Hidden History: The Abandoned Yellow Dog Village Near Kittanning, PA
Located seven miles west of Kittanning, Pennsylvania, Yellow Dog Village is a semi-abandoned company town that offers a fascinating look into the industrial history of western Pennsylvania.
Throughout Pennsylvania, small communities were built as company towns for workers at nearby factories and mines. The Pittsburgh Limestone Company owned approximately 150 miles of limestone mines outside of Worthington, Pennsylvania, but the roads of the early 20th century and the distance from town made it difficult for workers to get too and from the mines on the banks of Buffalo Creek.
Wanting to improve productivity at the mines and prevent a union from forming, the mining company agreed to raise wages and build a community near the mines for their workers. Since a contract made between a company and its workers to ensure a union isn’t formed is known as a yellow dog contract, the village became know as Yellow Dog Village.
The homes at Yellow Dog Village were built in the 1910s and 1920s to provide housing for those that worked at the mine. Atop the hill, a large home was built for the mine’s manager, and the others were home to workers in the mines.
I met with the village’s owner, Joe Meyer, on a hot summer day to learn more about the homes, explore them, and find out about his plans for the future. Since the property was a company town, Meyer was able to purchase the entire village in late 2014.
Since then, he has lived in the mine manger’s house and has worked to maintain the homes in their current condition and find funding to restore them to their past glory.
The property currently features 19 duplexes and single-family homes, the large manager’s home, and a boarding house.
When the limestone mines closed in the 1950s, it was the beginning of the end of Yellow Dog Village. Nevertheless, the village was still home to families, and it wasn’t until around 2010 that the last family moved out.
The final catalyst for the abandonment of Yellow Dog Village was the housing boom, which led to bad financial decisions, and ultimately the water being shut off at the property. To make money, anything of value was stripped from the homes, leaving them a sad shell of what they once were.
Between 2010 and 2014, the village sat abandoned and was heavily vandalized. Surprisingly, the vandalism did not include a significant amount of graffiti, which helped to preserve the historic charm of the village.
Still vandalism to the homes, as well as the lack of care, caused the homes to fall into disrepair. Before I set out to explore the homes, Meyer assured me that the homes are almost all structurally sound, and it was surprising how few weak spots I found in the home’s floors while walking around.
Even if the work required to fix up the homes is primarily cosmetic, there is a significant amount of cosmetic work that needs to be done to the homes to make them livable again.
While some homes are in better condition than others, most have an incredible amount of peeling paint, damaged flooring, and even smashed bathrooms. Interestingly, some rooms with ceiling fans have their blades pointing downward as much as 90 degrees.
It’s truly amazing how much damage a bit of moisture can cause in just a few short years.
In addition to marveling at the power of moisture, it’s also fascinating looking at what was left inside of the homes.
While a few of the homes were obviously well cared for and the former residents removed all of their personal belongings, other homes look almost like someone walked out and didn’t take anything with them.
In addition to large pieces of furniture like couches and mattresses that have been left to rot amongst the homes, I also found unopened cans of spam and jars of peanut butter in one home.
One home had reminders of how recently these homes were abandoned with VHS copies of films like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Saving Silverman” lying on the floor amidst professional wrestling trading cards.
What struck me the most, however, where the family photos that I found in several of the homes. Photos of smiling children that were, for some reason, cast aside amidst the rubble. Meyer even told me that there is a wedding album in one home, though I didn’t see it during my explorations.
Walls in some rooms were clearly decorated as children’s rooms with murals still on the wall that tell the story of what life was like for those that occupied Yellow Dog Village just a few short years ago.
This combination of historical details and modern mementoes create an absolutely fascinating place to explore, and each home told the story of those that lived in Yellow Dog Village during its 90 years as an active community.
Fortunately, despite how bleak things look today, owner Joe Meyer has a plan to bring life back to Yellow Dog Village.
A retired history teacher, Meyer bought the village with the goal of restoring it to its historic charm and providing a place for people to visit and experience what life was like in the 1920s.
I asked Meyer to look into the future and tell me what his ultimate goal was with Yellow Dog Village, and he told me that he envisions a community where visitors can come to the homes and live for a week as if they are in the 1920s, with a few modern conveniences (battery-powered lights and bottled drinking water being two).
Instead of restoring each home to 21st century living standards, the homes will be fixed up and made safe, but offer a rustic living experience without most modern conveniences.
During the day, visitors to the village will one day be able to learn how to live off of the land or learn period-appropriate jobs and crafts from skilled artisans that will live full-time at the village.
In this way, it will be a working history village were visitors can step back from their hectic modern lives and experience what life was like a century ago.
However, until funding comes through for this grand idea, Yellow Dog Village sits abandoned as a testament to life both in the 1920s and in the first decade of the 20th century. This unique combination, makes it an incredibly fascinating place to explore.
Visiting Yellow Dog Village
Yellow Dog Village is on private property about 20 minutes west of Kittanning in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. As the village is on private property, it is necessary to contact the owner of the property prior to visiting. Different pricing options are available depending on your interest and how much time you would like to spend at the site.
At the time of publication, Yellow Dog Village is not open for overnight stays, however, there is home that this will happen soon. Information about what an overnight stay will entail and the programs planned can be found on the village’s website.
For more information, visit YellowDogVillage.com.
Explore more abandoned history at the J.W. Cooper School in northeastern PA and the Cambria Iron Works in Johnstown. Or, if you’re visiting the area, check out the Armstrong County Historical Society Museum and Check’s Radio Museum.