Westmoreland County Pennsylvania
County administrative offices are located at 2 North Main Street, Greensburg PA 15601; 24-hour help line: 800-222-8848.
Formed February 26, 1773, named for the County of Westmoreland, England. Chief industries, coal, coke, gas, and manufactories. Ruins of old furnaces abound in this section, relics of the iron industry about 1800. The Lincoln Highway crosses this county, formerly the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Turnpike, entering near Laughlinstown, at the base of Laurel Ridge, elevation, 2700 feet; here is a museum of relics, shown in an old tavern of stage coach days, built about 1800, where Daniel Webster is said to have stopped, and Zachary Taylor, in 1848, held a reception. Three miles west is Ligonier, on site of a fort built by Captain Burd under the direction of Colonel Bouquet, a Swiss; named for Sir John Ligonier, a famous English general; all traces of the fort have been obliterated; a descriptive tablet, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, is in the town square. In the High School Library is an engraving, from a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, of Sir John Ligonier. Near by is Idlewild Park.
At Bushy Run the Indians made a furious attack on Bouquet and his company but were utterly routed and they retreated beyond the Ohio; Bouquet then marched to Fort Pitt and recovered it in 1763; next year he led an expedition beyond the Ohio River, the Indians sued for peace, and he compelled them to bring all their captives to Fort Pitt. One and a half miles west of Ligonier is residence of General Arthur St. Clair, from 1767-72, "The Hermitage," rebuilt, excepting one room, which is well cared for; there is a well-grounded tradition that Washington sent from Mount Vernon two expert carpenters, whose quaintly designed woodwork, mantelpiece and wainscoting doubtless saved this room from destruction; the house was marked in 1913, by the Phoebe Bayard Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, of Greensburg.
Greensburg, population 15,033, formerly called Newtown, settled in 1782; made county seat in 1786, and name changed in honor of General Nathaniel Greene, who had died at Savannah, Georgia, that same year; many of the Westmoreland County soldiers served under him in the Revolution. It now has its fourth courthouse, a dignified building, French Renaissance, white granite, the facade surmounted by a well-proportioned dome, dedicated, 1908; architect, William Kauffman; contains portraits of judges and lawyers. Among the churches of good architecture are the United Brethren, classic, Doric, architects, Winkler & Macdonald; and the First Presbyterian on South Main Street, Gothic, stone, architects, Cram & Ferguson. Other notable buildings are the Post Office, classic, Ionic; the Y. M. C. A., an adaptation of Colonial, and St. Joseph's Academy, with beautiful grounds, overlooking the whole town.
Westmoreland County was established on February 26, 1773 by the Act of Assembly. It was the first county west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the 11th (and last) county established by the Colony of Pennsylvania. Its territory originally included the whole southwestern corner of Pennsylvania (16 current day counties). It was named after Westmoreland County in northwestern England. The Commonwealth of Virginia is the other entity that currently possesses a county by the same name. Westmoreland County was established to demonstrate Penn's claim to the territory. The Dominion of Virginia claimed the territory and encouraged pioneers through the Ohio Company to settle the land. After the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania and Virginia negotiated an end to the border disputes by extending the Mason Dixon line westward.
The first court hearing was held in Robert Hanna's home, a site now listed on the National Register as being historically significant. Hanna's Town near Greensburg was the first county seat, and is remembered for the Hanna's Town Resolves of May 16, 1775. The Resolves stated that the settlers, along with Arthur St. Clair, would bind themselves together and take up arms if necessary to resist further tyrannical acts of Parliament. More than one year later, a Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. Hannastown was destroyed by fire by the Seneca Indians, lead by Chief Guyasota on July 13, 1782, and the county seat was relocated to Greensburg shortly thereafter. The first court in the new Greensburg county seat took place in 1797 in a log cabin where the current County Courthouse is located.
After the Colonial War for Independence, five counties were carved from the original boundary of Westmoreland County, and after 1800, eleven other counties were created in part from these counties. Since 1803, Westmoreland County has had the same boundary lines as it has today.
Several great political leaders, veterans and visionary entrepreneurs alike were either born in Westmoreland County or somehow made a mark on the community: Henry Clay Frick, Thomas Mellon, General Richard Coulter, George F. Huff, Robert S. Jamison, William Findley, John Covode, William Freame Johnson, John White Geary, Edgar Cowan, Joseph Finch Guffey, and Cyrus E. Woods.
The first federal census of 1790 recorded a population of 16,018, although boundaries have since shifted. By the beginning of the twentieth century, economic opportunity in the county's mills and mines brought Italian and Slavic immigrants in large numbers. Other ethnic backgrounds include German, Irish, Scotch-Irish, immigrants from other eastern and southern European countries, and African-Americans from the southern part of the United States.
Throughout the twentieth century, Westmoreland County reflected the nation's industrial growth and change that followed. Agriculture served as the county's economic base for most of the nineteenth century. After the Civil War, the county relied upon the metals industry and mining for its economic base well into the late twentieth century. These industries dominated the communities in which they were located. By the end of the 1950's, Westmoreland County ranked fifth among Pennsylvania's counties in the mining of bituminous coal. The center of the aluminum industry in the United States was located at New Kensington. Monessen led the county in steel and tin plate production producing immense quantities of woven wire and tubes. The glass industry was centered in Jeannette where six different plants produced glass for almost every domestic, industrial and military use. Glass was also manufactured in Mt. Pleasant, Greensburg and Arnold. Large population centers developed around these cities.
The demise of the steel industry in the United States through the 1970's and 1980's was mirrored in Westmoreland County, as over 40% of the manufacturing jobs in the county were lost after 1980. Coal also experienced more than a 50% reduction in jobs during the same period.
Westmoreland County's economy continues to change. New industrial parks and the continued development of small business have led the way to a diversification of the county's economy. Traditional employers such as Alcoa, Allegheny Ludlum Steel, Elliott Company, and Kennametal still form a significant part of the county's economic base. The addition of Sony and many small firms such as specialty machine shops, fabrication and electronic businesses continue to grow.
Changes in the county's economy have also resulted in changes where people reside. The county's boroughs and cities are no longer major employment centers and are slowly losing population to the first and second class townships where land and infrastructure are abundant. Suburban growth continues to take place in areas such as Hempfield Township, Penn Township, Unity Township, and Murrysville, which have gained steadily in population. Many county residents still find employment in the City of Pittsburgh or outside of Westmoreland County; therefore, these communities have become "bedroom communities" for those who make the commute.
Today, Westmoreland County is composed of six cities, thirty-six boroughs, three 1st class townships, eighteen 2nd class townships, and two home rule municipalities (see the following figure). From its first federal census in 1790, Westmoreland has grown from a population of 16,018 to a population of 369,993 as of the 2000 Census. Westmoreland County has had the same boundary lines and acreage since 1803. Today, it is the seventh largest in land area of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Westmoreland County is the tenth largest county in the Commonwealth in terms of population.