....... to the Monongahela River Buffs Association's official site.

Our museum is at 175 Second Street, Monongahela Pa,above the Span-Taylor Drug Store and one half block from the river. The facility is open on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from 1 to 3 Pm. It may also be visited by appointment.
Members meetings are held there on the third Tuesday ( April thru November) at 7:00 pm. Dues for membership are 5.00 per year.
Our mailing address is Mon River Buffs Assn. PO Box 401, Monongahela Pa. 15063.
We can be reached by email at folmar@zoominternet.net.

Transportation history follows current of Monongahela

''Transportation history follows current of Monongahela"
By Marjorie Wertz, Sunday, October 26, 2003

It served as the gateway for early pioneers searching for the Promised Land in the unchartered territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. The 128-mile-long Monongahela River begins near Fairmont, W.Va, and winds its way north to Pittsburgh, where it merges with the Allegheny River to form the Ohio. In the 1700s, the Monongahela was the easiest and cheapest mode of transportation to the Ohio Valley and beyond.
"The early settlers in this area had a lot of courage to come over the mountains and cross the Mon," said Arthur Parker, 82, author of the book, "The Monongahela, River of Dreams, River of Sweat," published in 1999 by the Pennsylvania State University Press. "These people had to come down the Mon to get to the Ohio River, using flatboats and rafts."

Col. James Burd constructed a fort on top of an old American Indian encampment overlooking the Mon in 1758. It became known as Redstone Old Fort. Within 20 years, Redstone became a leading boat-building town. The explorer George Rogers Clark purchased flatboats at Redstone so he could advance into and purge the British and Indians from the Northwest Territory. In 1785, Basil Brown, an early Indian fighter, had settled into the Redstone area and renamed the trading center Brownsville.

"The development of Brownsville was one of the most important points for westward expansion," said Parker. "It became a major trading post, and second to Pittsburgh as the most important town in the western part of the state."

Boat-building came naturally to Brownsville entrepreneurs and, in the 1790s, keelboats came into vogue as the pre-eminent way to travel up and downstream. The narrow, wooden boats were constructed with long strips of wood along the bottom and down the middle to prevent them from flipping over. Men rowed or used poles to guide the boats upriver. Sails were often used as well. Despite the popularity of the Monongahela River as the heart of westward transportation, flatboats and keelboats commonly met natural and man-made obstacles along the Mon and other rivers.

Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Mifflin launched a river improvement program in 1790 with the purpose of securing western trade. It was recommended by surveyor, John Badollet that a 50-foot-wide channel be cleared in the Monongahela to boost river navigation. Paid for with state funds, the project was completed in 1805 and set the course for steamboat traffic along inland rivers.

Steam power revolutionized travel along the Monongahela, which became the early center of steamboat construction. From 1811 to 1888, boatyards along the river produced more than 3,000 steamboats. Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine, and Nicholas Roosevelt built the first steamboat in 1811.

Captain Henry Shreve came to western Pennsylvania in 1811 and began building keelboats that ran from Brownsville to New Orleans on a regular basis. Shreve, Daniel French, and Isaac Craig owned a shipyard in Brownsville, where they developed and built the "Enterprise," the first steamboat that was able to make the journey to New Orleans and return to western Pennsylvania under her own power.

"Prior to Shreve's 'Enterprise,' steamboats could go down the river, but didn't have enough power to go back upriver," said Parker. "Fulton's steamer, the 'New Orleans' was the first to travel the Monongahela River in 1811."

After the War of 1812, Shreve was sued by Fulton, who claimed the Brownsville man had stolen his patents to build the 'Enterprise.' Shreve challenged Fulton's monopoly on steamboats in several states and won all his cases. In 1824, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled there could be no monopoly on river transportation because interstate commerce was under federal, not state, jurisdiction.

Steamboats became the means to push massive lumber rafts to Pittsburgh from northern forests and were soon driving barges full of coal along the Monongahela River. Coal at that time was used for fueling stoves, for heating and cooking, and for stoking steamboat engines.

By 1850, steamboats were used for shipping supplies and raw materials to the burgeoning factories that had sprung up along the rivers. They were also used for transporting passengers. Many steamboats were 300 feet long and could carry 300 to 400 passengers, making them the quickest and cheapest mode of transportation for the thousands of migrants heading west. Records from the Pittsburgh Custom House, which kept track of all boats registered in the area, their destinations, cargoes, tonnages, and passengers, show that between 1844 and 1852 some 200,000 passengers left Brownsville and boarded Monongahela River steamers. Most of the steamboats built along the Monongahela during the early to mid-1800s did not operate on the river due to their size and the river's shallow depth. However, river dredging and snag removal enabled regular steamboat runs from Pittsburgh to the National Road at Brownsville by 1826, and as far as Morgantown, W.Va., by 1826.

The state chartered the privately owned Monongahela Navigation Co. to work on making the river navigable year-round. A system of locks and dams along the Monongahela would ensure that river traffic could flow smoothly.

The lock and dam system was established in the 1840s to allow for improved navigation. The dams created pools to increase the depth of the river. Because the Monongahela changes in elevation, a series of pools is required along its length, while locks serve as steps that float river traffic up to a high pool in the river or back down to a lower one.

"The Monongahela Navigation Co. started and completed Locks and Dams 1 and 2 by 1840, and Locks and Dams 3 and 4 by 1844," said Conrad Weiser, environmental resource planner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District. "This allowed for navigation between Brownsville and Pittsburgh. All of the major migration was coming over the Allegheny Mountains and crossing at Brownsville. The town fathers of Pittsburgh didn't want this traffic to bypass the city."

The series of six locks and dams between Pittsburgh and Rices Landing in Greene County, would enable some of that river traffic to begin at Pittsburgh. Lock and Dam 1 was located in Pittsburgh, Lock and Dam 2 in Braddock, Lock and Dam 3 in Elizabeth, and Lock and Dam 4 in Charleroi. Locks and Dams 5 and 6 are located in Brownsville and were completed by the start of the Civil War in 1860.

"The federal government wasn't involved in navigation until after the Civil War," said Weiser. "Then the government's attitude changed. They started studying the rivers, including the Monongahela, but the locks and dams were completed in Pennsylvania. So the government looked at the West Virginia line of the Mon and began improving the locks and dams throughout that state."

The federal government followed the example set by the Monongahela Navigation Co. and began building eight additional locks and dams upriver as far as Fairmont, W. Va. Boats paid tolls to use the company locks in Pennsylvania, but the government locks were free to all traffic.

Lock 8, under construction
"The federal locks were not allowed to charge tolls," said Weiser. "And in Pennsylvania, the coal barons had to pay the tolls, so they lobbied Congress to acquire the Pennsylvania portion of the Mon so the tolls would be eliminated."

In 1897, the government condemned the Pennsylvania locks and dams system. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was formed during the Revolutionary War, disbanded after the war and reinstated by Congress in 1802, took control of the entire Monongahela locks and dams system.

Improved navigation of the Mon is still a primary focus of the Corps. Since 1992, the Pittsburgh District has been modernizing the locks and dams along the lower section of the river.

"When the corps acquired the locks and dams, we knew they needed replaced or modernized," Weiser said. "The original standard lock sizes were 50 feet wide to accommodate the steamboats. By the late 1880s, the barges that were used in the locks had increased in width to 56 feet, which was the standard lock size in the early 20th century."

After World War II, barges were far superior in size than their predecessors, increasing in size from 26 feet to 35 feet wide.

"You could only get one barge through at a time on the Mon," said Weiser. "We did have 15 locks and dams at one time, but now we have nine. During the modernization, we tried to replace two locks with just one to reduce the number of locks. River traffic is concerned with how much time it takes to go from point A to point B. The more locks you have, the more time it takes."

The corps began constructing locks that are 84 feet wide to accommodate three standard barges or two jumbo barges. Jumbo barges measure 35 feet wide by 195 feet long. Barges are typically tied together two-by-two and must be broken up in order to go through the narrow locks. Breaking up the two halves of the tow barges and reassembling them on the other side of the lock can take hours, compared to the less than 30 minutes it takes for a straight shot through the larger locks.

Once the modernization is complete, all 56-foot main lock chambers will be eliminated. The project along the lower Mon also includes eliminating Locks and Dam 3 in Elizabeth, Allegheny County, replacing the existing locks at Locks and Dam 4 in Charleroi, Washington County, with larger locks, and replacing the fixed crest dam with a gated dam at Locks and Dam 2 in Braddock, Allegheny County. The cost of the entire project is estimated at $750 million and is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2010.

"This lower Mon project is the final element of the post-World War II modernization system," said Weiser. "This segment of the project is important because it is removing the narrow locks and making them accessible to the wider barges. The locks that still have the narrow chambers are a river bottleneck for traffic."

The Monongahela is also dominated by those who find respite in recreational boating, fishing, and water skiing.

"Recreational boating will become more important on the Mon because of the lower Mon project," said Parker, who was executive vice president of the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh from 1971 to 1993. "Right now, boaters don't typically want to take the time to go through the locks. Once the lock and dam at Elizabeth are removed, pleasure boaters will have a 30-mile stretch of river to enjoy."

Parker first saw the Monongahela in the 1920s when he lived on Mt. Washington in Allegheny County.

"I can remember back in 1928 when the Ohio River was opened up after the government built up the locks and dams," said Parker. "There was a river parade, and there were boats lined up all along the Mon, Allegheny, and Ohio. It was really something to see."

George Hutchko, 77, of Monongahela, remembers watching the world go by from the banks of the river.

"I was 9 years old when I swam across the Mon for the first time," he said. "But what I recall most are the steamboats. Each steamboat had its own distinctive whistle. We knew all the boats by their whistles.

"There was quite a bit of steamboat traffic. Then, after World War II, the steamboat traffic started to slow down and the diesel boats came in to push the barges."

Hutchko became a member of the Mon River Buffs in 1986 and served as president for six years. He is now vice president of the group, which is dedicated to preserving the history and associated relics of the river.

The Mon River Buffs was formed by the late Ernie Gabler and Bill Young in 1979 in Greensboro, Greene County. The association moved to Monongahela in 1986, said J.K. Folmar, emeritus professor of history from California University of Pennsylvania and president of the Mon River Buffs.

"The mission of the Buffs is to preserve the transportation history of the Mon River from flatboats to steamboats to now," said Folmar, of California, Washington County. "The first major industry in western Pennsylvania was the building of boats. Thousands of boats were constructed in this area, from Brownsville to Pittsburgh.

"Coal and coke from western Pennsylvania were a major part of local, regional and national industry from the Monongahela River. The coal traffic on the Mon is still there."

The Mon River Buffs' Museum, located on Second Street in Monongahela, is filled with vestiges of river history. Original steamboat bells, models of tow and steamboats, and photographs are on display.

"We've got a huge steering wheel from the Whigham, an old sternwheel tugboat on display as well," said Folmar, who also writes and edits the Buffs' newsletter which is mailed out quarterly. There are between 40 and 50 active members of the organization.

"My career changed when I joined the Buffs," Folmar added. "I began researching and teaching local history. I put together a reader for all my classes with chapters on the Monongahela River in it."

Since his retirement from the university in 1999, Folmar has continued researching and discussing local transportation history. His latest research project is the history of transportation on the Mon, with an emphasis on the packetboat.

River traffic continues its flow along the Monongahela.

"It's important to realize the impact the Mon had in this country's industrial history," said Parker. "The Mon is still an important river and continues to have an impact on the Pittsburgh district."

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