County Feature is a series of articles on each county in Pennsylvania and its history.

In the summer of 1728, thirteen brave pioneers made their way north through the wilderness from Virginia. The trail brought these Virginians into the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, where they set­tled, only returning to Virginia to bring their families north. The area was rich with game and several trapped along the streams. One built a gristmill and another a trading post. These members of the Thomas Powell expedition were the first settlers in Bedford County, but, ironically, they most likely assumed their new homes were in Virginia, which also claimed this region.

Bedford County was crossed by a series of Indian trails. The one used by Pow­ell’s group followed a narrow valley north and slightly east, along the eastern side of Evitt’s Mountain. Two valleys to the west, another trail paralleled this first. A third ran east to west, meeting the other two along the Raystown branch of the Juniata River. These trails served as secondary routes between the region’s two great Indian trails, Nemacolin’s Trail to the south and Kittanning Path to the north. A network of hunting trails cut through the mountains and valleys. At the time of the white man’s arrival, no significant number of Indians had a settlement here. However, only a century earlier, a substantial Mononga­hela village stood along the banks of the Raystown near the east-west trail.

When Robert MacRay, another trader who came north from Virginia, estab­lished his trading post in 1750, he selected a location along the small river that flows east, then north, through the area. MacRay, after whom the Rays­town Branch of the Juniata River is named, was here only a few years before he died in 1755. But by that time others had followed the trails in the wilderness to settle here. One of them was Garrett, who purchased land along the Raystown from the Chiefs of the Six Nations in 1752. He constructed a sturdy trading post – designed for protection from Indian attack – near the river where Bedford now stands. Within a few years hostile Indians, urged on by the French, who claimed west­ern Pennsylvania for their own, drove Pendergass and others from the region.

Although named after MacRay, it was the area where Pendergass established his post that became known as Ray’s Town. Here, along the Raystown Branch of the Ju­niata, west of a break in the mountains the river passes through, was the westernmost settlement of the frontier. Because of the Indian attacks and a Jack of refuge, the fron­tier receded as early settlers were forced! to return east to Carlisle, or south to Virginia. Bedford County became part of the vast, uninhabited wil­derness for a few more years.

The British failed to drive the French from western Penn­sylvania during campaigns between 1753 and 1755, but in 1757, a bold, new assault was planned. Rather than follow either of the great Indian trails to the north or south, a well­-prepared force would travel over a new route to Raystown. Early that year Lieut. Col. John Armstrong was ordered to encamp a detachment of three hundred men near “Ray’s Town, a well-chosen situation on this side of the Allegheny Hills, between two Indian roads, [along] the only known road of the Indians to invade this province.”

Perhaps on the advice of Pendergass, who was at Car­lisle, Armstrong proposed to build a fort at Ray’s Town. In June, Capt. Hamilton Jed a scouting party to Ray’s Town. In June, Capt. Hamilton led a scouting party to Ray’s Town and met no Indians. No fur­ther progress was made by the British troops until the follow­ing summer. Col. John Forbes, the British Army’s Brigadier General in America, had organized a force superior to that of Braddock’s failed campaign several years earlier. He desig­nated Ray’s Town as the ren­dezvous point for the combined forces of the Royal American troops, the Scotch Highlanders, Pennsylvania and Virginia. More than fifty­-eight hundred troops and one thousand wagoneers would converge at Ray’s Town.

During the summer and fall of 1758, a fort was hastily con­structed at Ray’s Town. A year later it would be named Fort Bedford, in honor of England’s Fourth Duke of Bedford. Through the fall of 1758 the men cut the first road through this region following the old Indian trails. Forbes’ campaign was a military success. Fort Duquesne was taken without a fight.

Fort Bedford, like others to the east and west, remained an outpost of the frontier, keeping the lines of communi­cation and supply open to Fort Pitt. It served as a refuge from the Indians who continued to terrorize the settlers who fol­lowed the army west . The settlers cleared land in the mountain valleys. By 1761, a survey showed twenty-seven log homes near Fort Bedford; a community was forming. Bedford, like other settlements of the era, developed near crude roads through the wil­derness. Other settlements and individual settlers put down roots near the Indian trails, which often were not wide enough for a wagon to pass.

For a time, Bedford was the western limit of the frontier. As part of the agreement to end the French and Indian War, the British agreed to limit settlements to the east of the Allegheny Mountains. This re­striction, although never strictly enforced, aided in the development of Bedford County. Pioneers headed west became settlers in the moun­tain valleys of Bedford County. Bedford, as the community that grew up around the fort was soon named, grew in size. During ten days in June, 1766, Pennsylvania’s Surveyor Gen­eral, John Lukens, laid out the town, bounded on the north by the river, on the south by John Street, and by East and West streets. Other streets were named in honor of mem­bers of the Perm Family. As in other early towns of the prov­ince, Bedford was patterned on a grid, creating wide streets, large, equal-sized lots, with a portion of the land designated for public use.

Fort Bedford fell into disre­pair, but soon it was the scene of another important event, a harbinger of the Revolution. The peace with the Indians on the western frontier was an uneasy one. The growing influx of settlers and the ex­pansion of the white man’s territory made the Indians uneasy and actively hostile. Families were burned out, killed and scalped, or taken prisoner. Indian raids were common. One such raid wiped out the Tull family, who lived on a hill five miles west of Bedford. Farmers were found scalped in the fields.

The settlers opposed trade with the Indians, which in spite of laws against it, flour­ished. Eastern traders could turn a handsome profit with a cache of weapons exchanged for furs or other items. The Quaker-dominated provincial government would do little. The British soldiers at the forts took no action against the traders. The frontiersmen were forced to take matters into their own hands. Traders’ wagons were stopped, either forced to turn around or burned by groups of angry frontiersmen. One such group was known as the Black Boys because of the black paint they smeared on their faces for disguise.

In 1768 renewed Indian raids led the settlers to band together again to stop the traders’ pack trains. After one such raid, some of the Black Boys were captured by soldiers from the fort and imprisoned there. James Smith, the leader of the original Black Boys of the early 1760s, just back from a long expedition to Kentucky, collected some of his band and in a daring dawn raid captured Fort Bedford in order to free their compatriots. Smith later claimed that Fort Bedford was the first British fort to fall to the American rebels.

Only a short time later, in 1771, Bedford County was formed out of Cumberland County. For a brief time Bed­ford County encompassed all of western Pennsylvania. The growing population in the region west of the Alleghenies, in the region of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, soon necessitated that additional counties be formed. Within a few years the size of Bedford County was reduced significantly. Before the Revolution the flow of settlers continued over the mountains. Increas­ingly, they came from Philadel­phia and the eastern part of Pennsylvania, although the number arriving from Virginia and Maryland was considera­ble. And after westward ex­pansion made Bedford a stopping place along the way, taverns and inns were built. In less than forty years, the Indian trails had become the road west. But there was trou­ble brewing in western Penn­sylvania, too. Trouble that would threaten the existence of the new country. Trouble that would return Pres. George Washington to Bedford County.

Farmers in the western part of the county and those farther west opposed a federal tax on whiskey. Violence followed. Tax collectors were assaulted, openly defied. Those who paid the tax had their homes or stills destroyed and their lives threatened. The situation in 1794 appeared serious enough that Washington rode to Bedford, the staging area for the campaign into the western counties. About seven thou­sand troops converged at Bedford, camping at farms near town or at Mount Dallas to the east. Washington came north over the trail he had ordered cut when leading troops in Forbes’ campaign against the French in 1758. He stayed four days, conferring with his top generals and reviewing the troops. It was the last time a president has taken direct field command of his army.

Like the Forbes Campaign, most of the troops who gath­ered at Bedford went home without a fight. The young federal government’s show of strength made the Whiskey Rebels of Westmoreland and Fayette counties back down. During his stay, Washington lodged at the home of David Espy. The house still stands along Pitt Street in downtown Bedford, a National Historic Landmark.

With the peace maintained, the iron wheels of the pio­neers’ wagons wore traces in the bedrock of the Forbes Trail. Stagecoach lines were travers­ing the Pennsylvania Road, as the trail was known by 1800, in just seven days. Following the War of 1812, the early turnpike era began with the develop­ment of the Chambersburg and Bedford and Bedford to Stoystown turnpikes, which generally followed the Penn­sylvania Road. Another road was developed later and car­ried travelers to Somerset. A stage line also served those wishing to travel from Bedford to Cumberland, Maryland.

“Taverns and Inns stood at frequent intervals, and daily stagecoaches afforded travel­ing facilities for thousands yearly,” as one old account of the era described the scene. At the time, Bedford boasted two newspapers, several hotels and a growing, thriving busi­ness community. Yet just as Bedford was enjoying its posi­tion on the stagecoach and wagon route, the development of the railroad would bring about its decline as a commer­cial and travel center. The decision that the major rail route through western Penn­sylvania would run north of the county ushered in a new era.

The discovery and develop­ment of the Bedford Springs had a profound effect on the nearby community of Bedford. Some said the curative powers of the springs’ waters were known by the Indians and used by the earliest settlers. The land was purchased by John Anderson about 1804 and he erected a hotel on the site. Aided by claims that its mag­nesia spring water could cure a variety of maladies, the springs became a fashionable resting place for the wealthy and influential. Aaron Burr stayed at the Bedford Springs in 1806 while his grandson recovered from an illness. James Buchanan used the springs as his summer White House fifty years later to es­cape the heat of Washington’s summers. The Supreme Court discussed its Dred Scott Deci­sion while relaxing on the hotel’s porches. Chalybeate Springs was opened northeast of Bedford and drew a steady stream of dignitaries. Presidents Hayes, Garfield and Benjamin Harrison were among those whose names appear in the Chalybeate Hotel logbook.

Bedford County’s position along the southern tier of the state made the resorts popular with southerners who traveled by coach, and later by train, from Cumberland to Bedford. Carriages regularly met the trains in Bedford to carry guests south to the Bedford Springs.

There were other visitors from the South, too, but their names are not recorded for history. Instead of hotels and inns, they stayed in barns and cellars. They rode on the back of a wagon, covered with hay, or more likely, they walked barefoot along the roads or through the wood.lands. These were the fugitive slaves, escap­ing from the shallow South. Like the first settlers a century earlier, they traveled north through the narrow valleys. The route through Bedford County was one of the most direct from Virginia and west­ern Maryland. It was also one of the most dangerous. The topography and the southern sympathies of those living in the southern part of the county made the passage perilous. Residents could make a year’s wages for return­ing a valued slave. In the val­ley south of Bedford there were no stops on the Under­ground Railroad.

But runaways who made their way to Bedford could find shelter at several homes, some of which stand today. From Bedford, many slaves journeyed to Fishertown, a Quaker community located ten miles to the northwest. Be­cause of the Quakers’ anti­slavery beliefs and cooperation with the fugitive slaves, the area was closely observed by slave catchers, making it almost as dangerous as the valleys to the south. From Fishertown the runaways would travel north and west, putting more distance between themselves and those in pur­suit.

Near Chaneysville, not far from where Thomas Powell’s expedition settled, the graves of thirteen runaways lie in a family cemetery, marked by stones from nearby fields. Legend is, the slaves, with their captors closing in and not wishing to return south, begged to be killed.

Despite Bedford’s proximity to the Mason-Dixon line, the Civil War remained to the south and east. Numerous regiments were raised in the county, although some volun­teers signed up in other coun­ties where the bounties of enlistment were higher. It is not surprising that “some county officials and other men of influence at the county seat [Bedford] expressed both pri­vately and publicly their sym­pathies with the secessionists; and in various sections of the county political differences became so strong as to result in acts of violence.” Bedford County, despite its many vol­unteers for the Union cause, was more that geographically linked to the South. During the course of the war, rumors spread from time to time that Confederate troops would invade the county. The troops never came, invading to the east in McConnellsburg, burn­ing Chambersburg and meet­ing Union forces at Gettysburg. In retrospect, Bedford was likely spared invasion for the same reason the railroads didn’t come its way, the mountains.

Eventually the railroads were linked to the area. The first railroad in the county was an extension of the Hun­tingdon and Broad Top Rail­road, which reached Saxton, located in the northeast corner of the county, about 1855. A year later the line was ex­tended south to Hopewell to service coal and ore mines in the locality. The line continued further south to Mount Dallas, six miles east of Bedford and just west of Bloody Run (now Everett), at the start of the Civil War. Several spurs from this line ran to coal and iron­-ore sites in the Broad Top coal fields in the northeast corner of the county. The coal, said to be discovered as early as 1760, was first shipped east on rafts floated down the Raystown Branch of the Juniata. The railroad was built to haul these raw materials north to meet the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Following the Civil War, local interests constructed the Bedford and Bridgeport Railroad, which connected with the Huntingdon and Broad Top at Mt. Dallas and traveled west through the center of the county to Bedford, before turning south to Hyndman in the southwest corner of the county. The line was leased, and eventually sold, to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pittsburgh and Connellsville line was built about the same time, traveling from Cum­berland, Md. to Connellsville through Hyndman. A line from Bedford to Cessna, five miles to the north, was con­structed to handle the output of short-lived iron-ore mines in the 1880’s. The final rail con­struction took place in 1893 when a line was laid from Cessna to Altoona.

The development of mining operations in the Broad Top, and the short-lived ore mines in Dutch Corner, near Everett and elsewhere, helped pro­duce rapid development of small communities around the county. The county’s popula­tion grew more rapidly than at any other time, from 26,763 in 1860 to 39,468 by 1890. But the iron ore was of inferior quality to that elsewhere in the state and these operations quickly ceased. Coal mining continued until the close of World War II. When the mines closed, so did the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad. Other portions of the rail network have all been shut down or abandoned since 1970. Only the Pitts­burgh and Connellsville line, now operated by the Chessie System, continues to function. All of these rail lines were of a secondary nature, serving parochial needs and trans­porting coal from Broad Top and guests to the Bedford resorts.

In the summer of 1884, however, work was already wider way on a major railroad through Bedford County. William H. Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie stood near the working face of a tunnel that would connect Bedford and Fulton counties for their South Penn Railroad. Their plan was to build a railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh to rival the Pennsylvania and Baltimore and Ohio railroads. The plans called for seven tunnels on a path that would cut across the center of Bed­ford County. The construc­tion provided many jobs and created anticipation of new opportunities in a county isolated from major rail serv­ice.

After Vanderbilt had spent $10 million and twenty-seven men had lost their lives dig­ging the tunnels, the new railroad was sixty percent complete by the summer of 1885. Suddenly the work came to a halt. Vanderbilt and the Pennsylvania Railroad had arrived at a compromise that doomed the South Penn. The completed route was sold off, the nearly completed tunnels stood silent and empty. Bed­ford County’s hope for a great railroad disappeared.

Despite the flurry of activity associated with the mines, the railroads and the earlier wagon roads, the county has been from its inception an agricul­turally oriented area. The pioneer farmers cut timber from the valleys and hillsides to build their homes and barns. Rye was their principal crop, much of which was transformed into whiskey at one of the twenty-five stills the county contained by 1792. Much of the land remained forested, marginal pasture or unimproved. By the Civil War, however, a new pattern of agriculture emerged, one that would persist for nearly a century. Corn became the main crop, with smaller quan­tities of oats, barley, rye and wheat. Morrison’s Cove, lo­cated to the north in a broad valley, and Friends Cove, to the south, provided the prime farmland. Here the settlers of German descent built their farms. By 1860 there were more than two thousand farms, averaging 183 acres and totaling sixty thousand animals. Much of the production was for local consumption. During the growth period following the Civil War, the number of farms jumped to thirty-two hundred by 1880 and thirty-six hundred by 1900. The pattern of diversified farming that developed by the Civil War continued through the end of the nineteenth century. However, wheat be­came the main cash crop.

During this period, village industries flourished and failed. Bedford had a whole­sale grocery firm, wholesale peanut distributor, a keg fac­tory, several gristmills and a planing mill, all located on the north side, across the river from the original part of the town. Everett, whose growth was slow until after the Civil War, blossomed with the rail­road. A blast furnace was constructed in the 1880s and an inventory of business at the time indicated a glassworks, foundry, planing mills, ma­chine shops and two newspa­pers in the community. Everett quickly became the second­-largest community in the county. Hyndman also pros­pered with the railroad. Founded in 1840, Hyndman contained a brick factory, cigar factory, a tannery and two rail lines. Nearby coal mines also provided work, but the rail­roads were the major source of employment. Most communi­ties had phone service by 1900.

But these smalJ industries began to fade as the nine­teenth century gave way to the twentieth. Bedford’s popula­tion remained virtually un­changed from 1890 to 1930 and the county lost one thou­sand in population during the same period. Even the mines in the Broad Top started trail­ing off with the development of bituminous operations to the west of Bedford County. Today only 300,000 tons a year come out of the Broad Top, all from strip mines.

In 1920 the number of farms in the county peaked at 3,627. Ten years later the figure dropped to 3,462, beginning a drop that continues today. Dairy farming grew in impor­tance, with regional trade taking surplus products to surrounding counties. Dairy farming continues to be the dominant form of agriculture. Bedford County currently ranks fifteenth in the state in production of farm products. Milk from Bedford County farms is carried east and west on the turnpike, now the county’s main link with the outside.

Vanderbilt and Carnegie could scarcely imagine that the sleepy little village of Breeze­wood, from which they watched the tunnel work, would serve as a junction of two major highways, Interstate 70 and the Pennsylvania Turn­pike, the latter built over the right-of-way of their aban­doned railroad fifty years later. Perhaps no other event in the history of the county has had such a profound effect as the decision to build the Pennsyl­vania Turnpike through the middle of its one thousand square miles. At first it pro­vided new construction jobs as the road was built, starting in 1938. It ushered in a new era of transportation as motels and trucking terminals sprang up around the interchanges at Bedford and Breezewood. The road opened up the county to new manufacturers who came because of the road and the labor supply.

The development of the turnpike, and more recently the development of the Appa­lachian Thruway (Route 220), has also opened the area again to travelers and tourists, gen­erating thousands of new jobs. Recreational and historical attractions have produced a trade that rivals agriculture in economic significance.

In spite of such develop­ment, Bedford County con­tains a rural atmosphere, forested mountains and fertile farms, and small communities along its many winding roads. The same forces that isolated Bedford County from major development and industrial­ization also preserved it. Today travelers stop to walk the tree­lined streets of Bedford, visit Old Bedford Village, a recon­structed community filled with original log houses, relax on the porches of the old Bedford Springs Hotel, or spend just a night, as their ancestors may have done more than a century ago.


For Further Reading

Baldwin, Leland D. Whiskey Rebels. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968.

Blackburn, Howard E. and Wil­liam H. Welfley. History of Bedford and Somerset Coun­ties, Pennsylvania. New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906.

Garbrick, Winona, ed. The Kernal of Greatness. Bedford: Bedford County Heritage Com­mission, 1971.

Shover, John L. First Majority­ – Last Minority. DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.

History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsyl­vania. Chicago: Waterman, Watkins and Co., 1884.


William H. Clark, a resident of Bedford’s National Register His­toric District, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. A staff writer for the Bedford Daily Gazette, he also serves as the vice president of the Pioneer Historical Society of Bedford County. This is his first contribution to Pennsylvania Heritage.