Retired Professor Recounts History of Rices Landing

Washington PA  Observer Reporter
2 February 2012

WAYNESBURG - Dr. Bruce Barnett, retired professor at Waynesburg University, told a meeting of the Cornerstone Genealogical Society that one of the first places to be settled in Greene County was Rices Landing.

Barnett began his presentation by showing the video, "The History of Rices Landing," a video narrated by the late Murray Kline and his wife, Norma.

According to legend, George Washington and his troops crossed the Monongahela River in 1755, at what is now Rices Landing, to join forces with Gen. Braddock to combine their forces against the Indians and French.

Some of those who accompanied Washington where Christopher Gist, Thomas Hughes, John Swan and Henry Vanmeter. Swan and Vanmeter returned in 1765 and purchased land on different branches of Swans Run, later Enoch Run and now called Pumpkin Run, Barnett said.

The present location of Rices Landing was obtained by virtue of a Virginia certificate in 1780 by John Rice. It was a tract of 389 acres which he patented under the name "Prospect."

An 1850, red brick, two-cell jail, where Joseph Sedgwick, a justice of the peace, housed prisoners, still stands. At one time, there were two hotels in Rices Landing - the Monongahela House and the House Hotel, and in 1885, Thomas Hughes and Jack Lucas had the Monongahela House built. It was a large three-story structure fashioned of homemade bricks and it served as a popular business mart for lumber dealers.

Before the building of Lock 6, the Monongahela River could easily be crossed on horseback, except during high water. Navigation on the river remained unreliable until the Monongahela Navigation Co. built canals in 1836.

Lock 6, built 1854, continued in operation until 1965 when it and Lock 5 where demolished and replaced by the Maxwell Lock and Dam.

By 1859 the new navigation system brought prosperity to Rices Landing. A ferry system, operated by Hughes and later by the Kline family, crossed the Mon and gave access to Fayette County and Brownsville but a flood in 1936 ended this ferry system.

During the last half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, a large number of businesses were in operation. The population was about 1,200 at that time.

J.R. Hewitt operated a store on Main Street and a livery stable next to the river. There were grocery stores and dry good shops, soda fountains and three photograph studios.

The Rices Landing Stoneware Factory was established by Isaac Hewitt Jr., and it stood along the Mon River on Water Street.

W.A. Young & Sons Foundry & Machine Shop was established in 1900 on the Andrew Jackson and Young farm. The Vesuvius Manufacturing company manufactured diamond circular vibrating stone saws for wood saw mills, steam engines and all kinds of mill machines.

Additional activity came to the town with the opening of the River District Coal Fields, most of which were owned by the H.C. Frick Coal Co., a subsidiary of the U.S. Steel Co.

In 1902 the H.P Dilworth company sank the first deep mine shaft in Greene County.

In 1906 the Pittsburgh, Virginia, & Charleston Railroad, later the PA Railway, extended its line from west Brownsville past the Dilworth mine to a new freight and passenger station,near Third Avenue in Rices Landing.

In 1913 the line was continued to the mines in Crucible and Nemacolin and by 1915 passenger service to Fairmont, W.Va., was offered.

There were no schools in Rices landing until about 100 years after the town was established. The Hewitt School is the earliest on record. Red School was on the Old Hill Road and Strawn School was destroyed in a 1944 tornado.

The video shown at the meeting has been converted to a DVD and is available for viewing in Cornerstone's library.

The next meeting of Cornerstone Genealogical Society will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 and will feature Suzanne Wiley and her antique valentines. Meetings are held in the old log courthouse on Greene Street and the public is invited.