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Perryopolis History

Authored by: Gladys Powell

Perryopolis Borough Circle in Fayette County
Perryopolis Borough Circle in Fayette County

Perryopolis 1814

The town was officially laid out in 1814 and was named for Oliver Hazard Perry for his victory on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Previously it was known as New Boston where some homes had been erected as early as 1804. One of the original settlers was John Wilgus, who had come from his native state of New Jersey in 1804 and settled in Washington's Bottoms.

General La Fayette dined here in 1825 on his way from Uniontown to Fayette City and Pittsburgh. William Jennings Bryan stopped for a brief visit in 1908. Other famous visitors included Richard Hobson, a hero of the War of 1812; Samuel Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives; James Byrne, Speaker of the House and James Montgomery the Chaplain of the House of Representatives. Probably our most famous visitors were Harry S. Truman, and his daughter Margaret. They arrived in town on November 2, 1944 and were entertained by former Congressman J. Buell Snyder. The occasion was Mr. Truman's campaign for the Vice Presidency of the United States of America.

George Washington's Grist Mill - 1776
Washington's Grist Mill As early as 1769-1770 George Washington owned over 1600 acres of land upon which the town of Perryopolis lies. Colonel Crawford's part in the purchase of these lands is recorded in Washington's diary dated October 15, 1770. The diary also tells of Washington's trip to this vicinity at a later date.

In 1774, the construction of Washington's Mill was begun under the direction of Gilbert Simpson, but due to trouble with the Indians and the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the Mill was not completed until the fall of 1776.

It was not until the fall of 1779, that Washington leased the Mill along with 150 acres of land to Colonel Israel Shreve, a hero of the Revolutionary War, for a term of five years. Washington died in 1799, never having conveyed the tracts under the Articles of Agreement to Colonel Shreve, who also died the same year. In 1803 the five tracts of property were conveyed to the heirs of Israel Shreve. The greater part of this historic property passed from the heirs of Israel Shreve to Issac Meason and then to John Rice.

The Mill itself passed to Powell Hough, to John Strickler and Jacob Strawn. Strawn's heirs sold it to George Anderson, who repaired it in 1859, and later sold it to Samuel Smith. The Mill today belongs to Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority.

Searight Fulling Mill - 1815
Fulling Mills were erected on some convenient stream. As early as 1815, Jonathan Hewitt had a fulling mill and a saw mill at the mouth of Washington Run. The site was bought by John Bradley who later established a brickyard a short distance north of Washington's Grist Mill.

William Searight was of Scotish-Irish descent, a man of unusual business ability and of remarkable insight. About the year 1815, he erected a large fulling mill at Perryopolis. This was a stone building and still stands in good repair. It is believed to be the only fulling mill still standing in the United States. When the factory system was introduced in the United States and railroads were being built at a rapid pace, Searight sold the mill and bought a farm on Route 40 near the crossroads of what is now known as Searight.

First Bank West of the Alleghenies
As early as 1816 the Youghiogheny Bank of Pennsylvania was established in Perryopolis, and was included in a list of unlawful banks, (with individuals and corporations issuing order or notes in the nature of bank notes), which the State Treasurer published in 1822. During the administration of Andrew Jackson 1829-1837, a bank was again established in the building and for a time functioned as one of the few state banks.

It has been used as a school, a Methodist Church, a store, a pool room, fruit stand and a restaurant.

About 1938 Dr. William R. Vernon purchased the building and used it as an office for his medical practice. Later he had constructed, an adjoining stone residence for himself and his wife. This building has been turned into a museum.

The Distillery - Circa 1820
This building was built in the early 1800's and was used as a distillery in conjunction with Washington's Grist Mill. Located in the same area, or possibly in the same building, was a cooperage.

The structure burned in the 1970's and all that remains are the original stones. It is in the process of being reconstructed to its original form.

These two buildings are owned by the Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority.

Gue House - Circa 1820
A log home built around 1820 and reconstructed in 1976, currently houses the Gue House Gallery.

This reconstructed log house, the only one still standing in Perryopolis, is a representation of the type of house built by early settlers of the town. No exact date exists for this structure but it was of the early 1800's. This is the type of home that John Wilgus, one of the first settlers in Perryopolis, would have lived in. Local legend has it that this was the first complete two-story log cabin in Pennsylvania.

It is owned by the Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority and operates as a part of the Time Gift Shop and Visitors Center.

The Providence Meeting House
The Providence Meeting House, 2 miles west of Perryopolis, is built on land purchased by the Quakers in 1789. The original Meeting House was a log structure and was replaced by a stone building in 1795. The present chapel was rebuilt in 1892 from the stones of the 1795 building. The early Quakers rest in the surrounding cemetery along side their nineteenth and twentieth century descendents.

St. Nicholas Church
Construction of the basement of this building was finished in 1912. From 1912 - 1918, services were held in the basement while the rest of the church was constructed. The first Divine Services were held on Easter Sunday, 1918.

The Methodist Church
The Methodist Church was the first church to establish itself in Perryopolis and was a part of the Redstone Circuit. By 1881 the membership had grown to 75 people and the present church was erected. It has been in continuous use since 1888.

Mary Fuller Frazier Birthplace - Circa 1816
On August 16, 1948, the citizens of Perryopolis were startled to learn that their town had been bequeathed, by Mary Fuller Frazier, almost two million dollars ($1,500,000).

Mary Fuller Frazier's immigrant ancestor migrated to America from Ireland in 1775. Her descendants farmed the broad acres that they had acquired near Perryopolis, and were comfortable well to-do when coal was discovered under part of this land.

Mary Fuller's parents were David and Diane (Strickler) Fuller, who lived in Perryopolis. Mary spent most of her childhood with her uncle, Alfred Fuller, who amassed quite a fortune in the cattle business. He was one of the first Americans to ship beef to Europe via the freezing method. When he died he left his niece an estimated fortune of five million dollars.

The home of her grandfather, Jacob Strickler, where she was born is now owned by the Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority.

Outdoor Bakery
This building was part of the Grist Mill Complex. No record exists as to when it was constructed but it probably dates to about 1850. It has been partially reconstructed, as it was originally a two story building, but the original oven exists and will be used during Pioneer Days. The baker and his family lived above and conducted business from the basement.

The structure is currently owned by the Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority.

George Washington Mill Run Park
The Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority owns a little over 100 acres of land running from Perryopolis to the Youghiogheny River.

On this 100 acres of land is the Mill complex consisting of the reconstructed foundation of the George Washington Grist Mill, the reconstructed Distillery, the Fulling Mill and the restored Bakery.

This land has the potential of providing parking facilities, a park area, an Indian Cultural Center, a future site of the Pioneer Days Festival and room for a Coal and Coke Museum.

This land borders of the abandoned railroad right-of-way which is to be part of the Bike Trail that will go from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

It is located on the road that leads to Linden Hall. Linden Hall, which lies about four miles east, was the estate of James and Sarah B. Cochran. James Cochran was the first man to ship coke down the Youghiogheny River to Pittsburgh.

The information above was taken from the following resources:

  • Visit Historic Perryopolis the town designed by George Washington - published by The Perryopolis Area Heritage Association
  • Master Plan for the reconstruction of George Washington's Grist Mill, the Development of Washington Mill Park and Local Historical Sites - published by The Perryopolis Area Heritage Association

And made possible by Gladys Powell.

Posted: Jun 19, 2000

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