-day Middle School to its present western boundaries. The new area meant more room for expansion and development. This expansion meant a new airport, which was located along present-day Goucher Street in the vicinity of Westwood. The dedication of the airport took place on July 17, 1929 and was attended by such dignitaries as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics. David S. Ingalls, Congressman J. Russell Leech, Lt. Lester J. Maitland, the first man to fly from the West Coast to Hawaii, and probably the most important dignitary, Amelia Earhart. But the airport never lived up to its grand beginnings, and by the late 1940’s all that was left of the airport was the mail service.

More and more people moved into Westmont, and on August 23, 1958, the Borough of Westmont annexed from Lower Yoder Township that area known as Sunnegrove Manor. This annexation established the Borough boundaries as they now stand, with an area of 1,578.16 acres. Westmont’s most rapid growth in population came during the decade from 1950 to 1960, when the population jumped forty percent. The present population of Westmont is approximately 6,000 residents.

Westmont is currently governed by the “Weak Mayor-Council” form of government. There are seven council members and a mayor who are elected by the voters for four-year staggered terms. The mayor votes only in case of a tie. The Borough Council determines municipal policy, enacts laws, approves borough officials, etc. Daily operations are supervised by the Borough Secretary and the Public Works Director.

Westmont has a volunteer Fire Company and an ambulance service. Police protection is provided by the West Hills Regional Police Department.

Today Westmont Borough, even though considerably larger than that envisioned by the Cambria Iron Company officials, still retains many of the characteristics which attracted residents here in the first place. It is, for the most part, still a quiet. tree-lined community. One can see joggers, walkers and children throughout the community at all times of the day. Borough restrictions against commercial enterprise are still enforced: the only businesses allowed are those within a private residence, the exception being the Tioga Street Market. The Market, on the corner of Bucknell Avenue and Tioga Street has become an institution, and its appearance remains virtually unchanged since being recorded in an 1894 photograph. Borough management is now a public concern, not part or the Cambria Iron Company, and few residents today are associated with Cambria Iron Company’s descendant, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

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