The trip south of Pittsburg to our first of a couple of Corps of Engineers campgrounds was largely uneventful as it was mostly along nice 4 lane highways. I am already becoming thankful for these nice 4 lane highways in the mountains since without them the trip would be slow and windy with a lot of steep grades both up and down. Since our new destination was a Corps of Engineers campground, The Outflow Campground to be specific, this meant it was deep in the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania. Therefore, even though I am naming this blog for Uniontown, we were more than 20 miles south of this major town near the small town of Confluence. This also meant that we were leaving the very nice RV Park with its manicured lawns, cable TV and strong phone signals for the internet. In contrast, The Outflow Campground, is heavily used by fishermen, bikers, and campers with nice but small sites. In addition, there were no sewer hookups and to our surprise, no water hookups either!! We had to fill the fresh water tank for the very first time at the spigot at the entrance booth (blocking the entrance to the campgrounds) and had to watch our water consumption all week in fear we would run out. The RV has a water pump that we had never used before, so we still had running hot and cold water. The electrical hookup was only 30 amp, so we also had to be careful about running the air conditioner and microwave at the same time, which we have gotten use to. There was even no laundry facility and since there was no laundrymat in the small town of Confluence, we decided to wait until the next week to clean our clothes. Thankfully, we had decent phone coverage, so we did have an internet connection. The worst thing, according to Kal, was the TV reception. Being in the mountains and down at the lake meant that the reception was terrible. We were limited to just ABC for the week. While this would normally not be a problem we had enjoyed watching the Olympics in the afternoon and evening every night the previous week and now we were cut off completely. Although we had seen a lot of coverage of the swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, etc all last week, we would miss all the coverage of the second week of the games. There was even no reason to seek out a sports bar as the women had lost their previous soccer match to Sweden. Such is the life of the full-timer!!
Especially since there was little else to do in the campgrounds, we headed out on Tuesday for one of the National Park sites in the area. About an hour from the campground, west of Uniontown, is Friendship Hill National Historic Site. We did not look at the website before going so we had no idea what to expect. We pulled into the parking lot down a nice tree lined lane and all we could see was picnic tables and a restroom facility. It looked like this area might be limited to a couple of hiking trails and little else. A short paved path wound up the hillside from the parking lot and once we crested the hill we saw a large stone house. There was also a bronze statue of someone named Andrew Gallatin with his surveying equipment. I had never heard of Gallatin, so we were still wondering what we were in for. One part of the large house was a small Visitor Center where a nice high school intern, was eager (and a bit nervous) to tell us all about Andrew Gallatin and Friendship Hill. He did a very nice job describing the history of the different parts of the house interspersing information about Gallatin. I would be surprised if any of you have ever heard of Gallatin either, since he was not one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, although he did play a major role in defining our government. At the age of 19, Andrew Gallatin immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1780, just after the Revolutionary War. Although he did not start out with much money, through some land speculation he was able to buy 370 acres in the frontier of western Pennsylvania by 1786. He built a two story Federal style brick home he called Friendship Hill and moved in with his new wife, Sofia. However, Sofia died a few months later and partly for this reason Gallatin entered into politics being elected to represent his area at the Pennsylvania Convention where he helped draft their new state constitution. From there he moved on to the Pennsylvania Assembly and the US House of Representatives. When he was selected to serve as the Treasury Secretary under President Jefferson, continuing through President Madison is where he made his contribution to this nation. A firm believer that the federal government should not be in debt and the new nation still under the heavy burden of debt from the Revolutionary War, his first achievement was to reduce this debt by over half. He then moved on by financing the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the initial funding for a new National Road to run from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia (which just happened to pass close by his home at Friendship Hill). He also financed the War of 1812 by introducing Treasury Bills for the first time. Later he served as Ministers to both France and Great Britain and other accomplishments once he left public life. Although I had never heard of him, Andrew Gallatin was a major player in making sure our new country did not default on its debt.
After watching the two short videos they had, we explored the different parts of the house, which had at least four periods of construction that did not match each other. There were steps at odd places, three separate stair cases, and the stone addition that his son added did not even connect with the current house and had to be reached by a covered walkway. The most interesting feature was in the stone kitchen that was added at the same time as the stone house. A fire back in the 1900s destroyed the roof of the kitchen and other structures. The National Park Service is still actively restoring the original house, but has opted to not restore the ceiling of the kitchen. It is covered by a modern roof that is set above the original. This allows visitors to see all three constructions that took place at one location. Once you figure out what you are looking at, it is a great idea. After the tour of the house, we also toured the grounds which includes a stone gazebo set at the top of the bluff overlooking the Monongahela River. There is also a short path down to the supposed grave site of Sophia, who we knew was buried in an unmarked grave overlooking the river. Even though there is no head stone, the short stone wall around the grave is rather distinctive. At this point we ate lunch in their nice picnic area and decided not to do any further hiking as the weather was very humid with temperatures in the low 90s. So we drove back to the RV where we could spend the afternoon in the nice air conditioning.
We woke on Wednesday to a nice rain shower, so like we do when we can, we headed for a casino. The previous day we passed a very nice looking casino right on US 40 called The Lucky Lady, which was less than 20 minutes from the campgrounds. Being so close, we got there by 9:30 in the morning, which meant there was literally very few people. It turns out this casino is a private establishment for guests of the resort, so we had to become “guests”. This meant purchasing a $10 gift card that we could use to eat lunch, so it was not a big deal. We had our choice of slot machines and enjoyed an hour of gambling, without losing too much. Then Kal had the bonus on a $0.40 slot machine that gave her 12 free games with extra wild symbols. Before those 12 games were done she was awarded another 50 free games and before that was even half done she got another 10 free games!! Although not all of the free games would hit big, there were enough that she won $95 before all the free games were done!! I did not do as well, losing about $20, but still for the day we came out over $100 ahead. It was sure nice for a change and we really enjoyed watching the free games which took over 15 minutes to play out. We ate an early lunch in their restaurant and got another surprise. For $13 each we each got a meal, mine was lasagna and Kal got an open roast beef sandwich. After eating the salad and soup, which all we really needed for lunch, they brought out the meal. The lasagna I had was 3 times the lasagna I have ever been served before and Kal’s open faced sandwich was nearly twice the size of mine. Either meal could have fed a family of 4!! I ate maybe a third of my meal and Kal barely touched hers. We took them home with us and ate the next 3 days from those left overs!! After basking in our winnings we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the campground, especially since the rain had stopped for the day and it had cooled off.
For Wednesday we decided to just stay in the campground so I could work on this blog and generally do nothing much all day. On Thursday we were back on the road, traveling once again on US 40 to Fort Necessity National Battlefield. We were not as interested in this National Park since we had visited it while I was attending a conference in Pittsburg about 10 years ago. However, a lot had changed over the 10 years and it was like we were seeing it for the first time. The exhibits in the Visitor Center are excellently done leading visitors through the history of the area from the time of George Washington’s defeat at the Battle of Fort Necessity to the construction of the National Road. The history of the area began as a time of tension between the colonies of Great Britain who saw the Ohio Valley as prime territory for settlement, the colonies of France who wanted control of the Ohio Valley for trade and commerce that linked their colonies in Louisiana and Canada, and the Iroquois Confederacy that wanted everyone out of their territory and fought for both sides. The French were building a series of forts from Lake Erie to the Forks where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio River. In 1754, a young George Washington was sent with a regiment of Virginia militia to widen the Indian trail to allow for wagons from Maryland into the frontier of Pennsylvania and to confront the French that had constructed Fort Duquense at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to form the Ohio River. By June they had reached a spot called the Great Meadow near the Monongahela River where they found a marshy, natural meadow that was perfect for feeding their livestock. So they built a small round stockade to protect a small log building used to hold their supplies and called it Fort Necessity. This stockade was not meant to be a great defensive structure, only to protect their supplies from the Indians and fellow soldiers. After learning about a small force of French and Indians camped 7 miles from Fort Necessity, Washington led a small group to intercept them. At dawn on May 28, they found the French encamped at the bottom of a ravine giving them the high ground above the rocks. It is still debated who shot first, but all of the French were either captured or killed, including their leader Joseph Coulo De Villiers, Sieur de Jemonville. Jemonville’s brother led a force of about 600 soldiers from Fort Duquense in retaliation and on the morning of July 3, 1754, surrounded Washington at Fort Necessity. Rather than fighting in the open, the superior French forces stayed in the woods, which were too close to the fort, leaving them a clear line of fire down into the trenches. On top of that, it was raining heavily all day and the trenches were full of water. By the end of the day, the British forces were in terrible shape, but the French were low on ammunition. Therefore, they negotiated terms of surrender, which allowed the British to withdraw, but also named George Washington personally responsible for the death of Jemonville. Thus began the French and Indian War that would eventually become the first “World War”, known as the Seven Years War in Europe. The following year the largest British army in the colonies so far, under the command of General Braddock, once again left Maryland in April. George Washington was also involved as Braddock’s aide de camp. While on the march they improved the road cleared by Washington, which became known as the Braddock’s Road. By mid-June they road building was slowing down the British so much, that Braddock took 1300 picked soldiers on to dislodge the French from Fort Duquense. However, on July 9, the French ambushed the British troops south of the fort and defeated them, killing or capturing nearly 2/3 of the troops. General Braddock was also wounded and died 3 days later during the retreat. Washington had Braddock buried in an unmarked grave in the center of the road to protect it from the Indians. So in the period of two years, George Washington faced some of his greatest military defeats. He never forgot the lessons he learned and even returned years later to purchase the area around Fort Necessity. The important history of the area did not end there. Braddock’s road was used as a wagon trail by settlers and tradesmen for over 50 years as a major road into the Ohio Valley. By 1811, the federal government funded improvements (due to Secretary of the Treasure Andrew Gallatin) to the road that now extended from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia (then part of Virginia). When turned over to the states, funding for repairs and improvements were raised by a series of toll houses along the road. This road became the first National Road and was eventually extended through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, eventually ending in St. Louis. It became a major thoroughfare for people and commerce through the years with many towns and businesses springing up along its route. Today US 40 primarily follows the route of the National Road.
After exploring the Visitor Center with its wonderful exhibits and taking in the video about the battle, we proceeded to explore the reconstructed Fort Necessity. Not only would the wooden stockade and building not have survived to today, but the French burned it after capturing it in 1754. It is interesting that the original reconstruction was of a larger stockade in the form of a large oval, until archeological evidence was found to locate the remains of the burned stockade and the fort was rebuilt. We had the chance to talk with a native American at the site that was conducting demonstrations of fighting techniques and musket firing. We caught him between shows and got a chance to talk with him clearing up some of the questions I had about the Fort. We then drove to their picnic area, which is a nice wooded area built by the CCC in the 1930s. After lunch we drove over to the Mount Washington Inn, which was an inn and tavern during the heyday of the National Road. It was actually an overnight stop for one of the many stagecoaches that operated on the National Road. They have done a nice job restoring the inn and filling it with period pieces. The downstairs is the tavern for the men, a fancy parlor for the women and families, and a central dining room. Upstairs are the bedrooms, where guests would share the rooms and even the beds. From there we continued northwest along US 40 to the site of Braddock’s grave. During some repairs being made to the National Road, they uncovered the remains of a body in the middle of the road, that are likely to be those of General Braddock. His remains were moved to a spot nearby off of the road where they erected a monument. From there it was another short drive to the turnoff for Jemonville Glen where the NPS is preserving the area around the ravine where Jemonville was killed on May 28, 1754. There is a nice paved walkway to the overlook of the ravine that is likely where Washington was during that morning when they surprised the French. A dirt path circles around down into the ravine so you can get the perspective of the French and their Indian allies. The path is suppose to be a 0.5 mile loop ending back up at the parking lot, but somehow we missed the turn back to the parking lot. The main path seemed to continue on to a city park in Jemonville Glen and once we passed a sign stating the NPS boundary I knew we had a problem. A little beyond the sign there was a fork in the trail with one fork leading back across the little creek. Figuring this was the correct trail, we took it, climbing back out of the ravine. After going about another 0.25 mile I was convinced this trail was not leading back to the parking lot, especially once it began to descend back to the creek. I called Kal back up the slope and we decided to head cross country as I was pretty sure the direction we needed to go to get back to the parking lot. This would have been a good decision, except for the ferns and vines that covered the ground. We were not able to see all the downed limbs, rocks, and debris below the ferns so walking was treacherous. Thankfully, my sense of direction was correct and we soon saw the truck through the woods. We had managed to turn this simple 0.5 mile hike into a very tiring 1.5 mile hike through the woods, at least half of which was not on a trail. By this point we were both exhausted and it was mid-afternoon. We still drove on down to Uniontown to go to a Walmart before heading back to the campground.
Especially after the tiring day on Friday, we decided to spend the weekend in the campgrounds. I got caught up on the blog and Kal read at least a couple of books!!