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North Hills Monthly

Zelienople Celebrates 175 years

Apr 30, 2015 02:42PM ● By Jennifer Monahan
The Borough of Zelienople will celebrate its 175th anniversary at the end of May with five days of festivities, culminating with a parade and fireworks on Saturday, May 30. The celebration aims to honor Zelienople’s tradition of small-town life, as well as the anniversary of its incorporation as a borough in 1840.

Elizabeth Jacobs, director of the Zelienople Historical Society, said that marking the anniversary is important. “There has been such incredible growth here. There is no place like Zelienople; it’s so unique,” she explained. 

Downtown Zelienople resident Jen Stickle agreed that the borough offers a rare way of life. “I love that everything is within walking distance,” she said. With three children currently enrolled at Connoquenessing Valley Elementary (CVE), Stickle appreciates the strong sense of community her family has found at the local elementary school and especially the area’s small-town feel.

To honor both its history and its current charm, Zelienople Mayor Tom Oliverio and his team of coordinators have created an exciting calendar of events. The entertainment kicks off with a donkey softball game between the Zelienople and Harmony volunteer fire departments, and subsequent events include a live performance by the Johnny Burgh Band, a community dinner, and a presentation by the Historical Society featuring the Seneca Valley High School Girls’ Choir. Oliverio said that he is gratified by all of the people who are involved in the celebration, and is proud that the planning process has gone so smoothly.

Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau and a member of the Zelie 175 planning committee, pointed to residents’ community pride as the unifying element behind the festivities. “Look at all the history we’re talking about here; it’s amazing,” he said. “We have generations of families that have been here from the very beginning, as well as new families that are moving here. There is a real sense of pride for residents of Zelienople, and that’s the biggest reason people want to be part of this place.”

The borough’s origins date back more than 200 years. According to the Zelienople Historical Society, Baron Dettmar Basse (1764-1836) came to the New World from Germany in 1802. He purchased 10,000 acres of land in western Pennsylvania, built a home, established a saw mill, brickyard and an iron furnace, and laid out a town which he named Zelienople for his eldest daughter, Zélie. 

Newlyweds Zélie and Phillipe Louis Passavant made the trip to the U.S. in 1807, and Passavant became Zelienople’s first merchant. He built a house next door to Basse’s home, and the Passavant home remained in the family until Zélie and Phillipe’s granddaughter, Emma Passavant, died in 1956. Passavant House now serves as a museum, library and the headquarters for the Zelienople Historical Society.

Cohen and the committee hope that the breadth of events will highlight both the borough’s history and its modern-day appeal, and they anticipate a fitting finale on Saturday. “The parade is going to be so much fun. We plan to start with a horse and buggy, just as they would have in the 1840s, and have floats all the way up through modern times,” said Cohen. “Parade participants will be in period dress, and we will have vehicles from the early 1900s as well as fire trucks from today, which everyone loves. Then we’ll finish up with fireworks that evening.

“The celebration should be fun, and should remind people of why they are part of the Zelienople community—why they come, why they stay, and why they come back here to live,” he added.

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Tuesday, May 26
  • Donkey Softball Game (Zelienople Volunteer Fire Dept. vs. Harmony Volunteer Fire Co.) Zelienople Park, Time TBA, Free

Wednesday, May 27
  • Johnny Burgh Band Strand Theater, 7:30 p.m., Free

Thursday, May 28
  • “Zelienople Past, Present & Future,” presented by the Zelie Historical Society and the Seneca Valley Girls Choir Passavant Retirement Center, 7 p.m., Free
  • Harmony/Zelie Community Band Zelie Park Amphitheater, 7 p.m., Free

Friday, May 29
  • Community Dinner St. Gregory’s Catholic Church, Time TBA, $25/person

Saturday, May 30
  • Parade Main Street, Zelienople, 11 a.m., Free
  • Fireworks Zelienople Park, Time TBA, Free