The pre-emience of Fayette County and the
adjoining section of southern Westmoreland County in the coal and coke
industry was based on Connellsville Coking Coal, the best metallurgical
coal ever discovered. The first great mines and cokeyards sprang up in
the 1870s and 1880s in the narrow section from Latrobe south through
Scottdale, Connellsville and Uniontown to the Fairchance-Smithfield
Later the coal fields expanded into the
“Klondike” area, from Uniontown west to the Monongahela River. New towns
appeared seemingly overnight to accommodate miners, many of them
immigrants from Europe, and the county’s population exploded. Fortunes
were made in coal land dealing, notably that of Uniontown’s J.V.
The coal and coke boom continued through
ups and downs until about 1950s, by which time almost all of the large
Fayette County mines were worked out. The beehive ovens, which had
reached a total of 44,000 at their height (28,000 in Fayette County,
16,000 in neighboring southern Westmoreland), disappeared as the more
efficient by-product ovens took over.
At least 150 coal “patches” (housing
communities built and owned by the coal companies) have been identified
in Fayette County, of whom more than 50 remain as sizable communities,
with the houses now individually owned. There were more than 300 mines.
Fayette County’s population dropped from
a high-water mark of 200,000 in 1940 to an estimated 150,000 today.
Fayette County possesses some diversified
industry, in glass, water meters, steel fabrication and other
enterprises. Some strip mining remains, and miners commute to other
counties. The county retains its position as an important wholesale and
retail trading center, still a crossroads area despite substandard
highways. The future hope for industrial development, enhancement of
tourism and commercial prosperity is wrapped up once more in better road
and river transportation.
(condensed from 1983 article for
Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine)
Revised 6-22-92 By Walter J. Storey, Jr.
Back to Top
The History of
BY: MISS JEAN BROWNFIELD
To the people coming over the last ridge
of the Alleghenies, 200 years ago, the view of our valley must have been
one of surpassing beauty. As far as the eye could see, there would have
been the carpet of trees, undisturbed through the centuries, extruding
Westward to the gently rising hills which border the Monongahela River.
Under the trees, among the wild flowers
and tall ferns, the trails of the Delaware and Shuwanese Indians took
their paths for this was a wonderful hunting ground. Also, two of the
great Indian trails crossed here, at the site of the present Ben
Franklin Jr. High School. They were the Nemacolin, East and West, from
Cumberland to the river at Brownsville, and the Catawba or Cherokee
trail, one of the very longest in the U.S., going North and South from
Canada to Florida.
When William Penn came to America, he
sent his son to offer to buy our valley from the Six Nations. They
agreed to sell it for 10,000 English pounds, saying that since they had
no Indian towns here but only hunting forests, they would move farther
West. They kept their promise and did not return, and no one in Fayette
County was ever hurt or killed by an Indian. Some years later, after the
settlers were here, there was a rumor the Indians would come back, and
the settlers, in panic, built block houses; but the Indians were still
true to their word, and they never returned.
After the valley had been purchased from
the Indians, families came to live in the country around. Henry Beeson
and his wife and baby came over the Nemacolin trail in 1768, to live on
the land he had bought the year before. He built his first log house
where the Mt. Vernon Towers apartment house now stands; and his brother,
Jacob, came a little later to buy land and live here.
Henry Beeson soon erected a mill on
Redstone Creek where Gallatin Avenue now crosses that stream. The mill
became a center for all the people in the country around, and there, on
July 4, 1776, Mr. Beeson put up a sign saying he had laid out a town of
two streets, Peter and Elbow, and 54 lots were for sale.
Of course, no one here knew what was
happening in Philadelphia on that date. But our little town was thus
begun on the same date as our nation. It is perhaps the only town in the
United States which has that honor.
Some people bought lots and built houses,
20 feet square, with a good chimney and promise to keep the place in
front swept clean.
During the Revolutionary War, few people
came over the mountains. But after that, more people came to buy lots
and open small shops--a cabinet maker's a cobbler's, a blacksmith's, a
tailor's. There was also a doctor's office.
Two small log churches were built--the
first a Baptist one on Morgantown Street near the old cemetery; the
other, a Methodist on Peter Street beside the cemetery there. A small
school was built beside this church. Also there was a school at the
corner of Gallatin and Peter Streets and one held in the Court House.
There was a Court House now since Uniontown had been chosen as county
seat for the newly established Fayette County, taken from Westmoreland
In 1789, a much appreciated post office
was set up. The rates were 40-451 miles for a 40 cent stamp. The mail
came once a week.
The borough was incorporated in 1796. It
was still a little town, with bumpy, dusty streets and it was hard to
reach from other places.
Then a wonderful thing happened. Henry
Clay, Andrew Stewart and Albert Gallatin persuaded our government to
build a fine, long road to the West, and it went right up Main Street.
It brought new life to our town. People on horseback, emigrating
families in covered wagons, people in stage coaches all came riding
through and some stopped awhile for rest for themselves and their
horses. Many inns or taverns were built for their entertainment.
The most noted of the visitors to our
town at that time (1825) was General LaFayette, who had helped win the
Revolutionary War fifty years before. He was given a great welcome and
expressed appreciation that our county was named for him.
A small college was established about this time (1827) with buildings
where the Greek Catholic Church now stands on East Main Street. It gave
the first course on agriculture presented by any college in the United
States. One of its students, Matthew Simpson, walked ninety miles to
attend. He later was a minister in Washington, D.C., becoming the friend
of President Lincoln and the one chosen to give Lincoln's funeral
oration in Springfield, after Lincoln's assassination.
The National Road or "the Pike" had given
much life to Uniontown, but in 1860, it was superseded by the coming of
a railroad from Connellsville, East from Pittsburgh. It took the
colorful traffic and the interest from the Pike, bringing more people to
live here and more things for newer stores. It ran at the "dizzying
rate" of twenty miles per hour!
But without the road, life became more
quiet and settled, and moved at a more leisurely pace. Log houses were
replaced by brick; water was brought from the mountains to replace the
pumps in yards; some streets were paved. There were a few factories;
glass and ice plants, brick works and for a time, a potter shop. But
with all these, it was a very quiet place.
Then Mr. Taylor of Dawson found how to
produce coke, and it was found that under our town and in the few miles
up and down our valley there lay a bed of what was called the
Connellsville coking coal--the best in the world for making steel.
How the town grew and how busy it became!
With many new people--workers from Europe; with new stores, new banks,
new churches, new schools. People hurried to try to buy "coal land" and
tracts became very valuable so that at one time Uniontown was said to
have more millionaires per capital than any town in the United States.
Gas and electricity became available for elaborate homes being built and
for lighting the streets.
No thought was given to establishing
other industries except the mining of coal, nor to the time when all
coal might be mined out. But the time came soon after; and the town had
a little private depression of its own due to the failure of Mr. J.V.
Thompson's First National Bank.
The town really became quiet! Very
gradually new industries were induced to come; the miners still lived
here but traveled to other places for work. Then the buying power built
up and our town has prospered. It's future seems bright!
There have been many fine citizens of
Uniontown, but there is one born here known abroad as well as in our
country. He is General George Marshall, author of the Marshall Plan,
which helped many people of Europe after World War II. We are always
proud to honor him.
Some of the distinguished guests who
stopped as they journeyed along the National Pike in the older days
PRESIDENTS: Washington, Jefferson,
Jackson, Van Buren, Monroe, J. Q. Adams, Tyler, Polk, Lincoln
OTHER NOTED PEOPLE: Henry Clay,
Black Hawk, Jennie Lind, P. T. Barnan, General Sam Houston, Alexander
Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John C. Calhoun, Robert E. Lee, Davy
Back to Top
The History of
Less than two hundred years ago, the site
of Connellsville was a part of a vast wilderness. A powerful tribe of
Indians known as the Iroquois claimed it. By permission of these
Indians, several tribes of Delawares and Kanhawhas made it their home.
One of these tribes located their village about five miles east of
Connellsville. Here is an extensive burial ground where it is believed
more than one thousand red men slept. Another, and smaller village, was
located on the banks of Youghiogheny River about two miles above the
mouth of Bear Run. In both of these places, a large number of flints
have been found.
It is believed that some bold French
traders from the Canadas settled in Fayette County as early as 1730.
Another tradition is a German trapper who built his solitary cabin at
what is now the end of the street car line in South Connellsville.
When the French built their forts in this
section, George Washington was sent to warn them that they were on
English land. On the trip out he spent a few days at the home of Mr.
Gist at Mount Braddock, a house still standing.
During the French and Indian War, a
retreat was necessary and Washington's soldiers, upon reaching Great
Meadows above Uniontown, were so exhausted that it was decided to
fortify themselves as best they could, while waiting for reinforcements
and needed supplies. Because of these conditions, their fort was named
Fort Necessity. It was near this fort that General Braddock lost his
life and here he lies buried.
Among the pioneer settlers of this region
was William Crawford, who built a log cabin in what is now West Side
Connellsville. He was a born leader of men. When danger from the Indians
threatened, he was quick to respond to the call of his fellow men and
organized them for self-defense. He served his country well and true
patriots mourned his tragic death at the stake on the afternoon of June
11, 1782 all over the land.
Another early settler was John Gibson,
who built a gristmill near the site Sodom Shops that he operated with
water drawn from Montz's creek. He also built a small rail factory and
an oil press, at which great quantities of castor oil were made from the
beans grown in surrounding country. In 1805, he built a forge on the
east bank of the river, below Montz Creek, which was operated
successfully for twenty years.
The founder of the Borough of
Connellsville was Zachariah Connell, who was born in the state of
Virginia in 1741. His humble cabin home was where the Trans-Allegheny
Hotel now stands (Water Street). It is for him that Connellsville is
named. He donated the ground for City Hall, the Cameron School and the
Carnegie Library. It was on his farm that emigrants coming over the
mountain built their rafts to float their goods down the river. It was
he who secured the charter for the Borough of Connellsville. As
originally planned Connellsville contained 180-quarter acre lots and
formed almost a perfect square. Its boundaries were North Alley, East
Alley, and the Youghiogheny River.
Other early citizens of Connellsville
were Daniel Rogers, John Page, David Barnes, Anthony Banning and Peter
Stillwagon. At the time of the incorporation of the Borough, a number of
its citizens were wholly engaged in the construction of boats and rafts
on which emigrants floated their goods down the river on their way to
Kentucky and Ohio.
Among the early industries of
Connellsville was a carding and spinning mill built by Nortons on
Connell Run. Later it was converted into a foundry. Many people believe
that the first coke oven in the Connellsville area region was not built
near Dawson but in the very heart of Connellsville itself, not three
hundred feet from the old stone house on West Fairview Avenue built by
Zachariah Connell. From its birth as frontier settlement, Connellsville
might properly be called a manufacturing town. Boat builders might be
said to be the first notable industry of the town. The business was
continued for fifty years or more quite successfully. All the iron
furnaces within a radius of ten miles might properly be said to have
been Connellsville's industries, for it was to Connellsville their
output was brought for shipment down the river and here supplies were
purchased and men secured.
The first tannery in Connellsville was
built sometime between 1791 and 1799.
In the hills about Connellsville are many valuable deposits of fire
clay, silice rock and other excellent brick making materials. The first
brick house was built shortly after the founding of the town by Anthony
As early as 1810 Daniel and Joseph Rogers
established an extensive paper mill on the fight bank of the
Youghiogheny River, a short distance above the present boundaries of
South Connellsville. The paper manufactured was a superior quality and
was shipped by boat to New Orleans and other points on the lower river.
In 1869, Samuel Crossland began the
manufacture of good road wagons on the left bank of the Youghiogheny
River near Bradford. The largest lock factory in the world was
established at South Connellsville in 1896 and operated steadily and
successfully until the fall of 1898, when it was almost completely
destroyed by fire.
On August 14th-17th, 1906, Connellsville
celebrated its centennial. These four days mark the greatest event in
the history of Connellsville and while not as lasting as the coke, which
has made Connellsville's name famous, they will long be remembered by
Back to Top
General George Catlett
The great soldier-statesman was born
December 31, 1880 and reared in Uniontown, his boyhood home being
located on West Main Street where the West End Theater later was built
in 1903 and the VFW Home is now located.
Gen. Marshall went from here to Virginia
Military Institute at the age of 17 and then into the Army. He was
marked for greatness after his service in World War I, and in 1939 he
became Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.
He was the architect who guided American
and allied armies to victory on every front in World War II.
After the war, Gen. Marshall’s service to
the nation was not over. He became Secretary of State and authored the
Marshall Plan--the aid program that saved western Europe from Communism.
Later he was recalled to serve as Secretary of Defense during the Korean
War. In 1953, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, the only professional
soldier ever so honored in recognition of the Marshall Plan.
Gen. Marshall’s triumphant homecoming to
Uniontown in 1953 was a red-letter day in the recent history of the
The general died in retirement on October
16, 1959, at the age of 78 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery