Indian Trails Across Westmoreland - Braddock's Road. - Forbes' Road. - State Road. -Felgar.- Post Road.- The Main Turnpike From Pittsburgh to the East.
The old roads of Westmoreland county were in reality marked out by the Indians long before the first white man came here. There seems to be an instinct in man to follow the setting sun in his journeys, and the Red men were no exception to mankind in general in this matter. They had well defined footpaths and trails which they traveled in going from one hunting or fishing ground to another, to other neighboring tribes, to their council meetings, or to other posts, and back to their homes. As far as possible these journeys were made to lead along streams, but far enough away to avoid the low marshy grounds. Frequently these paths took an undeviating line which had evidently been directed by the unerring sun. Sometimes unchanging landmarks were-used to guide them back and forth. Later in their history their paths diverged to take advantage of unfrequented localities, but until the advent of the white race there was no necessity for this.
In their long journeys they always followed each other, "Indian fashion," path from the Allegheny across Laurel Hill. Then there was another path, greater and more important than either of these, called Nemacolin's path. This name was probably given to it by Washington, for an Indian named Nemacolin guided him over it on his first visit to western Pennsylvania, when he was sent out in the interests of the Ohio company. Nemacolin was a bright, active Delaware Indian. When Washington passed over it in 1753, it was a reasonably-well broken path, almost good enough for a wagon or a train of pack-horses.-
When Washington came to pilot Braddock to Fort Duquesne, he selected this. path, and the latter improved it and called it Braddock's road.
All these paths, it will be seen, led to the forks of the Ohio. This was,. from time immemorial, a meeting place for the Indians. Those from the north came down the Allegheny on a regular path. The paths leading north and south were not so well known generally. The Indians had paths extending all the way from Florida, through South and North Carolina and Virginia,. into Pennsylvania, terminating at the headwaters of the Ohio. Another came from Tennessee and Kentucky into Pennsylvania, and, passing Uniontown, crossed the Youghiogheny river where Braddock crossed it, thence passed through Ligonier valley, crossing the Conemaugh river and passing the head--waters of the Susquehanna, led the travelers to western New York, where the. "Six Nations" often met in holding council-fires. Along these trails the Indians traveled either visiting or hunting, and they were all well marked where the first real road making began with the advent of the white settler. These-trails were known to the white men as well, and by watching them many captures were avoided. The first settlers and explorers, such as George Crogan, Christopher Gist, Post and others, often saw them moving rapidly along these paths unconscious that their movements were being watched. Long afterward, along these routes were the ashes of the pioneer's log cabin, or the mutilated remains of its owner.
The Indians who inhabited Westmoreland county originally were the Delawares and the Shawnees. The depredations committed were only in part by these races, for along these old trails came more hostile tribes than either of these, from New York, northern Pennsylvania and the west. Generally the Delawares were more friendly or more nearly friendly than any other tribe. There was a trail which left the Allegheny river a short distance above the Forks at Shannopinstown, and passed southeastward across Westmoreland count- to Ligonier valley, where it intersected the main trail through the valley, going north and south, which latter crossed the Conemaugh near where New Florence now stands.
The Indians had had many towns and camps on these trials within the present limits of the county. This is evidenced by the discovery of curious pieces of pottery, implements of stone, weapons of war, club-heads, arrow-heads, darts, spear-headed flints, etc., and these being found in some sections in abundance, indicates that the race which made and used them tarried long at these places. Along these trails, too, have been found Indian graves and burl-ingplaces, these in greater numbers along them than in any other places west of the Allegheny mountains. .
Christopher Gist was, so far as we can learn, the first explorer who, crossed our county. He was a Virginia surveyor, and a woodsman of high ability. On -November 14, 1750, he arrived at "an old Indian town called Lovalhanna. on a creek of the Ohio called Kiscominetas." This was eight years before Forbes' army built a fort there. The town stood where the fort was built, that is, where the town of Ligonier now stands. The Indian chief at Loyalhanna could speak English to some extent, and directed Gist to Shannopinstown.
None of our Indian villages were of any great magnitude like they had in New York and later in the west. They were of such a character that the inhabitants could remove at any time if hunting or fishing were better elsewhere. It must further be remembered that the Indians never occupied permanently any part of our territory after the Fort Stan ix Treaty of 1768. Into these -main trails ran smaller ones, but only the leading ones are known to us. These Indians had selected good routes over which to travel, for some of our best roads were located on the trails made by the Indians. The National `Pike through southwestern Pennsylvania took a path made by the Delawares a century before it was constructed. Braddock's road, as we have said, took another, while Forbes' road was practically the same general route of the Indian trail from Shannopinstown to Loyalhanna. The Old State road, and after it the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia turnpike, took the same general direction all the way from Pittsburgh to Bedford. Of these later roads we shall now speak.
There was scarcely a session of court up to 1790 that there were not several petitions for public roads. They were, however, often to accommodate, perhaps at the time they were laid out, but one or two people, or perhaps for the benefit of a mill of some kind. At that time the county, even from its limited -exchequer, assisted in making and maintaining some of these early roads. One of these petitions, dated June 20, 1789, is headed, "The Worshipful Bench at Greensburg," and also asks for a road from "Crooked Creek to Col. Charles Campbell's." Another petition filed at April sessions, 1789, asks for a road to begin at a "May-pole in Greensburg, etc." In still another, Greensburg is styled the "Metropolis." All these roads then laid out were to be twenty-five feet wide.
On September 25, 1785, the legislature passed an act providing for the construction of a road, the eastern end or Westmoreland part of which, when built, was known as the State road. The act appropriated 52000 to open this road from the western part of Cumberland county to Pittsburgh, a distance of over one hundred miles, or less than twenty dollars per mile. It also authorized the council to appoint a commission to lay it out, and provided that it should be made as straight and direct a line as the hills and mountains would admit. It was to be sixty feet wide. The council had unlimited authority to refuse all locations determined on by the commission. It was surveyed and laid out at once, and the report of the commission for that part of it lying east of Bedford was confirmed November 24. 1787. The part from Bedford to Pittsburgh was refused a confirmation, and a resurvey was ordered. The western section of Pennsylvania, particularly Westmoreland and Allegheny counties, was greatly in need of the road. It may be asked why a new road was needed from Bedford to Pittsburgh- when the Forbes road traversed that very locality. The explanation is very simple. The Forbes road was a military road purely. It was, moreover, made for the sole purpose of transporting an army through a wilderness infested with a stealthy and barbarous enemy. As-such, a precursory glance at the topography of the country will show that it was very wisely laid out. What Forbes endeavored most to do was to avoid the possibility of ambuscades or surprises on the part of the Indians, and to dog this most effectually, he kept on the highest ground possible. To illustrate, he-crossed Laurel Hill at a high, though not at its highest point, and crossed the Ligonier valley by keeping on high ground, and as far as convenient from the narrow bottom of the Loyalhanna. Except when necessary for them to do so, the route did not come near the low ground skirting the Loyalhanna; even in going to. Fort Ligonier, which was perhaps necessarily built on its banks, they kept on high ground. But for this desire to keep on high grounds he could have gone down the Loyalhanna water-gap through the Chestnut Ridge on almost level but low ground. After leaving the Loyalhanna he kept on the highest possible ground, that is, on the dividing ridge between the tributaries of the Loyalhanna and Kiskiminetas rivers on the north, and those of the Sewickley and Youghiogheny on the south. So his road, often called in those days the "King's road," was not suited for a public road in many places in times of peace. It was so steep in sections of it that wagoners tied trees to their rear axle which, by dragging on the ground, let them down slowly. Braddock's road was laid out according to the same principle in engineering. - o other consideration than to protect his army from being surprised while in a narrow valley, by Indians on higher ground, would have prompted them to cross the Monongahela river twice in four miles when approaching Fort Duquesne.
The western end of the Old State road was finally approved after several surveys, on May 26, 1i90, and was very soon opened up for public travel. It entered the county east of Laughlintown, and passed through that village, crossing the Loyalhanna and then passed a mile south of the present location of Ligonier, and passed over the Chestnut Ridge to the west of the Loyalhanna gap, and thence down the western slope of the Ridge to Youngstown. It was on this old road that General St. Clair resided in his declining years. The road then passed through Greensburg and Adamsburg, leaving Irwin a short distance to the north, and thence out of the county directly towards Turtle Creek. When it was laid out in 1791, none of the above places had an existence at all as villages, except Greensburg. It had been the county-seat for five years, and had a growing population. Villages and tavern stands sprung up all along the route. Near the tavern a blacksmith and a wagon maker located and soon others came. - The location of the Old State Road is more nearly the location of-the present turnpike, which came much later. It was over the Old State road that transportation by pack-horses reached its highest point. Strong wagons, with now and then a carriage, also passed over it, but from the limited amount of money expended upon it we may be assured that it was never a complete-highway even for that day. ` It served its purpose, however, and over it came-many new settlers both for this section and the boundless west. A mail route
was established and finally carried over it regularly by express riders on horse-.back. Mail was often sent by private individuals who chanced to be passing over the road. Many a letter now important to its as indicating the early condition of our people, was carried across the mountains in the pocket of a casual passerby on this road to the east. Prior to the completion of this road, that is about 1784, the people tried by private subscriptions to have mail carried regularly- between Pittsburgh and the east, but it failed. In 1786 James Brison was authorized by the national government to establish a post route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. This was, of course, on the Forbes road as far east as Bedford, but it was not a regularly kept up mail route for many years after that. The Greensburg and Indiana Register of November 12, 1812, seems to hail with o great joy the fact that a regular mail route was then recently established between Bedford and Greensburg. The rider, as was proposed, left Greensburg o every Saturday morning, and passed through Youngstown, Laughlintown, Stoystown, etc., etc., reaching Bedford on Sunday evening. He also carried mail to patrons on the way, somewhat after the manner of our present rural carriers, and for this he received extra compensation.
It was the custom then, as now, for the postmaster to advertise unclaimed .letters. The following is a list that appeared in the Greensburg Register October 1, 1798, and shows the method of addressing letters when we had but few postoffices:
"Hugh Abbercrombery, Blacklick Settlement, Armstrong township." "Michael Berry, three miles from Greensburg, near Brush Creek, care of Mr. Clark in Greensburg."
"Rev. Matthew Henderson, at the Forks of the Yough, care of John Kirkpatrick, Greensburg."
"James Welsh, Judge, Quemahoning township, near Laurel Hill, care of o Col. Rudgers Taylor, Greensburg."
Quemahoning township is in Somerset county, about thirty miles from Greensburg. The Forks of the Yough is most nearly represented by the present location of McKeesport.
Colonel Morgan, an Indian agent appointed by Congress, is generally regarded as the first man who crossed the Allegheny mountains in a carriage, but o he did not traverse our county. That honor is due to Dr. Schoep, who was a German physician and naturalist. He crossed over the mountains on the Forbes road in 1783. After returning to Germany he published an account of his trip, which was printed in 1788 and has been translated. From it we learn o that his carriage was a great curiosity all the way westward. As he passed the lonely cabins in the wilderness, the women and children came to look with wonder and admiration at this new and peculiar method of travel. When he arrived in Pittsburgh his carriage was for days the chief object of interest in the village. He says that Many well dressed gentlemen and highly adorned ladies o came to his tavern to see it."
All wagons and carriages in that early period were necessarily clumsy affairs. The tires on the wheels were put on in sections, each section being about the one-eighth of a circle, and they were bolted to the felloe, or wooden part of the wheel, which alone necessitated great heavy wheels, and all other parts were made in proportion.
The first line of coaches was put on the read by the way of Lancaster, Harrisburg, Carlisle, Bedford, Stoystown, Somerset, Greensburg and Pittsburgh, in about 1804, but it was neither successful nor regular. The trip took about seven days, and the roughness of the roads precluded the possibility of driving at night. In 1805 a mail coach was put on the road, to go east as far as Chambersburg, for from that place east the mail facilities were much better. Its coming was widely heralded and the citizens collected to see it. Doubtless they. like we wondered if the next generation would witness such vast improvements as the past had wrought. But the same generation, when yet Young, saw the present turnpike completed and could ride from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in two and a half days by riding at night.
There was then no road between Somerset and Greensburg, and a petition was presented to the legislature for state aid in the construction of such a highway. They represented that two chains of mountains with but few settlers intervened between the two places, and that the travel was very great. The sum of $Soo was appropriated for this road, and it was constructed at once. The Westmoreland part of this road was known as the Felgar road, it taking its name from a man who kept a tavern on the top of Laurel -Mountain. In 1809 a road was projected from Somerset to Jones' mills, Mount Pleasant and Connellsville.
The great road in Westmoreland county was the turnpike, which passes nearly through its center, running east and west. It had two corporate names in our county. The western section was known as the Pittsburgh and Greensburg Turnpike Company, and the eastern section as the Greensburg and Stoystown Turnpike Company. Its history dates back to February 24, 1806, when the legislature authorized the governor of Pennsylvania to incorporate a company to build a turnpike from the west bank of the Susquehanna at Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. The act provided that the road should he called the Harrisburg and Pittsburgh Turnpike Company. But, by an act passed March 31, 1897, supplementing the act of i8o6, it was arranged that it should be built in sections, and that each section should be a complete company or corporation. The second act also fixed the route through Carlisle, Shippensburg, Chambersburg, McConnellsburg, Bedford, Stoystown, and Greensburg.
The Northern Turnpike, so called to distinguish it from the Greensburg pike, had its origin in an act of March 20, 1787, which provided for the making of a road from the Frankstown branch of the Juniata river to the Conemaugh river. It came into our county a short distance west of Blairsville. In an act of iSoo its location was changed somewhat so that its final course was through New Alexandria, New Salem, and 1Iurrvville. These roads became rivals in their construction, and this very much delayed the building of either of them for the reason that a later act of Assembly authorized the Governor of the Commonwealth to subscribe $300,000 on the part of the state to any Turnpike Company when there should be $150,000 subscribed by the citizens of the counties through which the turnpike passed. Both companies wanted the $300,000 state subscription. Finally commissioners were appointed by the governor to go over the routes and determine which should be taken up by the state. These commissioners reported in favor of the Greensburg route, and they extended the time for building the road for three years from April 2, 18ii. By an advertisement in the Greensburg Register of May 20, 1812, the books of the company were opened for stock subscriptions at the house of Simon Drum, Sr., on June 3rd, at 10 o'clock. In 1816 another notice appears offering to let contracts for certain sections of it yet unfinished. The road was built accordingly and was completed through Westmoreland county in 1818, parts of it having been in use a year or so earlier. The name turnpike, as applied to a road, originated from the fact that a pike or pole was placed across the road at the toll house, which prevented the traveler from passing until he paid his toll, when the pike or pole was turned around, and he was allowed to pass through. As its name indicated, this was a toll road, and from the proceeds the stockholders were to be paid their dividends. Toll was collected about every twelve miles, and though the rates may have varied somewhat under different managers, the following list of rates does not vary much if any from the amounts charged throughout its entire life as a toll road:,
RATES OF TOLL ON THE STOYSTOWN AND GREENSBURG
TURNPIKE ROAD: FOR EVERY TEN DIILES ON SAID ROAD:
For Swine, Sheep and Cattle, viz.:
Forevery score of swine ..................................................6 cents
Forevery score of swine ..................................................3 cents
Forevery score of sheep .................................................6 cents
Forevery 3 score of sheep .............................................3 cents
Forevery score of cattle ...............................................10 cents
Forevery 54 score of cattle ............................................5 cents
For ever- horse or mule, laden or unladen, led or drove ..... 6 cents
For every sulky, chair or chaise, with one horse .................12 cents
For every chair, coach, phaeton chaise, sulker and light wagon with
twohorses .......................................................................25 cents
For either of them, with four horses ...............................50 cents
For every other carriage of pleasure it may go to like stun according
to the number of horses drawing the same.
For every sleigh or sled, for each horse ..............................6 cents
For every cart, wagon or other carriage of burthen the wheels of which
do not in breadth exceed four inches. per horse ......................12 cents
For every cart. wagon or other carriage of burthen the wheels of which
do exceed in breath four inches, per horse ............................8 cents
And when any such carriage aforesaid, the whole or part is drawn by oxen, two oxen shall be estimated as equal to one horse in charging the aforesaid toll.
No Toll shall be demanded from any person or persons passing or re-passing from one part of their farm to another. Nor from any persons attending funerals, or going to and from places of worship. (Republican-Democrat Print, Greensburg.)
The building of a turnpike road was quite a big undertaking for that day and generation, fully as much so as the building of a railroad across the state is with us. It was moreover of great importance to the people, and improved our county more than any other highway prior to the construction of the Pennsylvania railroad. Next to the National Pike advocated so long by the matchless Henry Clay, it was the most complete road of any extent in Western Pennsylvania in its day. It wound over mountains and through fertile valleys, and on it was displayed some very good engineering. It has been censured because in some places it passed over hills, when it might have gone over lower and more level ground. But the object of the engineer was to secure dry ground, to pass through rich sections of farm land, and through hamlets which might become busy centers of population, thus affording traffic for the road. Sometimes they were compelled to pass over a hill, or forfeit the subscription of a wealthy landowner. Then our low grounds were covered with timber and were much more marshy than they are now, and the popular idea of road constructing was to keep on high and dry ground. The funds for its construction were limited. With these matters being considered, we doubt whether its general location could have been much better than it was. The engineering is much better in the mountains than through the agricultural sections, owing to theo above reasons. There is perhaps only one place in its course through Chestnut Ridge where it could be improved. Going up the western side of Laurel Hill and zigzaging down the more precipitous eastern slope, its course could not be improved by our best modern engineers. Likewise it passes over the Allegheny mountains, going up the western side in a straight line for seven miles, and passing down the eastern side by a system of curves and turns which our advanced science of engineering would not in any way improve on. In the mountains the engineers were free to select the best routes, and they should be judged by their work there rather than by such parts as they could not locate exactly where they thought proper.
Source: Page(s) 234-241, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2008 for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
Westmoreland County Genealogy Project Notice:
These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format, for any presentation, without prior written permission.
Return to Westmoreland County History Project
Return to Westmoreland County Home Page
(c) Westmoreland County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project