Bridgeville Remembered

A New Century

By John F. Oyler

The United States was still searching for a unique identity in 1800, and the settlers in the Chartiers Valley found themselves in the mainstream of this process. Colonel George Morgan had acquired large land holdings north of Canonsburg and built his mansion, Morganza, in 1796. Morgan was a prominent citizen – graduate of Princeton; first U. S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, at Fort Pitt during the Revolutionary War; and early explorer of the Mississippi River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Following his term as Vice President of the United States, in 1805 Aaron Burr decided to seek his fortune in the West. He planned to persuade the settlers west of the Alleghenies to secede from the Union, form a new nation, liberate Texas and Mexico from Spain, and declare him Emperor. The first stop in his mission to solicit support was at Morganza.

When he explained his ambitions to Colonel Morgan, he was annoyed that the colonel declared his scheme treasonous. Burr promptly left and went down the Ohio River to Kentucky, hoping to find support there. Morgan’s letter to President Jefferson reporting Burr’s plans was the first notice the federal government had of this threat to the Union. Burr was apprehended and tried in a federal court; Morgan was the chief federal witness. Burr eventually was acquitted, primarily because the judge and jury thought his scheme was too absurd to believe.

In 1811 the federal government, now led by President James Madison, initiated the first interstate highway project – the National Road. It was intended to open up the Northwest Territory – Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois – to settlers from Virginia. Beginning at Cumberland, Maryland, it followed the old route of Braddock’s Road as far as Redstone (now Brownsville) on the Monongahela River.

Instead of continuing on to Pittsburgh the National Road then went cross-country to Washington, Pennsylvania, and then to Wheeling. The Virginians who now controlled the government were still upset that Pittsburgh had ended up in Pennsylvania; they planned for Wheeling to be the “gateway to the West”. From Wheeling the highway continued west to Vandalia, Illinois.

Business leaders in Pittsburgh were concerned about being bypassed by this important artery. They formed the “Washington to Pittsburgh Turnpike Company” and planned to construct a highway connecting Pittsburgh with the National Road. Frederick Lesnett was now the patriarch of his family; his father had died in 1807. Pleased that the new highway would go through his farm, he subscribed $300 to the new company. In 1824 when his debt came due, he lacked the necessary cash to honor it. Instead he and his sixteen year old son Wilson went to work as laborers, at thirty cents a day, to satisfy his obligation. The family also earned money by sellinggrain and foodstuffs to the contractors, as well as by providing room and board for the laborers.

At the same time another group of enterprising citizens chartered the Chartiers Valley Railroad, hoping to link Washington and Pittsburgh by rail. This was an ambitious project – when it was planned there was only one other railroad in the country – the Baltimore and Ohio – and it was only twelve miles long. The project foundered several times because of financial difficulties, and only came to fruition fifty years later, in 1871.

In 1812 our young country found itself at war with England again. Frederick’s brother Christopher went into the Northwest Territory with the militia. The army of which his unit was a part was defeated, near Detroit, by a force of British, Canadians, and Indians, and surrendered unconditionally. Christopher and a friend escaped into the woods and were pursued by Indians. Christopher was able to escape and eventually find his way home. This adventure is depicted in a painting by Andrew Knez, Jr., called “The Escape”.

Nicolaus Heckman died in 1802. His son Adam Hickman and his family left this area at that time and moved to Columbiana County, Ohio, leaving Peter Hickman on the family farm. Several other families from this area also moved there, probably because of the lure of available farm land.

A number of other well known families were solidly established in this area by the turn of the century. Moses Middleswarth originally owned the land which is now “Presto”; he later acquired property from Thomas Ramsey and others. By 1820 he owned most of what is now Bridgeville west of the Washington Pike. Although he had three sons, Jonathan Middleswarth was his favorite and the heir to his estate.

Moses Coulter was another prominent citizen. He too acquired land and by 1820 owned most of what is now Bridgeville east of the Pike. He and his wife, Margery Fawcett Coulter, had three daughters. The disposition of his property is interesting. Daughter Jane married John McDowell; they eventually sold “Bank Property” to Walter Foster. Daughter Ann married Samuel Collins; their property was sold to John Bell – it eventually was sold to the Godwins, E. R. Weise, and Arthur Silhol. Daughter Olive married John Cook, Sr.; their land, the Cook farm, was the area known as Cook’s Hill.

John Morgan and his family came to America in 1775 from Scotland. In gratitude for his service in the Revolutionary War the government granted him three hundred acres at Morgan Hill. Leonard Fryer and his wife Eleanor Porter came from County Down, Ireland. He was wounded in an Indian campaign in 1791, after which his family, including thirteen children, established their home in the McLaughlin Run/Fryer’s Hill area.

The Author

  • John Oyler's column,
    "Water Under The Bridge",
    appears weekly in the
    Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication.
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