A Painting, Conestoga Wagons And Monongahela

Lost Monongahela is springing back to life! Longtime followers of this blog know that it goes dormant from time however dormancy doesn’t mean that it’s dead (at least as long as I’m is alive)! I may have mentioned before that I work in construction so I tend to write more in colder months when the days are shorter and I have more time. Over the next few days I want to let you know my plans for this winter and the future of Lost Monongahela but first let me tell you a story.

My brother, his wife and school age son were in town this week. My nephew’s school offers live online classes now and my brother can work remotely so they both spent a few days with me, setting up their temporary workstations in my kitchen.

I have my computer set up in my living room but I could hear the audio of my nephew’s online classes. I remember listening to two of them – math and history. The math class was a struggle. The kids were distracted and it seemed to take forever to go through their math problems. I give the teacher credit for her efforts but math has to be the most difficult class to teach online.

The history class on the other hand was fascinating. The topic for the day was the westward migration of people from the east coast to the west during the later half of the 17th century. Instead of a lecture, the teacher guided a discussion using John Gast’s painting “American Progress”.

American Progress by John Gast (1872)

The current Wikipedia entry about the painting says that it is “… a seminal example of American Western art.” and that “The painting serves as an allegory for Manifest Destiny and American westward expansion.” Every little detail has meaning making it a perfect tool for teaching the concept of “Manifest Destiny” and the mindset of U.S. citizens of the time. The Wikipedia article mentions a few of the details you’ll find with careful observation of the painting. What caught my attention however was the mention of a specific type of wagon called a “Conestoga wagon”. Well that led me down what was a weeklong “research rabbit hole” into Conestoga wagons.

Conestoga wagon?

Here is what I found out:

  • The Wikipedia entry is incorrect, the pictured wagon is not a Conestoga wagon. It is a type of covered wagon often called a Prairie Schooner.
  • Conestoga wagons were the equivalent of our 18 wheel tractor trailer trucks today. They were way to heavy for a pioneer family to use on their journey out west. What was needed was more the equivalent of a minivan thus the lightweight and much smaller Prairie Schooner is what was used as depicted.
  • A curved bottom is one way to tell the difference between a Conestoga wagon and a Prairie Schooner. The wagon depicted has a flat bottom.
  • There were several types of wagon used by pioneers in their journey west. Some were small enough that they were pulled by humans.
  • Conestoga wagons were invented in Pennsylvania in near Lancaster PA. You could even consider the Lancaster area to be the “Detroit” of its day.
  • The Pittsburgh area was considered the gateway to the west. Conestoga wagons were crucial to moving heavy freight from the east coast to the Pittsburgh area before railroads.
  • There is a delightful interview with an elderly resident of Monongahela found in the 1908 Historical Magazine of Monongahela’s Old Home Coming Week where she recalls what it was like to see Conestoga wagons passing through town.

Conestoga wagons played an enormous part in the development of our area from the late 1700’s through to the time when heavy freight started to be transported via train in the mid 1800’s. The subject is way too fascinating and important to cover in one blog post so I will split the topic into several posts over the next few days.

I also want to let you faithful readers in on a “secret project” relating to Monongahela PA that I have been working on this past summer so STAY TUNED. (note: an easy way to be notified of the latests posts on Lost Monongahela is to sign up for email notifications. Sign up by using “Follow This Blog” box in the upper right side of this page if you are on a computer. If you are using a phone you’ll find the subscription area down below)

Washington County PA Declares State of Emergency Due to Covid-19

Washington County Courthouse, photo by Generic1139 Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

According to the Observer Reporter:

Washington County declared a disaster emergency Tuesday after a second case of coronavirus was made public earlier in the day.

The second case was announced as another 20 positive cases of the virus were reported Tuesday afternoon in Pennsylvania, the state Heath Department secretary said.

The increase takes the statewide total to 96, with Allegheny County rising by two, bringing its number to eight, Secretary Rachel Levine said.


The three new presumptive positive cases are all young adults over the age of 18 who are in isolation at home, Downs said. Two of the patients acquired COVID-19 through recent international travel and one through recent domestic travel.

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

The Washington County Board of Commissioners officially has declared a disaster emergency to allow coordination of its emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with two cases now reported in the county and 13 in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The declaration allows commissioners to suspend certain governmental procedures and formalities in monitoring and reacting to situations, all while working with community partners, hospitals, municipalities, and county, state and federal officials.

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Here is a link to the WTAE Facebook video with Washington County officials as of Monday March 16, 2020. This video is one day old and was recorded before the state of emergency was declared.

In related news

The Trib Live is reporting that:

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Pittsburgh-based health giant UPMC on Tuesday rejected calls from county and state health experts to stop doing elective surgeries at its hospitals.

I don’t expect UPMC to perform elective surgeries much longer though. Experts say the number of Covid-19 cases grows exponentially once it is circulating among the public.

It looks like the Chinese government wants greater control of information about Covid-19 coming out of China by expelling western journalists according to this tweet by the New York Times:

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Screen capture of NYT tweet about expulsion of American Journalists.

Officials announce Covid-19 Case in Clairton

“Clairton” by Joseph A. is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tube City Media (out of McKeesport) is reporting:

Clairton officials announced Sunday afternoon that a city resident who may be suffering symptoms of COVID-19 has been treated at AHN Jefferson Hospital.

Clairton Councilwoman Denise L. Johnson-Clemmons and Councilman Tony Kurta said via Facebook the city was notified and is working with Allegheny County Health Department to get additional information.

At a joint news conference Saturday, health officials from the county, AHN and UPMC reported Allegheny County’s first two confirmed cases of COVID-19. The patients were both adults, one in their 70s and one in their 60s, who were exposed to the virus during travel out of state.

Click here to read the rest of the story over at Tube City Media.

Mid-Mon Valley towns of Charleroi, Monongahela and Donora featured in a national publication.

At Perked Up Cafe, looking onto McKean Ave., Charleroi PA

A professor at the University of Pittsburgh posted a link to his Twitter feed Thursday that caught me by surprise. It’s a relatively positive story about the Mid Mon Valley by Laurent Belsie of the Christian Science Monitor. The article mainly focuses on Charleroi but also mentioned are Donora, the City of Monongahela and Washington County. A few people and businesses you might recognize are:

  • Casey and Eric Clark, Perked Up Cafe, Charleroi, Pa.
  • Corelle Brands (formerly World Kitchen), Charleroi, Pa.
  • Mark Alterici, Dee’s Wireless., Charleroi, Rostraver and Washington, Pa.
  • Michael Coury, River House Cafe, Charleroi, Pa.
  • Tony Bottino, Allstate Insurance, former president of the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce, Monongahela, Pa.
  • Edward Zelich, Superintendant, Charleroi Area School District
  • Louis Panza, Ceo, Monongahela Valley Hospital, Carroll Township, Pa.
  • Jamie Protin, economic development consultant

I have an issue with the title: “In Steel Country’s River Towns, a Rising Spirit of Recovery“. Wouldn’t you say that’s about 30 years out of date? “Fracking Country” might be more like it now a days.

I’m so happy for Casey and Eric at Perked Up Cafe. They have a beautiful, thriving business and they certainly deserve the recognition!

note: Regular followers will notice that I haven’t posted much on Lost Monongahela recently. Well, I want to let you in on a secret. I’m starting a new blog and I’m calling it the Monongahela Times! Don’t worry, I’ll never give up on Lost Monongahela. I just felt a need to create a second site where I can talk about current events. I’ll keep posting historical stuff here at Lost Monongahela while you can find current events and news over at Monongahela Times which will be launching later this week!



Former American Legion Building Saved

Many people in town have been concerned about the deterioration of the former American Legion Frank Downer Post building at 248 West Main Street. The first three photos below were taken in 2015 showing a huge gash in the roof resulting in water flooding the interior of the building every time it rained. Thankfully the owner saw fit to replace the wood deck and install a new asphalt shingle roof.

The front facade is gorgeous and is still in good shape. It is the centerpiece of interesting architecture on the 200 block of West Main Street. The building is certainly worth saving. (click the the photos below to enlarge)







Check back tomorrow for part 2!

Lost Monongahela Celebrates its 8th Anniversary

I was looking back in the archives and realized that February 10th, 2016 will be Lost Monongahela’s 8th birthday! It all began with this post about the D.E. Gamble grain elevator on 7th street. Back then online information about Monongahela history was sparse. The best resource I had at the time was the Historical Magazine Of Monongahela’s Old Home Coming Week: Sept. 6-15, 1908. This magazine is still a helpful but what if you want to find out something related to “chickens in Monongahela in 1891”? Well, you had to walk down to the Monongahela Area Library and look through a years worth of Daily Republican microfilms. It’s great having this resource in town but the problem is that you can’t perform a boolean word search on microfilm. However, in 2016 you can slake your thirst for chicken related information on Newspapers.com in less than a minute:

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Clipped from a 1891 issue of The Daily Republican

Just as significant is how much better the map offerings are online. This is an example of the map quality you would typically find back in 2008:

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A detail of Caldwell’s Atlas of 1876 from Rootsweb.

Compare that to the same map now available from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission:

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A detail of Caldwell’s Atlas of 1876 from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. (click image to enlarge)

The Caldwell Atlas is another wonderful resource but imagine how exciting it would be if you could find maps dating back to 1885 showing the following information for each building in Monongahela: Continue reading