Speaker: Mon Valley Has a Unique Identity

Washington PA  Observer Reporter
11 April 2011
By Scott Beveridge, Staff writer

FREDERICKTOWN - Most folks in the Mon Valley don't relate their homes to any one particular county until its time to pay their real estate taxes, a retired history professor said.

"The don't say they're from a county but they're from the Mon Valley," said John K. Folmar, who taught at California University of Pennsylvania.

"It has an identity of its own," Folmar said Sunday, while speaking at the annual meeting of Washington County History & Landmarks Foundation.

The foundation chose this year to meet and also tour a few landmarks in the small town of Fredericktown along the Monongahela River. The topic of Folmar's lecture centered on the history of the Mon Valley, where the first white Europeans began to set up permanent settlements about the time of the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1793, making their living as trappers and traders.

"When the white folk came down from Canada, up from Virginia, there were no indigenous Native Americans living here. None," Folmar said at the meeting in the historic Riverside Inn at 400 Front St.

The hotel still has its century-old, ornate New Orleans style bar, as does the former Landmark Lounge, which also was on the tour and being converted into a private residence in nearby Millsboro.

The Mon Valley, which stretches for more than a 128 miles from Pittsburgh to West Virginia, remained the wild frontier for several decades after the Europeans arrived. Washington County would not be incorporated until 1781, when the main form of transportation was via flat-bottom boat. Monongahela Whiskey was the first product to be exported, and it was well known as far away as New Orleans, Folmar said.

"Flat-bottom boats were built by the hundreds in Brownsville and Elizabeth," he said. "Did they know what they were doing? No. You could smell them coming. They had their cows, their pigs, their wives."

Keel boats arrived by the early 1800s. Built like a long, narrow cigar, they could be piloted upriver by men pushing them with poles through the currents, Folmar said.

"These were the toughest, meanest guys who worked the earth," he said.

Folmar touched on the steamboat and railroad eras that also transformed the Mon Valley through the Industrial Revolution.

"The importance of the river is unbelievable," he said. "Most of us take it for granted."