Perryopolis, Fayette County, Pennsylvania
|Perryopolis, a rural community rich in Americana, is situated on land that was owned by George Washington. Located along State Route 51 in Southwestern Pennsylvania, it is 33 miles south of Pittsburgh, 14 miles north of Uniontown, 5 miles south of I-70, and 17 miles from New Stanton (exit 8) on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Established in 1814, Perryopolis contains remnants of many early buildings and colonial industries, including: George Washingtons gristmill, built in 1776 as a business enterprise; an 1815 fulling mill; a distillery from the Whiskey Rebellion era; a 19th century bakery; a two story log house; an 1817 State Bank; a 1774 blockhouse; and only two miles from town a Quaker meeting house that dates from the early 19th century. Several other buildings, built in the early 1900s, are on the Pennsylvania Historic Register: Karolciks Theater, St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church, and a blacksmiths shop.
Perryopolis is one of the few earlier towns that was actually planned, laid out with predetermined lots and streets, and recorded in the county courthouse. At the time of planning, the newly established United States was again involved in a war with England, the War of 1812. News of Oliver Hazard Perrys victory on Lake Erie was sweeping the nation, and it was soon decided to name the town in honor of that great hero.
Central Perryopolis is laid out like a wheel, Washington Diamond being the hub, with Independence and Liberty Streets radiating outward like spokes. Many other street names also take one back to our country's earliest history: Federal, Constitution, Republican, Penn, and Hancock to name a few. Washington Diamond, known locally as the circle, still retains the old red brick surface that was laid down in c.1913.
When land in Southwestern Pennsylvania first became available for purchase, George Washington had his agent, William Crawford, secure 1,644 acres for him. Until his death in 1799 Washington owned much of the ground where Perryopolis now sits. Washington first visited his property in October, 1770, and described the land in his diary as as fine a land as I have ever seen, a great deal of rich meadow; it is well watered and has a valuable mill seat. The mill Washington referred to was completed in 1776 and as often happened to an area, other industries soon followed. A distillery was built, the first State bank west of the Allegheny Mountains was established, William Searight built a large fulling mill near Washington Run Creek, and a sawmill, pottery factory, glass factory, tannery, and brick yard were also here at one time.
The fertile land of which Washington spoke so highly drew many people to the area, and the outlying community was principally agrarian... until the discovery of coal. This discovery completely changed the social and economic structure of the town. The coal industry began to develop in the 1890s and peaked in 1917. Practically all the surrounding vicinity was underlaid with coal. The valley above Perryopolis known as Stickel Hollow, and later as Star Junction, had nearly a thousand coke ovens going full blast at one time.
After the coal industry declined, families sought work outside of Perryopolis at steel mills, factories, and other businesses. Today many residents commute to these larger employment areas.
TKD, Sec. PAHS, 7/2000
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