History of the County
Delafield employed the Macadam method of constructing the road surface, so named for its developer. Delafield also drew the plans and specifications for the six tollhouses to be built in PA. Of those two remain standing, Gate 1 at Addison, Somerset County and Gate 3 at Searights, Fayette County. Toll keepers and their families would live in these lighthouse like structures so tolls could be collected whenever a wagon, stage or drover would appear.
One of Delafield's greatest engineering triumphs was his design of a cast iron bridge built over Dunlaps Creek in Brownsville. Built in 1835 it was the first cast iron bridge in America and is in constant use today as part of Brownsville's Market Street. It is a National Historic Landmark and winner of engineering awards.
Travel on the National Road, so titled in an address to Congress on June 6, 1832 by the Honorable T.M.T. McKennan, thrived. Inns, taverns, wagon stands were located all along the road. There were stage coach inns for those who could afford coach travel, drovers inns and taverns, where a drover could get a meal, a place to sleep, grazing for his animals and all the whiskey he could drink for about $1.75.
The National Road and its associated businesses thrived until the advent of the railroad which reached Wheeling in 1852. Traffic on the National Road declined and the last toll was taken in transaction in 1905.
In addition to an agrarian economy, Fayette County's rich resources allowed the development of various industries. Fayette lead the way in iron under the leadership of men like Meason, Hayden ,and Oliphant; glass at New Geneva and Brownsville early in the 19th century and later centered in Pt. Marion and Connellsville; paper on Redstone Creek. 1789 saw the first iron furnaces which utilized local iron ore to forge into farm implements and household products. Ironmaster Isaac Meason experimented with producing coke, a product formed by burning the impurities out of coal. In 1817 he used coke at his Plumsock Works in Uppermiddletown. This was nearly pure carbon and would later be used in the steel and iron mills in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. In 1843 James, Little Jim, Cochran first sold coke outside the region giving rise to the expansive coke industry. The demand for coal to produce this coke resulted in deep mines and beehive coke ovens throughout Fayette County. The first beehive oven was built in 1841. At one time there were 44,000 beehive coke ovens traversing Fayette County from the Chestnut Ridge to the area around Fairchance and Smithfield in the south.
Information for this article has been gleaned from five main sources:
"Fayette at the Crossroads" by Walter J. Storey, Jr. PA Heritage Quarterly, Fall, 1983; the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
"The Old Pike A History of the National Road", T. B. Searight
"Annals of Southwestern Pennsylvania" Lewis Clark Walkinshaw
"Cloud By Day A History of Coal and Coke and People " Muriel Earley