A Valley in the Hills
Originally known as Salem Crossroads or New Salem, Delmont is one of the oldest towns in Westmoreland County. The name “Salem” was derived from Salem, Massachusetts after William Wilson arrived from that state and settled here around 1785.
The land where part of the town is now located was surveyed by Wilson following the receipt of a land warrant issued to him on November 8, 1784, just 11 years after Westmoreland County was formed. It is believed that the original tract of land contained about 300 acres.
Wilson built a log cabin, south of present-day East Pittsburgh Street, near what became known as the “Big Spring.” Through his will, dated March 7, 1796, upon his death later that year, his estate was divided between his sons, Thomas and George. However, they didn’t validate the patent until 1812. During the next two years, George, his six sisters and the husbands of two of them all conveyed their deeds over to Thomas, and he became the sole owner of the land.
Thomas Wilson laid-out a portion of the property in 48 lots, forming a crossroads village. The lots were sold at public auction two days before Christmas, 1814. The price paid for each lot ranged from 14 to 25 dollars.
Hugh Bigham arrived in the community about 1810 with a minimum of worldly goods and maximum confidence in the future. He opened the first commercial establishment in the village and devised a way to transport water from the spring to what is now the center of town.
A north-south road from Poke Run Church to Greensburg, eventually known as the Greensburg-Kittanning Pike, and later the Greensburg Road, was built through the village around 1800. The east-west Northern Turnpike, which later became the William Penn Highway, was completed in 1819, linking Pittsburgh with Philadelphia. The turnpike also passed through Salem Crossroads, bisecting the north-south road at the center of town where Greensburg, Freeport and Pittsburgh Streets now intersect.
The crossroads village quickly became a prosperous transportation center. Several stage lines passed through town, carrying a large volume of freight and passengers.
The Salem Crossroads Post Office was established on November 7, 1812. Hugh Bigham was the first postmaster. The town was carved out of Salem Township and incorporated as “New Salem Borough” by an act of assembly on April 8, 1833. However, the name of the post office remained unchanged.
Two years later, Henry Hugus was elected the borough's first Burgess, a position the equivalent of a present-day Mayor. Other elected officers included six Councilmen and a Constable.
In 1866, Zachariah Zimmerman was appointed postmaster; he also operated the town's drug store. His appointment followed a fire that destroyed the post office operated by the former postmaster, John Doncaster. Zachariah, who had served as Doncaster's clerk, held the position until 1881. His brother, John Zimmerman, had been postmaster before Doncaster.
The post office was the place where the locals gathered when the stagecoach arrived with the mail. They were always anxious to hear the latest news and gossip. Before the post office burned, it was located across the street from the watering trough. When Zachariah became postmaster, it was moved to the building housing his drug store.
It was Zachariah who, on May 23, 1871, had the name of the post office changed to "Delmont" because he found that mail was being mistakenly delivered to New Salem in Fayette County, as well as several other communities in Pennsylvania bearing "Salem" as part of their names.
He also concluded that the town had been handicapped by the generic name "Crossroads," which signified the existence of only a blacksmith shop and a store when, in fact, the town had many thriving businesses. The name "Delmont" was derived from "Del" (meaning valley) and "mont" (meaning hills)- a valley in the hills.
The use of two different names (New Salem Borough and Delmont Post Office) caused a great deal of confusion, but that situation remained unchanged until 1967. When visitors and residents entered town, they were greeted by a sign erected by the Delmont Woman's Club: "WELCOME TO DELMONT - NEW SALEM BORO."
Over the years, suggestions were made that the borough name be officially changed to Delmont. Although there was never any opposition, the name change process didn't occur until Mayor Franklin Mangery promoted the effort, and successfully circulated a petition to have the question decided by ballot. A poll taken by the Jeannette NewsDispatch also indicated that residents felt "the change should have taken place long ago."
On Tuesday, May 16, 1967, New Salem Borough residents went to the polls and voted on the name-changing referendum. Which would it be - New Salem or Delmont Borough? It was the only special issue on the Westmoreland County ballot for that primary election.
The rest is history - the voters approved the change and the name was officially changed to "Delmont," a valley in the hills. After all, the town is nestled among the scenic, rolling hills of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Regardless of what name you use - Salem Crossroads, New Salem or Delmont, it's a community that takes a great deal of pride in its history.