Southmont Borough, so named because of its geographical location in relation to Johnstown, is one of the later day developments in the city's suburban perimiter. It was not incorporated until June 2, 1919, and most of its expansion as a residential community came after 1929. It has a population of less than 300 people in 1919 and now has upwards of 2,700. Like most of the present day residential areas outside the city proper, Southmont's first settlers were farmers. A number of Borough streets today bear the names of men who tilled the soil there over a half century ago. In 1900 there were approximately 15 farms scattered over the Borough, but by 1920 virtually all of them that were suitable have been turned into building sites.
So far as is known, Southmont's first settler was Yost Hochstein, who returned from the California gold fields with $3,000 in gold. In the early 1850's he purchased 140 acres, nearly one-fourth of the Borough's present land area. Within the next ten years William Ream purchased a farm in what is now known as the Haberlein district. Other early farmers were William Green, William and Rube Keller, Jonathan Gardner, Adam Keppler, Christopher Palliser, George Spangler, William Hochstein, Konrad Hochstein, John Miller, Samuel Miller, Frank Miller, William Wonder, Able Peden, Henry Koch and Adam Koch.
The transition from farm land was motivated by the late Franklin W. Otto, who promoted the residential development. By the personal acquisition of several farms and trough the facilities of Cambria Land and Improvement Company, of which he was president, Mr. Otto became the guiding force in the residential trend. Mr. otto launched his venture about 1905. Under his direction acreage was plotted, streets were laid out and Southmont Boulevard was planned and graded. He topped the springs and piped water to all parts of the Borough with power from a windmill which stood near Millcreek Road and Gardner Street. Maple trees were planted along the newly laid out street; building restrictions were set forth. C.P. Collins prepared the first Borough maps for Mr. Otto. Edward and Olive Streets were named after chilren of Mr. Otto. Mabel Street was named for Mrs. Collins, and Leila and Helen Streets were named for the Collins children.
When the Borough was incorporated, Mr. Otto became its first burgess. Other early council members and Borough officials were John H. Waters, John C. Cosgrove, John L. Hershberger, Marshall G. Moore, Dr. C.A. Matthews, Harry Doerr, Louis A. Geis, S.E. Dickey, Robert Shaffer, Park Haws, and Roy Wertiz. Before its incorporation in 1919, the Southmont development was a part of Upper Yoder Township. Two years later, in 1921, its corporate boundaries were extended with the acquisition of two other tracts located in the township.
One of these was the large Grandview Cemetery area, which now anchors the northeast corner of the Borough. The other was the Overbrook district just off Southmont Boulevard. This was a Bethlehem Steel Company housing development. In 1921 and 1922 the company constructed 89 houses in this section. A chapel was constructed in 1921. In 1928 the Borough purchased the first fire truck for the volunteer company organized in 1925. Although street car service to the Borough was started in 1914, it was not until 1921 that Southmont gained its first paved street, Southmont Boulevard.
The community's first school, Hochstein School on lower State Street, is said to have started in 1902. It graduated five eighth-grade students in 1908 who then finished their schooling in Johnstown High School. In 1913 a two room school was opened in what is now Southmont Municipal Building. When the Southmont School was opened for the 1925-26 term it contained ten grades. The first senior class was graduated in the spring of 1927. This school is now closed.
In the 1880's, it became apparent to a group of prominent Johnstown citizens that the capacity of the local cemeteries was nearly exhausted. A Location Committee was organized and the group began searching and exploring sites suitable for a new burial facility. A 100 acre plot located on Kernville Hill in Upper Yoder Township, owned by the Cambria Iron Work was offered to the Location Committee for $75.00 per acre.
It was agreed to purchase the 100 acre plot and to form a Charter Member and General Committee who called a meeting on January 26, 1885 and adopted the nave of the Citizens Cemetery Association. The Association's affairs were to be managed by a board of seven trustees, the officers being President, Secretary, Treasurer. This Association remains in effect today. The Board decided upon "Grand-View Cemetery" as the official name of the facility.
Southmont Borough was incorporated in 1919 from Upper Yoder Township and acquired Grandview Cemetery with the incorporation. Grandview Cemetery has 235 acres and is one of the largest cemeteries in Pennsylvania. Thousands of people visit the cemetery each year, in search of and to locate the grave site of their loved ones and friends. We commend the Cemetery Association for their outstanding planning and dedication in keeping the Cemetery in its excellent condition.
People driving on Menoher Boulevard from Johnstown to Southmont Borough will notice an impressive stone arch standing on the opposite side of Grandview Cemetery. Named the "Chapin Arch" and built in 1910, the original structure served as an entrance to Grandview Cemetery. The cost of the construction was paid by Philip Chapin who dedicated the arch to the memory of his wife Anna.
Over the years, the neglected arch began to deteriorate. In 1996, Southmont Borough and the cemetery association obtained a grant of $6,500 to repair the structure. Masonry work reinforced the arch, the wall around it was fixed, some landscaping was done and parking spaces constructed. PennDot fixed the road and curbing near the arch, placed signs for the entrance and exit, and added handicap parking spaces. The combined effort of these groups resulted in an attractive, historic site in Southmont Borough.
Another grant from the Allegheny Heritage Development Corporation paid for the free standing sign showing the visitors a photo of the old road passing under the arch and a short history of the structure.
In 1999, the arch and surrounding area were turned over to the Southern Allegheny Conservancy which will maintain it as part of the Heritage Route overlooking part of the Conemaugh Gap. The finished project shows what can be achieved with the cooperation of government agencies, nonprofit organizations and concerned individuals working together for the common good.