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Greene County

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Greene County, at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania, has been a crossroads for millennia. Round stockaded villages of prehistoric tribes preceded the Shawnee and Delaware, who later encountered the early English and French explorers. Colonial British settlement began in the mid-eighteenth century after the last major Native American uprising. Virginians and Marylanders moved into the area with their slaves, seeking to extend the plantation system through the Monongahela River valley and to claim the area as a Virginia county. Virginia encouraged settlement by offering larger land patents for lower prices than Pennsylvania and by sending troops to fend off Native American attacks. When Greene County was officially declared a part of Pennsylvania in 1784, the 1780 law limiting slavery in Pennsylvania prompted many of the area's southern families to move to Kentucky. The John B. Gordon House ( GR7) is an excellent example of a Virginia farm whose family chose to remain. Greene County was formed in 1796 and named for Nathanael Greene, one of George Washington's generals during the Revolutionary War; a statue of Greene stands atop the courthouse in Waynesburg ( GR1).

Greene County's landscape is breathtaking: ridges, valleys, and streams contribute to the wild natural beauty. Creeks in the eastern two-thirds of the county drain into the Monongahela River, while those in the west flow through the panhandle of West Virginia into the Ohio River. The Monongahela River on Greene County's eastern border acted as a major highway for the developing country, especially after 1856 when locks and dams could maintain a constant water level to provide longer shipping periods. Several older houses oriented to the river's edge provide evidence that Greene County's river towns preceded the canalization of the river and served as early trading centers. Because of the hilly topography, transportation has often been problematic in Greene County, although certain parts of present-day PA 218 and PA 18 have been in continuous use since before European contact. Seven late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century wooden covered bridges ( GR14), many of which are rebuilt and maintained by local landowners, facilitated transportation; an annual festival throughout the county celebrates their survival.

In 1807, the first glassworks was founded at Greensboro and the industry operated until the Civil War. Later, locally made salt-glazed stoneware Greensboro and New Geneva crocks were shipped nationwide via the Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers. During the mid-1800s, livestock farming, primarily sheep, was the main source of revenue for Greene County. By 1840, there were nine fulling mills and four woolen manufacturers, all now demolished. Greene and Washington counties together continue to have the largest number of sheep of any county in Pennsylvania, although today's numbers are greatly reduced. Poor transportation systems in the early twentieth century, cheap imported wool, and a reduction in demand for wool all contributed to the industry's decline.

Below the tree-covered hillsides of farms and small villages lies the greatest concentration of natural gas pipelines and coal mines in western Pennsylvania. The coal reserves in Greene County alone exceed all the coal in the remainder of the state. The largest underground mine in the United States, the Bailey and Enlow Fork Mine owned by Consolidation Coal, is located near Wind Ridge. Bobtown and Nemacolin are model coal patch towns. Greene County's gas industry began with a well drilled at Rice's Landing in 1860, only one year after the discovery of oil at Drake's Well in Venango County. By 1906, over 1,300 gas and oil wells had been drilled in Greene County. However, the large-scale discovery of oil in Texas overshadowed Greene County's oil production, and the largest drillers went south. During World War II, two pipelines were laid across the county to protect the United States from disruptions to its oil supply. They were converted to carry natural gas after the war when Texas and Oklahoma gas companies began to ship gas to Greene County, where it was stored and distributed as far as New England. Natural gas continues to be stored today in an enormous formation of gas “sands” called the Holbrook Reserve in Aleppo Township.

There were no major railroads through the county until the early twentieth century, when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad acquired the right-of-way. The coal companies added a branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad along the Monongahela River and up Tenmile Creek to Mather in 1917–1918 to transport coal to Pittsburgh's steel mills. The completion of I-79 through Greene County in the 1960s and 1970s was the biggest influence on twentieth-century development. It opened the county to Pittsburgh to the north and Morgantown, West Virginia, to the south. As a result, several suburban developments spread over the rolling hills east of Waynesburg in the 1980s. While coal mining remains a major industry in Greene County, it employs fewer and fewer people, relying instead on mechanized mining. Today, one of the largest employers in Greene County is the maximum security state prison east of Waynesburg.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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