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Throwback Thursday: That Good Gulf Gasoline

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
October 17, 2019
Posted in: History, White Oak News

(* — CORRECTION, NOT PERFECTION: This story was corrected after publication.)

This 90-year-old photo shows Allen Evans' Gulf gasoline station at the corner of Long Run Road and what was then known as "White Oak Level Road" — now Lincoln Way.

Although almost everything around the intersection has changed, the same curve is still present in Lincoln Way (below, in an image from Google Maps).

Scanned from the Allegheny County archives by the University of Pittsburgh Libraries for its "Historic Pittsburgh" archive, the image touches on a lot of the history of the McKeesport and White Oak areas.

The Evans family — for whom Evans Avenue is named — was prominent in the history of the McKeesport area.

James McKee, of the McKee's Port founding family, once owned much of the land around the current intersection of Route 48 and Lincoln Way. Over the years, parcels were sold and divided.

In 1830, a man named Thomas Sampson purchased part of the land and opened a grain mill along the creek to produce flour. "Sampson's Mill" became a local landmark and eventually lent its name to the nearby church.

Sampson's daughter, Annie, married a farmer from McKeesport named Oliver Evans, whose son, Oliver Evans Jr., took over Sampson's old farm and mill property --- about 96 acres overlooking present-day Lincoln Way.

What was the driveway to Oliver Evans Jr.'s mansion is now known as "Oliver Drive."

From the available records, the connection of Allen Eli Evans --- owner of the gas station --- to Oliver Evans Jr. is not entirely clear, but he was born in about 1890, and appears to have been Oliver Evans Jr.'s grandson.

According to newspaper stories, in the 1940s, the Evans heirs intended to develop all of the land behind the gas station -- about 91 acres -- as a housing plan called "Rainbow Estates," with streets such as "Gypsy Lane," "Herr Avenue" and "Rainbow Avenue."

But the supervisors of what was then called "Versailles Twp." filed a lawsuit to stop the development. They alleged that McKeesport was secretly financing the construction of "Rainbow Estates" and was hoping to annex the development to the city.

To stop any future annexation attempts, "Versailles Twp." formed White Oak Borough in 1948.

Allen Eli Evans died in 1960, leaving an estate valued at $395,000. After his death, the state purchased some of the remaining Evans land for the "Route 48 Expressway," which was never built.

A gasoline station stood at the corner until at least the 1970s, according to county tax records. The corner was then used as a used-car lot for McKeesport Chrysler-Plymouth and White Oak Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Kia, when it was torn down and replaced by the current Rite Aid store.*

"Herr Avenue" and "Rainbow Avenue" still exist as so-called "paper streets" on county records, but no houses were ever built. White Oak Self-Storage occupies what would have been several lots on "Rainbow Avenue."

Finally, toward the left of the Evans gas station are visible trolley tracks. That was the transit line of West Penn Railways Co. between McKeesport and Irwin, and from there connected McKeesport to trolley lines in Trafford, Jeannette, Greensburg, Connellsville and Uniontown.

West Penn once operated more than seven miles of local trolley service in McKeesport, serving Versailles Avenue, Jenny Lind Street and other neighborhoods, but the service was abandoned and replaced by buses in 1937.

* CORRECTION: This story originally said the Rite Aid store was built in 1993. Readers say the used car lot remained until at least 2009.

Originally published October 17, 2019.

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