Historian says Washington had business reasons to visit the area
To many, George Washington's name probably evokes thoughts of cherry trees, Fort Necessity, Valley Forge and the father of our country.
But there is another side of the first president that is not as well known -- his entrepreneurial endeavors.
At a Presidents Day luncheon hosted by the Queen Alliquippa Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, historian Dr. Miles Richards talked about two little-known visits by Washington to Western Pennsylvania.
"Usually you think of him during the French and Indian War in 1750," Richards said. "Or you think of George Washington, the military leader, president or statesman. Often we forget George Washington, the businessman."
Washington made two trips to this area -- in the fall of 1770 and in 1784. Richards said Washington hired Capt. William Crawford in 1768 as his land agent to survey and lay out the parcels. Two years later he visited his property -- 1,500 acres in what is now Perryopolis, called Washington's Bottom at that time.
"He followed Braddock Road, which he surveyed," the historian said. "He went to Connellsville, where he stayed a couple days. While he was there, he visited a coal mine and said the coal looked nice and burned very well, and said it would make a good investment. He never invested in the coal mine."
Being familiar with the area from the French and Indian War, he often talked about how the fertile, black soil would be good for farming, especially the bottom lands along the Youghiogheny River.
A reminder of Washington's connection to that community is a gristmill located off Route 51 South.
"Washington hired Gilbert Simpson of Virginia to run the grist mill," Richards said. "But he ignored the locals who told him there wasn't significant water in the spring, especially during droughts, and that debris and boulders clogged the water's flow."
The gristmill was built and operational within a year, "but Simpson's management was not very good and it never made much of a profit," he said.
On his way to Pittsburgh, Washington continued along the Yough and, according to Richards, "If anyone was along the river in Buena Vista the afternoon of Oct. 17 in 1770, they would have seen George Washington across the river."
When he arrived in Pittsburgh, he spent a couple days at Fort Pitt before embarking on a canoe journey down the Ohio River.
"Washington wanted to connect the Potomac (River) with the Ohio with an east-west canal," the historian said. "It never happened but he spent three decades working on it. There are remnants around Harpers Ferry of the Potomac Canal Company."
On his return to Mount Vernon, Washington and his entourage were caught in a blizzard and had to spend a couple days in Turtle Creek. Richards said Washington planned to return to Western Pennsylvania once a year, but did not make another trip to this area until 1784.
Circumstances were a bit different when he returned 14 years later. Crawford was killed in 1781 and most of the land lease papers were lost. The result was squatters claiming parcels that Washington owned. One member of the group on this second visit was Washington's nephew who, according to Richards, said of his uncle, "he knew every acre he owned and every shilling owed."
Upon arriving in Perryopolis, he discovered many of his tenants had left. He also did not like how Simpson was operating the grist mill.
"He gave Simpson a piece of his mind and fired him and told him to get off his property," Richards said.
Frustrated with what he saw, Washington decided to put the grist mill up for public auction.
"He was pleased when he saw about 200 people showed up. But in 20 minutes he had no bidders. The people had come out to gawk at him, not bid," Richards said. "Also, no one would move into Simpson's house, so he allowed him to stay. His last day there was spent going around to collect money from his tenants."
The grist mill was sold in 1794 and remained in operation for more than 100 years, although it was never very productive, Richards said.
This time, on his way to the Monongahela River, Washington rode through what is now Rostraver Township "and probably took what is Route 136 to what is now River Road to Monongahela City," Richards said.
He returned to Pennsylvania once more during the Whiskey Rebellion, but only as far as Bedford.
"It's possible he took a personal interest in the Whiskey Rebellion because many of the people involved with that were the same cast of characters whom he crossed paths with over the land issue," Richards said.
When remembering Washington, the historian said, "think of Braddock Field or Fort Necessity. But you also need to think of him arguing with people low on the totem pole and not being able to get rid of a grist mill. You need to think of him as a businessman, too."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates say goodbye to veteran leaders Burnett, Ramirez
- NFL notebook: Cardinals to stay in W.Va. ahead of Steelers game
- Steelers notebook: Starting DEs not leaving the field
- Pitt, WR Boyd look to break out against Virginia
- Penn-Trafford QB Laffoon sets career TD pass mark in rout of Hempfield
- Opposing TEs Miller, Gates took differing paths to greatness
- State Reps. Harhai, Daley defend tax plan votes
- Heating oil costs lowest in years
- Jeannette mom accused of drug sale with kids in car
- Rock Steelers Style, other fashion events team up for a good cause
- Sewer system lease could dissolve McKeesport’s municipal authority