October 19, 2009

Ten Mile Trivia # 4

Shriver covered bridge and Greene County ABATE riders. photo courtesy of Greene County Tourism

Have you ever wondered why were there were so many wooden covered bridges ? And why especially in Pennsylvania and the U.S. Northeast ? In the 1800's, the northeastern United States was a country in need of bridges. It is a fairly narrow coastal plain cut by many short rivers and creeks. Inland farmers needed overland transport, and that meant fords for crossing these streams. But the water-powered mills sought out the very places where streams could not be forded, the falls and rapids. So bridges were needed. The American northeast was forest country, wood was a plentiful building material, especially in the remote areas where the smaller bridges were needed. The climate favored wooden construction. The climate here is harsh by European standards, hot in the summer and icy in the winter, with a freeze-thaw cycle that would overturn stone pavings. Oddly, this sort of climate is less destructive of wood than the mild, moist climate of Britain (or Oregon). Still, wooden bridges tended to deteriorate rapidly from exposure to the elements, having a useful lifespan of only about nine years. Covering them protected their structural members, thus extending their life to 80 years or more. So wooden covered bridges were the answer.The first covered bridge in the nation was built in Pennsylvania in about 1800 over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, shortly after a patent for the type of structure was granted in 1797.

.During the first half of the 19th century, Washington and Greene counties were in the heart of an area considered to be the nation's wool growing capital. In 1836, when 50 cents a pound was paid for wool, there were about 200,000 sheep yielding about 500,000 pounds of wool annually there. However, the price declined to about 25 cents a pound by 1842, and the farmers here began to abandon the raising of sheep for more remunerative pursuits.

In 1820, Washington was the most populous community after Pittsburgh in Southwestern Pennsylvania, with 1,687 inhabitants. Uniontown was next with 1,058, followed by Brownsville 976, Greensburg 771, and Connellsville 600.

Opera House Theater in Waynesburg
The Odd Fellows and Masonic Building Association" built in the three-story brick building in 1871, was known as the Town Hall, but later changed to the Waynesburg Opera House in 1889 after its first major renovation. The Opera House hosted a variety of traveling theatrical troupes, as well as lectures from famed orator William Jennings Bryan, known for his involvement in the 1925 Scopes trial, and former President Howard Taft.

In addition to the Opera House, motion pictures could also be seen in Waynesburg at the Eclipse Theater. In Mt. Morris was the Star Theater, the  Ross Theatre was in Carmichaels, Luvland Theater in Rices Landing, the Grand in Clarksville and at the Grand and Milfred theaters in Fredericktown. The coal companys operated their own movie houses in the patch towns of Crucible, Nemacolin, Mather, Vestaburg, Richeyville and Poland Mines.

In 1917, those interested could play pool or billiards at facilities owned by G. W. Hewitt & Sons and Geoge Ritchie in Carmichaels; by C. A. Bernnett in Clarksville; by H. E. Davis in Jefferson; and by J. E. Morris in Mt. Morris. There were five Waynesburg establishments; the Park Billiard Room, the Downey Hotel, and pool rooms operated by Filby & Becler, William Lockard and P. A. Wilbert.

The first golf course in Ten Mile Creek country was laid out by the Greene County Country Club, organized in the fall of 1921. By the end of the year, the County purchased (at a cost of $17,565) almost eighty-eight acres of the Charles C. Harry farm which lay beside Ruff Creek in Morgan Township, about five miles east of Waynesburg along the newly completed concrete road to Jefferson. There it began to lay out a nine-hole golf course that was designed by John McGlynn, "an expert golf course builder," from Pittsburgh. Acquired with the farm was the Harry residence, remodeled as a clubhouse, and a large barn used for equipment storage.

Remains of a Chartiers patch home after the tornado. That is a Model T automobile on it's side to the left. Photo from Stanley Fowler collection.

On the evening of June 23, 1944, three almost-simultaneous tornadoes struck portions of southwestern Pennsylvania, taking 43 lives. Perhaps the most serious of the three came across Washington County from the West Virginia panhandle, moving southeast across northeastern Greene County and the western edge of Fayette. A second touched down in the McKeesport area and moved southeastward past Mt. Pleasant. The third hit Rural Valley in Armstrong County and moved into Indiana.
The towns of Chartiers and Dry Tavern in northwestern Greene County were particularly hard hit. Washington, Brownsville and Greene County hospitals were not only overcrowded by dying and injured but often had to perform operations by light from kerosene lanterns.
Blood plasma was flown from Columbus, Ohio, to Waynesburg by a small plane that landed in a field illuminated by automobile headlights. As word reached points throughout the nation and world, the Red Cross was besieged by inquiries from World War II servicemen concerned about their families back here.

Wind Ridge in Greene County got its name as the result of a coin toss. It originally was known as Jacksonville.
When Greene Co. was still part of Washington Co., Pennsylvania passed an act for the gradual abolition of slavery. At this time there were 155 slave owners in Washington Co. who registered approx. 443 slaves. Of the 443 registered slaves, Greene Countians registered a total of 33 slaves. When the first national censuses were taken in 1790, there were 44 slaves in Greene Co. & 1 free "person of color". In 1800, there were 16 slaves, 23 persons of color living with white, either as servants or family members. In the introduction to Carter G. Woodson's Free Negro Head of Families In The 1830 Census for Greene County, he makes the following notation: "...that year a petition from Greene County said that many Negroes had settled in Pennsylvania and had been able to seduce into marriage "the minor children of White inhabitants." This county, therefore, asked these marriages be made an offence against the laws of the State."

From 1852 through the mid-1930's, the Greene County Agricultural Society held a fair each year in Carmichaels, PA. The original site was on the east side of town where Cumberland Village is located today. Around 1900, the fair was moved to the location on Ceylon Road where Wana B Park is now. According to a book published by Carmichaels Bi-Centennial, Inc. (1967), the main exhibits at the fair in those days were farm products, livestock and manufactured goods. Activities and contests consisted mostly of horse and bicycle races. Entertainment included live bands as a major attraction, and sometimes circus like performers such as tightrope walkers and acrobats. Admission to the fair started out at 15 cents for children and 35 cents for adults. By the 1920's those rates had raised to 50 and 75 cents, respectively. The grandstand seated nearly 2,000 people. The fair closed in 1935 due to a decrease in attendance and "other contributing factors which caused a decline and complete collapse of the Greene County Agricultural Society."
There was also a fair in Jefferson until 1907. The location of the Jefferson Fair is still referred to as "The Fairgrounds". Today the area consists of residential lots.

Jollytown, in Greene County, did not get its name from the jovial atmosphere there, but from pioneer landowner Titus Jolly.

From The Charleroi Mail of June 29, 1911 :
The first work done by the Crucible Coal Company towards the opening of the mine on its property above Rices Landing was begun this week. Several Italian laborers arrived and were put to work constructing a road from the river to the Fordyce, Crago and the Norman Riggle farms. It is on these two farms where the houses of the company will be built. The coal company will build the tipple on the Thomas Crago tract and it will be constructed so that barges in the river can be loaded and also freight cars be shipped by rail. The company will install a ferry across the river as the material, much of it at least, will be shipped by rail and will arrive on the opposite side of the river.
The new works are to be located about one and one-half miles above the lock at Rices Landing.

From The Argus of May 8, 1884:
A. H. Swan, of Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, is a native of Greene County, Pa., which place he left for the West in 1853, when twenty-two years of age, with $1,000 in his pocket. He now controls more cattle than any other individual on the continent. His present possessions are valued at between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000, while the amount of stock of which he has the exclusive control and management is over 200,000 head, and valued at over $6,000,000. He was the organizer, and is President and General Manager of no less than five different stock organizations in Wyoming.

From unknown newspaper May 29, 1908 :In the marriage of Miss Flora E. Gruber of Greensboro and John Sharpnack last week, an unusual courtship was brought to a fitting climax. John is an employee of the United States government on the new lock at North Charleroi. On February 15, 1906, he picked up a floating bottle, which contained a note signed in a delicate hand. "Miss Flora E. Gruber, Greensboro, Pa., February 14 - St. Valentine's Day - 1906. Finder please write." The river at that time was at high stage, and the missive was not long in finding its way down to lock No. 4, where it was found by Sharpnack. The same evening he wrote a letter, and in due time received a reply. Letters and photographs were exchanged later. The sequel was the marriage last week. The young pair will live at Charleroi.

Albert Bushnell Hart, one of the most famous of American historians, was born in Clarksville Pa.on July 1, 1854. He was a graduate of Harvard, and received numerous honorary degrees. He was a professor of various subjects at Harvard and was later professor emeritus. He was a member and historian of the U. S. Commission for Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of George Washington. He served as joint editor of the Harvard Graduates' Magazine, and also a member of many political and historical associations. Some of Professor Hart's publications are Guide to the Study of American History, Slavery and Abolition, Southern South, Handbook of the War, Causes of the War.

Fredericktown ferry FREDERICK glides back to the east shore of the Monongahela River on March 7, 2006. The ferry rides on cables that are attached to each bank of the river and moves between Fredericktown and LaBelle, Pa. Mile 64.1. Photo by Eric M. Johnson.

As late as the end of World War II, nine ferries on the Monongahela River connected Washington and Greene county points with Fayette County. The communities were Fayette City, Coal Center / Newell, Fredericktown / East Fredericktown ( LaBelle ) , Millsboro / East Millsboro, Crucible / Arensburg, Adah, Nemacolin / Huron, Martin and Greensboro / New Geneva. Since the early 1900's, as the railroad advanced up the river, many people used the ferry to cross to the to the Fayette county side to take the railroad to Brownsville or Morgantown. The Monongahela Railway obligingly built stations or shelters at each ferry landing. In 1950, railroad passenger service along that side of the river between Brownsville and Fairmont, W.Va., came to an end.
The ferry at Fredericktown is the last on the river. I plan to do a story on it but it will be a sad one because it does not seem to have much time left due to the new bridge being built at Denbo. There's been a ferry at Fredericktown since 1790. Thats a long time.

From an unknown local paper, June 1,1891 :
Beckie Brown, the ferryman of Brown's Ferry, near Carmichaels, who died recently, had worked that ferry forty years single handed and alone. She was the widow of James Brown, who died before the Civil war, and Beckie continued to placidly work at the ferry. In her early days she attended all the fairs, horse races and old time musters, peddling gingerbread and spruce beer that she made herself. She had a secret preparation for her gingerbread that made it famous, and no doubt did a great deal toward making it familiar at all the local fairs. She never told her secret to anyone, and with Beckie died the gingerbread reciepe.

From The Charleroi Mail, April 27, 1909 :
Judge James Ingram yesterday refused licenses to all of the Greene county distilleries, the applicants being U. E. Lippincott of Lippincotts, R. W. Higginbotham of Grays Landing, and Gilpin South of Bald Hill. The Waynesburg Brewing Company, which constructed the only brewery in the county, was refused license last week. No retail liquor license has been granted in the county for 31 years. A century ago Greene county had nearly one hundred registered distilleries. The map is now pure white.

The above was taken from various sources including The Greensaver, G.Wayne Smith's History and others.

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