Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017

Alexander Fowler
August 10, 2017

In a recent column regarding a 1797 map of Pennsylvania I mentioned my puzzlement about the term “Fowler’s” appearing on the east side of Chartiers Creek south of the present location of Bridgeville. The mystery has been solved by one of my ex-students at Pitt.

I was delighted to receive an email from Sonya Gray, a 2010 graduate from the University. She reported that she had found a copy of the column in my blog and, being “a bit of a local history and map nerd”, had decided to investigate my question.

She obviously is as good a historical researcher as she was a Civil Engineering student, finding a warrant for “Wingfield” assigned to Alexander Fowler in the Warrantee Atlas of Allegheny County in the plate for what is now Upper St. Clair Township. The location is north and east of the large meandering loop Chartiers Creek makes where Mayview formerly existed. The plot of land consisted of 402 acres.

The property directly north of “Wingfield” was warranted to Henry Evault and then transferred to Alexander Fowler, as “Fowler’s Grove. Its 344 acres extend along the east side of Chartiers Creek into what is now Bridgeville.

Apparently Mr. Fowler at this point owned well over a square mile of property along the east side of Chartiers Creek, from the Washington Pike in Bridgeville all the way to Mayview. The portion of Bridgeville included all the land east of the Pike and south of Station Street.

Traditional Bridgeville history lists this land as belonging to Moses Coulter and passing eventually, in parcels, to John Herriott, John McDowell, and Samuel Collins. We presume that Mr. Coulter acquired it from Fowler early in the 1800s.

Lieutenant Alexander Fowler came to North America in 1767 as a member of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. Initially posted to Fort Pitt, the Regiment eventually went to the Illinois territory where Fowler served as commandant of the post at Kaskaskia.

When it became obvious that the dissatisfaction of the colonists with Mother England would eventually lead to war, Fowler elected to cast his lot with the Americans. He resigned from the army and became a citizen of our new country.

By 1793 he was operating the Wingfield Mills and Distillery. The mill consisted of two water wheels, two pairs of millstones, and a saw mill, all under one roof. Located “in the heart of wheat country, it was capable of manufacturing twenty barrels of superfine flour every twenty four hours”. The distillery included two stills with a combined capacity of twenty gallons of whiskey per day.

By 1800 Fowler had been given command of the Allegheny Count Militia brigade and the rank of General. He died in 1806.

Fowler appears to have functioned favorably in several significant public roles. I suspect he was the most important resident of what is now Upper St. Clair Township in the early days of our country.

I am grateful to Sonya Daley Gray for solving my mystery and introducing me to an intriguing person who certainly left his mark in the Chartiers Valley.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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