The French began staking claims to this land in 1669. In 1748, Virginia planters formed the Ohio Company to affect settlement in southwestern Pennsylvania and carry on Indian trade on a large scale. It took a decade - and a loss on the field at Fort Duquesne by George Washington - before the British could expel the French and settlements began in the area of present Washington County. One of those clusters of log structures was “Bassett, alias Dandridge Town,” laid out by John and William Hoge later named Washington, where a log courthouse was constructed in 1787 to serve as the county seat of Washington County, the first county in the United States of America to be named in honor of General George Washington. Washington County was formed to allow “the inhabitants of the area west of the Monongahela River to have more convenient courts and public offices, rather than the inconvenience and hardship of being so far remote from the seat of justice.”
A school was holding classes as early as 1781 and a newspaper and post office were in place by 1800. George Washington’s early years as a surveyor enabled him to see the need for a “national” road through the Allegheny Mountains connecting the eastern seaboard centers with the Ohio Valley and the western frontier. Completed in 1818 and still in use today, the National Pike (Route 40) runs through Washington on Maiden Street. The town’s influence and prestige grew steadily through the 1800s as one of the gateways for immigration to the West and its bustling commerce.
The region was built on the pillars of coal, steel, oil and glass and the town of “Little Washington” provided the support for these industries. At the height of its prosperity, in 1900 a magnificent, muscular county courthouse was constructed in the center of town and that is where our walking tour will get under way...
Washington County Courthouse
southwest corner of Beau Street and Main Street
The Italian Renaissance Washington County Courthouse, from the pen of leading Pittsburgh architect Frederick Osterling, stands as one of Pennsylvania’s most magnificent temples of justice. Completed in 1900 at the total cost of $1,000,000, this is the county’s fourth courthouse. A log structure built in 1787 served as the first county courthouse when the town was still called Basset. Still in use today, the courthouse is constructed of Columbia sandstone from Cleveland, South Carolina granite, iron and steel, brick and cement - all rising 150 feet to a hug, classical dome supporting a larger than life statue of George Washington.
Washington Trust Building
southwest corner of Beau Street and Main Street
Commerce came to this key corner in 1790 when John Purviance opened a tavern. Later operators added a log hotel and after that burned, the three-story brick American House was built here. That building and many of its neighbors burned in the early morning hours of January 6, 1899. The replacement was another creation of Pittsburgh’s leading architect of the age, Frederick J. Osterling, architect for the county courthouse. The major tenant of the six-story Washington Trust Building, was the city’s first savings bank, the Dime Savings Institution. Said to be fireproof, it quickly became home to the offices of almost all of Washington’s doctors and lawyers. The Elks Club occupied the entire sixth floor, and the main retail space on Main Street was taken by Woolworth’s Five and Ten. In 1922, the 10-story addition was added to the building by architect, Jay W. Percowper, who also designed the George Washington Hotel, the Observer Publishing Co. building and Washington Hospital. Topping the 186-foot addition is a Neoclassical temple; the first level contains communication equipment, and the upper level houses the machinery that runs the elevators - all original and immaculately maintained.
WALK SOUTH ON MAIN STREET.
26 South Main Street
This is Washington’s oldest commercial block; the ground floor of this hundred-year old building has been severely altered but the upper floors retain their decorative pilasters and balustraded cornice.
40 South Main Street
This powerful Neoclassical vault with fluted Ionic columns became a Citizens Bank branch in 1948.
George Washington Hotel
60 South Main Street
Lou Gehrig signed the guest book. So did Henry Ford. John F. Kennedy gave a speech to supporters from the marble steps of the Oval Room when he was on the campaign trail. Even the Beatles - John, Paul, George and Ringo - stayed here when they played the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh in 1964. The 200-room George Washington Hotel was built in 1927, designed by renowned architect William Lee Stoddard to resemble the legendary Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. The 10-story building boasted a two-story, balconied grand ballroom with hardwood floors and crystal chandeliers and a grand entrance on West Cherry Avenue that delivered guests into an exquisite marbled lobby. The walls of an elegant dining room told the story of the Whiskey Rebellion in the early 1790s via a series of murals by Washington artist Malcolm Parcell. By the 1980s the George Washington’s had been converted into apartments. A series of negligent owners left it near condemnation in the early 2000s but a recent multi-million dollar restoration has brought the downtown landmark back to its former glory.
TURN RIGHT ON WHEELING STREET.
44 West Wheeling Street
Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity. Many of our nation’s early patriots were Freemasons, as well as 13 signers of the Constitution and 14 Presidents of the United States, including town namesake George Washington. Sunset Lodge No. 623 Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania, constituted in 1901, is one of 95 chapters in the Commonwealth. This Federal-style building was given a Victorian update with a decorative cornice and a pair of prominent oriel windows.
Dr. Joseph Mauer House
97 West Wheeling Street
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this corner house with Second Empire mansard roof and Italianate detailing was the home of Joseph Mauet, an early practitioner of homeopathic medicine in the late 1800s.
TURN LEFT ON FRANKLIN STREET. TURN LEFT ON MAIDEN STREET.
55 West Maiden Street
The current City Hall began life as a Neoclassical post office; you can still see the drive-in on the east side of the building where pick-ups were made.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
175 South Main Street
David Bradford was a successful lawyer, businessman, and Deputy Attorney General of Washington County. When this house was completed in 1788 it was said to be the finest house west of the Allegheny Mountains. Part of the inside woodwork was brought from England; the stone for the exterior was quarried near Washington and the house made quite an impression in a village of small, rustic, log buildings. David Bradford and his family lived in this house until 1794 when his involvement as the leader of the “Whiskey Rebellion” led to a warrant for his arrest and he fled south to Spanish West Florida (which is present-day Louisiana). In that year the new federal government, which isolated settlers on the frontier scarcely recognized, imposed a high excise tax on whiskey. This tax was particularly onerous because local farmers typically converted their grain to whiskey to lessen the shipping expense. When federal tax collectors appeared in the area to collect these taxes, local mobs drove them off and President George Washington decided it was critical for the new government to enforce its laws. A militia of more than 12,000 men was assembled and George Washington took command to march from Harrisburg. It was one of only two times a sitting President personally commanded the military in the field. The rebellion was squashed without opposition and signaled to the new American people that changes to the law would have to take place through Constitutional means or the government would meet such treats to disturb the peace with force. Eventually, David Bradford received a pardon for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion. The house was converted into a furniture and coffin store in the early 1900s. In 1959, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission assumed control of the house and supervised a restoration back to its original 18th-century design.
WALK BACK DOWN TO MAIDEN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
49 East Maiden Street
John Julius LeMoyne, a physician, built this stone block house in 1812. His son Francis Julius LeMoyne also became a successful doctor and builder of the first crematory in the western hemisphere. But he is best remembered as a social reformer who, despite the strict Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, risked his personal freedom and fortune to open his home as a stop along the Underground Railroad, a series of safe houses that harbored runaway slaves. The LeMoyne House is Pennsylvania’s first National Historic Landmark of the Underground Railroad. Only about six or seven other such sites exist in the entire United States.
TURN LEFT ON COLLEGE STREET.
First Baptist Church
southwest corner of South College Street and East Wheeling Street
First Baptist Church was regularly constituted October 14, 1814, with eleven charter members, after having been in existence as a Mission since 1811. Seven of the members were from North Ten Mile Baptist Church, the oldest congregation in Washington County that traces its roots back to 1773. The first meeting house was built on Lot 77 of the original town plat on West Wheeling Street. The congregation sputtered around the time of the Civil War but the town Baptists reorganized in the 1890s and built a new church on this site. It was replaced with this Colonial Revival building in 1931. To help defray the $176,000 price tag the ladies of the Church served luncheons during the Depression to help with the mortgage payments.
First Presbyterian Church
100 East Wheeling Street
The First Presbyterian Church of Washington was officially founded in 1793 and met in a stone academy, that presently houses administrative offices for Washington & Jefferson college. Dr. Matthew Brown, school president, was the first minister. The congregation later met in a local tavern and the courthouse, before building a church on Strawberry Avenue. In 1851, that building was sold to the Hays Carriage Company and a new Greek Revival church was built on the present site in 1851. The land was originally deeded to George and Martha Washington, but reverted back to the original owners, the Hough family. In the spring of 1868, building deficiencies required that the structure be taken down to the foundation and a third church built.
TURN RIGHT ON EAST WHEELING STREET.
northeast corner of East Wheeling Street and South College Street
At the time of its construction in 1836, “Old Main” was a simple, three-story brick building that served as the chapel and classrooms for Washington College that had not yet merged with Jefferson College. A decade later two wings and a dome were added in a Colonial make-over. With the dawn of the Victorian age Old Main took on its present appearance with a fourth floor and the two dominant towers that symbolize the union of Washington College and Jefferson College on March 4, 1865. To maintain the face of the school the building has undergone two sandblastings and new roofs in 1998.
Washington & Jefferson College Admissions House
60 South Lincoln Street at East Wheeling Street
This three-story Victorian mansion of 28 rooms was built in 1894 as the residence of Andrew Happer. The exterior of Missouri sandstone and frame features ornate trimmings and stained glass windows typical of the high-Victorian style of architecture. Happer enrolled in Washington College in 1859. His studies were interrupted by the Civil War, however, and he never received a degree from the College which now owns his home. The original parquet floors, massive carved staircase and brass trimmings are still intact.
Thompson Memorial Library
East Wheeling Street
Thompson Memorial Library opened in 1905, a gift to the Washington & Jefferson College from William R. Thompson as a memorial to his mother. The elegant Beaux -Arts building was designed by Rutan & Russell of Pittsburgh with hand-laid mosaic tile floors and skylights.
Built in 1892 by the Duncan family, this Victorian mansion, a superior example of Queen Anne Victorian style, was presented to the college in 1944 by Walter Hudson Baker, class of 1907, in memory of his wife, Amy Duncan Baker. Trademarks of the style shownhere include exterior “gingerbread” ornamentation, the stained, leaded, and beveled glass, and the recessed doors and windows with louvered wooden shutters. The house consists of seventeen rooms with a central hallway plan. The mansion has been the home to the college’s presidents since its donation.
CONTINUE ON EAST WHEELING STREET AND ENTER THE EAST WASHINGTON HISTORIC DISTRICT.
This late Victorian residential neighborhood is awash in examples of Shingle Style, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses. Several large houses on elevated, panoramic lots can be found at the eastern edge of the Washington and Jefferson campus, some of which have become student housing. Streets ringing the campus are more tightly packed but no less picturesque with imaginative rooflines, turrets and fanciful porches. In a region where simple, vernacular residences ruled the streets, the East Washington Historic District marked a dramatic shift in fortunes and today represents one of the richest and most intact collections of fashionable turn-of-the-19th-century housing in southwestern Pennsylvania.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH WADE AVENUE.
Church of the Covenant
267 East Beau Street
The Church of the Covenant had its beginnings when the First Presbyterian Church of Washington outgrew its facilities in 1860. The Second Presbyterian Church leased a building on Beau Street for 14 years and then built its first church building in 1887 at 65 East Beau Street. The present Gothic structure was erected in 1929. In 1959 the Third Presbyterian Church was forced out of its building by a redevelopment project and voted to merge with the Second Presbyterian Church to establish the Church of the Covenant.
Washington and Jefferson College
southwest corner of Lincoln Street and Beau Street
Founded in 1781 by three Presbyterian ministers on the American frontier, this is the oldest college west of the Alleghenies. In September 1787, a charter was granted for an academy to be situated in Washington and on April 10, 1789, Washington Academy opened. The McMillan Building behind Old Main was built in 1793 and is the eighth oldest college structure still in use in the United States. In 1794 the The Canonsburg Academy and Library Company was established in nearby Canonsburg. In 1802, this school was chartered by the Pennsylvania legislature as Jefferson College. Four years later, Washington Academy received its charter as Washington College. Rivalry between the two small colleges, located only ten miles apart in a sparsely populated region, served to block the progress of both. When the Civil War drained enrollment dramatically and the schools were left on the verge of extinction. In March 1865, the Pennsylvania legislature granted a charter for a united college, but with the provision that some classes be taught in Canonsburg and others in Washington. This arrangement proved impractical, and in 1869, the legislature authorized reorganization of the College. Two months later, the trustees voted that all departments be located in Washington. The bronze statue was unveiled in 2007.
First United Methodist Church
29 North College Street, at Beau Street
The Methodist Society organized in 1784 in the cabin of Thomas Lackey, who lived southeast of the current town. His home was a preaching point on the Redstone Circuit, which was laid out by Francis Asbury, the first bishop of Methodism. A log church, the first church building in Washington, was erected in 1801. By 1816, to accommodate a growing congregation, a brick church was erected. President-elect Andrew Jackson attended service there in 1829 on his way to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. In 1848, a third church building, also make of brick, was built on West Wheeling Street. President Ulysses S. Grant attended service in this church in 1871. The current brick structure was completed in 1876. Many of the stained glass windows, including the majestic windows at the rear of the sanctuary, are original.
TURN RIGHT ON COLLEGE STREET. TURN LEFT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
100 North Main Street, at northeast corner of Chestnut Street
The Art Deco Basle Theater opened on September 15, 1939 and was hailed as “The Theater of Tomorrow”. It later became the Midtown, and survived until 1985, when it closed. A limited liability group purchased the theater in 2002 and now offers live performances. The theater is also used as a church. It helps anchor the town’s blossoming art scene.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
50 North Main Street
Although the ground floor of this 1883 building has been greatly altered the upper floors retain the tall, slender windows and decorative cornice of the Italianate commercial style that typified this block.
3 North Main Street
This exuberant Beaux Arts, three-story commercial structure demonstrates a flourish of rounded arched windows under an elaborate cornice. Its face looks down on Main Street with paired Corinthian columns on the second and third floors.
YOU HAVE NOW REACHED THE TOUR STARTING POINT.