In 1753, in what’s now the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, then known as Shannopin Town, a young George Washington, clad in a woolen match coat and
accompanied by guide Christopher Gist, walked toward the forks of the Ohio River
after spending the night on a tiny island.
The night before, he wrote in his journal that he "expected every Moment our Raft to sink, and ourselves to perish."
Washington did not perish, but he did fall into the frigid Allegheny River after
hastily constructing the raft with Gist. They swam to the small island and the next morning crossed the ice-covered channel to Shannopin Town, no worse for the
It was one of many times when Western Pennsylvania played a dramatic role in shaping our republic.
Since its days as the Colonies’ "Wild West," this area and its people have retained distinct characteristics. It was defined early on by its distance from Philadelphia and became a large settlement of Scots-Irish with their individualist way of life.
The forks of the Ohio and the 13 surrounding counties became the epicenter of
American industry, beginning with the Civil War and lasting well more than a
century. In the late 20th century, the region rebuilt itself into a technology and health-care center.
Between those two periods, it has played important roles in successive wars (such as producing Gen. George Marshall of Marshall Plan fame) while maintaining its cultural roots.
In fact, it is hard to find a major event, past or present, without some Western
The region has done it all — with one exception: It has never produced a U.S.
That may be about to change.
Although the region is politically stereotyped as union Democrat, four men
considering a run for the Republican nomination are from Western Pennsylvania, three of them from working-class families.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, now of Texas, was born and raised in a Pittsburgh suburb; his son Rand, a freshman U.S. senator from Kentucky, lived here until age 5. Both have hinted to varying degrees that they may run.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was born in the industrial Monongahela Valley and spent Christmases and parts of his summers here with his grandparents, attending baseball games at Forbes Field and their neighborhood’s much-anticipated Syrian picnics.
And former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum spent much of his childhood at the Butler
Veterans Hospital compound, where both his parents worked.
Western Pennsylvania politicos’ stereotype was shattered in January when three Rust Belt Republicans were sworn in as governors. Like Indiana’s Daniels, Ohio’s John Kasich and Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett were born here to working-class Democrat families.
Daniels said in an earlier interview that the values he learned from his parents, both Mon Valley natives, are Main Street Americans’ values in their everyday lives.
"They balanced their checkbooks, they wanted better lives for their children and
they did not live beyond their means," he explained.
If the elder Paul decides to run again for president, his son is unlikely to
challenge him; in fact, the freshman already has filed for re-election to his Senate seat, which is not up for grabs until 2016.
Santorum has been the most active of these four potential contenders, making scores of visits to early primary and caucus states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Daniels has been less visible, yet clearly wowed young conservatives at the annual CPAC conference in February and continues to gain national attention.
Our first president returned to Western Pennsylvania several times following his icy plunge; his only battlefield surrender occurred just south of Uniontown (and led to the worldwide French and Indian War).
As president and commander in chief, he and his Treasury secretary, Alexander
Hamilton, sent troops here to suppress rebellious Scots-Irish irate over taxation of their whiskey trade.
Washington acquired thousands of Pennsylvania acres and laid out Perryopolis in the shape of a wagon wheel.
Legend has it that he wanted it to become the nation’s capital.