In western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, three towns all share an astronomical feature in their names. None of them have an observatory, and no groundbreaking space discoveries were made in any of them, but the trio of cities, within 200 miles of each other, all begin with the word “star.”
David Cook, of Whitehall, brought the idea to the attention of 90.5 WESA’s Good Question series. He wondered about the origins of Star City, Wv., Star Junction, Pa. and Starbrick, Pa.
“I’m guessing it’s maybe someone who was successful and their name was Star,” he said. “But there’s only one ‘r’ in these stars and usually when someone is named Starr, there’s a double ‘r.’”
At a Primanti Bros. along Route 51, Perry Township Supervisor A.J. Boni flips through a thick hardcover book, pointing to a black-and-white photograph of a worker in a coke plant near Star Junction, Pa.
“There’s a lot of people here that worked hard for what they received,” he said. “We’re fortunate, we have a good community.”
Boni has called Star Junction home his entire life, 49 years. He’s looking through the town centennial history book, describing the beginnings of the former coal community. On one page, young faces peer at the camera beside a caption "Star Junction School Classes."
Boni said Star Junction wasn’t named after a business mogul or military hero. The community was called a “patch town,” meaning it was near to a coal mine and created primarily as a place for miners and their families to live. For residents of Star Junction and adjacent communities to Mine No. 2, Washington Coal & Coke Co. at the turn of the 20th century, work and home life were intertwined.
“They worked for the coal mine, they bought everything off the coal mine, their houses were heated with coal, they were given the first ton of coal for free,” he said. “Then after that, they’d have to buy it off the coal mines [and] they paid rent to the coal mines.”
As in many of these types of towns, laborers lived in one area and management lived in another. Last year, an article in the Herald-Standard Uniontown newspaper said the town once had 999 coke ovens. In Star Junction, Boni said, the worker community lived in homes painted white on a street called White Row, and bosses lived on Tony Row Road. Through the middle of these two neighborhoods ran a set of railroad tracks, which is now Route 51.
The intersection of these roads and train tracks helped shaped the town, according to Boni.
“The way the railroad tracks and Route 51 and White Row and Tony Row, the way it all lined up, basically [formed] a star,” he said. “That’s how we figured we got the ‘star’ in Star Junction.”
About 50 miles south, just across the border in West Virginia is another town forged by industry: Star City. Lifelong resident Jeannette Mara said her hometown was once home to about a dozen glass companies, which created hand-blown tumblers, lamp chimneys and electric bulbs. Glass was the dominate industry for years in this part of the country.
“Star City began to see an expansion in the early 1900s and was a community comprised of many ethnicities,” the website said. “The Town of Star City is proud of its history and origins and are always looking for ways to showcase our town.”
Like Star Junction, there was Scott’s Run Coal mine nearby, which Mara said brought some people to the area. The Star Glass Company is closed, but the region still celebrates the glass industry. Now, they’re focusing on revitalizing their riverfront and bringing in new businesses. It’s a similar approach that Dave Sherman from the Warren County Visitors Bureau is taking in his small Pennsylvania town, Starbrick.
“We’re all about nature and the outdoors here,” Sherman said. “Camping, hunting, fishing, outdoor rec, we’re real big on it.”
Starbrick is in Warren County, about an hour from Erie, Pa. and 15 minutes from the New York State border. It’s just north of the Allegheny River from Allegheny National Forest, which Sherman said accounted for the region’s original development.
“Back in the day it was all oil and lumber,” he said. “The first oil well was drilled about 30 minutes from here in Titusville, and the rest is history.”
The industry brought a significant amount of money to Warren County, Sherman said, which is evident in the architecture. Later, Northwest Savings Bank set up their headquarters there, along with United Refinery.
Sherman said the rapid growth of industry demanded materials for the town’s construction, which is where the village’s name originated.
“We had a company here around the turn of the century that made bricks with a star in it,” he said. “In my backyard area, we have some bricks and within those bricks, some are ‘star bricks.’”
But why stars? Sherman said he’s not sure, but imagines it has to do with Star Brick Company’s marketing.
“Maybe they wanted to be distinct and different and stand out,” he said. “Anybody can make a brick, right?”
The three towns with stars in their name are different types of communities now and have little to do with the night sky, but they’re connected by their manufacturing origins and, of course, their galactic titles.