The Story of Bessie Hill & Wesley Pearce

by
Grace Hill TeSelle, cousin
with [commentary & some clarification] by
Larry Pearce, grandson
6/28/19

Wesley & Bessie Pearce family
w/Walt, Howard, Ralph, & Dale
Mars farm C. early 1930’s

Living “relatively” close to parents Alice Moon and Joseph Marshall Hill were Bessie Reed Hill (1887-1974) and husband Wesley Herron (1876-1955) Pearce, who lived on a farm just north of Valencia, PA. I recall in the early days, the last mile or so to their house was a dirt road. It’s still amazing to me they traveled what must have been at least 20 miles to attend the Salem Methodist Church near Wexford. The reason was that the Pearce family had been [co-founders] and [charter] members there [and in the original location] for many years when the family lived [along Pearce Mill Road] in what is now Allegheny County’s North Park. The old Salem Church was located adjacent to the park. North Park is 15 miles or so north of Pittsburgh. (There is also a South Park, south of Pittsburgh, which has more buildings [including a grand stand] and hosted the County Fair each year. I remember visiting there in 1939 and it is where I first saw a demonstration of television – from one room to another.)

Pearce Grove
North Park
Allegheny Co., PA

In North Park there is a picnic pavillion designated PEARCE GROVE and also one named MOON GROVE. Land for North Park was comprised of former farms and land of folks who had lived and worked there. The story I have heard is that the Pearce Family operated a grist mill located on a stream [Pine Creek] on their property. I assume that all families were reimbursed well for moving elsewhere. [The Pearce mill and farm property was taken by Allegheny County under the right of eminent domain in 1927. Only the brick residence, now used as North Park’s administration building, and Pearce Mill Road remain today.] The parks provide a green space for Pittsburgh residents and a place for everyone to take their children to play on the swings, slides, and other equipment. We had many Sunday School picnics and family reunions there.

Among the County’s celebration of its Sesquicentennial (150 years – 1937) of settlement, was the inauguration of a huge swimming pool in the Park, which gave the three girls in our family, plus visiting cousins, a place to swim and play for many years. We went to that celebration which was held at night (I think) and was the first time I had seen synchronized swimming. There was a pageant which reviewed the history of the settling of the region, along with info about the native Indians. I have never seen a pool larger than this one at North Park which is still in operation.

Grace with sisters
Mary & Irene at the Pearce farm
c. 1930’s

Bess and Wes had four sons, Walter, Howard, Ralph and Dale. We loved to visit them. Dale was a couple of years older than my sister Mary, so we had the most interaction with him. He treated us like his own sisters and it was good to have his male interaction since we did not have brothers [and he didn’t have sisters]. The Pearces had a typical farm, with horses and cows, and growing the crops needed to feed that stock (like Daddy).  I remember specifically attending Howard’s graduation from High School and found among Mother’s things Mars High School graduation photos of Howard and Ralph.

I do not know about Walt’s schooling, but remember when he married Isabel. They lived first with Bess and Wes and soon after their marriage, we attended a shivery at their house serenading them, banging on pans etc. I expect we had refreshments and congratulated them after they emerged from the house.

When I was in high school (1942, 1943), on a Sunday afternoon, Ralph and Bess came to visit Daddy who was not doing well health-wise. At some point Ralph, sister Mary and boyfriend Woody, and maybe others, went to West View Park. Ralph took me on the roller coaster (my first ride) and had his arms around me to help me recover as we got off the ride.

“Dip the Dips” roller coaster
West View Park
Pittsburgh, PA

The month after I graduated from high school (May, 1945), Walt called to ask me to help out with son, Charles. Isabel was not doing well after their daughter [either Joyce or Alice) was born and she needed help when Walt went off to work.  I felt not quite adequate, but did get some meals ready and played with Charles. Later, we would see and visit with Walt and Isabel several times when we returned home to visit with Mother.

I remember when Howard got married to Esther and built their house on the Pearce farm property. Later, after our kids Luanne and Bill moved to Florida, we drove south to visit them at their home a couple of times, and after Virgil and I moved to Gainesville, Esther  and son David came to our house for lunch with us and sister Irene who had moved to Gainesville also and lived nearby. Their daughter Vivian lived in Northern Virginia and contacted us when we still lived in the Falls Church area. I think Virgil may have framed a photo or something for her.

Ralph and Ruth Gray Pearce wedding photo
12/26/38

Ralph and Ruth were married in 1938. It occurred when I was away at Grove City College. I know Ruth was a “peach”.  I know there were sons Paul, Carl, and Larry and at least one daughter, Ellen. We were so pleased when they accepted our invitation to come for our 40th Anniversary in 1994. We had a picnic Friday evening at our house, dinner on Saturday night at local golf course facility, and then early church the next day with brunch at our house on Sunday. They were the same Ralph and Ruth we had always enjoyed. Ralph had that little glint in his eyes that meant he found life fun, and he was ready to find the next great thing. He was the son who looked most like Wes.

Dale Nelson Pearce (1918-1981)

Dale was always very encouraging and interested about what we were doing. Dale and wife Helen were so nice to me both when I graduated from Mars High School. My father had died in March that spring before graduation in 1945. A few tears later I graduated from Grove City College (1949). Dale and Helen lived in Grove City by then and I saw them most every Sunday at the United Presbyterian church we both attended. They invited all my family to have lunch on the day they came for my graduation. I’m sorry that our paths did not cross very many times after that, though Virgil and I made a trip to New Castle to visit when Dale was quite ill.

I have a couple other BESS stories. It was probably in June or July 1945 when I went to help her serve and clean up for the threshermen’s dinner she prepared for the hungry men who came to help Wes on the farm. I don’t remember how many came, perhaps as many as a dozen. (I describe more info about threshing on the farm in another section). Such a dinner involves preparing chicken, ham, beef, many vegetables, cole slaw, fruits and desserts, bread/butter, coffee. She must have been very busy in the days before.

I helped set the table with real china and silverware. She still had an old-fashioned cook stove. It was heated with wood cut into pieces that fit the space for their burning. On the side there was a container to hold water on the side which provided hot water and a shelf at the top in the back to keep foods warm. I started washing dishes as they were emptied and was washing dishes several hours later. Not only did the stove heat the kitchen, but it was a hot day. I recall having sweat run down my face, in my eyes, and in my hair as I kept washing hour after hour. I felt good, not only from sweating, but the awareness I was really helping Aunt Bessie. It made me happy to know my labors were needed and appreciated.

Hill family (1969): Charles, Grandma Bessie Pearce, Myra Miller; and Mayme Crummy

Aunt Bessie and Aunt Myra Miller came to Grandma Alice Hill’s house to wall paper her living room. They seemed to be expert in this endeavor. Somehow, I was there to help or maybe I just dropped in and it looked interesting. At any rate, they went about the job of measuring, cutting, then laying the strips down on the long table that had been set up, applying the paste, folding the pasted side to itself and carrying the strips up the ladder to apply. I soon learned the routine and helped until the job was done. Years later, I used the lessons I learned that day or two and wallpapered for my Mother and for our own house from time to time. Those two aunts always seemed to have a good time together and wall papering was no different. They enjoyed just being together and happily worked on a project, that when done had a great feeling of accomplishment.

There is a photograph that all Joe Hill’s family have. I believe it was taken in the summer of 1931, in the side yard at Maple Shade Farm. It was a celebration for Joe and Alice’s 50th Anniversary. I set the date because I was about 3 (I remember, I threw a fit because I did not want to sit on the itchy grass with all the other children and so a chair was provided and placed in front of my mother.) The photo must have been taken after a big noon time dinner and I probably needed a nap. Also, to help with deciding the date, Aunt Hazel Nicely was in the picture, probably pregnant with the twins, Jean and Jane. Hazel unfortunately died in childbirth on January 19, 1932 when the girls were born. Missing in the photo were Wes and Walt. I theorize that they had to leave to go home and milk the cows. I have always felt guilty about spoiling the photo (I moved and am a blur), but now when I realize I was not yet 4, I have decided it was OK. I probably was worn out after an exciting day.

I have another memory of that day. Apparently, Uncle Carl and family were visiting from Wilmington, Delaware to help celebrate the anniversary occasion. The grandparents and I went for a ride with Uncle Carl around the countryside. At one point, we drove toward the Cross Roads Church. As we came down the hill we looked across to the side of the church and there was Daddy with the horse and wagon, loading up chairs and tables that he must have been borrowing to use for dinner. My Grandmother said, “That looks like Harry. I wonder what he is doing here with the wagon.” I am not aware that anyone answered her. No doubt the grandparents did not know about all the plans to celebrate their big day. Uncle Carl had not been warned to stay off the road that led by the church.

I recently realized another way the Pearce brothers have influenced my life. Since Virgil and I were married, we have been members off and on of adult Sunday School classes. Currently I still belong to the Fishermen Class that Virgil and I and sister Irene joined shortly after becoming Trinity members. It is an active class with Bible study each Sunday, praying for others, singing songs of praise, contributing money for good causes, and perhaps most important, getting together socially to know each other better, to have fun together, and to EAT. One of the things I am most passionate about is looking out for new members who would benefit from attending. This is not just to increase our class attendance, but so that others may enjoy and grow old with many friends surrounding them weekly. I believe the seed for this enthusiasm for belonging to adult Sunday School was planted in my psyche at a young age by watching and hearing about the fun Ralph and Howard shared with us about their Sunday School class at Wexford’s Salem Methodist Church.

Grace Hill TeSelle

[Grace Hill TeSelle, in her 91st year, is still busy remembering her younger years, recording those memories, and writing them down in the form of short stories for her friends and family to enjoy and understand life in rural America since the “Roaring 20’s.” Check back with this website from time to time, and no doubt, you’ll hear and see more from our dear Grace as she frames her thoughts with the phrase, “Down the road we go.”]

Last revised 7/27/19

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