Postcard of the Pennsylvania Railroad station c1910 that once stood at the corner of Eighth Street and Meldon Avenue in Donora. The station no longer exists. 
The Founding of Donora -- The Big Bang...
Well, not all of a sudden...
In the last Ice Age — 10,000 to 110,000 years ago — what is now the Monongahela River flowed north across Pennsylvania into the St. Lawrence watershed. At some point, an ice dam gave rise to Lake Monongahela, which was 200 miles long, 100 miles wide and hundreds of feet deep.
The river’s name comes from the Lenape Language Indian Project word Mënaonkihëla – “where banks cave in or erode.” The Unami word Monongahela means "falling banks", in reference to the geological instability of the river's banks.
As the river flowed north, it serpentined left and right leaving a deep river valley with steep hillsides and flat flood plains. When the water receded, a flood plain on a bend in the river would be the future site of Donora.
It's hard to believe that Donora was part of the Ice Age, but fossils found along the hillside above Meldon Avenue attest to that time period. See the photo to the right of fossils found in Donora.
Once roamed by Iroquois, and then the Delaware, Shawnee and Mingo Native Americans, in 1769, a village 30 miles south of Pittsburgh known as Horseshoe Bottom because of its horseshoe river border of the Monongahela River, was formally recognized as a settlement when grain mill owner Nicholas Crist surveyed the area. He later called it Strasburg in 1784.
Just north of Horseshoe Bottom on the river was part of Fallowfield (Carroll) Township at the time, included the Castner Farm and the Heslep Farm that were started by some of the area’s first settlers to Horseshoe Bottom: Peter Castner and Tom Heslep, both veterans of the Revolutionary War.
In 1814, Charles DeHaas attempted to start a town in the same area called Pittsborough, but then later changed it to Columbia and then finally to West Columbia. In the summer of 1815, twenty houses were built, and in 1819, a post office was established. Shortly after, the prosperity of the place seems to have waned, and the lots passed from one owner to another during the next three-quarters of a century. The photo to the left shows Watkins General Store in West Columbia probably in the 1890s.
In the late 1800s, America was being transformed by two powerful forces: industrialization and immigration. "Company towns,” sprang up almost overnight and were the instant creations of steel masters, bankers, and mining and railroad barons. The immigrants search for work was successful in the industrial and mining communities of Western Pennsylvania. 
The photo to the right shows Webster, Pennsylvania in the foreground on the Monongahela River just opposite of what was the relatively undeveloped town of West Columbia in the background, probably in the late 1800s. This is the earliest picture that we have of our town. 
OK, now...
 It wasn't until 1899, when Andrew W. Mellon, Richard B. Mellon, Henry Clay Frick and William H. Donner formed the Union Improvement Company, that the area surrounding West Columbia had much growth.
The next year in 1900, this company purchased over 500 acres with the intention of building an industrial complex and community. The Monongahela River Valley was already well established as one of the largest steel-making centers in the world and this new town would be the final piece. When lot sales were opened (see photo to the left) on August 30, 1900, there was a rush of people to the new town. What was once a village of only four houses with twelve persons residing therein, the new town would swell in three years to 1,000 buildings and over 6,000 people.
The Union Improvement Company broke ground for the Union Steel Company on May 29, 1900, and at the time was one of the largest plants of its kind in the United States, occupying a 300-acre footprint along the riverfront. The Union Steel Company was later purchased by the United States Steel Corporation under the name of the American Steel & Wire Company.
Mellon Bank provided the financing for the new town and as a gesture of good faith and success in their venture, Donner's name was combined with the name of Andrew Mellon's bride Nora to create the community's unique name of Donora. The photo to the right is the corner of McKean Avenue and Fifth Street. The building on the left was once Mellon Bank, but not in 1900. 
The borough of Donora was incorporated on February 11, 1901, and in May 1903, the village of West Columbia was taken in as part of Donora.
Aside from the 1948 Smog incident, the steel mill would serve Donora well for the next 60 or so years until it started to close in the late 1950s and finishing in the late 1960s. Although the mills have long since gone, today Donora has a thriving industrial park in the footprint of the original mill.
Always more than just a mill town, Donora was a dynamic and diverse community: 22 churches and a synagogue, numerous ethnic social, political and beneficial associations, dozens of social clubs and fraternal organizations, sports teams, bands and an orchestra. The education system, always a priority and point of community pride, produced doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, politicians, college presidents, journalists, teachers, entertainers, sports celebrities and more.  
Donora tells the story of industrial America: immigration, hard work, sacrifice and a devotion to faith, family, education and country.
Donora has a rich history, and the Donora Historical Society has been preserving that history since 1946. Please learn more about our history while visiting this website or stop by our museum to see our vast collection of artifacts related to our town -- next to yours the best town in the USA!
This sign, refurbished in 2019, greets visitors as they come across the Stan "The Man" Musial Bridge into Donora. Staying right puts you on McKean Avenue and your journey to some of the most unique history in the USA. Stay on McKean for two red lights to arrive at your destination at the intersection of Sixth Street: the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum. Click Directions for further assistance. 
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