Zachariah Connell was already 65 years old when he laid out the town that would be his namesake in 1806. Connell was born in Virginia in 1741 and came to Fayette County after 1770 as a surveyor and land agent. 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 of land on the east bank of the Youghiogheny River for himself containing 147 acres which he called “Mud Island.” The Bill for the Incorporation of Connellsville became law by The Act of Assembly passed March 1, 1806 and the founder died in 1813; he is buried on a hill overlooking East Francis Avenue.
For fifty years, Pennsylvania’s steel industry depended to an amazing extent on a skinny strip of land, scarcely two or three miles wide and about 50 miles long, called the Connellsville Coalfield. Here, a seven-foot-thick seam of the finest metallurgical coal in the world lay exposed and ready to burn. Connellsville coal was eighty-nine percent composed of carbon, a major source of heat, and sulphur, undesirable, made up only one percent. Actual coking of the coal, a process whereby the raw material was baked into a valuable industrial fuel in a beehive oven, was first tried near Connellsville in the 1840s. The first coal to be coked in an oven here was hauled from the Plumer mine, a local pit. The first successful beehive oven was built only 300 feet from the old stone house erected by Zachariah Connell. After the Civil War a beehive coke industry gained a foothold in the region.
One of the biggest players in the game was Henry Clay Frick, who would parlay the 200 beehive ovens he owned by the age of 24 in 1873 into one of the world’s greatest fortunes. In fact for a spell during the heyday of the coke days from the 1880s to the 1920s, Connellsville was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other place in the country. At its peak in 1913, the Connellsville district’s 38,000 ovens provided fully half the entire nation’s supply of metallurgical coke. It took 2,000 railcars each day to haul it away. Most of the coke was used in blast furnaces to smelt iron ore into molten pig iron, the raw material for steel.
The demand for coke pushed many other emerging industries out, making the city along with Fayette County almost entirely dependent on both coal and coke. When better heating processes were developed, Connellsville coke was no longer needed and the industry went bust ― along with the economy of Fayette County. A few ovens remain in operation at spots throughout the region, but the industry no longer belongs to Connellsville. The coal today goes into by-product ovens where every ingredient is captured and used.
Our walking tour will begin at the Carnegie Free Library, a gift from the man whose fantastic wealth sprang from what Connellsville gave him...
Connellsville Free Library
304 South Pittsburgh Street
The Carnegie Free Library was built in 1903 with funds donated by steel manufacturer and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The Italian Renaissance building of Ohio Buff stone opened with only 2,000 books. The auditorium on the second floor has hosted many cultural activities including William Jennings Bryan, celebrated orator and oft-frustrated Presidential candidate. His speech raised such a ruckus that the library’s trustees declared that politicians would no longer be invited to speak.
CROSS THE STREET, DOWN THE HILL.
First Christian Church
212 South Pittsburgh Street
This is the third home for the First Christian congregation that was founded in 1832. The congregation was originally located at the St. John’s German Lutheran Church on South Street and later moved to North Pittsburgh Street. This handsome Romanesque church of orange brick has served the congregation for more than a century; the dedication took place on June 26, 1898.
WALK SOUTH ON PITTSBURGH STREET, UP THE HILL 9THE LIBRARY WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT).
302 South Pittsburgh Street
This four-story brick and granite building was built in the early 1900s as a Masonic temple for King Solomon’s Lodge No. 346. It was constructed in a Beaux Arts style by the Connellsville Construction Company, a busy firm at the turn of the 20th century.
First Baptist Church
301 South Pittsburgh Street
This is the oldest ecclesiastical organization in Connellsville and the fourth oldest Baptist Church in Fayette County, organizing on June 26, 1796. This fine stone structure of massive columns and symmetrical arches was designed in the English Gothic style in 1900. Including all furnishings and the organ, the building cost an estimated $40,000.
Wesley United Methodist Church
417 South Pittsburgh Street
The origin of this Church dates back into the 18th century when a Methodist class was formed in the home of Zachariah Connell, for whom Connellsville is named. In the 1790s it was a preaching stop on the Pittsburgh Circuit; the first church was a stone building dedicated in 1808 when it was only partially finished. This is the congregation’s fourth home, occupied since 1925. In 1968 First Methodist changed its name to Wesley United Methodist.
P.S. Newmyer House
507 South Pittsburgh Street
Porter S. Newmyer was a long-time attorney in town, a vice-president of the First National Bank and the owner of Connellsville’s opera house. His brick Queen Anne home on a hill was completed in 1893 and is chock full of hand-carved wood. The house now survives as a bed-and-breakfast.
First Presbyterian Church
701 South Pittsburgh Street
This church and manse were built at a cost of $18,500 in 1913. The congregation, that had organized in 1831, moved here from Main Street.
TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON AVENUE.
Pennsylvania National Guard Armory
108 West Washington Avenue
The Connellsville Armory, built in 1907, blends elements of the Tudor Revival and Late Gothic styles. Covered by a gambrel roof, the armory exterior features a coursed ashlar stone foundation, decorative brick and stone work and brick courses that form common window lintels. The armory represents the common function to serve the Pennsylvania National Guard for storage, meeting, and training.
Detour: To see a rare living tree that was presented to Olympic gold medal winners at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, turn left on South Arch Street. If not turn right. If you go to visit the tree, retrace your steps on South Arch Street to pickup the tour again.
South Arch Street
Connellsville is the only city in the United States to produce a Heisman Trophy winner as the nation’s top college football player (Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame University, 1947) and an Olympic gold medal winner (John Woodruff, 1936). Woodruff won the 800-meter run in Berlin, Germany and, in addition to his gold medal, was awarded a young tree which he presented to his hometown. The Olympic Oak was originally planted in the flower bed at the east side of the library. After Campbell Stadium, named for the family that owned the land, was completed as a Depression-era Workers Progress Administration project in 1938, the tree was replanted at the south corner near the track where John Woodruff started his career. The tree flourishes today at the re-named Falcon Stadium, John Woodruff Track/John Lujack Field and stands 78 feet tall with a trunk nearly 13 feet in diameter. It is one of only a few Olympic trees that survived.
Emory Hungarian Catholic Church
425 South Arch Street
This one-story brick structure with a spire surmounted by a cut-glass mosaic cross was built in 1905 for a congregation originally composed of about 130 Hungarian families living in Fayette and Westmoreland Counties.
United States Post Office
115 North Arch Street
The Neoclassical post office, of marble and decorative brick, was dedicated on January 5, 1913. It is now listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
RETURN TO CRAWFORD AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.
172 West Crawford Avenue at north east corner of Arch Street
Brothers Samuel and Caleb Trevor, the first successful merchants of the town, used this building as a store room and dwelling. The boys wouldn’t recognize the old store today - it has been altered, currently carrying remnants of an Italianate remodeling in the late 1800s, and the street regraded.
166 West Crawford Avenue
This two-bay Romanesque commercial building with an elaborate cornice was built in 1892. The Atkins Music Store has been in the space for a half-century.
Yough National Bank
124 West Crawford Avenue
The Yough National Bank is the oldest existing banking institution in Connellsville, chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on May 9, 1871. Its first banking office was in the Snyder Building on Water Street. This little Neoclassical vault with Ionic pilasters was home until a 1920s merger with Western Title and Trust.
104 West Crawford Avenue
This building was built in 1893 to house the W.N. Leche Dry Goods store. The facade is a pressed metal front, a popular affectation for downtown stores in the late 1800s. It is one of only six buildings remaining in Western Pennsylvania with such a facade.
Title and Trust Building
northeast corner of Pittsburgh Street and Crawford Avenue
This building was first occupied on May 1, 1901. It is constructed of Pompeian brick and Native sandstone.
TURN RIGHT ON PITTSBURGH STREET.
Colonial National Bank
101 South Pittsburgh Street at Crawford Avenue
This exuberant Beaux Arts bank building, with Ionic columns on both street elevations, was built in 1906 of white marble and pink Milford granite.
Odd Fellows Hall
107 South Pittsburgh Street
This brick temple was constructed in the early 1870s for the General Worth Lodge No. 386, International Order of Odd Fellows. It sports a particularly decorative cornice.
TURN LEFT ON EAST FAIRVIEW AVENUE.
Trinity Lutheran Church
126 East Fairview Avenue
The cornerstone for this church was laid on 1910 to replace a previous brick house of worship on Apple Street. It is built of hard, white silica stone from a quarry in South Connellsville. The outside walls are 18” thick, and the entire building is trimmed in Indiana Limestone. This congregation was organized on September 16, 1884.
Connellsville High School
201 East Fairview Avenue at Prospect Street
This school was built in 1916 to replace Cameron High School. In 1970, with the new construction again and consolidation of Connellsville Area High School, the aging school was left empty for a couple of years until the city stepped in and made it the Greater Connellsville Community Center. The building has a full-size Gymnasium, Pool, and Auditorium.
TURN RIGHT ON PROSPECT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH STREET.
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
144 East South Street
This German-English congregation was organized in the spring of 1871. It was a and continued that way until 1884 when the English Lutherans formed their own church (Trinity Lutheran #18). In the spring of 1901, the cornerstone was laid for this Gothic style church built of red and yellow brick. The windows were of imported stained glass, highly decorative and depicting biblical scenes. Around 1905, the original cross was replaced with a large electric frosted cross. However, it was blown down by high windows in 1946. The spire was then removed, and the tower was finished in brick.
CONTINUE ON SOUTH STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.