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Uniontown is the county seat of Fayette County, in SW Pennsylvania (PA) and is geographically located about 50 miles SE of Pittsburgh, PA, 13 miles SE of Brownsville, PA, 14 miles SW of Connellsville, PA, 30 miles NE of Morgantown, West Virginia and 50 miles NW of Frostburg, Maryland.
The first European settlers to Fayette County were western explorers, who used an ancient American Indian trail that bisected Fayette County, as part of their journey across the Appalachian Mountains.
Uniontown was settled in 1768 and lies along Redstone Creek among the rugged foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.
First known as Beesontown or Beeson's Town, it was laid out by Henry BEESON (pictured), a Quaker, on 4 July 1776, only coincidentally the same date as the United States Declaration of Independence. Uniontown was incorporated as a borough on 4 April 1796 and and became the county seat of Fayette county, in 1784. Its location on the old National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road, was an important factor in its early development.
Uniontown was designated as a city on 19 December 1913.
The National Road routed through Uniontown, in the early 19th century and the town grew along with the road. Wagoners, drovers, stage drivers, and mail expresses left their colorful imprints on the road's history. With the coming of the railroads to Western Pennsylvania in the 1850's, traffic over the road declined, and after the Civil War it was used chiefly for local trips.
The tollhouse was erected in 1835 and tolls were collected continuously until 1905. The advent of the automobile in the early twentieth century rescued the road from disrepair, and by the 1920's the National Road was reincarnated as U.S. 40. The Searights Tollhouse (pictured) is one of two remaining of the original six commissioned Toll houses in Pennsylvania.
A battle fought at Great Meadows near Uniontown, in 1754, launched the French and Indian War. Colonel George WASHINGTON built Fort Necessity (pictured), reconstructed on the original site. British Major General Edward BRADDOCK's army passed through the next year.
He was killed on 13 July 1755 and is buried along the National Road.
A memorial stone (pictured) was erected 15 October 1913 and is maintained by the British Regiments which were commanded by General Braddock during the French & Indian War.
Uniontown's role in the Underground Railroad is commemorated by a marker on the corner of East Main Street and Baker Alley.
The first record of Jewish arrivals in Uniontown is found in 1882, when four Jewish families moved here. The names mentioned are A. FELDSTEIN, Harris and Barney COHEN and Max BAUM and S. ROSENBAUM.
Uniontown was the site of violent clashes between striking coal miners and guards at the local beehive coke works (pictured) during the Bituminous Coal Miners' Strike of 1894. 15 guards armed with carbines and machine guns held off an attack by 1,500 strikers, killing 5 and wounding 8.
The Columbia Rolling Mill, an iron and steel works, was located in Uniontown from 1887 to 1895. The mill was the town's unquestioned top industry at that time.
In 1900, Uniontown had 7,344 inhabitants and by 1910, increased to 13,344. In 1907, there were 300 Jewish inhabitants.
In 1911, Uniontown had 43 manufacturing companies with a total capital of $64,666,000, a remarkable showing for a city of less than 20,000. The total value of its products was considerably over $2,000,000. It had three enterprising newspapers, as well as several banks. It had a splendid public school system with a wonderful high school to boast of with an amazing list of features, unique in many respects, to raise the physical as well as the mental and moral standard of the pupils. It had modern clubs, a progressive body of business men, which must exist in such a city. The fire and police protection was in every way modern and thoroughly up to date. In every department of its city government, it was well and efficiently managed. All in all, Uniontown represented more than the average Pennsylvania city of its size.
By 1917, the population increased to over 20,000. During the Coal Boom of the early part of the 20th century, Uniontown was home to at least 13 millionaires, the most (per capita), of any city in the United States.
From 1916 to 1922, the Coal Barons and Carl LAEMMLE, President of Universal Films, sponsored the famous mile and a quarter Uniontown Motor Speedway board track (pictured under construction).
The industrial activities of Uniontown were largely of mining, manufacturing and quite prolific in its industries, for example, there were foundries, steel works, glass works, brick works, flour mills, mantle and granite works, coke companies, cigar factories, moulding and machine companies, boiler works, radiator plants, enameled icon plant, wagon works, mattress works and breweries. Then there were the important wholesale produce firms, building and contracting companies, large dairies.
In retail, there was over 200 stores, some of considerable size, including good sized department stores.
Uniontown has a train track through the center of the town, and the question is often asked, "Why is that?"
Well, local lore has it that the railroad wanted a direct route to its service lines because it would be too costly to lay track around the circumference of Uniontown. The town officials refused the railroad's request to allow it to pass through the town.
So, one evening, the railroad invited Uniontown's officials to a party at the Summit Hotel, on the mountain top outside of town. That party lasted into the early morning hours and while town officials were away, that was enough time for the railroad to lay the needed train track through town—too late the next day to change things—and it remains there today.
By 1920, the population of Uniontown was 15,692 and the beehive coke ovens were now obsolete because much of the coke manufacturing had moved to the sites of the steel mills. However, the beehive coke ovens were revived again during World War II, to increase steel production for the war effort.
In 1927, the Jewish populaton was 1,100 inhabitants.
By 1940, the population of Uniontown was 21,819.
Uniontown, Pennsylvania was namesake for a 1,430-ton (standard displacement) Tacoma-class frigate, the USS Uniontown (PF-65), which was commissioned on 6 October 1944.
The USS Uniontown joined Task Force 61 at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 27 December 1944 for duty as a convoy escort.
On 20 December 1945, the warship was decommissioned at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Norfolk, Virginia, and was struck from the Navy list on 8 January 1946.
She was then sold to the Argentine government in July 1947, renamed Sarandi and served in that nation's navy until 1968.
By 1950, much of the coal under the county was gone and severe unemployment and depression began—as with most of Western Pennsylvania—Uniontown's economy waned during the region's de-industrialization of the late 20th century.
In 1967, Jim Delligatti, one of McDonald's earliest franchisees, is credited with being the first person to market the Big Mac Sandwich at his McDonald's resturant in the Uniontown Shopping Center. The selling price was 45 cents and it was designed to compete with a similar Big Boy sandwich.
The sandwich was so popular, it was added to the menu of all U.S. McDonald's restaurants in 1968. One of its most distinctive features is a middle slice of bread ("club" layer) used to stabilize contents and prevent spillage.
Today, Uniontown is a still a small town with about 11,541 inhabitants (July 2009). Farms cover 23 percent of the county's land and Bituminous coal is mined entirely by surface operations. The Uniontown Hospital, the largest of three hospitals in the county, is the city's and Fayette County's largest employer.
Popular tourist attractions in and around Uniontown include the Fallingwater by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Searrights Toll House, Mount St. Macrina, Summit Hotel, Jumonville Glen, Stone House Tavern, British Major General Edward Braddock's grave, Fort Necessity and the Great Meadows, Washington Tavern, Lake Youghiogheny, Ohiopyle Falls and the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa.
Only 30 Jews live there today. (2011)
(Click the images below to view a larger image.)
Notable citizens born in Uniontown:
General of the Army George C. MARSHALL, (b. Uniontown, 31 December 1880) was an American military leader, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State and the third Secretary of Defense. Once noted as the "organizer of victory" by Winston Churchill for his leadership of the Allied victory in World War II.
General Marshall served as the United States Army Chief of Staff during WWII and as the chief military adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As Secretary of State, his name was given to the Marshall Plan, to rebuild war-torn Europe after WWII and for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1953.
John Dickson CARR (b. Uniontown, 1906), was a writer of mystery novels under the name Carter Dickson. His father, Wooda Nicholas CARR, served in the U.S. Congress from 1913 to 1915.
He spent most of his active writing career living in Great Britain, where his novels were so "British" that people there, and in the USA, considered him an Englishman. When he was 23, his first novel, It Walks by Night (1930), was published by Harper and sold 15,000 copies. Douglas G. Greene's biography, The Man Who Explained Miracles, describes this greatest of Golden Age detective story writers, in addition to his great mysteries.
Saul SWIMMER (b. Uniontown, 25 April 1936) was an American documentary film director and producer best known for the movie The Concert for Bangladesh (1972), the George Harrison-led Madison Square Garden show that was one of the first all-star benefits in rock music. He was also a co-producer of the Beatles 1970 documentary, Let It Be and director of MGM's Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter.
In the field of TV Specials, Saul Swimmer co-produced and directed Around The World Of Mike Todd which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles. It ran on ABC and was nominated for an Emmy. He also directed and co-produced the NBC documentary Joe Namath, Superstar at the height of his superstardom in sports. The special featured Peter Falk narrating and Tina Turner singing.
Ernie DAVIS (b. Uniontown, 14 December 1939) lived in Uniontown for most of his early life and was the first African American Heisman Trophy winner.
Wearing number 44, Ernie competed collegiately for Syracuse University before being drafted by the Washington Redskins, then almost immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns in December 1961. However, he would never play a professional game, as he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1962. He is the subject of the 2008 Universal Pictures movie biography, The Express, based on the non-fiction book Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, by Robert C. Gallagher.