History Rostraver Township, Westmoreland County, Pa.
From: History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
By: John N. Boucher
Published By: The Lewis Publishing Company
New York, Chicago, 1906

Rostraver Township

Rostraver township was one of the original townships of the county, it being erected on April 6, 1773. The first boundary began at the mouth of Jacob's creek and ran down the Youghiogeny river to where it joins the Monongahela then by the Monongahela river to the mouth of Red Stone creek, and then by a straight line to the place of beginning. Alexander Mitchell and Samuel Biggard were first elected overseers of the poor of the township, and Eysham Barnes was elected supervisor.

The first settlers in the township were the Findleys, George Wendell and his son Peter; Rev. Samuel Power; the Fullertons, Pinkertons. Houseman, Robertson, Thompsons, Shippers, Lowreys, Patterns, Orrs, McClains, Robinsons, Caldwells, Steels, Yilsons, Hutchinsons, McClures, and others. The township is bounded now on the north by Forward and Elizabeth townships, Allegheny county; on the south by Washington township, Fayette county; on the east by the Youghiogheny river, and on the west by the Monongahela river. The principal stream of water in the township after the rivers named, is Saw Mill run. The topography of the township is considerably diversified, there being some high romantic bluffs along the streams, and the country being more or less level in the interior. In the eastern part of the township there is an abundance of coal and limestone. There are fine flag and building stone near Webster, on the Monongahela river.

It is supposed that the first real settler in the township was Joseph Hill, who came from Carroll county, Maryland, in 1754. When he was about eighteen years old he had made considerable improvement on lands which he occupied near where Braddock's army passed through the township in the following summer. His lands were near the present Rehoboth church. He was a son of Joseph Hill, who served six or seven years in the Revolutionary war, and who afterwards settled in Rostraver township, near his son.

Another early settler was George Wendell and his family, who came from Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1758, and settled in the northeastern part of the township. The Rehoboth church has been spoken of in the part of this work relative to church history. The first two pastors were Reverends James Power and James Findley. The former was born in 1746, in Chester county. Rey. Findley was born in Ireland, in 1725, and died June 6, 1795, leaving several children whose descendants are still found as citizens of Rostraver township.

From an old list of taxables made during the Revolution, we have copied the following: Robert Jamison, Matthew Jamison, Edward Mitchell, George Shields, William McKnight, Henry Westbay, John Hall, Benjamin Brown, Joseph McClain, John Biggart, John Maxwell, Lewis Pearce, David Findley, John Stewart John Logan, Matthew Mitchell, Edward Tones, Joseph Pearce, Jr., Joseph Pearce, Henry McGlaughlin, John Drench, John Pearce, William Drenan, James Findly, James Finney, Robert Smiths, William Smith, Robert McConnell, Adam McConnell John McConnell, Adam McConnell, Sr., William Moored, Philip Howell, Andrew Howell, William Finny, Thomas Morton, William Morton, Isaac Greer, Robert Walker.

A school was established near the center of this township some time between 1790 and 1805. It was a subscription school, and supplied the community for four or five miles in every direction. The teachers were generally incompetent. The house used as a schoolhouse had a thatch or straw roof and greased paper windows. In 1805 they built a second schoolhouse, the first one used having been built for another purpose. The second one had a clapboard roof and glass windows. The first teacher in it was G. H. Lower, who came from News York, and was well educated, being able to teach Latin and Greek. While he remained in the township he created considerable interest in education, so that in 1812 two more school houses were built, one in the northern and the other in the southern part of the township. The latter was deeded by a pioneer named Samuel Urns, who in his deed says, "It shall be used for school purposes as long as water runs or grass grows." Among the leading teachers were Lower, Roberts and Darr. These three schools were carried on in the old style which has been described in the chapter on school history, until the common school system was adopted in 1836. Among the first directors were John Power, E. Moore and P. H. Rhyal. Before the adoption of the common law the number of school houses had increased to six, and the first year after the adoption of the common school law two new ones were built. They had at least one teacher in the township who was capable of teaching the higher mathematics and languages. Among the early teachers of Rostraver township of a later period was Edgar Cowan, afterwards a United States senator from Pennsylvania.

The Rehoboth Church is indeed one of the pioneer churches of the county, and its history has been considered in the general church history in this volume. In the cemetery near by are buried many old settlers. The following are a few of the inscriptions from their tombstones: Elenor Moore, died January 7, 1819, aged 53 years; James Starrett, died July 8. 1829, aged 78; Robert Galloway, died June 30, 1818, aged 49 Rev. James Finley, born in County Armagh, 1725, died January 6, 1795. He was 46 years in the ministry. John Steel, died January 10, 1856, aged 81; George Crawford, died June 11, 1797, aged 52; Captain William Elliott, died March 20, 1804, aged 54; Ruth, his wife, died July 2, 1830, aged 76; William Bigham, died December 12, 1844, aged 74; Col. John Power, elder of Rehoboth Church, died July 29, 1805, aged 48; Margaret, his wife, died March 10, 1836, aged 80; Dr. Bela B. Smith, died October 17, 1841, aged 79; Elizabeth, his wife, died May 23, 1844, aged 74.

The Salem Baptist Church, with its cemetery, is located in the northern part of the township. It was organized in 1792, and is the oldest Baptist organization in the county. The first pastor was Rev. Barkley. They built a brick church in 1842

Webster is a large town in the township, and is located in the northwestern part, on the Monongahela river. It was founded in 1833, by Benjamin Beazell and a man named Ford. Shortly before that, in 1830, Daniel Webster had made his celebrated reply to Robert Y. Hayne, and so they named this town after the great statesman of that age. It very soon became a steamboat manufacturing town, and it kept this business up pretty constantly for many years. Later they gave more attention to the mining of coal than anything else.


North Belle Vernon is a borough, part of which is in Rostraver township, and part in Fayette county. It was incorporated on February 26, 1876.

The Weddell family originally came from Hagerstown, Maryland, and settled in Rostrayer township in 1758. Coming west they followed the road known then as Braddock's Trail, until they reached the Youghiogheny river; which they descended until they came to an old Indian fort, and there they decided to locate land and found a home. They erected a log cabin, and late in the fall their father returned to Maryland, leaving his son and another young man in charge of the cabin and clearing. They were perhaps the only white settlers west of the Allegheny mountains that winter. They had but little food, depending upon the forest for meat, and on the little corn which they had raised, and which they ground by pounding it between stones, and baked it into bread on flat stones. In the spring of 1759 the father, with the remainder of the family, returned to the cabin. He had five sons, two of whom went to Kentucky. One of his descendants became very wealthy in Cleveland, Ohio, and built the "Weddell House," a well known hostelry of that city.

In 1837 what was long known as the John Gibson's Son & Co. famous Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, Distilleries, were established on the bank of the Monongahela river, in the extreme southeastern portion of the county, near the borough of Belle Vernon, a part of which is within Fayette, and the remainder in Westmoreland county. They located the distillery there in 1837 because it was a rich rye producing section, and the Monongahela Valley had, moreover, been renowned for its whisky, even before the Whisky Insurrection. Their best method of transportation then was by wagons, and by flatboat navigation on the Monongahela river. They now have splendid shipping facilities both by rail and by water. In 1883 the name was changed to Moore & Sinnott, and so continued until the death of Mr. Moore, in 1898, when Joseph F. Sinnott became sole proprietor. The general manager of this distillery is T. L. Daly. Beginning on a small scale in 1837, Gibson's Son & Co. completed their extensive Forks at this point in 1857. In the autumn of 1881 the distillery and one large warehouse were totally destroyed by fire, but rebuilt in 1882. It is now the largest single distillery plant in Pennsylvania. Nothing but pure Michigan rye is used from which to produce their celebrated whisky. They now have fourteen bonded and free warehouses. In 1904 they produced 16,000 barrels off whisky. From February I, 1904, to January 31, 1905, the United States Internal Revenue Department collected from this distillery (at $1.10 per gallon) $555,420.48. From February 1, 1903, to January 31, 1904, the revenue paid the government was $572,229.57. One thousand two hundred and fifty bushels of rye are used daily in this plant.

[Continued with the City of Monessen, then part of this Township.]

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