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Zelienople and Vicinity

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Dettmar Basse dreamed of building a barony for himself and his family in the forests of Pennsylvania after his finances were ruined in revolutionary France. As ambassador from Frankfurt to Paris during the Napoleonic era, he was a respected and powerful man. When he purchased ten thousand acres of Depreciation Lands (see Beaver and Vicinity, p. 134) in 1802, he assumed other German citizens would also be interested in emigrating. He built a three-story frame house, “Bassenheim,” and owned and operated a brickyard, sawmill, iron furnace, and forge in the area before he returned to Germany in 1818, where he died in 1836. His influence far outweighed his relatively short stay in Butler County.

Situated on an elevated plateau south of a bend in Connoquenessing Creek in southwest Butler County, Basse planned Zelienople in 1803, naming it for his daughter Zelie, who was married to Philipp L. Passavant. The village of Harmony is adjacent to Zelienople on the east. The Germanic influence was strong in the Connoquenessing valley, especially between 1826 and 1840 when immigration was at its height. Basse was industrious and brought Merino sheep and a gristmill to the farming community. As a miller who knew something of medical practices, Basse was sometimes referred to as Dr. Basse Miller (Muller). Zelienople became a market town for the surrounding farms through the efforts of Philipp Passavant and his son, who ran a general store. Basse worked to ensure that a major road connecting Pittsburgh and Erie would pass through the village, and U.S. 19, also called the Perry Highway, does this. By 1816, Zelienople consisted of a half-dozen log houses and shops. It grew significantly in the 1870s, when the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad and repair shops opened and the first passenger train reached Zelienople in 1879.

Today the town of 4,000 has a lively commercial district of solid, twoand three-story brick buildings with a sampling of 1830s two-story, five-bay brick houses remaining from the earlier pike town. The three-story, red brick Kaufman House (1902; 105 S. Main Street), now a popular restaurant, and the Strand Theater, a small performing arts center (1914; 119 N. Main Street), attract visitors from throughout the region.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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