An overview of historic sites in western Pennsylvania

From battlefields and war heroes, to scientists, inventors, and industrialists, Western Pennsylvania is littered with historic sites. Whether you’re visiting friends and family, taking a relaxing vacation, or simply winding your way through western Pennsylvania on a site-seeing tour, there are quite a few you won’t want to miss.

Beginning with the first permanent settlement at Tinicum in 1643 through to the present, Pennsylvania has offered her share of historical contributions. One of the original thirteen colonies, Pennsylvania was the second to join the Union on December 12, 1787.

Early disputes between Native Americans and settlers sparked Indian uprisings against those venturing westward. Conflicts over land claims between the Dutch, French, and British, established several battlefield sites associated with the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War. In spite of the dangers, new settlements continued to crop up in the counties which now comprise modern Western Pennsylvania.

If you’re interested in exploring the early history of the state’s western counties, Point State Park is located on 36 acres in downtown Pittsburgh. Referred to as the Golden Triangle by natives because of the triangular area between the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, downtown Pittsburgh is officially known as the Central Business District where industrial barons Henry J. Heinz, Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, and Andrew Mellon made their sizable fortunes.

It is within Point State Park that the outlines and remains of two frontier forts, Fort Pitt and Fort Prince George (later renamed Fort Duquesne by the French), can be found. Built in 1754 as the British answer to the French constructing a threatening line of forts reaching into the area, the tiny structure was knocked down by French forces and replaced with Fort Duquesne that same year. It remained a French fortification until November 1758 when the Forbes Expedition captured the site. The British built a newer and larger fort beside its remains, calling it Fort Pitt.

Just outside of Pittsburgh proper is the suburb of West Mifflin, home to Kennywood Amusement Park. Founded in 1898, as a “trolley park”, it’s considered one of America’s oldest amusement parks. In 1987, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. “Lost Kennywood” is a replica of turn-of-the-century architecture where some of the park’s most popular rides can be found. General admission is $37.99. Children under 2 are free.

The Carnegie Free Library of Braddock, located in Braddock, Allegheny County, is the first Carnegie Library built in the United States. Constructed in 1888 and dedicated by Andrew Carnegie in 1889, an additional structure was added in 1893 which nearly doubled the original size. The addition included a music hall, gym, swimming pool, and a two-lane “duckpin alley.” After being closed for nearly a decade, a group of residents organized and saved the building from demolition. It currently houses a regular library, a children’s library, a pottery studio offering classes, and a print shop as part of the Carnegie Arts Program.

Just below Allegheny County are Westmoreland and Washington Counties. Bushy Run Battlefield Park is the site of the battle fought in 1763 during Pontiac’s Rebellion. It’s operated by the PA historical and Museum Commission in Penn Twp, Westmoreland County, just outside of Harrison City. It was on this site that a force of Delaware, Mingo, Huron, and Shawnee warriors ambushed a British column of 500 soldiers on their way to provide relief to besieged Fort Pitt.

Washington County was home to David Bradford, a leader in the Whiskey Rebellion. He was a successful lawyer and businessman who served as the county’s Deputy Attorney General. His home, built in 1786 and located on Main Street, is the first to be built of stone in the town of Washington. Other homes at that time were mostly small log structures. Because of his involvement in the Whiskey Rebellion, David Bradford’s residency was cut short in 1794 when President George Washington sent 13,000 troops to put down the rebellion. Hearing that he would be arrested, Bradford fled south into what is present day Louisiana where he began a new life. His new home, completed in 1797 is the famous “Myrtles Plantation” in St. Francisville.

The David Bradford House is filled with period furniture reflecting the lifestyle and station of its first owner. During renovations, a tunnel leading to a steep ravine was discovered. It’s thought that it was meant to provide a means of escape if the house came under attack. In addition to the tunnel, an old well was found and repaired, and a well house characteristic of the period was constructed. Visitors can also take a stroll through a garden filled with plants, herbs and flowers representative of the 18th century.

About a block away, on East Maiden Street stands the F. Julius LeMoyne House, built in 1812 and known for its antislavery activities from the 1830’s through the Civil War. Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne was the son of a Parisian physician. After joining the Washington Anti-Slavery Society, the young doctor became president of the organization in 1835. He, and his wife and children were all active in the underground railroad as can be attested to through his personal correspondence and stories passed on by relatives.

The house is currently home to the Washington County Historical Society which offers tours year round, Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m– 4 p.m. Groups of 20 or more can make appointments for Saturday tours. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

Venango County offers the site of the first successful oil well. Edwin Drake was a former conductor for the New York and New Haven Railroad when he invested his personal savings of $200 in the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. After becoming more involved with the company, he traveled to Titusville, PA in search of oil in. The organization of the Seneca Oil Company was prompted by his report in 1857. The resultant oil well began producing oil two years later at the rate of 12 to 20 barrels a day, but stopped producing by 1861.

The Drake Well site offers exhibits, tours, re-enactors, musical entertainment and refreshments. Summer hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m and Sunday from noon – 5 p.m. The site is open Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Columbus Day. Adult admission is $10, children (3 – 11) $5. Seniors in groups of 10 or more cost $8 per person, while active military and their families are free of charge.

Seven miles south of the Drake Well Museum, rests the ghost town of Pithole where oil was struck in 1865, and so named for nearby Pithole Creek. Within 9 months of the discovery, more than 15,000 fortune hunters (one of whom was John Wilkes Booth) crowded the wooded hillside. They were soon to be disappointed when the price of oil fell to $4.50 per barrel and the previously believed ocean of oil turned out to be nothing but a splash. The new arrivals quickly dispersed leaving an empty town. Eventually the buildings were burned or broken for scrap.

Today, a visitors’ center and small museum perch on the top of the hill. Maintained by the Drake Well Museum, the center is only open on weekends during the summer.