A Brief History of Mars Borough
Mars Area History & Landmark Society
A Brief History of Mars Borough
From “Life in the Borough of Mars” written by Mayor Lester Kennedy, August 2, 1973.
Viewed from afar, Mars is scarcely discernible. It does not appear on maps of the world or the United States. It is a small dot on highway maps in Pennsylvania, but becomes somewhat more prominent on maps of Butler County.
Mars is situated 55 miles southwest of Venus (Pa); 1,875 miles northeast of Mercury (Nev.), and 925 miles north of Jupiter (Fla.). It is approximately 35-million miles, at point of closest approach, from the planet Mars.
More prosaically, Mars is 18 miles north of Pittsburgh and 12 miles southwest of Butler. Except for its uncommon name, Mars is typical of thousands of small towns strewn the length of and breadth of America; typical and also different – individual.
It has been at various times, a farming community, a railroad town, an oil boomtown, a shopping business center, a reasonably self-sufficient borough with its own industry, and a rural-suburban community. It retains elements of all of these.
The borough of Mars is the principal town in Adams Township, and is also a business center, having stores that supply entire family needs including groceries, clothing, hardware, jewelry, varieties, feed and farm supplies, garages, service stations, auto parts, beauty parlors, barber shops, restaurants, bank; also doctors, dentist, drugstore, insurance offices and mortuaries. There are 176 business places in or near Mars, including manufacturers.
The largest employer is St. John Lutheran Home for the elderly. Nearby are James Austin Co., Mine Safety, Carl Strutz & Co., Fey Steel, and the Mars Area School District. Employment ranges from a high of 500 to self-operated businesses.
Located between Butler and Pittsburgh, Mars is an excellent residential area for a family who likes to live in a quiet place with all the conveniences of utilities, yet not too far to drive to work. It also has good schools, churches, recreation facilities and fire protection.
How did all of this happen? You have to go back in history and trace its growth. Several individuals gave of their talent and foresight to improve the community for their children and others. In 1798 Isaac Covert purchased 100 acres on which he built a log cabin, and later accumulated a total of 400 acres. There were several farmers who had purchased land in the Breakneck Valley. On the south side of Irvine Street was the Matthew Parks’ farm. On the East of Crowe Avenue was the Thomas Kennedy Farm, Northwest was the Covert farm and southwest was the James Davidson farm. These farms all met at the corner of Pittsburgh Street and Crowe Avenue, which was the crossroad of the Valencia-Evans City Road and a road from the Old Plank Road (Rte. 8) and to Perry Highway on the west.
Two men, Matthew Parks and Thomas Kennedy, built water-powered grist mills on Breakneck Creek. Matthew Parks built in 1825 near the intersection of the Mars-Valencia Road and Route 228. Thomas Kennedy built a mill in 1828 in the Valley East of Cherry Street. Farmers from the area came to one of these mills to have feed ground for their cattle.
Frank Johnson, realizing that most farmers came to this valley to have their feed ground, bought a tract of land from Thomas Kennedy and built a general store in 1862 between the grist mills and the crossroad. It was located east of the railroad tracks, which later came through the town. Other men, seeing the advantage of having a business in this locality, built in this area. Among them were; James Irvine, and William Crisswell, – Livery Stable, T.M. Marshall – General Store, and W.J. Gilleland – Store.
In 1873, Samuel Parks, son of Matthew Parks, built a home on the property now occupied by Mars Auto Parts. With the help of the honorable Samuel Marshall, he established a post office in his home. The origin of the name of the Post Office, Mars, has been a controversial topic. Some say that Mrs. Parks was a student of astronomy and suggested the name. Others say that it was named in honor of Samuel Marshall. The latter seems to be the consensus of opinion. Mail was brought by stage coach to Wexford, where Albert Parks, son of Samuel Parks, traveled to pick it up once each week. The trip was made by horseback each Saturday, and the boy received $8 yearly for his service.
After the post office had been in the home of Samuel Parks for about four years, it was moved down to Frank Johnson’s store. A home, store and post office combined, it was one of the first buildings in Mars. Other old homes in the town were: the James Davison home, a log cabin built between Irvine Street and the creek across from the Reform Presbyterian Church property; and the Samuel Kennedy four-room log cabin on Spring Street Extension, at a spring northwest of the dam for his grist mill.
In 1877, Pittsburgh, New Castle, and Lake Erie Railroad organized to build a railroad through Butler County. As the railroad was to come through the farm of Samuel Kennedy, he inserted into the right-of-way agreement that a stop must be placed on his farm, and all passenger trains must stop on being flagged. The stop was named Overbrook, as it was close to a brook. However, the name of the railroad stop conflicted with the name of the post office, so that mail for Mars was delivered to the Overbrook stop. This was confusing to trainman and an agreement between the railroad and the postal authorities decided on the name Mars, as there was another Overbrook post office in Pennsylvania.
On October 20, 1894, 57 of the 72 property owners in the area petitioned the Courts of Butler County with an application for incorporation of the Borough of Mars. The petition was granted March 6, 1895. On April 9, 1895, the first election of the Borough of Mars was held with Samuel A. Kennedy elected Burgess: Samuel Crow, President of Council; Arba Jordan, Secretary; R.H. McElheny, Constable; and Joseph Borland, Street Commissioner. The Organization Meeting was held May 24, 1895, at which time the first 18 Ordinances of the new Borough of Mars were approved.
The new council had several problems such as sidewalks, animals in town, grading streets with horse-drawn equipment, and all kinds of peddlers coming through the town.
In 1901, Troutman Gas Co. was given permission to pipe gas to the homes in Mars and gas lights on the streets.
In 1903, a proposition was presented to council on a water system, with 26 fire hydrants. There had been several fires and the buildings could have been saved, if there had been fire hydrants. This would reduce the first insurance rates. However, several of the councilmen felt the town should own the water systems. On February 21, 1905, the citizens voted to build a municipal-owned water system and increase bounded indebtedness to cover the cost. Council also purchased a plot of ground for reservoir.
On April 25, 1903, an ordinance was enacted giving authority to install telephones in Mars. On February 27, 1907, the North Pittsburgh Telephone Company was authorized to install telephones and has continued to give excellent service throughout the years.
In 1904, the Pittsburgh, Etna and Butler Street Railway Company was granted permission to build a track through the town. This transportation system lasted for a number of years, but because of the use of personal automobiles and the improved roads, passengers were finding that they could drive to their places of employment quicker than by riding the street car. Use of the street car diminished to the point that it was losing money. In 1931, it quit operating.
In 1908, L.J. Tracy was hired to make a completer survey of the Borough, establish street lines and the necessary sewer grades for the sum of $400. In 1910, the Borough Council enacted an ordinance providing for a sewer system at a cost of $15,800. The system was completed in 1911.
On May 19, 1911, Council authorized the first paved street in town, by awarding the Pitt Construction Co. a bid to pave Grand Avenue. At the same time residents of Pittsburgh Street decided to pave their street.
In 1912, a group of citizens organized the Mars Light Company and erected electric lines to all homes. They also erected street lights on all corners, giving an excellent system of electric lighting. This system was later sold to the Pennsylvania Power Company.
Because of the advantage of having water and sewer over wells and septic tanks, several people made application for annexing to the borough and were accepted. But sites to build a home were limited and a great number of homes have been built in the township near the borough, but are facing a problem on sewage. Sometime in the near future they are going to be required to build a sanitary sewer system, and they may have to connect with the present system of the borough.
Police services date to the borough’s incorporation, at which time Mars was served by an elected constable. The first regular police officer, Paul Harger, was hired in 1931. The present two-man police force is equipped with a radio-equipped cruiser and receives assistance, as required, from the State Police, nearby township police departments, and an auxiliary staff.
Organized fire protection, a two-wheel horse cart, was established in 1905 following a series of disastrous fires. From that beginning, the Mars Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1934. That same year, Borough Council voted tax support for the company. This support continues today.
The well-equipped Mars VFD has been one of the community’s most enthusiastic boosters, and at the same time enjoys the town’s loyal support. The VFD sponsors a first-aid staff consisting of specially trained men available 24 hours a day for emergency assistance.
The growth of the town has been in spurts. In 1887, there were about 50 persons in the area of Mars. However, by 1894, with the railroad coming through and the oil excitement, it had grown to 350 persons. With the news that a Borough would be chartered, the growth jumped to 770 in 1900. With the street cars and paved roads it increased to 1,250 by 1923. Since that time there has been a gradual increase until in 1972 there were 1,582 citizens in the Borough of Mars.
The Borough of Mars is very efficiently operated, having a total millage tax of 15 mills, of which 8 mills is for police protection; 1 ½ mills for a public library and 1 ¼ mills for fire protection. The annual budget is about $125,000. The present council is operating on a pay-as-you-go basis, with no large amount borrowed. This is a 5 mill increase in 50 years.
The future of the Borough of Mars will depend largely on the economic growth of the surrounding area. The borough itself has very limited space available for additional residential, commercial or industrial expansion. The surrounding three-township area, however, shows every sign of healthy growth. There is every reason to believe that Mars, as the geographic center and largest business community, will prosper from that trend.
Have You Ever Wondered How Mars Got Its Name?
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Mars Area History & Landmark Society
The Mars Area History and Landmarks Society was founded in 1980, its mission: Preserve Yesterday for Today.Mars is rich in history that began in the late 1790s when pioneer families cleared land and established farms near the Breakneck Creek.
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