Situated at the northernmost point of Cumberland Valley between Wills Mountain on the west and Evitts Mountain on the east, Bedford (initially called Raystown) was established at the point where the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River cuts through Evitts Mountain. A strategic site, important in the campaigns of the 1750s against the French and their Indian allies, it was a good place for traders to settle in the 1760s. Fort Bedford (demolished in 1758; museum constructed in 1958, north end of S. Juliana Street) was not too isolated from Fort Cumberland, Maryland, to the southwest, which opened the possibility of new markets on the frontier. The first permanent settlers, all Scots-Irish, arrived in the early 1760s. In 1765, John Lukens was ordered by Pennsylvania's royal governor, John Penn, to lay out two hundred lots, lanes and alleys, and a “commodious square.” He submitted the plan in 1766.
In 1793, the state legislature appropriated funds to upgrade the Great Pennsylvania Road between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which roughly followed the route of the old Forbes Road. Within a decade, a constant stream of Conestoga wagons and stagecoaches making the journey from east to west flowed through Bedford. In 1794, Bedford played a strategic role as the rendezvous point for 7,000 federal troops called out to subdue the Whiskey Rebellion. President George Washington came to Bedford to command the troops. He stayed for four days in the Espy house on Pitt Street ( BD10). This was the only time in the nation's history that a sitting president took to the field to command his troops.
Although located at the intersection of a major north–south route through Cumberland Valley and an east–west route through the Allegheny Mountains, Bedford was never a manufacturing town. It prospered as the county seat and as a transportation hub providing food and lodging to travelers. It was not until twenty years after the Pennsylvania Railroad connected Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in 1852 that Bedford finally established a rail connection.
Bedford's buildings date as early as the late eighteenth century ( BD10). Between 1814 and the 1850s, Solomon Filler (1797–1855) designed handsome Federal and Greek Revival brick buildings in Bedford, which remain remarkably intact ( BD1, BD8, BD11). The commercial district has several Second Empire buildings in the 100 block of E. Pitt Street, as well as the Hotel Pennsylvania, a five-story maroon brick building c. 1910. Contractor-builder George Harrison Gibboney (1859–1929) built at least five homes in Bedford in the first decades of the twentieth century, and many more in the Everett area, where his Cottage Planing Mill operated. Bedford's modern commercial growth has remained just far enough north of the city that the character of its older commercial and civic functions downtown has survived. The influx of visitors to the Bedford Springs Hotel after 1806 ( BD16) and, after the Civil War, to the Chalybeate Springs Hotel ( BD15), made Bedford a traveler's destination. Although the means of transportation changed from carriages to railroads and, in the 1920s, to automobiles, tourism in Bedford County itself has changed very little.
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