top of page

 Washington County PA History Re-lived 

The back roads of Washington County PA are as higglety pigglety as the lines on the back of a moving garter snake. The landscape was a reminder of the random topography I built for my model train set as a boy. This story weaves down the page much like that. It started with a leisurely day trip from Toronto.
























welcome center history sign, Declaration of Independence
Chevy and Nova
fighter jet, American flags, photo illustration

Sign at a state welcome center. Pennsylvania proudly tells visitors of its pivotal role in forming the United States of America. 

Pennsylvania travelers "Chevy" and "Nova" stopped for fuel at the same service station enroute to Washington County.

Traffic whizzed along I-90, oblivious to the Erie County Memorial Gardens cemetery near Lake Erie's south shore, but I exited and circled back to make this picture.

Small communities like Washington County PA can hold big surprises. Who knew that in frontier days this settlement would change the way Americans are taxed! 


It all began with a dispute primarily over land titles and whiskey taxes — the first tax on an American product by the newly established government of George Washington. By 1794 the dispute had grown into outright rebellion. Although quickly put down, the crisis made Congress reconsider pre-profit taxation and postpone the due date for taxes until April. And so it is today.


On Main Street South in the town of Washington there's a small statue commemorating the rebellion — not much, considering the financial implications that still resonate for every citizen.






statue in Washington, Washington County PA

Despite its name, the county’s residents were never keen on George, an absentee landowner who would occasionally visit this boundary community to enforce his property rights. But he still stands proudly atop Washington city hall, shown here with the flag at half-mast on Memorial Day.


One of the sites at the center of the rebellion is beautifully restored and open to the public. You’ll find the David Bradford house at 175 S. Main Street. 





statue of George Washington, Memorial Day flag
Washington PA, Underground Railroad
re-enactor Clay Kilgore, Whiskey Rebellion
undress clothing, dining room

Literally around the corner is the LeMoyne House, first site on the National Register of Historic Places to be named for its role as a safe house on the Underground Railroad.


Owner Francis LeMoyne built the first crematory in the United States, atop the hill at the end of South Main Street,  believing, correctly, that cremation could reduce the spread of disease.


In a toast to health then and now, Kate and Brian Cunning demonstrated a popular drink of the late 1700s known as syllabub. It's a sweet beverage of wine, sherry, sugar and heavy cream, best served in a triangular glass to maintain separation of cream and liquid.




History expert Clay Kilgore, representing David Bradford, said that during a recent rebellion renenactment, a surprise tarring  and feathering of a "tax collector" made the national news. This year's Whiskey Rebellion festival is July 10-12.

If your timing is right at Bradford, you may be offered tasty onion pie from a frontier recipe of  onion, cheese and potato .

Bradford docent Paisle Anderson wearing what was known as "undress" because it wasn't formal attire. Slightly different meaning today.

colonial drink, Washington PA

Covered wooden bridges are the main draw for visitors to Washington County and adjacent Greene County. A little red bridge is the Visitor Center logo on Main South in Washington. Take 30 bridges, add entertainment, crafts for sale, down home food galore from local merchants, a sunny September 21-22, 2014 and you've got the annual Covered Bridge Festival. This year's event,  the 44th, is expected to draw over 100,000 visitors. For those who can't make it, there's lots of breathing room at other times of the year. Get either a guide book or hopelessly lost if setting out to see all 23 bridges in Washington County.

Washington PA Visitor Center

L-R  Visitor Center sign; Mingo Creek County Park: Henry Bridge photo and Ebenezer Bridge photo illustration with an in-camera Art Filter on my Olympus OMD EM-1.

Washington County PA, Mingo Creek Park
covered bridge, Washington County PA, Mingo Creek Park

Industry is the main driving force in Washington County, especially with the current thriving and largest shale gas investment in North America, but traditional farming remains everywhere. SpringHouse is a popular restaurant and bakery which once a year has an open house on its hormone and antibiotic-free dairy farm — in the spring, of course.


The herd is mainly Holsteins mixed with some Jersey cattle. Everyone on a tour gets to milk a cow by hand. Based on our groups' performance, commercial dairies need have no fear of competition anytime soon. Bottle feeding the calves is popular too, but newborns steal the show. 


Sam and Bev Minor bought the property in 1975, establishing the current dairy farm. During lunch at the restaurant we met Bev and her son, Samuel R. Minor, the manager of the 400+ acre farm. They're as down to earth as the soil on their farm.


A lineup of local residents during the lunch hour was evidence of the  bakery's popularity, while the fresh dairy ice cream didn't even have time to melt.


Washington County PA, organic food
Washington County PA
Washington County PA, organic dairy
Washington County PA, organic food

Tripadvisor awarded the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum a 2014 Certificate of Excellence. How's that for an attraction staffed mainly by volunteeers! But then they are a passionate bunch. Maybe it has something to do with having an original  streetcar named Desire, made famous in Tennessee Williams' 1947 Broadway play of A Streetcar Named Desire.


The museum trolley served on the Desire Line in Pittsburgh, terminating at Desire Avenue. Beyond love and sorrow, however, trolleys had an enormous impact on people’s social freedoms, lifting feet out of the mud and allowing everyone to go faster and do more.


As a mode of transportation they reflect an enormous change from industrial era to mass automobile transit — traffic jams and all.

(I suspect that what we all really desire is

less traffic.)



Washington County PA, from the Pittsburgh Desire trolley line
Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, Washington PA, from the Pittsburgh Desire trolley line
Washington PA

For those interested in natural history, the greatest surprise in Washington County has to be the National Historic Landmark of Meadowcroft Rock Shelter and Historic Village. An elegant enclosure covers a remarkable site with evidence of human habitation dating back 16,000 years, the longest in North America. As another part of the Senator John Heinz History Center, villages of a 1570s Monongahela Indian tribe and 19th century Upper Ohio Valley community of relocated buildings show the way life used to be. 


Discovery of the rock shelter occurred on the Miller farm, home to Devlin Miller, world-renowned harness driver of standard bred horses. It was Devlin who founded Meadows Racetrack. The track and adjoining casino are now a steady draw for visitors. Devlin's brother Albert created Meadowcroft Rock Shelter and Historic Village on a former coal mining site, an outstanding example of creative recycling.


And so we come full circle from the beginnings of agriculture in the region some 3,000 years ago, to the arrival of Europeans as the second great cultural change in the Americas to the industrial revolution which has taken us into the digital age. What next?






Monongahela, Meadowcroft Rock Shelter and Historic Village
Meadowcroft Rock Shelter and Historic Village
Meadowcroft Rock Shelter and Historic Village

(L) David Scofield, Meadowcroft Director, explains the significance of the rock shelter. (Above) one of the buildings in the Historic Village.


Note: While visiting Washington County I stayed at the Cambria Suites Hotel opposite Meadows Racetrack and Casino. Modern, clean, convenient and friendly.

One of the original trolleys on the Desire Line.

A model from the gift  shop sports the livery of old Pittsburgh and Toronto trolleys

Photos, text and layout 

© 2014 by Gary Crallé.

Commercial rights reserved

bottom of page