Thursday, July 7, 2016


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

Earliest known image of the main street of Waynesburg, an engraving by Sherman Day, 1843.  On the left is the original brick courthouse built on the Public Square in 1800.  (Historical Collection of the State of Pennsylvania,

Driving through Waynesburg, have you ever thought about when and how the streets and lots were laid out? I have, because I love the way High Street follows the crest of the hill, intersected by parallel streets and alleys that descend each side. Waynesburg is beautifully laid out. Its plan was created 220 years ago, and it continues today in nearly perfect, original condition.

It all began in February, 1796, with the formation of Greene County by an act of the Pennsylvania Legislature. Five trustees were appointed to establish the county and a new town that would become its county seat, to be located within five miles of the geographic center. The trustees purchased 158 ½ acres in Franklin Township from early settler Thomas Slater, a part of his larger tract called “Eden.” Although there have been many theories about the Biblical significance of the name “Eden,” it more likely honors Sir Robert Eden, the last colonial governor of Maryland, whom Slater had known in Maryland before coming to Greene County.  

Historic image of the current courthouse, built in 1850-1851, with the statue of General Anthony Wayne on the cupola.  The building on the left, known as "Sayers Corner," is also extant.  (

For the name of the new town, the trustees chose “Waynesburg” to honor General Anthony Wayne, the hero of the “Battle of Fallen Timbers” fought two years earlier. Wayne’s victory made southwestern Pennsylvania safe from Indian attacks, enabling local settlers to build towns and expand their agrarian economy with the addition of commerce and manufacturing.

Two of the trustees were surveyors: Isaac Jenkinson of Fredericktown and Stephen Gapen of Greene Township. They were the creators of the plan for Waynesburg, assisted by the other trustees:  James Seals Jr. of Franklin Township, David Gray of Richhill Township (Graysville) and William Meetkirke of Washington.

According to Helen Vogt, author of Westward of ye Laurall Hills (1976), both Jenkinson and Gapen were qualified draftsmen and deputy surveyors of Washington County. Jenkinson had earlier surveyed and platted Fredericktown in 1790 and Carmichaels about 1791. He was one of the first merchants in Fredericktown and a founding trustee of the Quaker Westland Meeting House in Centerville. Both he and Gapen had been frontier soldiers during the Revolutionary War.  In the early 1790s, Gapen was one of the surveyors who had mapped Donation and Depreciation Lands given to war veterans by the newly formed U. S. government. 

The plan for Waynesburg was a grid of alternating streets and alleys forming blocks of uniform size, 180-feet square.  Each block was divided into three lots, 60-feet wide by 180-feet deep.  In the middle of the town, the surveyors placed a “Public Square” for the courthouse, and along the northern perimeter, “Commons” (commonly owned land), where residents could graze domestic animals. These later became the Waynesburg Parks.  201 “town lots” were created, bound by East and West Streets and the alleys behind Franklin and Greene Streets.  For the next 70 years, Waynesburg did not grow beyond these borders except for a few institutional buildings near the Commons. 

The commissioners quickly advertised and sold the lots at auction for prices ranging from $5 to $139, using the profits to cover the purchase of the land and to construct the courthouse and jail.   

The development of the Town of Waynesburg by a group of government-appointed trustees is unique in Southwestern Pennsylvania.   Other early towns in the region--like Uniontown, Brownsville, Washington, Canonsburg, Fredericktown, New Geneva, Greensboro and Carmichaels—each had an individual proprietor who surveyed and laid out a community on his own property, then sold the lots. Only Waynesburg was from the beginning designed to be a county seat.

Paving of the interesection of High and Richhill Streets a century after Waynesburg was founded.  (

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