Union City preparing year-long celebration of 150th birthday

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The year was 1871. Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant was president, the Great Chicago Fire left nearly 100,000 people homeless, airplane co-inventor Orville Wright was born, and the community originally known as Miles Mill and then Union Mills, officially became Union City.

The dawning of 2021 means Union City throughout this year will celebrate its 150th birthday. While some initial planning for the celebration began with 19 people attending an organizational meeting last October, the initiative moves into a higher gear now that the year is formally here.

Borough Manager Cindy Wells organized that initial meeting. She said the plan is for a “decentralized” celebration in which organizations, businesses and individuals plan and schedule their own events for throughout the year, and report their plans to her to keep on a master schedule for organizational and publicity purposes.

“I have asked anyone scheduling an event to let me know,” said Wells. “I will then send it to all the others so they can decide if they want to do something that same day or another time.”

Four organizations – the Union City Volunteer Fire Department, local churches through the Ministerium, Union City Public Library, and Country Fair – have stated an intent to participate in some way.

“There are several ideas and times being considered, however because of COVID no one has been able to make a commitment to any specific dates,” Wells added.

Wells said the pandemic makes it more difficult to know when or what manner of events can take place, so it might evolve as the year progresses.

“There are no specific deadlines other than the fact the year will end Dec. 31,” she said. “Because of COVID things change so quickly. Businesses and organizations can incorporate the 150th birthday into anything they decide to do throughout the year. An example would be sales or other promotions.”

Wells has created a simple form that any organization or business is encouraged to fill out and return to her, and which she has already emailed out to many such entities throughout the community. She can be reached at 438-2331 or secretary@ucborough.us.

As events are planned, Wells said she plans to continue promoting them through the borough’s web page, on social media and through the newspaper. She also hopes to announce events as they near, and will seek to keep businesses, organizations and churches appraised as things are scheduled.

Subject to COVID protocols at any given time, the churches are preliminarily planning an ice cream social, a community worship service, and prayer walks throughout the community. The fire department’s bluegrass festival in late September could also incorporate the birthday celebration.

Local nonprofit organization Union City Pride is also planning the unveiling of community historical markers and panels in the downtown sometime in 2021, and a new mural will be installed downtown.

Union City Mayor Natalie Wilmoth said celebrating such events “allows the members of our community to come together and celebrate our past as well as anticipate our future developments.”

“For lifelong members of our community, it is a way to remind ourselves of all the wonderful things that Union City has to offer,” she added. “For newer members of our community, it is an excellent way to learn of our early beginnings and help to celebrate the forward progress and transformative change. Celebrating as a community helps to strengthen the bond between our citizens.

“While the COVID pandemic certainly presents challenges in our ability to gather and celebrate, it is my hope that we can find a way to creatively celebrate this occasion in a way that maintains the safety of our citizens while allowing for commemoration of this special event,” Wilmoth said. “I am optimistic that improved treatments and increased community immunity through the vaccine, will allow for a celebration fitting this special occasion.”

As for the community’s past, present and future, Wilmoth noted that “Union City is more than just a zip code, it is truly an amazing place to live. Our historical beginnings were shaped by individuals looking to establish their businesses and create a better life for themselves and their families.

“While our history does not define or limit us, it truly shapes our future,” she added. “We are a community on the move and at a pivotal point in our forward development.

“Our community members are our greatest asset … this celebration is an exciting opportunity to celebrate our community’s past as well as the future,” the mayor concluded. “Many groups and individuals are working on our future growth and development. Our greatest days are yet to come!”

According to an historical synopsis of Union City compiled by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1987, the principal founder of the Union City area was a Scotch-Irish immigrant named William Miles. Miles was a Revolutionary War veteran who moved to the area in 1785 to survey lands set aside for payment to veterans of the American Revolution.

He built a mill along French Creek in what is now downtown Union City. According to the Department of the Interior history, “Until 1855, Union Township and Miles Mill remained thinly settled. It was little more than a slender stand of small mills strung along the south branch of French Creek.”

While farming was the predominant occupation in the region for decades, that began to change with the discovery of oil near Titusville in 1859. Union Mills’ railroad connectivity and existing lumber businesses positioned the small community to establish an oil-barrel industry. The Woods & Johnson

barrel factory in 1870 employed 70 workers and billed itself as the largest producer of oil barrels in the United States.

As the oil boom declined in the 1870s, Union City and its approximately 1,500 inhabitants continued to capitalize on its wood-products industries, including lumber, barrels, wooden pumps, shovel handles, caskets, and at least one chair manufacturer.

It was after the 1871 name change to Union City that the community began to take on what has become its historical identity as a furniture manufacturing community. The iconic Union City Chair Co. was constructed in 1881, with many more such businesses to follow.

The rest, as they say, is history.