The Great Allegheny Passage is a system of biking and hiking trails spanning 150 miles. These trails run from Cumberland, Maryland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2006, the Great Allegheny Passage connected with the C & O Canal Trail to create a 385 mile long journey from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.. This effort was coordinated by the Allegheny Trail Alliance, an organization of the seven member trails stretching from Pennsylvania to Maryland.
Our area hosts two members of that Alliance, the Montour and Steel Valley Trail systems, which intersect in nearby Clairton. Jefferson Hills offers a unique opportunity given its close proximity to the trail.
Native American History Before 1750
The first inhabitants of the area are commonly referred to as the “Mound Builders.” A prehistoric people, their occupancy preceded Native American tribes of the Mohawk, Shawnee, and Iroquois nations. Stone axes from the prehistoric people and remnants of the Native Americans have been found in the area. The foundation markings of a wilderness fort, today known as Fort Field, was found located near the confluence of Peter’s Creek and Lewis Run in the Large section of Jefferson Hills. Not known is whether this was an Indian fort or a fort to protect early settlers against the Indians.
Colonial Settlement 1750-1770
Early Europeans in the area were fur trappers. The first white settler according to printed histories was Zadock Wright, a Virginian and teamster in General Braddock’s army. According to Joseph Parry in his book The Lost County, Wright made application to the Virginia authorities for a tract of land that would later be known as Wrightsburg. He was granted 400 acres on Peters Creek. Since Wright’s charter (which still exists today) does not give a date, Parry suggests that Richard McMahon was actually the first settler. A warrant for 318 acres was issued to McMahon and a survey was completed in 1769. Another historian, Noah Thompson states in his book Early History of the Peters Creek Valley and the Early Settlers that Benjamin Kuykendall was the first settler in Jefferson Hills. Kuykendall was said to have first passed through the area in 1755 on route to Fort Duquesne on Braddock’s quest to take the fort from the French. Braddock’s campaign failed, but Kuykendall returned to settle in Jefferson Hills in 1757 according to Thompson. He later served as a Justice of the Court of Yohogania County. Other early families include the names of Castor, Carroll, Wicks, Snee, Huffman, Stilley, Cochran, Ferree, and Large. The early families were mainly farmers and trappers. Henry Large owned a local distillery, and commanded the Peters Creek Rangers, who protected local residents and kept order during the Revolutionary War. Residents of Jefferson Hills also fought in the war for independence and seven veterans are buried in local cemeteries. A Native American known as Indian Peter also lived for a time in the Large section of Jefferson Hills. He hunted and fished the creeks and streams of the area. According to legend, Peter warned local farmers of impending raids on several occasions. The grateful settlers began to call him “Good Peter” or “Good Indian Peter.” When he passed on, they named his favorite stream “Peters Creek.”
Early American History 1770-1800
Not until the adoption of the Mason Dixon line did the land of present day Jefferson Hills become a permanent part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Prior to 1780, the State of Virginia claimed the land in much of southwestern Pennsylvania. In exercising authority over the area, Virginia had established the County of Yohogania. The County Courthouse would be built in present day Jefferson Hills and the first session of the new court was held on October 27, 1777. Though the exact location of the building is not known, historical records place it near the old Jones School and Route 837 in the Floreffe section of the borough. In his book, Parry describes the setting “ … the old log courthouse … stood in all it’s glory on the hill, surrounded with deep forests, a few hundred feet west of the pure flowing waters of the Monongahela River. Here also stood in the courtyard, the pillory and the whipping post used for the purpose of punishing offenders of the law…. Scattered here and there, were a few log cabins of early settlers. Only a few acres of land had been cleared. It was indeed, a wilderness.” The court was permanently closed on August 28, 1780 by agreement of the Pennsylvania and Virginia Assemblies. Yohogania County Virginia, created in 1776 was dissolved in 1781.
In November 1794, the Court House, now owned privately, would serve as the quarters for officers under General Daniel Morgan’s command during The
Thomas Jefferson Whiskey Insurrection. Dispatched by President Washington to quell an uprising by local farmers over an excise tax on whiskey, Morgan stationed 1500 men along the banks of the Monongahela River. The soldiers remained during the winter of 1794/1795, and many fell victim to small pox. They were buried in Lobbs Cemetery, which is located on Walton Road near Route 837.
Now in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the area became a part of Washington County in 1781 and Allegheny County in 1788.
History of Jefferson 1800-Present
Jefferson Hills was first created as a township (Jefferson Township), incorporating on January 22, 1828 and named in honor of the third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson Statesman, patriot, author, farmer, lawyer, philosopher, inventor, architect - Mr. Jefferson's achievements are unparalleled and place in history unmatched. It was formed from parts of Mifflin and St. Clair Township and included within its borders the present communities of Pleasant Hills, West Elizabeth, Clairton, and parts of Baldwin and South Park. Baldwin Township in 1844 and Snowden Township in 1845 was formed from a part of Jefferson Township
In 1860, there were 1601 residents. By 1880, the population doubled to 3227. During the mid 1800’s, churches were formed and built – Jefferson Methodist Church in 1843 and the Jefferson United Methodist Church in 1857. The latter, located in the Gill Hall section of Jefferson Hills, still stands today. Local historians suggest that the first school house was probably built in the Gill Hall area, but dates and the exact location are unknown.
Residents of Jefferson Hills fought in the Civil War. A total of sixteen soldiers are buried in three local cemeteries: five in Lobb’s Cemetery, five in the Jefferson United Methodist Cemetery, and six in the Jefferson United Presbyterian Church Cemetery. The graves of the Civil War veterans are marked with the American flag and a star shaped bronze marker with GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) 1861 1865 on them.
While the earliest families settling here were mainly farmers, the 19th century saw a shifting in local economics. Coal mining became a lead industry as it did throughout Western Pennsylvania. Number 7 Coal Mine, owned by Pittsburgh Terminal Coal, was a large operation located near Route 51 and Peters Creek. The company built a mini community in an area today known as the “Patch”: approximately 50 homes for its workers, a company store, movie theater, post office and school.
In 1902, the Brickyard was established to supply bricks for the nearby steel mills. U.S. Steel was to become a major employer of people residing in Jefferson Hills, especially the mills north of Jefferson Hills along the Monongahela River. In 1950 Jefferson Township incorporated to a borough. Residents voted by referendum on November 3, 1998 to officially change the name of the borough from Jefferson to Jefferson Hills
To learn more about the history of our area please visit the West Jefferson Hills Historical Society.