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


Washington township was organized in 1789 on the petition of certain inhabitants of Salem township, which set forth that the division of Salem and the formation of a new township would greatly benefit the citizens in the way of attending elections and conducting the business of the township in general. The court, considering the large territory in Salem, ordered that part of Salem beginning at a line between Salem and Franklin townships, thence by an eastern course to the head of a branch of Beaver run; thence down the said branch to where it empties into the main branch; and thence eastwardly where the land strikes the Kiskiminetas or Loyalhanna, should be called Washington township. The principal stream in Washington township is Beaver run, which was more famous in the early history than it has been since. In the central and southern part of the township there are extensive veins of coal, which is being mined. Outside of the coal industry the principal occupation of its citizens is agriculture.

Among the early settlers of the township were the Walters, Sloans, McKowns, Kearns, Branthcovers, McKillips, Chambers, Hills, Rughs, Calhouns, Steels, Georges, Bairns, Yockeys, Thompspns, McQuilkins, McQuaides, McCutcheons, etc. The first school in the township was organized in 1808 in a small building on the land of David Hilty. Its first teacher was Timothy Collins. The house was a typical pioneer schoolhouse, built of logs and lighted by strips of greased paper pasted on crevices between the logs, and heated by an old fashioned fireplace. About the same time a man named Charles Foster taught school in an old deserted log building. Joseph Muffley also taught several sessions in the same township, and raised the grade of instruction considerably. The township adopted the free school system in 1836, after a sharply contested election. Among the first school directors were Alexander Thompson, John Reed, Adam Bowman. The first teachers were John McCormick, John Duff, Samuel McCormick and others. These were usually examined by John Craig, who himself had been a teacher in the early days.

One of the oldest churches is known as Poke Run Presbyterian Church, and was founded in 1783 or 1784 by Joseph Thorn, William Hills, John Hamilton, John Paul, David Carnahan and others. They applied to the Presbytery to have preaching by supplies at an old house on the banks of Poke Run, and from this it took its name. The house was used as a dwelling house and also as a preaching place. In 1789 the Poke Run congregation erected a log house there seventy feet by thirty, for by this time the membership had increased considerably. Rev. Samuel Porter was the first pastor in 1790. It was then on the front settlement and exposed to the Indians. Not infrequently did the people assemble there on Sunday morning for worship, each one bringing with him his rifle; powder horn and bullet pouch, for they knew not how soon a hostile band of Indians might pounce down on the congregation. When Rev. Porter first came to the community with his family he encamped by a large fallen tree, against which he leaned two forks or small saplings ten or twelve feet long, laid a pole across the forks, and on. this laid others to serve as rafters, and stripped bark enough from trees to cover these rafters, and under this rudely constructed shed he and his family slept, and he prepared his sermons until their regular house could be built. Their meals were cooked on a fire made by the side of a log in the woods. Rev. Porter resigned in 1798 and took exclusive charge of the Congruity congregation. After him came Rev. Francis Laird, the progenitor of the Laird family of Greensburg, and the son in law of Judge John Moore. Rev. Laird had come from the east of the mountains, and at first preached to the Poke Run and Plum Creek congregations unitedly. He was installed on June 22, 1800. He served these people with great ability for twenty nine years and a half, and then removed to Murrysville. Revs. Alexander and Martin followed him at Poke Run. Martin turned out to be an impostor, and was soon dismissed. In 1833 James Campbell was pastor, and he was followed in 1834 by Rev. David Kirkpatrick, who preached to them as a supply until 1838, when he was installed their regular pastor. He preached in the old log church until the brick church was built, which was in 1836. By this time they had grown enough to require his entire time as pastor, and they raised his salary to six hundred dollars a year. He was the father of the late Judge John M. Kirkpatrick, of Pittsburgh. Rev. Kirkpatrick continued to be pastor of this church until his death, January 5, 1869, a period of thirty years. He died at his residence near Oakland. He was one of the leading pastors in the Presbyterian Church, and was known far and wide as a scholar and a theologian. He was born in Ireland, and was a graduate of the University of Belfast. On his arrival in America he was engaged as principal of an academy at Milton, Pennsylvania, and while there had some students who became eminent in life. Among others were Governor Andrew G. Curtin. All his life he was more or less of a teacher, having under his pupilage young men who wanted to enter the ministry or other vocations in life, and he instructed them under the most rigid discipline. He won the highest respect of his neighbors, and all the community in general. Rev. Henry Bain succeeded Rev. Kirkpatrick in 1869. He came from Ohio and ministered to them with great intelligence and zeal. Through his efforts largely a new brick church, the present one, was built on the site of the old log church, and was dedicated in 1881. Rev. Bain came directly to them from the Theological Seminary. He had been bred a United Presbyterian; but joined the Presbyterian Church in Maysville, Ohio. He entirely remodeled and greatly improved the style of worship at Poke Run. When he came they used "tokens," "table seats," and a Scotch version of the Psalms. But these have all given away to the modern customs of Presbyterianism.

The Methodist Church at Oakland Cross Rhoads was erected in 1875 and was dedicated that fall, but there were few Methodists in the neighborhood.

The Pine Run Reformed Church was organized in North Washington township in T861, with about twenty seven members. The most of them originally belonged to the St. James Church at Salina, but they had a long distance to travel to worship, and therefore formed a new congregation. By contributing various sums from five to one hundred dollars, they secured enough money to build their church. Rev. R. P. Thomas was the pastor, and continued with them until 1863, when he was succeeded by Rev. Thomas J. Darklay, who remained in charge until the end of 1866. Rev. T. F. Stauffer succeeded him in 1867, and gave one half his time to St. James Church and one half to the Poke Run congregation. He resigned in 1871 and removed to Allegheny county. His successor was Rev. J. B. Welty in 1872, who remained one year. After him came Rev. John Grant, and then Rev. John McConnell, who served as a supply, and in 1875 the congregation was able to maintain a pastor of its own, and Rev. Henry Bair took charge of it.

Washington township has fourteen schools, with 306 pupils enrolled.

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