First Permanent Settlement
An act of the Legislature passed on February 9, 1796, divided Washington County into two counties—the southern division became Greene County, named for Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene. Permanent settlement began in Greene County in 1764 after the last major conflict with native Indians. Two forts were constructed in 1774—Jackson’s Fort and Garards Fort—which were built to protect the isolated homes in the area from attacks.
Once the Indian hostility and Whiskey Rebellion problems had passed, Greene County was formed in order to benefit small farmers; beginning with the Merino Sheep bonanza of the 1820s, wool became a major product. Although overshadowed by production elsewhere in the world, Greene County stills leads other Pennsylvania counties in sheep production (occasionally challenged by Washington County).
The original inhabitants of Greene County were the Indian Sachem Six Nations (Iroquois Confederacy) and consisted of the following Indian peoples: Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayuga, Senecas, and Tuscaroras. The County, as well as the entire state of Pennsylvania, was granted to William Penn on March 4, 1681 by King William II. Greene County was established on February 9, 1796 when Washington County was divided into two counties through an act of the Legislature. The southern portion became Greene County, named after the Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene and consisted of 577 square miles. The first European inhabitants were a mix of the following: English, Irish, Scotch, Scotch-Irish, and German.
Colonel John Minor is considered the "Father of Greene" because he sponsored the bill that made the division of Washington County a reality. Between 1796 and 1860, thirteen separate municipalities were established within the county in addition to the original six municipalities. Permanent settlement began in Waynesburg (named after General "Mad" Anthony Wayne) following a deed sale on October 28, 1796. The Borough of Waynesburg was established as the County Seat in 1816.
By October 1796, exactly 201 lots were offered for sale through an advertisement in a Pittsburgh newspaper, with prices ranging from $5 to $139 per lot. A log courthouse and jail were erected (the courthouse still stands and has been fully restored). Apparently the first store was established by William Crawford, who had purchases a "load" of goods from a settlement along the Monongahela River in the early 1800s and began trading. Transportation of merchandise from Baltimore and Philadelphia was a long and costly undertaking and the local residents had to pay ridiculously high prices for necessities like salt, tea, coffee, hardware and manufactured articles.
By 1853, there were 80 dwellings in Waynesburg and the town had grown to 350 by 1906. By 2011, Waynesburg Borough and Franklin Township, which encircles Waynesburg, had a population of 11,800.
Greene County developed its economic base historically through mining and agriculture. Gas wells, coal mining, and wool production provided the early forms of growth in Greene County. At one point the wool industry was so prosperous that the County was the first overall in total Merino wool production and was said to have more sheep than human inhabitants county-wide. Although the agricultural component of the County has diminished, the mining industry is considered the top industry operating in Greene County today. Currently, there are eight coal mines in production in the County famous for a large product turnout each year. Greene County has the largest bituminous coal reserves in the state. Today to preserve our heritage, the sheep ranching and the mining are celebrated with two separate annual events. The Sheep & Fiber Festival that takes place in mid-May is held at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Waynesburg, and the Bituminous Coal Show held in in late August, in downtown Carmichaels.
A contributing element of Greene County history is the commitment to pursuits of higher learning. Waynesburg College was established in 1849 from two separate schools in the area: Greene Academy in Carmichaels and Madison College in Uniontown (Fayette County). Situated in the County Seat, Waynesburg College and is a positive component to the growth of the County.
The County has a rich and diverse history that can still be seen throughout the County, whether in the rural countryside, boroughs, or coal patch towns. Early industries in Greene County were mining and agriculture. Gas wells, coal mining, and wool production provided the early forms of income in Greene County. At one point, the wool industry was so prosperous that the County was the first overall in total Merino wool production and was said to have more sheep than human inhabitants county-wide.
Waynesburg is the county seat for Greene County. The county is governed by a board of three County Commissioners, County government departments include: Finance & Administration, Law & Order, Human Services, Economic Development, and Recreation. There are boards within each department made up of interested citizens who serve in advisory capacities, enhancing the public participation aspect of county operations. Waynesburg is located in the 20th United States Congressional District, the 46th Pennsylvania Senate District, and the 50th Pennsylvania House District. There are 20 townships and six boroughs within the county. The county is divided into three magisterial districts for the operation of the lesser court system and there are two presiding judges who sit on the Court of Common Pleas in Waynesburg. There is a state correctional facility and a county jail, as well as a local state police barracks, a county sheriff office, and home to Company C — National Guard Unit.
Progression into the Future
Change has been the hallmark of the last 65 years in Greene County — Coal mining became even more important to the county's economy, and in 1986, Greene County began to lead all other Pennsylvania counties in the production of bituminous coal. Two new railroads were built to carry this coal to market.
Agriculture became less important, and by 1990, only a few hundred full-time farmers remained. Yet, hundreds of others farmed on a part-time basis, and the country's beautiful pastures continued to be home to thousands of sheep and cattle. The country's economy was diversified when many small industrial plants were attracted to newly developed industrial parks.
One of the most important aspects of change was the greater mobility brought about by the building of Interstate 79 (I-79) through the County in the 1960's. It ended Greene County's comparative isolation, because ease of access to Washington, Pittsburgh, and Morgantown, WV, made employment and shopping opportunities more available to its residents. New dams and locks on the Monongahela River improved that strategic waterway.
A significant addition to I-79 was the construction during 1994-1995 of the Greene County Welcome Center alongside the northbound lanes near the Kirby exit. The project cost over $2.7 million, and was dedicated on May 26, 1995. The plaza of the Welcome Center contains a monument to Greene County miners, placed there by the Greene County Coal Miners' Monument Committee.
The quality of life improved for most residents in the last 65 years. Educational opportunities were enhanced when the township and borough school districts were merged into five larger districts. These new school districts built modern high and elementary school, making possible a richer curriculum. Waynesburg College also improved its physical plant and modernized its courses of study. Two public libraries were founded (Bowlby Public Library in Waynesburg and Flenniken Public Library in Carmichaels) and these became important learning centers for children and adults. A broader understanding of the past was made possible when the Greene County Historical Museum moved into and restored the old County Home; the Cornerstone Genealogical Society was organized (and occupied space in the Bowlby Library); the Greene Academy at Carmichaels was restored; the Warrier Trail Society marked the ancient Indian path; and other historic sites were preserved.
In 2007, Waynesburg College became Waynesburg University and offers doctoral, graduate and undergraduate programs in more than 70 programs of study. With 2,300 students, the University provides education at its main campus in Waynesburg as well as three adult centers located in the Pittsburgh regions of Southpointe, North Hills and Monroeville.
The Greene County Memorial Hospital expanded and continued to provide excellent medical care for its patients, and other clinics and medical facilities were opened. Several new fire companies were formed and, together with the older companies, were indispensable community centers. In 2005, the Greene County Memorial Hospital was purchased by Southwest Regional Medical Center, which offers a wide array of services and medical specialties.