Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond

You are all fantastic for reading my blog! I’ve had several readers reach out to me in the past month. I appreciate you all for taking precious time out of your full lives to digest my stories. I don’t want to let you down.

I will tell you a little bit more about our brief sailing adventures on Lake Erie. First, let me tell you about Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond.

The “Greater Erie, PA” region sits on the south shore of Lake Erie, and also on the south shore of Presque Isle Bay. Presque Isle Bay’s west and north boundaries exist due to a Peninsula that extends into Lake Erie.

To the west and the north of Presque Isle Bay is a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie. (On this peninsula now sits Presque Isle State Park. )

The Native Americans known as the “Eriez Nation” inhabited this area hundreds of years ago. The Iroquois defeated the Eriez in the 1600’s.

If you leave from Erie and head toward the open lake, then Erie (the city) will be on your starboard side and the peninsula will be on your port side.

You will travel past a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park. Then, you will travel past Misery Bay.

Monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry

You will need to travel through a shipping channel to leave the bay. Before you reach the channel, you will pass (on your port side) a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry and then Misery Bay.

Then, you will travel through a shipping channel. Finally, you will pass the North Pier Lighthouse. Congratulations. You are on the open lake.

Perry commanded the U.S.’s Lake Erie naval fleet in 1813. This was during the War of 1812, the United States’ second war against the British. This U.S. naval fleet was at Presque Isle Bay when Perry took command. Perry’s forces broke a British blockade at Presque Isle. Then they defeated the British off of the Ohio coast at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.

Perry then returned to Presque Isle Bay.

Do you remember when I wrote that the bay next to the Perry monument is called “Misery Bay?” Well, the bay earned its name from what happened after the Battle of Lake Erie. Many returning sailors contracted smallpox and died in quarantine. They died aboard ships harbored in Misery Bay. The ones who didn’t get sick buried these sailors in the pond next to Misery Bay. Then, sailors who got sick but hadn’t yet died also got “buried” in the pond.

Local storytellers renamed the pond “Graveyard Pond.”

The navy sunk the hulls of two of their ships, the USS Lawrence and the USS Niagara, in Misery Bay for preservation.

In 1875, preservationists raised the Lawrence. They shipped her to Philadelphia. Exhibitors displayed the Lawrence at the U.S. Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the Lawrence at that same exhibition.

Preservationists raised and rebuilt the USS Niagara in 1913, then rebuilt her again in 1988. The reconstructed USS Niagara now sails regularly from her dock in Erie, past Misery Bay, on her way to the open lake.

Flagship Niagara Passes Fishermen on the North Pier

My husband, Jonathan, and I purchased our sailboat, S/V Pinniped, last autumn from the original owners, P. and M. In fact, P. built the boat himself from a set of plans. P. told us to be careful to stay away from Misery Bay when we travelled through the channel. Misery Bay is shallow, compared to the shipping channel. P. admitted that he actually grounded Pinniped on various sandbars in Misery Bay.

So of course, when we returned to the bay from our first sail together on the open lake, we accidentally steered into Misery Bay.

Misery Bay at that particular spot has a datum depth of four feet. Pinniped drafts five a half feet.

Fortunately for us, Lake Erie is high this summer. So, the actual depth on that spot on that day was seven and a half feet. We lucked out!

A week later, we again sailed onto the open lake. We sailed past a docked freighter before we left the bay.

Freighter

We sailed about one third of the way across Lake Erie.

And . . . we avoided steering into Misery Bay on the way back!

However, after several hours of sailing, the wind died and the flies appeared. Lots of flies. We motored for over an hour, covered in flies, to reach our slip at our marina. (For the record, we sprayed ourselves generously with bug spray. We still received fly bites.)

Despite Misery Bay and the flies, we both had positive experiences on both sailing trips. Stay tuned for more sailing adventures and more stories from history.

1779 Sailing Mishap

FYI: NOT our boat.

Per my last post, my husband Jonathan and I recently purchased a 35 foot sailboat.

I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.

When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.

We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.

Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.

That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.

Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.

We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.

That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.

Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.

I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.

The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.

Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.

This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE twice. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!

After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.

For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.

Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:

“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.”  . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”

Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”

Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!

Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.”  Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)

Stay tuned for my next sailing update.

Erie, Pennsylvania

Houseboats in Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania

My husband, Jonathan, and I recently purchased a sailboat, S/V Pinniped. We dock Pinniped in Erie, PA. Here are Jonathan’s most recent updates on sailing:

Life with S/V Pinniped: Two Months in, Part 1

Life with S/V Pinniped: Two Months in, Part 2

A few years ago, Jonathan blogged about an Erie lighthouse:

Erie Land Light

Then, I wrote Don’t Give Up the Lighthouse; Erie Land Light Part II.

I also previously blogged about the time that we saw the U.S. Brig Niagara sail past us under full sail at Presque Isle State Park.

Jonathan and I actually left the bay and sailed on Lake Erie (the open lake!) for the first time together yesterday. Check back for future updates!

Ghost Town #1

Maybe you’re looking for “free” places to explore with your family each summer. My own awesome mom did this because she had five active daughters.

Maybe I can help you. I know of several “free” ghost towns in Western Pennsylvania.

Here’s Ghost Town #1: The Ghost Town Trail in Indiana and Cambria Counties. This is a 44-mile “rails-to-trails” trail. You can ride your bicycle or walk / run this trail from Blacklick, PA to Cardiff, PA.

Such trails here in Western Pennsylvania charge no admission. You don’t need to have a special permit to enjoy our public trails! (I vacationed once in the Adirondacks in New York State, and the bike trails there charged admission.) You can access the Ghost Town Trail through several trailheads that provide free daytime parking.

As the name “rails-to-trails” implies, this trail lived an earlier life as working railroad lines. People dependent on the economic opportunity from blast furnaces and coal mining lived along these tracks. They built houses, schools, churches, and stores along these tracks. They died along these tracks.

Some of the structures remain as ghost towns. Thus the name, “Ghost Town Trail.”

For instance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s uncle, Warren Delano, developed the railroad town of Wehrum along these tracks. Wehrum evolved into a ghost town after the mines closed in the 1930’s. Wehrum now consists of one standing house, a bank vault, and the Russian Orthodox cemetery.

Jonathan and I travelled from the Pittsburgh area on PA Route 56 to access the trailhead in Vintondale. The bike trip took us through the Blacklick Creek Valley. Adventurers can view two out of the valley’s three original iron furnaces: 1.) Eliza Furnace (AKA Ritter’s Furnace), and 2.) Buena Vista Furnace.

Folklore claims that one of the Eliza Furnace’s original owners died suddenly after a financial or personal setback. The lore includes tales that this owner still haunts the furnace.

I’m sure that other ghosts, real or imagined, also haunt this trail.

We define places through our own pasts, our own kaleidoscopes.

For instance, I grew up in Central and Western PA to Pittsburgh-area parents. PA’s steel industry collapsed. My extended family left the state for brighter futures elsewhere. My friends from school left the state. My family and friends who stayed here struggled to find (and keep) family-sustaining jobs. I know a lot of good people who suffered after the steel business imploded here.

Johnstown, near Vintondale and the Ghost Town Trail, nearly became a ghost town in its own right.

I lived in Johnstown for a few years after college. I had my own reasons for this. I struggled when I lived in Johnstown.

I organized cultural activities through an Americorps program that served (economically distressed) communities in Western PA. I shared office space in Johnstown with two fellow Americorps members who worked on remediating the section of the Ghost Town Trail that ran through Vintondale.

I lived and worked in an almost-ghost town while my office-mates preserved a tourist attraction marketed as a “ghost town.”

Then, I moved to the Pittsburgh area. Jonathan and I returned to Vintondale to pedal along the Ghost Town Trail. We now belong to the Ghost Town Trail’s “Pittsburgh tourists.”

When I pedal along the Ghost Town Trail, I reflect on my time spent with loved ones in PA’s “almost-ghost” towns.

You’ll reflect on your own truths as the you tour the Ghost Town Trail.

Maybe you’ll even see ghosts!

Harry K. Thaw’s Grave

A few months ago, I blogged about the time that Harry K. Thaw shot Stanford White over White’s relationship with Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. (Thaw was from Pittsburgh, and Nesbit was born in Tarentum, PA, although the two of them met in New York City.)

I visited Thaw’s grave in Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh.

I didn’t put the rosary on this grave. I don’t know who put the rosary on the headstone.

Here is the marker for the Thaw family plot:

If you want to hear a podcast or two about Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,” and Thaw’s murder of White, check out these podcast episodes:

1.) Criminal (hosted by Phoebe Judge), covered this in episode 91The “It” Girl.

2.) Then, an episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder talked about this in episode 136 and heavily “cited” Criminal. (In my opinion, the bulk of the My Favorite Murder host’s “research” consisted of her listening to the Criminal episode! This is merely my personal opinion, though.)

Tintern Abbey, Iron Maiden, and Jane Austen

Once upon a time, I followed my husband Jonathan on his business travel to London. We rented a car. We drove to Tintern Abbey, in Wales, on the River Wye.

Well, Jonathan drove our British rental car on the left side of the road. Jonathan maneuvered the traffic circles (roundabouts). I navigated.

Here’s the first road sign that we saw after we crossed the line into Wales. Note that the first three lines of this sign are in Welsh and the final three lines are in English:

PAN FYDD

GOLAU COCH

ARHOSWCH YM

WHEN RED LIGHT

SHOWS WAIT

HERE

We almost didn’t tour Tintern Abbey.

The government runs this landmark as a day-use attraction, so it closes before the sun sets. The staff ends ticket sales 30 minutes before the attraction closes for the day. We got lost and then we arrived at Tintern Abbey about an hour before it closed.

But we made it!

Cistercian monks established and maintained Tintern Abbey between 1131- 1536. Tintern Abbey closed in 1536 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Here are some of the things that happened:

1.) The monarchs in England used to be Roman Catholic.

2.) The Protestant Reformation began in Saxony (Germany) in 1517.

3.) Henry VIII of England wanted to end his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1533 so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.

4.) Henry VIII rejected papal supremacy. Parliament passed a law establishing Henry as the head of the Church of England.

5.) In the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry closed all of the monasteries, including Tintern Abbey.

6.) Henry’s agents stripped the monastic property of anything and everything valuable, including the lead roof.

(In Anya Seton’s novel Green Darkness, one of the main characters lived as an English monk in a different Catholic monastery. Henry VIII also closed this monastery during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The novel detailed how Henry VIII’s officials plundered that monastery of its valuables and banished the monks. At least one of these monks fled to France. Many of them remained in England but hid from the Protestants during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. The King’s officials grew their own wealth by closing the monasteries. See my prior blog post about Anya Seton.)

The band Iron Maiden filmed their music video for “Can I Play with Madness” partly at Tintern Abbey.

Jane Austen shouts-out to Tintern Abbey in her novel Mansfield Park.

Wikipedia taught me that Allen Ginsburg tripped on acid here in 1967 and then wrote his poem Wales Visitation.

William Wordsworth also wrote a poem about Tintern Abbey.

The Wye Valley Railway established a station near the Abbey in 1876. Though prior tourists visited Tintern by boat, fashionable Victorians could now access it by train.

We left the Abbey and grabbed dinner at a local pub. Other patrons spoke Welsh to each other.

We drove through the rural darkness back to London.

Watch for my upcoming blog posts about my adventures in travel.

Ancient Henge and Modern Pagans

Today is May 1. May Day. The ancient festival of Beltane.

Ancient residents of Northern Europe celebrated May 1 as a spring festival. My ancient ancestors most likely celebrated on May Day.

In Anya Seton‘s historical fiction novel Katherine, the serfs living on the English protagonist’s estate snuck off and observed Beltane. A nobleman discovered them and ended the party. The powerful men in this novel forbid Beltane since it wasn’t a “Christian” holiday. They labeled Beltane as “pagan.”

In honor of May Day, I blog today about a place in England that predated Christianity in England. Modern-day Pagans (Contemporary Pagans / Neopagans) still gather at this landmark to observe their own beliefs. I blog today about Avebury.

My husband Jonathan travelled to London for business a few times. I took vacation days from my own job, purchased plane tickets, and squatted in his hotel room so that I could blog about England.

Jonathan had a weekend “off,” so we rented a British car. We drove several hours out of London and visited rural England.

My cousin R. previously lived in the United Kingdom for a year. We asked R. for sightseeing recs. Cousin R. told us about Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England.

Avebury Henge, a Neolithic henge monument, encircles a section of the village of Avebury. A ditch surrounds the henge.

UNESCO classifies this as part of its “Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites” World Heritage site.

We decided through our research that Avebury was more accessible to us than Stonehenge from our hotel “base” in London. We had limited “free” time during our trip. So, we skipped Stonehenge in favor of Avebury.

To our delight, Avebury and its attractions charged no admission. We found it uncrowded, too!

Visitors can even shop inside the henge.

Sheep graze among the Avebury Henge.

In fact, I watched a sheep rub itself against the henge stones.

Look at the below photo. Some of the henge stones show long-term wear at sheep level.

We explored the actual village of Avebury:

Here is the Parish Church of St. James in Avebury. To be clear, this IS a currently operating Christian (Anglican) church. I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.

St. James dates from approximately 100o A.D. The Normans possibly altered the church after the Norman Invasion in 1066 A.D.

The residents on this land now called Avebury once celebrated such pre-Christian rites as Beltane. The status quo maintained Beltane as a festival.

Then, the (Roman Catholic) Church brought Christianity to Avebury. The status quo no longer maintained the pre-Christian beliefs and festivals. The status quo maintained Roman Catholicism.

Then, in the 1500’s, Henry VIII established the (Protestant) Church of England. Henry dissolved the Roman Catholic monasteries. His supporters prosecuted practicing Catholics. Henry VIII died. Henry’s son Edward VI maintained Protestantism as the status quo in England. Edward VI died.

Henry’s daughter, Mary I, then became Queen. She reinstated Roman Catholicism and persecuted Protestants. Mary I died.

Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I became queen. The status quo changed again, this time in favor of Protestants.

(This actually provides much of the setting for Anya Seton‘s time travel / reincarnation novel Green Darkness.)

In 1561, Elizabeth I ordered that all churches destroy their rood screens. (The rood screen separated a church’s chancel from its nave.) Unknown parties disassembled the rood screen at St. James and hid it behind a false wall. Church inhabitants discovered the rood screen in 1810. St. James parishioners restored the screen and reinstalled it by the end of the 1800’s.

Here is St. James’ churchyard:

Again, I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.

The rest of this post details landmarks several miles outside of Avebury. We had to drive to these these places. They are “associated sites” included in the official Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site:

West Kennet Long Barrow:

This neolithic tomb contained the remains of over 40 individuals.

We parked and walked up a hill in order to view West Kennet Long Barrow. Partway up this hill we came upon a tree filled with ribbons. Unknown visitors tied various items to many of the ribbons.

Here is the inside of West Kennet Long Barrow. Earlier visitors lit candles inside the barrow before we entered it.

Silbury Hill:

This prehistoric artificial mound is the largest one in Europe.

Thank you for letting me share my adventures with you!

Check back for my upcoming blog post about Tintern Abbey, Iron Maiden, and Jane Austin.

(Note: Henry VIII closed Tintern Abbey in 1536 when he replaced Roman Catholicism with Protestantism as the status quo.)

Happy Beltane!

The Most “Pittsburgh” Part of Pittsburgh?

The Pennsylvania Shelf at my favorite used book store.

Here’s a Monongahela (Mon) River secret: I believe that one of the most “Pittsburgh” things about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania isn’t actually within Pittsburgh’s city limits.

By this, I mean the stretch of the river about ten or so miles upstream from where the Mon meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh.  By this, I mean the communities of Braddock and North Braddock, PA. The Mon flows south to north here.

Here are my reasons:

1.) Every Pittsburgh “origin story” includes the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian War. In 1755, the French and their indigenous allies ambushed British General Edward Braddock’s army and his indigenous allies at Braddock’s Field (this land is now present-day Braddock and North Braddock, PA). A young George Washington served as an aide-de-camp to General Braddock. Braddock died from his wounds during the retreat. Washington lead the retreat and he oversaw Braddock’s burial.

Marker on General Edward Braddock’s grave. General Braddock was mortally wounded in Braddock’s Field during the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755.

Any internet search on “Braddock’s Defeat” and “folklore” will overwhelm you. For fun, throw in these search terms: “Simon Girty,” or else, “missing gold.” One legend even claims that divine intervention saved Washington from death. Another alleges that one of Braddock’s own soldiers (intentionally) shot him.

This re-enactor portrays a British soldier during the French and Indian War.

2.) In 1794, rebels of the Whiskey Rebellion gathered in this very same Braddock’s Field before they marched into Pittsburgh to protest the U.S. government excise tax on whiskey. President Washington sent federal troops to put down the insurrection. In the fiction novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, angry frontiersmen threatened to burn down the houses of Pittsburgh’s leaders during this rebellion. 

My copy of “The King’s Orchard” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull

(My own hometown in Somerset County, PA later celebrated the Whiskey Rebellion with a festival out of memory for rebellion leader Robert Philson. Another rebellion leader, “Whiskey Dave” Bradford, fled to Louisiana and established the famously “haunted” Myrtles Plantation.)

3.) Braddock’s Field sits very close to the present-day Edgar Thomson Steel Works. 

Edgar Thomson Steel Works, Braddock, PA and North Braddock, PA

In 1872, Andrew Carnegie and his business associates built this steel mill. They named the plant after J. Edgar Thomson, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. They equipped the plant for the Bessemer process. 

U.S. Steel owns this working steel mill today.

I found one travel blog in which the writer (a military history enthusiast) visited the Braddock community and attempted to retrace the Battle of the Monongahela. The blogger recounted the battle (in great detail) and provided maps. The blogger complained that later “progress” corrupted this land to the extent that he couldn’t actually view the battlefield in its pristine state from 1755.

The blogger’s complaint stuck with me. Just think about the tragedies and injustices (including labor disputes and the Johnstown Flood) that some blame on Pittsburgh’s Industrial Revolution leaders. If the blogger wants to complain about Andrew Carnegie and his business associates, he needs to take a number!

Al Roker spotlights Pittsburgh Guilded Age leaders such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and J. Edgar Thomson in “Ruthless Tide,” his book about the Johnstown Flood. Roker’s book also taught me about the Edgar Thomson Steel Works.

What do you consider to be the most “Pittsburgh” places in Pittsburgh?

These re-enactors portray French settlers in North America during the 1700’s. In the 1750’s, the French and British fought for control of the mouth of the Ohio River (present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War.
My view of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works and of the Monongahela River as I sat on the opposite side of the river, behind Kennywood Park in West Mifflin.

This was my Part 3 of my Secrets of the Mon.

Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of my Secrets of the Mon.

The Dead Bride (And Other Tales of Friendship Hill)

Friendship Hill, Albert Gallatin’s home above the Monongahela River

This is Part 2 of my series on the “Secrets of the Mon.” You can read Part 1, Taj Mahal on the Mon, here.

In Part 1, I blogged about Nemacolin Castle, a mansion overlooking the Monongahela River (the Mon) in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

Today I blog about another home on a hill above the Mon. At this new estate, I saw all of these: a Jefferson cabinet member’s “cursed” home, the rumored grave of this man’s dead bride, a live bride preparing for her own wedding, and Robert E. Lee’s confiscated furniture.

Today I blog about Friendship Hill National Historic Site in Point Marion, PA. Today I blog about the country estate of Albert Gallatin.

By now, you’ve all heard of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, right? President Trump appointee Steven T. Mnuchin (Net Worth: $300 million) serves as our current Secretary of the Treasury. The idolized and fabled Alexander Hamilton served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton rival Albert Gallatin served as our fourth Secretary of the Treasury.

Gallatin was born into a wealthy family in Geneva, Switzerland. He emigrated to the Unisted States in 1780’s.

So, just like Hamilton, Gallatin was an immigrant. Just like another Secretary of the Treasury, Gallatin was born into wealth and privilege.

Since Gallatin had money, he got to chose where to live. He first tried to live in New England. He then moved to Virginia.

Finally, Gallatin settled on a rural estate in Southwestern Pennsylvania. He settled above the Mon. He settled on the property that became Friendship Hill.

The Mon flows south to north. Downstream from Friendship Hill, the Mon joins the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River. The Ohio River then flows into the Mississippi River.

Now, as I blogged here, tremendous earthen mounds dotted the banks of the Mon, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers.

From where did these come? If humans built these, then who? 

Archeologists maintain that indigenous people built these hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But how? 

One theory claims that humans significantly larger than ourselves – those known in lore as the “Tall People” – built these mounds.

Some storytellers insist that aliens from outer space built the mounds.

What is the truth behind these mounds?

Did these mounds bring special energy – special power – to the banks of the Mon?

Did the Mon’s special power call Albert Gallatin to build his home along the Mon?

Gallatin purchased the 400 acres of land in present-day Fayette County, Pennsylvania, that we now call Friendship Hill. 

Since Gallatin pursued a political career, he still lived at times in Richmond, Virginia.

By 1789, Gallatin proclaimed his love for Sophia Allegre, the daughter of a Richmond boardinghouse owner. Gallatin wanted to marry Sophia and take her back with him to Friendship Hill.

Now, keep in mind that this happened less than a decade after the American Revolution ended. Friendship Hill still belonged to the wilderness, the unknown.  Friendship Hill sits on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. White settlers battled the Iroquois Confederacy for this land.  Illness and violence threatened all. In 1789, Virginia and Pennsylvania still recovered from years of war and sacrifice. 

Whatever the reason, Sophia’s widowed mother opposed the match.

And for her own reasons, Sophia eloped with Albert Gallatin in May 1789. 

Albert and Sophia Gallatin set off to build a life together at Friendship Hill.

Five months later, Sophia Gallatin died at Friendship Hill.

How did Sophia die? Pregnancy complications? Illness? Rumors even hint that Sophia Gallatin suffered a violent death in the woods.

In any case, Albert Gallatin buried his Sophia in an unmarked grave overlooking the Mon.

Gallatin left Friendship Hill and carried on with his long diplomatic and political career. He represented Pennsylvania as a United States Senator. He served as  4thUnited States Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, from 1801-1814.  In this position, he purchased the Louisiana Territory and funded the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

Gallatin remarried. His new wife insisted that the couple not live at Friendship Hill. Did the new Mrs. Gallatin fear Friendship Hill’s remoteness? Did she know dark secrets about her husband’s home on the Mon? Whatever the reason, Gallatin agreed to give up living in southwestern Pennsylvania. He sold Friendship Hill.

Future owners lived in and expanded the original structure where Albert and Sophia Gallatin lived. 

The story claims that workers discovered Sophie’s original grave as they constructed a cistern and pump house. They moved her body to another location on the property. 

Friendship Hill changed owners several times. Homeowners suffered misfortune and tragedy. Local folklore blamed the tragedies on a curse.

Then the ghost stories bloomed.

The National Park Service (NPS) acquired Friendship Hill in the 1970’s. Later, volunteers claimed to hear footsteps in restricted places. Rumors told of a young woman’s ghost who peered through windows. 

The NPS placed signage at the location that they believe to be Sophia Gallatin’s “new” grave. Is this truly her grave? 

See more here on Sophia Gallatin’s grave.

Sophia Allegre Gallatin’s grave, per local folklore

I visited Friendship Hill National Historic Site a few years ago.

According to the NPS website for Friendship Hill, the park includes 661 acres and over 10 miles of nature trails.

I saw no food concessions or any vending machines that sold food or drink during my visit to the park. I didn’t pack enough of either of these. I had to leave after a few hours to find a grocery store. I had to drive about three miles to the actual town of Point Marion.

I did locate a clean and comfortable restroom with indoor plumbing.

Friendship Hill, Pennsylvania

I planned my visit during the operating hours for the original stone house where Albert and Sophia Gallatin lived. I paid no admission fee to tour the house. The park staff member at the front desk gave me a map so that I could do a self-guided tour of the main house.  He allowed me to bring my camera inside and take photos.

Friendship Hill includes no original furniture that belonged to Gallatin.

Now, during my visit, the rooms of Gallatin’s Friendship Hill contained Robert E. Lee’s family’s furniture. Here’s why: the NPS also operates Arlington House in Virginia. Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary, (Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter) inherited Arlington House. (The United States confiscated Arlington House during the Civil War.) At the time of my visit to Friendship Hill, the NPS was renovating Arlington House. So, the NPS moved the Arlington House furniture to Friendship Hill temporarily.

Friendship Hill

When I walked from the main house to the parking lot, I saw an event tent. Well-dressed people walked from the parking lot to the event tent.

I drove past a (living) bride and her azure-clad bridesmaids. They modeled for their photos on the edge of the woods where Sophia Gallatin rested.

I went looking for a dead bride that day. I found a living bride instead.

Rachel Carson Graduated Here From Parnassus High School

I spent a day on Chatham University’s main campus in Oakland (Pittsburgh) for an event last fall. I grabbed lunch at Cafe Rachel, Chatham’s coffee shop.

Chatham named the shop after environmentalist Rachel Carson. Carson graduated from Chatham in 1929 when the school was called Pennsylvania College for Women. She wrote Silent Spring in 1962.

One wall of Cafe Rachel detailed Carson’s life. This wall noted that Carson was born and raised in Springdale. (Springdale is across the Allegheny River from New Kensington.) The wall told me that Carson graduated from Parnassus High School in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

(I already knew this. Wikipedia already knows this. However, I was psyched to see the Parnassus reference on a wall at Chatham University.)

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