Historical Sketch of Greene County

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

Greene County lies in the southwestern corner of the state. Its many hills, the distinguishing feature of the countryside, grow more pronounced as one travels from the eastern to the western areas. The old Washington Waynes­burg Railroad, traveling through the hills, was famous for its 178 sharp turns, each of which jolted the passengers. There were some who took the trip just for the roller coaster effect. This led a college student to write:

“It wriggles in and wriggles out,
And leaves the matter still in doubt.
Whether the snake that made the track,
Was going out or coming back.”

Much has been narrated about the pioneer settlers of the area that became Greene County, including The Horn Papers, probably the most elaborate falsification of historical documents ever to receive serious attention in American historical scholarship. Permanent settlement in the area can only be indisputably said to have begun in 1764, following the last major Indian effort to repossess Pennsylvania, Pontiac’s rebellion. Many of these early settlers came from Maryland and Virginia, and some all the way from New Jersey. Of course, many came from eastern Pennsylvania, but they made up a smaller proportion of the population in Greene County than they did among the early settlers of Fayette and Westmoreland Counties. Pennsylvania’s conflict with Virginia, Lord Dunmore’s War, again brought in­creased Indian hostility in 1774, and the Revolutionary period which followed led to nearly a decade of frontier violence. But the Greene County settlers did not flee the area as settlers further east had done during the French and Indian War. In 1774, both Jackson’s Fort (near Waynesburg) and Garard’s Fort were constructed. There are no accounts of pitched battles or of lengthy sieges; the event traditionally named “the Battle of the Ten Mile” was merely the pur­suit of a small group of Indians and the resulting skirmish. However, it is likely that the settlers had to disrupt their lives by spending long periods of time in or near the forest and blockhouses. For that reason, Jackson’s Fort was constructed as a large enclosure with individual family dwellings, intended for long-term habitation.

There are over a hundred stories of atrocities by In­dians, from the 1760’s until the early 1790’s. As these accounts have been handed down, partly through an oral tradition, nearly all have a melodramatic, almost romantic quality. In many of the incidents the settlers were not immediately certain that the Indians they encountered were hostile. The Indians often attacked an individual family in its cabin, or lured a settler or his family into an ambush. Thus, the tales included the agony of suspense and, to some extent, the element of moralizing over the wisdom of leaving the protection of the cabin, or of the husband’s leaving the family to hunt or work his fields. Without questioning the truth of the basic facts in these stories, it must be noted that early America used accounts of violent encounters with Indians as an entertaining literary form. The modern “Westerns” eventually developed from this type of story. By the 1780’s the Greene County stories take on the characteristics of grudge-fights and acts of revenge. Chief John Logan attacked settlers in the area because he thought that those who had killed members of his own family lived there. William Spicer, abducted as a boy when Indians killed the rest of his family, returned as a bloodthirsty renegade who said that he could never be reconciled to living in white society again.

The last of the Greene County massacres by Indians was the killing of the Crow sisters in the western part of the County on May 1, 1791. It is possible to see all the atrocity incidents as occurring in a series of waves that followed a number of events effecting the Indians: Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774, the Gnadenhutten massacre of Indians and William Crawford’s defeat in 1782, and General St. Clair’s defeat in 1791. But the dangers of the area were generally decreasing by the 1780’s. When David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia and other surveyors established the Pennsylvania-Virginia line, in 1782, 1783, and 1784, they passed through the wild country of southwestern Pennsylvania, but they did not need the protection of an armed force. The increasing tranquility of the 1780’s is also shown by the fact that the settlers built their churches in isolated, unprotected locations around the countryside.

During the period from 1770 to 1793 southwestern Pennsylvania experienced phenomenal population growth. This was even more remarkable because, by the 1780’s, there was a movement of settlers away from southwestern Pennsylvania, most of them traveling down the Ohio River to Kentucky. The westward drain of county settlers would continue into the nineteenth century, but the county’s population growth slowed considerably by 1800. Many of the people who went to Kentucky were anxious to secure larger landholdings; some were slave-owners who had decided to leave when confronted with Pennsylvania’s Gradual Emancipation Act of 1780. Washington County. including the area that would become Greene County, had a greater proportion of settlers from Virginia than did Allegheny, Fayette, and Westmoreland Counties, in part because Virginia’s policy on land titles was more liberal than Pennsylvania’s. Until 1777, Virginia made no charge for land acquisition, whereas Pennsylvania’s charge, begun in 1769, was high enough to deter many people from moving west. Pennsylvania provided valuable safeguards in the recording of deeds, but individual purchases were limited to 300 acres. Virginia, charging less, allowed settlers to obtain 400 acres and recognized earlier claims to as much as 1,000 acres. After the resolution of the dispute with Virginia over southwestern Pennsylvania, 1,184 Virginia land titles were accepted by Pennsylvania within Washington County, many of which were in the area that would become Greene County.

Greene County, created by a statute of February 9, 1796, was made up of townships then part of Washington County. One of the townships, in which lay the village of Greensburgh (now Greensboro), was named for Nathanael Greene, one of Washington’s most effective generals during the Revolution. Undoubtedly the county name perpetuated the township name. The southern Pennsylvania state line, which became the county line, was established in 1784 by extending the Mason-Dixon Line due west from the western-most point of the Pennsylvania-Maryland line. The western state and county line was established in 1786.

John Minor, leader in the founding of the county, is a historical figure worthy of examination. With his brother, William, he settled in the Mapletown area during the year following the defeat of Pontiac’s rebellion, 1764. Both brothers fortified cabins which were used as blockhouses to shelter all the settlers in the vicinity. Minor operated the first flour mill west of the Monongahela, and built boats for George Rogers Clark’s expedition during the Revolution. In 1765, having built his cabin, he rode back east of the mountains to the Conococheaque Valley area of Washington County, Maryland, where he married the sister of Otho Holland Williams. Williams later distinguished himself as a general in the Maryland units of the Revolutionary army. With his bride and a young black slave, George, Minor rode back across the Monongahela. He began to serve in public offices in 1781, when Pennsylvania established Washington County. This was about the time that Williams’ star was rising under Washington and the connection was undoubtedly useful to Minor. Elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1791, he immediately began to work for the formation of a new county. Traditional stories say that he was a cultured man and was selected by Albert Gallatin as a traveling companion when the two went to Philadelphia – Gallatin from Friendship Hill, Fayette County, to Congress, and Minor to the Assembly. Yet he was a defender of the common way of life and an opponent of aristocratic pretentiousness. There are two traditional stories on that point. At the confrontation at Braddock’s Field, the most dramatic moment during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, Minor first appeared as a compromiser, but the remarks of a staunch Federalist, Colonel Morgan, referred to the crudeness of the people of southwestern Pennsylvania. This led Minor to shift his sentiments to favor the tax-resisting Whiskey Rebels. A local historian, Lewis K. Evans, many years ago narrated a story of Minor’s quarrel with a rival, Mr. H. ____,” who, as a Federalist, exalted that party’s preference for politicians who had aristocratic bearing. Again, Minor reacted, with remarks lauding the attributes of the common man. After his first wife died, Minor married, in 1813, the daughter of George Wilson, pioneer settler of New Geneva, Fayette County. Wilson, like Otho Williams, had been a Revolutionary general.

Probably the basic reason for establishing Greene County was to put a maximum amount of land in the hands of actual settlers and diminish the influence of absentee landowners who controlled large areas for speculation, rather than for cultivation. In 1789 and 1796, western Pennsylvania congressmen, Thomas Scott, William Findley, and Albert Gallatin, had argued in favor of an equalitarian form of land sales in the newly created Northwestern Territory­ – sales restricted to actual settlers. They felt the same concerning Pennsylvania, although Gallatin, at least, believed in speculative sales of small town lots as an inducement to the formation of communities. In 1791, John Minor’s first bill calling for the new county was defeated in the Assembly. In 1792, the price of land in western Pennsyl­vania was reduced for genuine settlers, but, at the same time, the first of three giant land speculation companies, the Holland Company, was seeking control of all north­western Pennsylvania.

A degree of impartiality and a number of safeguards were written into the act that was finally passed in 1796. The new county seat had to be created near the center of the county. Thus, the existing communities at Muddy Creek, Greenesburgh, and Ten Mile Creek, were not to be allowed to control government. Only recently Albert Gallatin had expanded his interests by buying up all re­maining lots in Greensburgh, but he would not have a chance to control the entire county. Nor was there any other major political or speculative individual involved in the establishment of the county seat, Waynesburg. In this respect, Greene County was virtually unique among the many new counties formed around this time. Furthermore, no new legislative seats were created by the act of 1796. A courthouse, jail, and the lots for the new county seat were all that were authorized.

On the other hand, there may have been deeper motives for the act of 1796. These were times of great turbulence in southwestern Pennsylvania. The confusion and recriminations following the Whiskey Rebellion affected all public affairs. David Bradford, the rebellion leader, had escaped to Spanish territory; a series of highway robberies occurred in Washington County during 1795; and, to make matters worse, crops had been damaged by a plague of locust. It is possible that the county was created as a consolation to those who had been enthusiastic about the Rebellion. The legislators elected from Greene, Fayette, and Washington Counties, in 1795, were put through the humiliation of being refused their seats in the Assembly, and had to stand for election again. John Minor, appointed an associate justice in the new county, was put out of that office by Judge Alexander Addison, an exacting Federalist preacher­-turned-lawyer who, as president judge of the Western Pennsylvania Judicial District, used his position to demand political retribution against the former Rebels. For Addison, all revolutions were socially destructive. The strange cir­cumstances surrounding the presidential election of 1796 also suggest that Greene County may have been formed for deeper political reasons. In 1796, the presidential votes from Greene County never reached Philadelphia and, as a result, Governor Mifflin sent two Federalist electors to the Electoral College. If the Greene County returns had been counted, there would have been no Federalist electors from Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson would have been president instead of John Adams!

The policy of favoring genuine settlers was successful. The 1800 census shows that Greene County had a slightly greater percentage of one-man, independent farms than did Washington and Allegheny Counties. The number of de­pendent women and children was on the increase, and persons owning only town lots were becoming numerous. Soon there would be a number of landless males who would make up the necessary laboring force for village and rural enterprise. These were all signs of a maturing society.

The land purchased under the act of 1796 for Waynes­burg, a plot of land known as Eden, led to a thriving com­munity. The town grew slowly, but it did grow. The list of lot owners between 1796 and 1815, recently compiled by Helen Vogt, suggests that many came there from the com­munities to the east, Greenesburgh, Muddy Creek, and Carmichaels. The Rev. John Corbly who had survived the Indian massacre of his family in 1782, came from Car­michaels to take a lot in Waynesburg. Lots were also sold to people who came from Washington, Pa., including members of the influential Federalist family of Hoges. By 1832 Waynesburg was second in size, in the county, to Greenesburgh. Carmichaels and Clarksville were towns of sixty and forty dwellings, respectively; Clinton, Lisbon, and Mapletown were smaller villages. The only community to develop in the western half of the County was Morrisville. The hilly western regions did not grow in population in spite of their proximity to the Ohio River. In 1890, Waynesburg, with a population of 2,500, was the only community with more than 650 people.

As we have suggested, Greene County, at its beginning, was not the creature of a major politician like Albert Gallatin, John Smilie, or Hugh Henry Brackenridge. A dynamic local politician emerged eventually, however. This was Isaac B. Weaver (1756-1830). who was mentioned several times as a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate and once for the governorship. Born in Chester County, Weaver had been a Quaker and a school teacher. He was ousted from the Quaker meeting in 1783 because his marriage cere­mony had been performed by a denominational clergyman. Acquiring land in Khedive, Greene County, he became the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1800, served as state treasurer from 1802 to 1806, and as a state senator during most of the years from 1806 to 1824.

Personal criticisms were leveled at Weaver by rival state politicians; this was the nature of the free-wheeling politics of the time. Clearly, as Weaver’s career advanced, he necessarily became involved in issues affecting the whole state, rather than confining himself exclusively to problems of the southwestern corner. He appears to have been the author of a radical pamphlet, Experience the Test of Government, published by William Duane in 1807. The state constitution should be rewritten for the third time, he said, with the treasurer given strong powers to keep spending honest, rather than remaining a clerical worker overshadowed by the governor who had wide spending powers, the receiver general, and the controller. He accused the land office of imposing unnecessary paper formalities and of taking bribes, and he advocated reorganizing the Senate so that it would be equal in size, terms of office, and function, with the House of Representatives. In 1812, Weaver proposed a constitutional revision on the floor of the Senate. But it was voted down and after that his influence waned.

There were a surprising number of industrial tremors in the early years of the county, when much of the area was still heavily forested and lacked roads. In part, this was due to that political and economic ideal of the second and third decades of the nineteenth century known as the American System. The earliest Greene County industries were the familiar agrarian ones of flour mills and whiskey distilleries. Boat building was developing by the 1780’s. Flat boats of simple design were constructed on the Monongahela and sold at Brownsville or further down the river. The glass industry, flourishing elsewhere in western Pennsylvania, took root in Greenesburgh through the enterprise of Albert Gallatin and his brother-in-law, James Nicholson. It sur­vived the hard depression of 1817-1823, although by 1890 all that remained was the related industry of pottery manufacture. A woolen factory in Clarksville, begun in 1811, was a failure, although there were two woolensmakers there in 1890. There were at least two iron works in the county, each with forge and foundry, between 1798 and 1810, but they had little success. In 1817, a bill was introduced in the General Assembly which would have authorized a bank for the county, but it was defeated because of strong arguments against the multiplication of banks. It would, in all probability, have been another rural “wildcat” bank, with all the advantages and disadvantages of that form of institution, and it probably would have failed when so many other western Pennsylvania banks failed in the depression of 1817-1832. The Farmers and Drovers National Bank, formed in 1834, was the first bank in the county.

Some of the earliest settlers in the area brought slaves with them from Virginia and Maryland. Slaveowners were so strong in the western counties that they formed the principal opposition to Pennsylvania’s Gradual Emancipation Act of 1780. Although some of the slaveowners left for Kentucky following the passage of that law, historian Boyd C. Crumrine of Washington County said that there were still seven slaves in Greene County in 1820. Docu­ments of manumission can be found in the Greene County courthouse. There is a story of a slave in Jefferson who was manumitted by his master following the slave’s fulfillment of a promise to dig 5,000 bushels of coal. Unfortunately, there is a disagreement as to whether the slave was Jarrott Rhoads, freed by William Fletcher, or Daniel Ferrel who was freed by Thomas Hughes, founder and political leader of the community that became Jefferson.

Although we know today that the underground railroad in Pennsylvania was exaggerated by older historians, it is probably true that some runaway slaves received shelter in Greene County. There is a story of a free black barber, Ermin Cain of Waynesburg, who, in 1856, concealed a group of runaways from fugitive slave officers. The avail­ability of freedom to Virginia slaves living near the Penn­sylvania line, and, conversely, their desire to move away from the line as soon as possible to avoid fugitive chasers, is suggested by the following figures from the 1850 census, for the counties of southwestern Pennsylvania and adjacent Virginia:

  • Fayette County: 4.0 per cent (free blacks)
  • Washington County: 3.5 per cent (free blacks)
  • Greene County: 2.1 per cent (free blacks)
  • Monongahela: 2.4 per cent (blacks both free and slave)
  • Wetzel County: 0.5 per cent (blacks, both free and slave)
  • Marshall County: 0.9 per cent (blacks, both free and slave)

 

Isolation

Isolation has shaped the destiny of the county. John McMillan, famous as the founder of Presbyterianism in southwestern Pennsylvania, is known to have been the first man to preach in the area, in 1775, but he said that he could do little there and moved on to Pittsburgh and Washington. On a nostalgic journey, in the fall of 1784, George Washington reached Uniontown and decided, with the counsel of Gallatin, that the only practical route to the Ohio Country lay east of the Monongahela. Joshua Gilpin, traveling through southwestern Pennsylvania in 1809, also avoided Greene County. In the years following the Civil War many county residents expressed a sentiment in favor of remaining as isolated as possible, arguing, as was natural in a successful agricultural region, that the scars and evils of an industrialized environment followed in the wake of improved arteries of transportation.

When the first wagon train of settlers appeared in the area in 1767, the only place they could cross the Monongahela was at a ford, at the site of present-day Fredericktown, Washington County. By 1788, transportation had been improved by a bridge at Greenesburgh and three roads running north to Washington. One road began in the western area, another at Jackson’s Fort, and the third began in Virginia, ran along the Monongahela, and swung northwest at Carmichaels. Although there were trails and Indian paths running east and west, there was no road in that direction.* The early economy depended on shipping rye whiskey and flour in flat boats on the Monongahela, but without improvements the Monongahela could only be used during part of the year.

A major turning point in the county’s history was the decision of Congress in 1811 to swing the National Highway, an extension of the Cumberland Road, north from Brownsville through Washington. Although the direct route to the Ohio River was clearly through Greene County, Gallatin, writing President Jefferson in 1808, insisted that the 2,000 votes produced by Washington outweighed other considerations. Eventually heavy wagons from Greene County, carrying flour, were able to make use of the Highway to travel to Maryland, but the time it took them to reach the road placed them at a disadvantage.

A major benefit to the county was the construction of the slack water system of dams and locks on the Mononga­hela. Here the county received political support from Pittsburgh and the four other counties that lay along the river. By the 1840’s enthusiasts were arguing that extraction of coal would be made feasible by a navigation system. From the first, all plans were projected from Pittsburgh to the Virginia (now West Virginia) line, but this could not be accomplished all at once. In 1817 and 1822 efforts were made in the legislature to form private navigation companies, supported by some state funding, but the unwilling­ness of private individuals to subscribe to the required amount of stock thwarted both attempts. It was a public meeting in Waynesburg, on November 18, 1835, that began the movement for a statute, passed that same year, under which the project was finally realized. There would be nine dams, each with a lock unit of the sort commonly seen on canals. The drop in water level between the Virginia waters and Pittsburgh had to be equalized, and it was necessary to create deep pools in the river to submerge the several ripples that interrupted navigation. The system was completed to Brownsville by 1844, and to Rice’s Landing by 1856, just before the depression of 1857. Construction halted for more than a decade, but finally Federal funds were used to build the single lock in West Virginia, and one in Greene County, near the mouth of Dunkard’s Creek. The final lock, midway between Gray’s Landing and Greensboro (formerly Greenesburgh), was completed by 1885. In the 1920’s the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilt the system, relocating two of the three locks that were in Greene County.

Two weeks before the Waynesburg meeting of November 18, 1835, there was public agitation in Brownsville to have the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad extended from Cumberland to Brownsville, on its inevitable course west to the Ohio River. Since 1829 the Railroad had planned and surveyed a route through Greene County to the Ohio. As it turned out, major financial interests elsewhere in the state felt that the B. & O. was a rival of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was trying to reach Pittsburgh. In 1847, Pittsburgh interests had been so much in favor of having the B. & O. extended to their city that they actually proposed splitting the state of Pennsylvania, but eventually it was decided that only the Pennsylvania Railroad would have access to Pittsburgh. Then it was still possible for the B. & O. to have a more southern route through Pennsyl­vania to Wheeling, but this idea was thwarted by the strange economic arguments of Henry G. Beeson, descendant of the founder of Uniontown, who argued that the loss in income and employment to the taverns, stables, and other facilities along the National Highway that would be caused by a railroad traveling the same route as the Highway. would depress the local economy. Sentiment in Greene County seems to have agreed with his arguments, preferring isola­tion to progress. In 1852, the B. & O. reached Wheeling, but it did so by a route through Virginia (now West Virginia).

In 1868 transportation improvement was again thwarted. this time by the alteration of a statute that incorporated the Monongahela Valley Railroad. The original statute had specified that the railroad must proceed to Rice’s Landing (Greene County) and turn west, to extend to Waynesburg, with permission to make branches anywhere for removing coal. Under the 1868 amendment, the railroad was only required to reach Rice’s Landing. Later, a route was surveyed along the river, through the county. to West Virginia. But, in fact, the railroad never reached any part of Greene County until, under a new name and ownership, it did so in the twentieth century. In 1877, Greene County re­ceived its first rail line, the narrow gauge Washington and Waynesburg Railroad, which was in operation until twentieth-century trucking and bus transportation re­placed it.

 

Farming and Industry

Even though the manufacture of woolens was only mar­ginally successful in Greene County, wool growing pro­vided the economic spark that made the county relatively prosperous in the nineteenth century. The Spanish Merino sheep “craze” was the first big boost to the wool industry of this country. It swept New England, New York. and the Old Northwest during the 1830’s and 1840’s. The wrinkled­-skinned Merino, originally imported before 1810, made possible the rapid expansion of the wool industry because of its high reproduction rate and the large amount of wool produced by each animal. In the 1840’s sheep flocks ex­panded in all the counties of the western tier of Pennsyl­vania. Washington County was, by far, the leader. In the 1850’s the entire wool industry lapsed into decline, in part because the tariffs of 1846 and 1857 were less favor­able to domestic wool than that of 1842. There was a period of agricultural prosperity in Greene County during this early period of wool expansion. The present county courthouse, built in 1850, is, in a sense, a monument to this early agricultural prosperity. Envious of the Fayette County courthouse, the people of Greene had their building constructed in the same Greek Revival style, by the same construction company, although they were proud that the statue of General Greene was carved by a local craftsman.

In the 1860’s there was a second period of expansion for the wool industry, especially notable in the central counties of Ohio. Wartime disruption of Southern cotton crops and Northern military needs favored wool growers, but peak prices lasted for four years after the war. At this time Greene County became Pennsylvania’s second largest pro­ducer, behind Washington County, although sheep grazing in the trans-Mississippi west had developed economic advantages which soon overshadowed the wool growers of all the eastern states. Clearly other products in Greene County were now secondary to wool. In Caldwell’s Illustra­ted, Historical Centennial Atlas of Greene County (1876), the only standards used to describe the individual farmers of the county were their acreage and numbers of sheep. When comparing Greene County with the adjacent West Virginia counties of Wetzel, Marshall, and Monongalia, which did not participate in the sheep boom, it is clear that wool was the factor that elevated Greene County’s econ­omy above that of these neighbors. In 1920 Greene finally supplanted Washington County as the leading producer in Pennsylvania; in 1940 it became the leading county for wool east of the Mississippi.

If the scenic farm landscapes in Caldwell’s Atlas are one testament to this late nineteenth century agricultural suc­cess, another symbolically, was Ernest Denmark of Ken­tucky. the first registered thoroughbred saddle horse to appear in Greene County. Fine horses were one of the things toward which the successful nineteenth century farmer naturally turned. Although Greene County was in the process of forming its remarkably consistent allegiance to the Democratic Party, contemporary literature of the area has none of the stark anger of the Populist agrarians of the midwest whose momentum, in the 1890’s, captured the National Democratic Party. There was sympathy for fellow farmers, but the Greene County community was stable and self-confident.

Overlooked in the literature of Pennsylvania’s early petroleum industry – which dwells largely on Titusville and the northwestern region – is the early beginning of drilling in Greene County. There was a brief Greene County oil rush, beginning in 1764. Within a year at least seventy-five wells of a primitive type had been drilled. Lacking cylindri­cal casing, they collapsed after producing for about ten years. Stephen Girard, one of the earliest drillers, told of rafting fifty barrels of oil down to Pittsburgh, only to be shocked by the sight of thousands of barrels from Oil City that were waiting on the river to be purchased. The Greene County oil, found only in the southwestern corner and the western half of the County, never fulfilled the dreams of early optimists. But natural gas was, by the second decade of the twentieth century, being produced in very large amounts. At Rice’s Landing, in 1860, the first shallow gas drilling was attempted, but was soon dismissed as hope­less. Deep drilling began in 1885, in the vicinity of Waynes­burg. Tragically, the drilling cable broke after reaching a depth of 2,745 feet, only a few feet short of the depth which would have produced a major flow. Successful gas strikes on the Grimes Farm and the R. A. Sayers Farm in 1889, and the E. M. Sayers Farm in 1900 were the first of a series which eventually numbered 1,600 productive wells throughout the county. “The county is one big gas field,” said Ralph W. Stone, assistant State geologist, in 1931.

In addition to the need for transportation, the develop­ment of Greene County’s coal required investment capital which had to come from outside the county. Although out-crop mines had been operated since the middle of the nine­teenth century, these had produced only for local consump­tion. The emergence of the Connellsville coke basin in the 1860’s was essential for the growth of Pittsburgh’s steel industry. Its development swung the Pennsylvania coal frontier toward southwestern Pennsylvania because the quality of bituminous taken from that part of the Pitts­burgh Vein, at Connellsville and beyond, was superior for making coke. The Pittsburgh Vein lay beneath 98 per cent of Greene County. Although transportation was slow in developing, it was clear that eventually the coal would be mined. Therefore, although large-scale mining was not begun until 1902, speculation in the coal lands was being carried on by 1890. Speculators began to buy coal rights from farmers separate from surface ownership. Thus, a county resident could continue his farming although he had sold mineral rights. Washington County had produced over one million tons of bituminous in 1886; Greene County did not produce half a million tons until 1915. Production reached one million tons in 1918, two million in 1920, and has been maintained at high rates ever since. However, the amounts available were so great that only one per cent of the Pittsburgh Vein had been mined out by 1928.

A group of men associated with the First National Bank of Uniontown, led by Josiah V. Thompson, began pur­chasing large areas of coal land west of the Monongahela in 1893. By 1914 they became involved in a rivalry with the powerful Pittsburgh interests of the men controlling the United States Steel Corporation and the Union Trust Bank. The Uniontown group lost out because Thompson was suddenly pressed for cash to pay the settlement of his divorce, and because, as president of the Uniontown bank, he had made many unsecured “honor” loans. The price of the coal rights fell disastrously because steel producers knew that sooner or later Thompson or his creditors would have to sell their coal properties to obtain cash. The demand for coal created by the nation’s entry into World War I probably offset a general depression that would have followed the drop in coal property prices.

On May 19, 1928, the second most destructive mine catastrophe in Pennsylvania’s history occurred at Mather Collieries, Mather, Greene County. 197 miners were killed. An explosion occurred at 4:07 p.m., as the night shift was reporting to the working surfaces and before the day shift had left. Contemporary accounts questioned whether the explosion had been due to natural gas or explosive coal dust; the official reports show that both factors were pre­sent. Probably the explosive matter was ignited by electric voltage. Those not killed by the trauma of the explosion sealed themselves in the work rooms because deadly fumes – “black damp” – made movement in the passages impossible. In the three-and-a-half days of rescue operations only a few of the trapped men could be reached because there were cave-ins and fires, and because the rescuers them­selves could not survive long in the “black damp.” There was a potential for hysteria and violence in the community, but these were averted. Ironically, Mather Collieries had been operated so that, in some matters, it was above the minimum requirements of safety legislation. The village of Mather, too, was a model community for miners, with small, but attractive cottages, well-kept lawns, and some recreation facilities. The state inspectors’ report criticized the company only on two points: not analyzing the relative proportion of incombustible rock-dust and combustible coal dust which lay mixed on the surface of the passages, and not watering the coal at working faces so that dust could not mix in the air.

There was a potential for hysteria and violence in the com­munity, but these were averted.

On December 6, 1962, similar explosions occurred at Robena No. 3 Mine, operated by U. S. Steel, at Carmichaels. Thirty-seven miners were killed by the impact; all others in the mine were able to escape. By this time the system relied heavily on forced fresh air intake and forced ex­hausting of natural gas and coal dust, and there was less emphasis on watering down coal dust and rock-dusting, the principal safety precautions used in 1928. Apparently it was an inconspicuous retarding of the exhaust fans that created the volatile situation although there was conflicting testimony about a new seepage of natural gas when hearings concerning the accident were held. The actual spark for the explosion may have come from electricity used in the normal operating equipment.

 

Waynesburg College

It is truly remarkable that Waynesburg College, which opened its doors in 1851, has survived and grown to its present stature. The failures of Madison College in Union­town (1829-1837) and Monongahela College in Jefferson (1868-1894) were typical of the many unsuccessful efforts to establish lasting institutions of higher education in the nineteenth century. The college was founded by the Cum­berland Presbyterian Church, a denomination believing in doctrinal free-will, emotional worship, and the zealous life. Like a number of other religious innovations, the Cum­berland movement gained strength in southwestern Penn­sylvania during the early nineteenth century. The architect of survival for the college, in its early years, was the Rev. Albert B. Miller, president from 1859 to 1899. During the first 100 years of its existence the student body was drawn largely from southwestern Pennsylvania. Survival has been largely the work of a small, versatile, devoted, and self­-sacrificing faculty, but the benevolence of the county’s residents must be given credit too.

During most of its life the college has been plagued by lack of funds and students; only the post-World War 11 years brought an abundance of students. In 1895, the legis­lature began to impose endowment requirements on all chartered colleges, with the intention of eliminating educa­tional “mills.” Somehow Waynesburg survived, keeping its charter, though there were times when there seemed no hope of raising the required amounts within the time specified by law.

Following the merger of most of the Cumberland Church with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., (1906). Waynes­burg formed an affiliation with the larger denomination. The social disruption of the years following World War I led to a drop in enrollment and, ultimately, financial in­solvency. From this point forward, survival was due to the leadership of Dr. Paul R. Stewart whose administration, like that of A. B. Miller, spanned four decades.

The history of the College is lucidly presented in William H. Dusenberry’s The Waynesburg College Story. Familiar problems have recurred to trouble the college over the years: inadequate funding, shortage of students, and pre­ssures tending toward low academic standards. There was a time when students slept in the Presbyterian church in order to save the money they needed for tuition. In 1921, when “Prexie” Stewart was elevated to the presidency. the financial situation was so bleak that the trustees gave him the keys to the buildings and he became the sole faculty member, sole administrator, and groundskeeper, as well.

The College has always taken pride in having been the first coeducational institution of higher learning in Penn­sylvania. The college’s guidance and leadership of the county’s public educational system, much stronger in earlier decades than today, is another significant accom­plishment. Of course, the true measure of success must be the education and ideals imparted to its alumni who have included, among others, Governor Edward Martin and Congressman Thomas Ellsworth Morgan.

 

Changing Life Styles

With the influx of money from the sate of mineral rights and the lifting of isolation as a result of improved transportation, as well as the impact of social trends seen every­where in the country after World War I, a way of life was slowly changing in Greene County. The historical sketches of Professor Andrew J. Waychoff (1849-1927). written in the 1920’s, stoutly defend rural life of the nineteenth cen­tury. It was the communal and social nature of work efforts that he praised. He mentioned the voluntary assistance given to an injured farmer at harvest time, the corn huskings, and the pulling of flax, all done on a neighborly basis. These would be appropriate anywhere in American rural life, but Waychoff also told about some group cus­toms that are not so well known. Building boats on the Monongahela River, to be sold in Brownsville and beyond, would seem to have been a commercial endeavor, but in those times it was also a frolic for people who did the work. Apple cuttings occurred in October, in the days before home canning was developed, principally because the only way to preserve large quantities of apples was to cut them up and allow them to dry. Hog butchering, to us a grim and aesthetically displeasing affair, was an occasion for levity and merriment. Annual fairs – the oldest of which in Greene County is not the County Fair but the Jacktown Fair, begun in 1866 – as well as a number of agricultural societies, belong to the period following the Civil War. The series of newspaper articles entitled “Now and Then.” written within the last ten years by John L. O’Hara, con­tinues Waychoff’s theme of disappearing rural customs.

What were the signs of the new life style? One, clearly was the automobile. This provided, among other things, the innocent amusement of the Sunday afternoon pleasure drive. It meant, in addition, the opening of garages where service and repairs were performed. The founding of a county country club, in 1921, was another sign of change, as was the disappearance of the hired girl as a regular participant in the farm household. For some, a disaster, the burning of the Downey House Hotel, on December 23, 1925, would become a symbol of change. The building had been the pride of downtown Waynesburg since the 1870’s.

An interstate highway, modern high schools, and a bituminous coal boom are recent events that will have deep impact on the county. No doubt progress will erase the uniqueness of local customs, but it will not do so over­night.

The Greene County Historical Society has its headquarters in its Museum which is the building that was formerly the county poor house, known as the Curry Home. The Society has extensively remodeled the interior and has many interesting displays of artifacts, antiques, and ac­curate reproductions. Dr. Robert Yoder, the curator, has assembled a remarkable number of books dealing” with the county, manuscripts, and genealogy records. The current president of the society is Judge Glenn Toothman, President Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial District. The Society also had a number of events held periodically, including Civil War reenactments and a covered bridge festival. Some other points of historical interest in the county include the Thomas Hughes House in Jefferson, the Warrior Trail, and the Monon Center for art in Greensboro. The Trans­Appalachian Room of the College Library has a large col­lection of works dealing with southwestern Pennsylvania.

 

* I have not been able to determine why, in 1931, Associate State Geologist Ralph W. Stone wrote “before the National Pike was built the main route from Baltimore to the west crossed Mononga­hela River at Greensboro, followed by Whiteley Creek to its head, and thence down Fish Creek through Deep Valley.”

 

Sources

Adair, Douglass, and A. P. Middleton, “The Mystery of the Horn Papers,” in William and Mary Quarterly Review, Third Series, IV, 409-445.

Bates, Samuel P., History of Greene County Pennsylvania. Chicago, 1888.

Bubka, Tony (compiler), The Mather Coal Mine Disaster.

Buck, Solon J., and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, 1939.

Caldwell, J. A., Caldwell’s Illustrated, Historical, Centennial Atlas of Greene County, Pennsylvania. Condit, Ohio, 1876.

Crumrine, Boyd (editor), History of Washington County, Penn­sylvania. Philadelphia, 1882.

Dusenberry, William H., The Waynesburg College Story. Kent State University Press, 1975.

Evans, Lewis K., Pioneer History of Greene County, Pennsylvania. Waynesburg, 1941.

Hanna, William, History of Greene County, Pa. 1882.

Harper, Robert Eugene, “The Class Structure of Western Pennsyl­vania in the Late Eighteenth Century.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1969.

Hoffman, John Nathan, “Major Economic Changes in the Mining and Distribution of Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Pennsylvania State University, 1961.

Leckey, Howard L., The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families. Waynesburg, 1950.

McDonald, T. J., R. W. Stahl, R. J. Kirk, Ralph I. Krek, and John A. Noon, “Final Report of Major Mine-Explosion Disaster Robena No. 3 Mine … December 6. 1962, (to the U.S. Dept. of In­terior, Bureau of Mines].”

Pennsylvania, Department of Mines, “Mather Mine Explosion,” Report of the Department of Mines, 1928, pp. 15-21.

Sheppard, Muriel E., Cloud By Day. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1947.

Stone, Ralph W., Geology and Mineral Resources of Greene County Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Geological Survey, Fourth Series, Bulletin C 30. Harrisburg, 1932.

Veech, James, The Monongahela of Old. 1892.

Vogt, Helen, Westward of Ye Laurall Hills, 1750-1850. Parsons, W. Va., 1976.

Waychoff, Andrew J., Local History of Greene County and Southwestern Pennsylvania. 1975 reprint by Greene County Historical Society.

 

Dr. Louis M. Waddell is associate historian in the Bureau of Archives and History, with the PHMC. He is a member of the His­torical Society of Pennsylvania and the Greene County Historical Society.