Early History – The Girty Family
The first mentions of Girty’s Run can be found dating back to the 1740’s, when Millvale was the start of the Venango trail that used to lead to Lake Erie. Leading up to the 1740’s, what is now the Girty’s Run watershed was Seneca Native American hunting and fishing grounds. Thomas and Simon Girty, sons of Irish immigrants who were born near what is now Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, originally settled Girty’s Run. Contrary to popular opinion, Girty’s Run is not named for Simon Girty but instead for his slightly lesser known brother Thomas who had a trading post upstream.
Approximate site of Thomas Girty’s trading post
Native Americans killed the Girty boys’ stepfather during the French and Indian War and Seneca Native Americans took Simon and Thomas prisoner. It is likely that the Girtys lived at the bottom of the rigid colonial caste system even before their capture because they traded with Native Americans. Simon learned the Native American languages and was immersed in their culture. The Seneca leader Guyasuta brought Simon Girty to Fort Pitt in 1764 in keeping with the treaty requirement that all English captives be returned following the French and Indian War. By then, he had fully embraced Indian culture. In 1778, during the American Revolution, Girty was charged with treason for being suspected in plotting a capture of Fort Pitt and left his station as an American officer to fight alongside Native Americans. He lived on Girty’s Run, near Fort Pitt, and worked for the British interpreting Native American languages. When the new American nation was born, he made his homestead in Canada just south of the Detroit River, and was buried with military honors in 1818. By then, Americans had blamed him for many things and some consider him a scapegoat for atrocities committed during these conflicts.
Simon Girty plaque in Malden, Ontario
Girty’s Run Joint Sewer Authority
Efforts to control Girty’s Run intensified in the early-mid 1900’s. On May 10, 1932, Millvale Borough, West View Borough, Shaler Township, and Ross Township signed articles of agreement to construct a thirty-inch joint trunk sewer line. By 1956, it became clear that the joint trunk sewer line could not handle precipitation; it was causing sewer overflows and basement flooding. In October 1978, the Stormwater Management Act (Act 167) was announced and required counties to prepare and adopt stormwater management plans for each watershed to alleviate flooding. Additionally, the PA Department of Environmental Resources (now the Department of Environmental Protection) ordered a corrective action plan to eliminate hydraulic overload and in the Girty’s Run trunk sewer.
These measures led to the formation of the Girty’s Run Joint Sewer Authority (GRJSA) in June 1984. Members of this joint municipal authority included Millvale Borough, Ross Township, Shaler
Township, and Reserve Township. West View Borough declined membership. According to it’s original appointment, he purpose of the GRJSA was the “planning, designing, financing, construction, reconstruction, replacement, rehabilitation and maintenance of the sewer system within the Girty’s Run watershed so as to eliminate any existing hydraulic overload, prevent future hydraulic overload and to provide the required capacities within the sewer system to meet the demands and anticipated demands of the Girty’s Run watershed.”
In 1996, GRJSA proposed a $20 million project that would build two storm water holding tanks to control flooding within the joint trunk sewage line. One 3 million gallon tank would be located in Bauerstown behind the Babcock Boulevard Shop n Save, and the other 5 million gallon tank would be located in Ross Township. The project was approved, and construction on the tanks started in 2000 and finished in 2001. Legal action had to be taken when the Borough of West View did not want to pay the 25% that GRJSA wanted them to for the tanks, and West View eventually did have to pay for a quarter of the project. Girty’s Run Joint Sewer Authority was taken over by McCandless Township Sanitary Authority in September 2006.
Flooding and Reconstruction
In the 1930’s the Army Corps of Engineers built a 50 foot retaining wall in Millvale. Girty’s Run suffered a major flooding event on July 5, 1950. In the 1980’s the Army Corps of Engineers tried to stabilize Girty’s Run with gabion baskets that were supposed to channel water along the run. The baskets later failed during the May 2004 HurricaneIvan flooding, which devastated the watershed, particularly Millvale. After the hurricane, the government tried to provide reconstructive support to Millvale, but their progress was derailed after Hurricane Katrina struck. The Army Corps of Engineers reconstructed a flood wall along Girty’s Run off of Hansen street in Millvale, but the community was hit again with two flash floods in the same week in August of 2007. In response to the August flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged a six-mile stretch of Girty’s Run. There has not been significant flooding since 2007.
In March 2005, nineteen communities (including Ross, Pine, Shaler, Fox Chapel, and Millvale) drafted an updated stormwater plan for Girty’s Run, Pine Creek, Squaw Run, and Deer Creek. The updated plan requires developers to submit stormwater management plans to prevent runoff and erosion and promotes natural designs such as rerouting roof runoff and using permeable paving materials. The plan was approved by the DEP and implemented in October 2008. Currently, new development projects in the watershed must comply with Act 167 in capturing 110% of their stormwater runoff on site.