Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Gallavanting In Greensburg

   Welcome back to F/WFH for another installment. In the post below we will be concerning ourselves with the basic structure of the history of Greensburg, located in Westmoreland County in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.

   A county seat of this magnitude holds so much voluminous and detailed historical matter in so many areas: sports, architecture, government, churches, activities, stores, cemeteries, schools, and many noted figures, such as distinctive and important industrialists, the form of a condensed outline has been chosen as most convenient while hopefully managing to provide a basic assessment of a special place that has been neglected to this point.


     Newtown and Jacktown

  The origins of this city began not long after the destruction of the original county seat, Hannastown, the first west of the Allegheny Mountains established in 1773 by Robert Hanna. Such concerned the site of the famous Hanna's Town Resolves of 1775 in many ways mirroring the soon to arrive,  Declaration of Independence to defend their God given rights against the oppression of the British. The event of the unfortunate loss of the town was accomplished in 1782 by Guyasuta and the Seneca Indians along with the French Canadians. After much bickering between other regions as well, by 1785 "Newtown" became the new county seat. The next year saw the building of the original Westmoreland County Courthouse in what is the heart of the Greensburg Downtown Historic District.

    The decision-making process of those times took much foresight and care in choosing the exact whereabouts of a new county capital; indeed, exposure to the elements, dangerous or hostile situations or indigenous tribes,  river commerce, quality of woodland and soil, popularity or lack of by citizens of the surrounding community, the keen ideas of investors, prior settlements, even scenery, and many more issues need be addressed and soon resolved; ideally, in the favor of the majority. The nearness of Fort Ligonier as well as the Forbes Road and Glades Path would surely be an example of two major factors in leaning hard toward this favored spot. The fact that by 1786 there were four taverns with capabilities of good provisioning and the comfort of an inn or two, certainly helped, though there were other factors in choosing this county seat as well: mainly that newly appointed commissioners, Benjamin Davis, Hugh Martin and Michael Rugh lived on or very near to the Forbes Road having a personal interest leading to the decision.

    By the year 1799, Jedidiah Morse in the American Gazeteer, described the city thus: "Greensburg, a post town and the capital of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. It is a neat, pretty town situate on a branch of Sewickly Creek which empties into Youghiagany River. Here are one hundred dwelling houses, a German Calvanist Church, a brick Court House and stone jail." In the days of wagons, moving families, stage coaches, and soon - to - come toll houses, you needed an insular place of worship for the faithful and it was a must in being able to lock up the thieves and rowdies.

  From the humble beginnings near the ending of the Revolutionary War of an inn built near an old wagon trail; this old road later became known as Penn Avenue. Early in its long history, Christopher Truby was the main founder of ol' Newtown, named after the count seat of his former home he emigrated from by 1772, Bucks County. In the early 1800's this was known as the Greensburg or Pittsburg Pike, a toll road completed in 1818. It slowly took on prominence after much debate and was accepted as the new county seat. This proud city was named after Major General Nathaniel Greene of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. The old jail was the corner of Pittsburgh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Most of the area north of Pittsburgh Street and west of Penn., Avenue were owned by Ludwig Otterman. Dutch Town was the section from West Pittsburgh Street to Vannear Avenue and Irish Town was further on the eastern hill of Pittsburgh Street.

 A sad reality concerns the sidewalk of the future courthouse site containing the market house which was also used as an auction block for the sale of slaves. This was finally dismantled by 1854.

 One of the busiest of the toll gates in Greensburg was on top of Chestnut Ridge between the city and Stoyestown at least from the 1820's through the 1830's with over 38,000 horses bustling through in the first year alone .


  There were many areas of southwestern Pennsylvania deeply involved in the Whiskey Rebellion, including Pittsburgh, yet here were many distillers in many parts of the city of Greensburg, possibly the most toward Hempfield Township, which issues of this sort surrounded and inflamed. . That being the case, it is interesting to read that in a September Term of Court for 1795 various persons were tried on an indictment for a riot committed the year before, "in besitting the doors and windows and of the house of Simon Drum  in the town of Greensburgh, throwing stones etc. at the doors and windows with intent to beat, wound, tar and feather and evilly entreat Jaspar Yeates and William Bradford, Comissioners on the part of the United States, and Thomas McKean and William Irwin, Commissioners on the part of the State of Pennsylvania, to confer with thew citizens west of the mountains." According to the PA Archives, most were convicted, but first were deposited in the gaol and later 'exhibited' to the town, being marched through the town in the thick mud. These guys were later pardoned by Governor Mifflin. Maybe the shame of slogging around the streets continually was thought enough punishment.

  The militia leader and one of the major founders of the city, William Jack, had written to the governor that many of the people were adverse to the duty on spirits and basically proceeded to blame the Germans to an extent that they were extremely unwilling in the process and this appeared because they were ignorant of the language.

The Westmoreland County Courthouse on Main Street.

    The Westmoreland County Courthouse sits on Main Street, approaching near the top of the hill. It stands 175 feet and is the fourth courthouse, built in 1906 and designed by architect, William S. Kaufman, who was, coincidentally, born to Pennsylvania native parents. The oldest courthouse was, first, a log structure built from 1786 or 1787, depends on what is your source material, and the next was demolished in 1854, followed by the third, demolished in 1901.

   What may surprise many, in those much freer times, advertisements were made in the local papers to gather at the courthouse of the early 1800's to partake in meetings of various 'divine services' and preachers let loose with the sermons and preaching of reverends such as, James Estep, William M'Kindrey and Curtis Clay. So much for the modern notion of the separation of church and state!

                           General Nathanael Greene

Nathanael Greene, by C. W. Peale

    Born in Potowomut, Phode Island, where he became a statesman in the early 1770's and a member of the Kentish Guards, Nathanael Greene, (July 27, 1742-June 19, 1786), the illustrious  and prominent Revolutionary hero the General Greene Hotel was once named after near the turn of the last century, was the man Greensburg, Pennsylvania,  as well as Greene County, is so aptly settled on for its moniker. He was descended from Quaker Immigrants ho left Salisbury, England in 1635 for the New World. On arriving in Boston  by May of 1775, he was quickly made a Brigadier-General by June. He soon transformed from an initial defeat and loss through inexperience of Fort Washington on the banks of the Hudson to an endearing force lasting for eight years of service. In spite of the disrespect from Congress of his humble beginnings, his fame was abiding, service broad, and his loyalty deep. Greene reportedly died of sunstroke when his life was cut short at his Georgia home of Mulberry Grove, north of Savannah, though there may of been other complications from ailments such as asthma.

    As Alexander Hamilton stated it best at a Fourth of July, 1789 Eulogium on the death of the Major- General of the Continental Army, "To commemorate the talents, virtues, and exploits of great and good men... We seem to appropriate to ourselves the good they have done, to take a personal interest in the glory they have acquired, and to share in the very praise we bestow." He goes on to recall his exertions at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth, Springfield, and tough battles as at Guilford Courthouse, Greensboro, North Carolina the import of his last command in the south; he goes on to demonstrate "that he was an accomplished master in the science of military command." With Morgan's genuine experience and tactics, while describing some of the more minor players, which, though Hamilton doesn't dwell on it for long, included the brave provisional militias of Marion, Sumter and Pickens and the factors of their enduring harassment of British troops in South Carolina, Hamilton gives worthy tribute to the deliverance of Greene's overall actions in Cornwallis's retreat to Charleston and on to Yorktown. By the way, some of this information and other details about the county seat of Westmoreland County has been related on the post "Origins of the Counties of southwestern PA.

    General Cornwallis once made the claim that,

   "Greene is more dangerous than Washington. I never feel secure when encamped in his neighborhood."

Old photo of Greensburg. The year is uncertain.

Into The Modern Era

    Like many of the cities,  towns and hamlets of the surrounding region, for various economic reasons, particularly the final closing of Greengate Mall in 2001, which was begun with so many quality stores in 1965, (not so in recent times), with the loss of Horne's and then Montgomery Ward. Soon we had the opening of the Westmoreland Mall in 1977 to help forget! But, if you are a near native of the region and old enough, like myself, you probably hold a few fond memories of visiting The Bon Ton, Waldenbooks, G.C. Murphy's, Spencer Gifts, Sweet Williams and RadioShack, among others, or just roaming the aisles with my brothers in the 1970's; this was THE cool place to go and to be seen! Some of these stores still exist in other neighborhoods or in other forms, under different names.


    Seton Hill College was a women's college. It was founded in 1885 by the Sisters of Charity. Now known as Seton HIll University, it has been coed since 2002, being closely involved in mobile information technology, health and the natural sciences and visual and performing arts. It provides a dynamic campus atmosphere. The University of Pitt-Greensburg is a state related regional institution first established in 1963 and was voted the "Best University in the Region" eight straight years. The Bobcats are the athletic teams and they also engage the Ben Franklin Society. Originally located across from St. Clair Park, it is now two miles to the south in Hempfield Township and with 22 buildings on a space of 219 acres the university can indeed boast of much academic achievement. By the way, there are many schools and cultural landmarks which I won't be going into here.

     Don't let the above statement bother you much - the athletic and sports history of the city and nearby environs would deserve a post of their own. Even the healthcare industry is to be highly enumerated. No, I'm not going to get started on all that, sorry.

      Arthur St. Clair

Arthur St. Clair Monument

    Now we are taking a brief step back to the old days for a paragraph or so as I feel something needs to be related about St. Clair Park. Early on, it was moved to its present location toward the east, yet holds the statue and tomb of a notable figure in Arthur St. Clair. This Revolutionary General, a true patriot of the State of Pennsylvanian with much service and accumulated merit that later became a local here, was covered with much other material over three years gone by in a 2014 post providing a more in depth biography of this sometime hero, sometimes crticized man.

    While St. Clair's various war efforts in serving his country should of brought with him a certain celebrity he lived in nearby Youngwood under the sad distress of many difficulties while retiring in the County of Westmoreland.  He accumulating large debts and had to sell much of his property,  ending up as a tavern keeper.


     The city has surely taken renewed pride in the fact that a unique statue of Nathanael Greene by Chris Fagan was unveiled in the year 2000. He sstands, symbolically, all in bronze, in the depths of  St. Clair Park.

     The city is made up of eight wards, one of which, 'Bunker Hill' was actually named for the rowdy, wild fights at the Bushfields Tavern of the mid- nineteenth century, said to remind the surrounding folks of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Yep, so they say.

    Back in 1905, three neighborhood boroughs were absorbed into the county seat. These were: Ludwick, of East Greensburg, Paradise, of Southeast Greensburg, and Kinderhook to the north which includes the neighborhoods of Academy Hill, Country Club Meadows, Evergreen Hill, Saybrook Village, etc.

    Greensburg Station, back behind the courthouse, once served heavily by the Pennsylvania Railroad when opened in 1912, while PennDot's last servicing pretty much came to an end by late 2005, and it is now only the Amtrak 'Pennsylvanian' rail station as the old choo-choos are gone but not forgotten. The portico and structure retains a classy Flemish bond pattern topped by an ornamental clock tower and overall it is of the quaint Jacobean Revival style.

The old Greensburg Station

     What was once the West Penn Railways trolley headquarters, now houses City Hall. Despite visits by famous Democrats running for office for many a year, this was the original site of of the first National Republican Party Convention in 1854.

   Yes, Greensburg has seen it's share of depression in the last quarter century or so. In spite of this reality,  the city has found a way to thrive in major tourism, culture and business. There are many memories, as well. It is seventh in Pennsylvania in daytime growth and 16th for the same category in the United States.

     The Downtown Historic District consisted of many notable buildings from 1872-1930. The District was home to a significant commercial center as well as an important station of the Pennsylvania Railroad first initiating service here in 1852, and the headquarters of the now long gone West Penn Railways trolley system, now City Hall. Before the days of automobiles, the street cars served many smaller communities to the south and east. The Greensburg Railway Station on Harrison Avenue, (named for our ninth President, William Henry Harrison), had its one-story structure by 1860, then a large, impressive building developed by architect William Holmes Cookman, which was opened in 1912 to some fanfare. It is of the Jacobean Revival style and topped with a fairly unique clock tower. Made of red brick of Flemish Bond pattern, it served different purposes and an Amtrak Station in later years, finally taken up as a restaurant.

    Another important area is the Academy Hill Historic District lying between North Main and North maple Avenue and consisting of 63 acres. Some of its main attractions would be the Huff Mansion at 424 North Main St., a Georgian revival building built in 1900 now hoe to the YWCA, the unique shape of the Clawson House on North Maple, the Aquinas Academy, an elementary school, and an aged 1840 structure at 333 Walnut Avenue.

   Penn Avenue is the main route from the west to downtown Pittsburgh and the Gateway Center and Point State Park, also the oldest street in Pitssburgh. This was, in part, a meaningful ingredient in its eventual and continued success.

   Among the many department stores once regularly visited by eager customers to Main Street like,  J. C. Penny's and Sears, the one I recall the most was Troutman's in company with my mom and grandmother, riding the escalators from one department to another.

     The Westmoreland County Historical Society with its useful Calvin E. Pollins Memorial Library (free of charge)  and the Edward H. Hahn Archives is located at 362 Sandhill Rd. Suite 1, Greensburg, 15601, are a dedicated group. Hours are, Tuesday - Friday, 9-5 p. m. They can be contacted by mail concerning research. The Society contains much information and their resources should be quite helpful.

Drops of rain on Main Street in a recent trip to Greensburg

  South Greensburg 

   The Borough of South Greensburg was once known as Rughstown, settled on a farm by Michael Rugh in 1780. The 229 acres was later inherited by his grandson, Peter Rugh. The Rugh House, said to be the oldest extant building within Greensburg, replaced an older building and sits at 1213 Broad Street. In 1881, on land acquired earlier from the Rughs, George Huff sold the property to the Greensburg Coal and Coke Company which also had a mine and brickwaork. Later, this went by the name of the Keystone Coal and Coke Co. By the late 1880's there were many houses built in which the locality became known as Huff, or Huffstown.

    A location in South Greensburg down the slope of the hill was once known as the 'Bullet Field', because tradition claimed it was the area used by the locals for target practice.


SouthGeensburg area

    A trolley line ran north through Broad Street soon after and was later controlled by the West Penn Railways up until 1952. By 1892 the community was incorporated under the present name. During the Westmoreland County coal strike of 1910-1911, much ill will and even violence was experienced and perpetrated between the Jamison Coal and Coke Company and a group of striking miners in which one miner was shot by the company security. Unusual circumsyances soon developed as the Chief of Police, William Keltz, when attempting to apprehend the shooter, was himself arrested by the constables under the direction of security personnel.

   A prominent factory begun in 1888 which existed for nearly one hundred years there was eventually known as Walworth Valves. This major employer had at least one Huff on the board of directors and sat near the Route 30 Bypass on Huff Street. At one time employing 1500 people, the huge complex straddled 31 acres by the railroad. Some of the buildings which remained could recently be seen in the area.

So Many Places

    There are certainly other parts of Greensburg, particularly Southwest Greensburg, with thoroughly interesting and exciting backgrounds of their own unique descriptions, many of which may simply have to be covered at a future time. Very many places and establishments remain, but quite a few are gone or vanished, never to return. Like the Children's Palace, the Piano Company, the Family Bar Tavern, Marzano Tailors, Wilson's Candy CO., (ahem, no relation), the Penn Albert shops and The Coach House. Still, there are really too many to list.

    So, while what remains and is in functional order, a good option would be to check out the official website of the city of Greenburg and find out what's been happening. But, if you can manage the effort, do yourself a favor and take a drive through the historically impressive aspects of a great city and see a choice of the sights. Who knows, visitors may even run into Mayor Robert Bell!

Near Main and Fourth Street

     Thanks for stopping by! I hope some of you learned something entertaining, yet valuable, especially persons not personally associated with this fascinating region. Positive comments or tidbits of information on specific subjects are always welcome and encouraged regardless of what area of history concerns you most. So, leave your feedback, and if you enjoyed the article in some form, PLEASE do consider leaving a word in the Comment Section!

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