We’re often looking for the “alternate route” to where ever it is we’re going. Sometime the journey is more interesting than the destination. So, on October 12 we found ourselves in the town of Dunbar, Pennsylvania. Dunbar is about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, a small town that is part of what in it’s heyday was producing coal and coke. Now it’s a sleepy little town trying to reinvent itself. But like many small towns, it’s people have a story to tell.
We heard one of those stories when we parked the car and started walking around town. It took about three minutes for one of the locals, Mike Bell, to recognize us as tourists. Mike, being a member of the Dunbar Historical Society was happy to tell us about his town.
Mike gave us a walking tour of Dunbar and he opened up Dunbar Historical Society facility to share some of the local history. The facility is housed in the what used to be the Post Office, put in service in 1907. As with most of the folks in Dunbar, Mike grew up here. He can recall delivering meat to the meat market, setting pins and the bowling alley and riding the trolley. The trolley is long gone as are many of the business that Mike knew growing up. Mikes stories captivated us until it was time for us to go. Part of the intrigue of traveling off the beaten track is the opportunity to hear stories. It’s the stories that tie us together.
There was also a glass works here, Pennsylvania Wire Glass Company, which produced wire reinforced glass up until the mid-1950s. Some of the glass from that plant has brought some local fame to Dunbar.
The Historical Society now has on display a glass sculpture produced by the artist Suzanne Pascal. In 1961 Pascal learned about the the shuttered glass works and purchased enough glass for a lifetime’s work. One of those pieces was a 4000 pound chunk of glass which she fashioned into “Seated Torso.” Pascal gained some notoriety worldwide and her work became quite valuable. This piece was purchased in 1994 for $3 million by billionaire John Kluge, who at the time was considered one of the richest men in America.
The piece is currently valued at $3.5 million, and was donated to the town of Dunbar by Donald Trump in 2015. Trump obtained the piece when he purchased the Kluge estate after Kluge died. Trump had plans to turn the estate into a winery and he decided to find a new home for the piece. Trump discovered that the glass had it’s origins in Dunbar and decided to donate the piece o the town. Needless to say, the town had to raise $11,000 to ship the piece and raise additional money to build an annex on the historical society building to display it.
The town is also trying to bring back interest in the local history with a reconstructed coke oven that now sits in the park across from the Post Office. The hills around the town and this part of Pennsylvania are dotted with the ruins of old coke ovens. Mike told us about some of the challenges of building the oven, since that skill has been long forgotten. We could easily have spent more time in this small town, but having listened to Mike’s stories it was time to head for our next destination.