The one constant that runs through our region's history is the Youghiogheny River. This magnificent natural resource was what first attracted animals and then native Americans like the Delaware and the Kanhawhas into this region long before the Europeans arrived in North America. Our area was important for hunting and travel. Several Indian trails, such as the Nemacolin and the Catawba, crossed through the area that is now Connellsville. The heavily forested area was home to numerous species of fur bearing animals. Once Europeans began moving into this region in the early 18th century, they found the potential for great wealth in fur trade. Furs could be shipped back to Europe and sold for great profit. The French, who first settled in Canada, had always been attracted by the furs and the network of rivers that made up the Ohio River system which included our Youghiogheny River. Furs had to be transported to market, and rivers have always been nature's highways. By the 1740s, French trappers had penetrated into our region. English long hunters and trappers and the Virginia based Ohio Company began to push across the Appalachian Mountains to explore, trap and to settle the Ohio Valley at approximately the same time. One of the earliest pioneers in the Connellsville area was Christopher Gist, a surveyor for the Ohio Company. He surveyed great areas around Connellsville and settled himself at what he called Mount Braddock, close to what is now the Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport along Route 119. Also the Stewart brothers from Virginia settled for a short period along the Youghiogheny and saw a chance to make some income by transporting travelers by flatboat across the Youghiogheny River. Evidently, enough travelers headed to where this service was available that early maps of our region listed this river crossing as Stewart's Crossing (now Connellsville). This crossing area is in the vicinity of today's Crawford's Cabin on the banks of the Youghiogheny River.
STEWART'S CROSSING AROUND 1908
England and France, being the two main European super powers in the 18th century, became rivals for control of North America, particularly the Ohio River Valley due to its valuable fur trade and natural network of river transportation. The rivalry became the basis of the War for Empire known as the Seven Years War in Europe and the French and Indian War in America. This war lasted from 1754 to 1763 in America. This early world war began in our area at Jumonville where young Colonel George Washington, commanding Virginia troops along with Half King and his Indians, attacked a French scouting party in late May, 1754. These were the opening shots of the French and Indian War. Other outstanding natural resources in the Connellsville area were the oak trees, iron ore and later coal that lay the foundation for an early iron and steel industry. Early settlers went into the boat and barge construction business in the late 1700s as more people moved west. People headed toward the Youghiogheny River at Stewart's Crossing, after crossing the Allegheny Mountains, to continue their westward travel by water. Products such as skillets, tea kettles and spoons manufactured in the Connellsville area were shipped down the Youghiogheny to the Monongahela and then to the Ohio. Some of these Connellsville goods eventually made the trip all the way to the Mississippi reaching New Orleans. The Youghiogheny was our early artery that connected Connellsville industrialists with the outside world where we had the opportunity to share our area's wealth with the rest of the United States. This excellent location along the Youghiogheny River attracted Zachariah Connell, one of the earliest settlers to this region. He was born in Virginia in 1741, and came to Fayette County after 1770. Connell was employed as a surveyor and land agent for several people including Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia. He was known as an able and highly respected judge of land. Seeing this area as a natural stopping place for travelers who wanted to build rafts and float them down the river, Connell surveyed a tract od land on the east bank of the Youghiogheny for himself containing 147 acres which he called "Mud Island." He also surveyed a new town composed of 180 quarteracre lots, and secured a charter for the borough of Connellsville on March21, 1793. The new town was named in honor of Zachariah Connell. The Bill for the Incorporation of Connellsville became law by The Act of Assembly passed March 1, 1806. The founder of Connellsville died in 1813, and is buried on a hill overlooking East Francis Avenue.
Click on the link above (a new window will open) to view the newly installed stained glass window depicting the Mt. Vernon Iron Furnace placed in the Society's future home - THE GIBSON HOUSE on West Patterson Avenue. It was designed and crafted by Society Member and Fayette County Cultural Trust Vice-President Dan Cocks. The stained glass was purchased through Youghiogheny Opalescent Glass in Connellsville and Dan donated his skill, craftsmanship and time. It was installed by Dan and Michael Edwards on Saturday, April 25, 2009.