Less than two hundred years ago, the site of Connellsville was a part of a vast wilderness. A powerful tribe of Indians known as the Iroquois claimed it. By permission of these Indians, several tribes of Delawares and Kanhawhas made it their home. One of these tribes located their village about five miles east of Connellsville. Here is an extensive burial ground where it is believed more than one thousand red men slept. Another, and smaller village, was located on the banks of Youghiogheny River about two miles above the mouth of Bear Run. In both of these places, a large number of flints have been found.
It is believed that some bold French traders from the Canadas settled in Fayette County as early as 1730. Another tradition is a German trapper who built his solitary cabin at what is now the end of the street car line in South Connellsville.
When the French built their forts in this section, George Washington was sent to warn them that they were on English land. On the trip out he spent a few days at the home of Mr. Gist at Mount Braddock, a house still standing.
During the French and Indian War, a retreat was necessary and Washington's soldiers, upon reaching Great Meadows above Uniontown, were so exhausted that it was decided to fortify themselves as best they could, while waiting for reinforcements and needed supplies. Because of these conditions, their fort was named Fort Necessity. It was near this fort that General Braddock lost his life and here he lies buried.
Among the pioneer settlers of this region was William Crawford, who built a log cabin in what is now West Side Connellsville. He was a born leader of men. When danger from the Indians threatened, he was quick to respond to the call of his fellow men and organized them for self-defense. He served his country well and true patriots mourned his tragic death at the stake on the afternoon of June 11, 1782 all over the land.
Another early settler was John Gibson, who built a gristmill near the site Sodom Shops that he operated with water drawn from Montz's creek. He also built a small rail factory and an oil press, at which great quantities of castor oil were made from the beans grown in surrounding country. In 1805, he built a forge on the east bank of the river, below Montz Creek, which was operated successfully for twenty years.
The founder of the Borough of Connellsville was Zachariah Connell, who was born in the state of Virginia in 1741. His humble cabin home was where the Trans-Allegheny Hotel now stands (Water Street). It is for him that Connellsville is named. He donated the ground for City Hall, the Cameron School and the Carnegie Library. It was on his farm that emigrants coming over the mountain built their rafts to float their goods down the river. It was he who secured the charter for the Borough of Connellsville. As originally planned Connellsville contained 180-quarter acre lots and formed almost a perfect square. Its boundaries were North Alley, East Alley, and the Youghiogheny River.
Other early citizens of Connellsville were Daniel Rogers, John Page, David Barnes, Anthony Banning and Peter Stillwagon. At the time of the incorporation of the Borough, a number of its citizens were wholly engaged in the construction of boats and rafts on which emigrants floated their goods down the river on their way to Kentucky and Ohio.
Among the early industries of Connellsville was a carding and spinning mill built by Nortons on Connell Run. Later it was converted into a foundry. Many people believe that the first coke oven in the Connellsville area region was not built near Dawson but in the very heart of Connellsville itself, not three hundred feet from the old stone house on West Fairview Avenue built by Zachariah Connell. From its birth as frontier settlement, Connellsville might properly be called a manufacturing town. Boat builders might be said to be the first notable industry of the town. The business was continued for fifty years or more quite successfully. All the iron furnaces within a radius of ten miles might properly be said to have been Connellsville's industries, for it was to Connellsville their output was brought for shipment down the river and here supplies were purchased and men secured.
The first tannery in Connellsville was built sometime between 1791 and 1799.
In the hills about Connellsville are many valuable deposits of fire clay, silice rock and other excellent brick making materials. The first brick house was built shortly after the founding of the town by Anthony Banning.
As early as 1810 Daniel and Joseph Rogers established an extensive paper mill on the right bank of the Youghiogheny River, a short distance above the present boundaries of South Connellsville. The paper manufactured was a superior quality and was shipped by boat to New Orleans and other points on the lower river.
In 1869, Samuel Crossland began the manufacture of good road wagons on the left bank of the Youghiogheny River near Bradford. The largest lock factory in the world was established at South Connellsville in 1896 and operated steadily and successfully until the fall of 1898, when it was almost completely destroyed by fire.
On August 14th-17th, 1906, Connellsville celebrated its centennial. These four days mark the greatest event in the history of Connellsville and while not as lasting as the coke, which has made Connellsville's name famous, they will long be remembered by her citizens.
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