Monday, December 5, 2016


This column first appeared in the December 2016 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

One hundred years ago in Waynesburg, the retail clothing business was dominated by Jewish merchants who were also civic and social leaders. With their wives and children, they added a diversity to small town life that is largely missing today.  

Escaping economic and religious persecution, their families came to America from Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. While many Jewish immigrants settled in large East Coast cities, others moved to small towns like Waynesburg.   

Grossman Brothers Department Store, West High Street, built in 1903, destroyed by fire in 1925. ("Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful," Fred High.)

Brothers Isaac and Lee Grossman arrived first, building an elegant 4-story department store that was destroyed in the Downey House fire of 1925. They paved the way for the next generation which included nephew Reuben H. Goldberg and former employee Dan Cohen. 

While the Grossmans lost their business to fire, a tragedy of a different sort befell Barney Grossman who owned a large clothing store in the Messenger Building. He was heavily indebted to Farmers and Drovers Bank, and when the bank failed in late 1906, he was forced to close his store.  

Ca. 1929 photo shows the second and final location of Harrison & Cohen in the Messenger Building at the NE corner of High and Washington.  The event is the dedication of a bronze plaque marking the site of the first classes of Waynesburg College. ("History of Greene County Pennsylvania," G. Wayne Smith, 1996)

However, Barney Grossman had started a tradition that continues today, the sale of men’s clothing from the corner of High and Washington Streets. He was followed by Harrison & Cohen, Army Navy, Roth’s, and since 1979, Mickey’s Men’s Store.

Two views of the first location of the Harrison & Cohen store at the NW corner of High and Washington Streets, today the site of First National Bank. This building was demolished in 1922. By then, Harrison & Cohen had moved across the street to the Messenger Building. (

“The Pittsburgh Press” wrote in 1933: “The store of Harrison & Cohen, where for half a century the gentry of Waynesburg was outfitted, is no more. From the late ‘nineties on, judges, doctors and lawyers mingled with rollicking college freshmen at its racks and counters. Whether it was a dress suit or a football uniform, Harrison & Cohen supplied it. One of the last articles sold before the store closed its door this week, after the death of Daniel Cohen, the last surviving partner, was a 1912 football helmet. It was purchased for the Waynesburg College Museum.”

Interior of Harrison & Cohen Men's Clothing Store, ca. 1905 ("Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful," Fred High)

Senior partner Max Harrison had been born in England and immigrated to Philadelphia at a young age. Dan Cohen was a native of New York. Soon after forming their partnership, they became brothers-in-law when Dan married Max’s sister in 1905. They purchased the Messenger Building in 1922, modernizing the façade with Art Deco-style glass transoms and marble wainscoting that remain today.

Ca. 1929 view of the R. H. Goldberg Building (on the left), built in 1925. It is faced with large white terra cotta tiles made in Corning, N.Y.  (

Reuben H. Goldberg joined his Grossman uncles in Waynesburg in 1892, and soon opened his own shoe store. A decade later, he sold it to travel around the world. Returning, he started a women’s clothing store. In 1925, he created a distinctive building on West High Street with a façade of white terra cotta tiles made in Corning, N.Y. His “Ladies and Misses Outfitting Store” was located on the first floor with offices above. 

Like Barney Grossman, R. H. Goldberg was heavily indebted to Farmers & Drovers Bank when it failed in December 1906.  When the loan was called, he was forced to sell the inventory to Harrison & Cohen.  He survived to soon open another store.

Interior of the R. H. Goldberg store in "Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful," ca. 1905 photo.  The location of this store is unknown.

Without a local synagogue, Jewish cemetery or school, the merchant families had to travel to larger towns to practice their faith. Few stayed more than one or two generations before their children moved to cities with large Jewish populations. Although their contributions are little remembered in Waynesburg today, they are held dear by their descendants.  

Home of the Daniel Cohen family on South Morris Street across from the Post Office and South Ward School, later converted to a two-family dwelling.

Recently, a great-grandson of Dan Cohen wrote of growing up with his grandmother’s stories of a happy childhood on South Morris Street across from South Ward School which she had attended. She spoke admiringly of her father as a “larger-than-life figure, an outgoing fellow who was known and liked by folks across Waynesburg’s social spectrum.”

By 1930, Dan and Annie Cohen had moved to North West Street.   This view is from "Waynesburg Prosperous & Beautiful," ca. 1905, when the house was owned by A. B. Reese.

A view of the house today.  Sometime after the Cohen's tenure, it was converted to a double house.


Friday, November 4, 2016


This column first appeared in the November 2016 edition of GreeneSPEAK! 

Like most small towns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Waynesburg’s garment trade was dominated by successful Jewish merchants who with their families were respected members of the community in business, civic and social circles. 

The Grossman Brothers "Gent's Furnishings Department," 1907

The story of Isaac and Lee Grossman—“the Grossman Brothers”—is typical of many Jews who came from Eastern Europe seeking economic opportunity and escape from religious oppression. The brothers were born in Posen, Germany, an area that was historically Polish but controlled by Prussia from 1798-1918. 

They arrived early in the massive migration of Jewish families to the United States. Large enclaves established themselves in trade in the commercial, industrial and cultural centers of the North East: first New York, then Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and Chicago in the Midwest. Although the Jewish merchants of Waynesburg lived and worked in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania, they procured their goods, and later meet their wives, in these cities.

When Issac Grossman died in 1925, he was remembered as "one of Waynesburg's leading citizens, interested in the welfare of the community and generous in his support of charitable causes."

Isaac Grossman arrived first, in 1877, at the age of 18. It’s not known why he chose Greene County, but within four weeks of stepping off the boat, he was in Waynesburg peddling goods by foot. Within three years, he had purchased a horse and wagon, allowing him to sell throughout the county. Two years later--in 1882—younger brother Lee arrived and began selling by foot. Within a year, he too had his own horse and wagon. 

Lee Grossman managed the women's wear and dry goods departments while Isaac was in charge of men's clothing.  Lee survived his brother by many decades, dying in 1953 at the age of 92.

In 1885, the Grossman Brothers opened their first store on High Street, a business that grew into Waynesburg’s first department store. For many years, they were among the town’s most prominent merchants.

In 1903, they built the 4-story Grossman Building next door to the Downey House Hotel. Its modern design was the “talk of the town” with Waynesburg’s first elevator and first use of glass sidewalk panels that emitted sunlight into the basement. The department store occupied three floors, including the basement. Above were two floors of offices. Customers entered through an elegant lobby with marble wainscoting and a marble staircase with brass rail.   

In 1907, Grossman Brothers was described as the largest business in Dry Goods, Carpets, Clothing, Gent’s Furnishing Goods and Ladies’ Suits ever carried on in Greene County. Ten clerks and assistants waited on customers. 

The photo caption in Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful (1907) boasted: “This store is to Greene County what Wanamaker’s is to Philadelphia, what Marshall Field’s is to Chicago and what A. T. Stewart’s once was to New York City.”  

Tragically, the building and business were destroyed in the Downey House Fire of December 1925. One month earlier, Isaac had died in a Philadelphia hospital. Lee sold the site to local businessmen who erected the Commercial Building, now known as the Ben Franklin Building, and retired to Danbury, CN.

At the same time, Barney Grossman’s clothing store was half a block away at the corner of High and Washington Streets. 

Although seemingly unrelated to Isaac and Lee, Barney Grossman was another well-known merchant in Waynesburg of about the same era, ca. 1896-1906. He owned the first automobile in town and lived in a big new house, just like the Isaac and Lee. Advertising first as “Barney Grossman’s Bargain Store” and a few years later as “King Clothier,” his store occupied the prominent corner where Mickey’s is located today. 

Barney and Minnie Grossman built this yellow brick house at the corner of South Morris and West Lincoln Streets.

Barney had emigrated from Poland in 1892. His father and brothers were also in the “rag trade” in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, NY. Unfortunately, Barney was a large creditor of Farmer’s & Drovers Bank. When it failed in late 1906, federal officials forced closure of his stores in Waynesburg, Washington and Cameron, WV.  Selling the Cameron branch to his brother Minor, he moved to Washington, PA, then Brooklyn, NY, where he died in 1915 at the age of 47.

In 1906, Isaac Grossman sold this house on East High Street, across from St. Ann Church, to A. P. Smith.

Next month, read about other early Jewish merchants: Harrison & Cohen, R. H. Goldberg and A. Levino.

All photos are from the second edition of Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful by Fred High, ca. 1907.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


This column first appeared in the October 2016 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The Log Courthouse today.  Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Genealogical Society.

The Greene County Log Courthouse at 144 East Greene Street is the only original log courthouse on its original site in Pennsylvania, and possibly the nation. It is also the oldest building in Waynesburg, having been constructed weeks after the founding of the town and county in November 1796.

Today, the Log Courthouse is Greene County’s #1 Tourist Attraction. Visitors come from all over to view the building and search for ancestors in the extensive genealogical library attached to it. The dedicated volunteers of Cornerstone Genealogical Society keep the library open six days a week and host monthly lectures on local history.

Modern library addition at rear of building. Photos courtesy of Cornerstone Genealogical Society.

Greene County was an important crossroads in the development of the American Midwest because of its position on the Monongahela River. Beginning even before the end of the Revolutionary War, pioneers boarded barges in Greene County to float down-river to Pittsburgh where they joined the great Ohio-Mississippi River system, some traveling as far as New Orleans. Because of this migration, millions of Americans today have ancestral ties to Greene County, making Cornerstone Genealogical Society and the Log Courthouse important community assets. 

Artist Jess Hager's depiction of the Log Courthouse in 1797. Copies of this print can be purchased at Cornerstone Genealogical Society.

In early 1797, the Log Courthouse was hastily constructed to accommodate official functions while a more permanent--and elegant--brick courthouse was erected on the Public Square on High Street. Ironically, that first brick courthouse lasted only 50 years while the “temporary” log structure is still going strong.  

Artist Thomas McConville's depiction of the log courthouse in 1797. Prints for sale at Cornerstone Genealogical Society.

Greene County’s first Sheriff, James Hook, purchased the lot and hired builders George Graham and George Ullom (one of my ancestors). The Log Courthouse faced the only street in existence at that time, an old Indian trail re-named Greene Street. Within three months, it was complete and court sessions were being held on the second floor. The building featured a double-story front porch with exterior staircase leading to the courtroom. Other county business was conducted in two rooms on the first floor, heated by a double “turkey breast” fireplace.  

Before 1828, wood siding was installed over the logs. This early 20th century view shows subsequent additions.

By 1800, the Log Courthouse had become a private residence, a use that continued into the mid-20th century. However, its original identity was remembered, at least in deeds. As early as 1809, a deed referred to it as “that certain house commonly called the Old Court House.” The building’s appearance changed in the 1820s when wood siding covered the logs. In 1855, the first floor was converted to commercial use when a steam carding machine was installed. Subsequent commercial uses included carpentry, tailoring, remodeling supplies and furniture stripping.

Large store windows were added in the 1960s.  Fortunately, the owner saved the logs. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Genealogical Society.

Two large albums at Cornerstone Genealogical Society detail a 24-year effort to save the building. The first impetus came in 1978 from Judge Glenn R. Toothman Jr., followed in the 1990s by Terry Cole, Dave Lesako and the Greene County Historical Society. In 2000, the County of Greene assumed ownership, financing a complete re-build of the historic building and the addition of a modern library at the rear, designed by Ellis Schmidlapp of Landmarks Design Associates, Pittsburgh.   

Friday, September 16, 2016


This column first appeared in the September 2016 issue of GreeneSPEAK!
"Reverend John Corbley Cabin," pastel on paper

Artist-historian J. Howard Iams grew up in the North Ten Mile region of Washington County, near the border with Greene County. In the 1930s, with his brother Lash, he traveled throughout the region, researching and illustrating remnants of the area’s colonial past. 

He worked five years on his most ambitious project, 40 illustrations that document the sites, events and people of the Whiskey Rebellion. The collection includes three images from Greene County: “Reverend John Corbley Log Cabin,” “Colonel John Minor House” and “Old Tavern” at Jefferson.  

The Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) was the first serious test of authority for the newly formed United States government. It took place in Southwestern Pennsylvania when farmers objected to a new federal tax on one of their principal products, whiskey. They attacked federal agents and tax collectors, prompting President Washington to lead 13,000 troops over the mountains to quell the disturbance.  

"Tarring and Feathering," linocut on paper.  On September 6,1791, an armed and disguised party waylaid Robert Johnson, Tax Collector for Allegheny and Washington Counties, near Pigeon Creek, Washington County, leaving him in mortifying condition.
By the time the army arrived, tempers had cooled.  However, some soldiers were frustrated to find the countryside at peace. On “The Terrible Night” of November 13, 1794, they arrested the men most wanted by the government, dragging them out of bed half-clothed and marching them through mud to a cold, make-shift prison. After several days of detention, nearly all were set free for lack of evidence. However, 20 were marched over the mountains to stand trial in Philadelphia. 

Among them was Reverend John Corbly of Garards Fort who had not been a major actor in the rebellion. However, he was a well-known minister and an ardent patriot who preached political freedom. Corbly’s arrest was to be used as an example to deter other citizens from plotting rebellion. At trial, he was exonerated, as were all but two of the Whiskey Rebels.  

"The Terrible Night," linocut on paper

Howard Iams’s depiction of “The Terrible Night” has been used in many articles and books about the Whiskey Rebellion. In stark black-and-white, it shows the terror and brutality of the unfair arrests.  

"Reverend John Corbley Cabin," linocut on paper.

Iams drew the Corbly log cabin in both pastel and block print. He had found it on the family farm, but had no proof that it was the actual house in which Corbly lived at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion, nor earlier when his wife and children had been massacred by Indians in 1782. Today, the cabin is gone but Corbly’s brick house of 1796 remains. 

"Colonel John Minor House," pastel on paper
Iams also illustrated the home of Col. John Minor in pastel. Located at the bend in Mapletown, it had been erected in two sections with the original log structure on the right and a later brick wing on the left. Minor was a large landholder and a Representative in the State Legislature. He had attended the Parkinson’s Ferry gathering of Whiskey Rebels in July 1794 but was not among those arrested on the “The Terrible Night”. However, according to legend, he traveled to Philadelphia to offer assistance in the defense of those who had been. Like the Corbly cabin, the Minor House is now gone.

"Old Tavern" at Jefferson near the home of Insurrectionist Thomas Hughes, linocut on paper

 Howard Iams wrote that he illustrated the “Old Tavern” at Jefferson “not for any particular historic value, but as a picturesque type of early tavern,” noting that it was located near the home of Insurrectionist Thomas Hughes. The identity of “Old Tavern” is an intriguing mystery.
Twenty years after Howard Iams died in 1964, his widow donated the full collection to The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, where it is carefully stored and occasionally exhibited. I am grateful to Douglas Evans, Collection Manager, for showing me the images and granting permission to reproduce.  Here are more examples from the collection:

"Thomas Marshall Tavern" in Fredericktown, pastel on paper. Marshall was known as a leader against the "excise" tax in that vicinity.  The tavern was torn down in the early 20th century but the original stones were used in the new structure.  Years after the Rebellion, it was known as the Burson property, according to the artist.

"Bower Mill," linocut on paper.   Built a few years after the Whiskey Rebellion.  Razed in the early 20th century.  During the Insurrection, David Blair operated a blacksmith shop on or near the site where he made rifles for the community.

 All images by J. Howard Iams, collection of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, gift of Mrs. J. Howard Iams.