Fayette County Bicentennial

Historical Societies: News and Highlights presents news and information about Pennsylvania's regional and county historical societies.

This year’s Fayette County bicenten­nial celebration has done much to give run her impetus to a reawakening of the interest in county history and heritage so evident in recent years.

The bicentennial had its official open­ing in conjunction with the American­ism Day parade, sponsored by Lafayette Post 51 of the American Legion, in Uniontown on May 2. That event itself was in a sense historic, since it was the fiftieth annual parade. Fayette’s first parade, and the first of its kind in the nation, was held May 1, 1934 as a coun­ter-move to a planned May Day demon­stration by socialist sympathizers.

Activities associated with the bicen­tennial continued later in day when ex­tra events and a special theme, harking back to the days of the National Road, provided the focus for National Pike Festival observances at communities along Route 40. The Appalachian Wa­gon Train toured the county for a week in June, and the pride in ethnic heritage, always strong in Fayette County, was given expression in an All-Nations Festival at the Great Meadows Amphitheater in August. The climax of the bicenten­nial will come on the 200th birthday of the county, September 26. when events will include a reception at the court­house and various “birthday balls.”

This year has also seen signs of reviv­al for the Great Meadows Amphithea­ter, an 1,800-seat outdoor theater in a beautiful natural bowl in the mountains near Fort Necessity, tea miles east of Uniontown, The amphitheater was built with state funds and hopes were high in the summer of 1980 when it opened with the drama Young Washington de­picting Washington’s adventures in the area. Unfortunately, the drama, which had been projected as a major tourist at­traction, was a financial failure and un­til recently the amphitheater lay dor­mant except for some individual pro­grams.

Fayette Heritage, the non-profit or­ganization formed to operate the am­phitheater, has now been reorganized and the county commissioners appropri­ated $50,000 to get the site back on its reel. Plans were set in motion to hire a professional director and stage a variety of events, including the successful an­nual Oktoberfest. to be held September 23-25. This event showcases arts, crafts, foods and recreation from the county’s past. Eventually, it is hoped that out­door drama can be part or a regular schedule.

In addition, the many historical socie­ties of the area have been increasingly active. The Uniontown Area Historical Society, founded less than two years ago, took on a major project when it signed an agreement with the Pennsyl­vania Historical and Museum Commis­sion to operate the restored Searights Toll House along Route 40. This group, in cooperation with the city, also launched a successful drive to clean up and reset tombstones in a neglected pub­lic cemetery. Located in the heart of Uniontown, the cemetery stands on land that was donated in 1795 by the city’s founder, Henry Beeson.

The Connellsville Area Historical So­ciety received an award this year from the Pennsylvania Federation of Histori­cal Societies for its renovation of the Pennsylvania Room in the library at Connellsville. In other endeavors. the society rebuilt Crawford’s Cabin, the home of pioneer Col. William Craw­ford, and has reprinted area books, in­cluding Ellis’s History of Fayette County (1888) and historical and genealogical documents.

Finally, Fayette County, which has its own tourism office, has been coordinat­ing the bicentennial activities and joins with Westmoreland and Somerset coun­ties in the Laurel Highlands tourist pro­motion agency, headquartered at Ligo­nier.

With all this and the bicentennial ac­tivity sparking renewed interest in Fay­ette County’s heritage, one might won­der what goals remain; but plan􀃓 for a Fayette County Coal and Coke Museum are already underway. The establish­ment of this facility would gather into one place the memories of the coal boom days and preserve the history and culture of an industry and way of life so fundamental to the development of Fay­ette County.