Leechburg namesake David Leech to receive Pennsylvania historic marker
David Leech’s innovative network of freight forwarders in the 1800s will be honored with a state historic marker that will be dedicated next month at the Leechburg Area Museum and Historical Society.
What is now Leechburg was home to fewer than a dozen families in the 1820s. Most of their business activity involved preparing salt, according to local history enthusiast Larry Boehm of Leechburg.
David Leech arrived in the area and started a business along the Kiski River in about 1829, Boehm said.
“He knew what he wanted to do. Leech had a contract to build a dam,” Boehm said Monday.
Leech apparently used that work as a springboard to start other businesses and eventually established a network of freight forwarders that made state history, according to Karen Galle, who works with the historic marker program for the Pennsylvania Historical and Preservation Commission.
“Certainly, it was the largest and most successful of that type of company,” she said.
The company shipped to St. Louis, New Orleans and into Kentucky and the Northeast,” he said.
Soon after Leech got to work, he used the dam to power a lumber mill he established and then used the mill to build canal boats and a canal.
Mules were used to pull canal boats and their tow path is roughly where Canal Street is now located, Boehm said. The Leechburg Fire Co. controls the right-of-way along the Kiski River behind its station.
Leech’s lumberyard was in an area that today goes from River to Second streets.
Boehm said Leech next started what was likely the first freight forwarding company in the state, and possibly the nation, to link canal businesses across the Northeast to move commerce, Boehm said.
As an example, Boehm said if a Boston business wanted to ship goods to New Orleans, the “way to do it in the 1830s was to contact Leech and he got it done, with each canal company adding a little bit to the cost.”
According to Boehm’s research, Leech apparently spent most of his time visiting canal owners and setting up a network with business agents who worked for the David Leech Co., also known as the Western Transportation Co., that he operated from 1829 to 1853.
Unlike other canal operators, Leech sold the freight forwarding business to the Pennsylvania Railroad.
“They wanted his network,” Boehm said.
Boehm said the Leechburg Museum has two stones that were used in the canal at Leechburg.
The marker will be presented from the state to the Leechburg Museum on May 18.
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter .