Washington’s Trail 1753 Driving Tour – Butler County, Pennsylvania
The French & Indian War is an important part of our nation’s history and in keeping with that significance, Butler County’s Washington 1753 Commemoration Committee works to raise public awareness of the mission. They have erected circular blue markers with Washington’s profile, visible in many places, and along several likely routes of his famous trip. Two brochures are available to guide you along the trail - an audio tour, and one by Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau packed with history and fascinating facts (see below).
In 1753, the English, French and Native Americans laid claim to the Ohio Country (present-day Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio), all of which was wilderness and had been Native American territory. Twenty-one-year old George Washington was chosen to undertake a dangerous expedition into the wilderness where the only villages were Indian, the roads were merely paths, the weather was unpredictable, and winter was just days away. Chosen for the journey by Virginia’s governor, Robert Dinwiddie, Washington’s assignment was to demand the French end their occupation of the region.
He would carry a letter to the commanding officer at Fort LeBoeuf demanding the French depart from the Ohio Country because “the Lands upon the River Ohio in the Western Parts of the Colony of Virginia are so notoriously known to be the Property of the Crown of Great Britain.”
By this time in history, the French had already erected three forts to reinforce their claim to the region as part of New France: Presque Isle (Erie), LeBoeuf (Waterford) and Machault (Franklin).
Begin your tour in Zelienople. The town is at the intersection of Route 19 and 68. Washington passed through here on November 30, 1753, after several days meeting with local Indian leaders.
Adjacent to Zelienople, just west on Route 68, is Harmony. Washington and his party camped here on November 30, 1753. Fifty years later Lutheran separatists, the Harmonists, arrived from Germany. Pause for brunch at Wunderbar Coffee & Crepes located along charming Mercer Street. Don’t worry, we’re cool with the French now, and the crepes are too tasty to pass up! Plus they’re made with local buckwheat (from Zanella Milling in northern Butler County). While you’re in town, take some time to explore the quaint shops, and don’t miss Harmony Museum which has a permanent exhibit on Washington’s 1753 mission.
Head north on Route 19 to Portersville. Washington’s wilderness guide, Christopher Gist, led the party through here on December 1, 1753. In Portersville, West Park Road will lead you to Butler County’s gem, Moraine State Park. You can do just about any outdoor activity you can think of, however relaxing by the lake is equally enjoyable. (If you don’t feel like stopping now, you’ll pass through the park later along the trail.)
From Moraine, continue north on West Park Road until it intersects with Route 108, then follow that into Slippery Rock. George Washington camped about two miles south along the Slippery Rock Creek, December 1 and 2, 1753. Turn right on Main Street and grab some local brews and amazing food at North Country Brewing Company. While not from Washington’s time, it does have an interesting history, and a woodsy feel.
Continue east on 108, then north on Route 8, to Harrisville. Washington passed here twice on his mission, December 3rd heading north, and again on Christmas Day heading south. This is the turning point of our trip. From here on out, it follows Washington’s return trip to Virginia. If you need some rest, or love camping, a stay at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Kozy Rest is highly recommended as the campground has won a number of national awards.
Turning south on Route 8, you will encounter the Old Stone House. George Washington and his guide Christopher Gist walked past here on a blistering cold Christmas Day, 1753. Seventy years later the Old Stone House was built. It is now a museum, open seasonally, and hosting regular events such as French & Indian War reenactments and an annual Cherry Pie Hike commemorating George Washington.
Follow 528 south to Prospect, traveling back through Moraine State Park. Before there was Prospect, this was a crossing of two important American Indian paths, the Venango Path and the Kuskusky-Kittanning Path. George Washington used the Venango Path, which is now Route 528 and Franklin Road, as he traveled south to the forks of the Ohio River.
Further south on 528 is Evans City. On December 27th 1753, in a clearing near here, George Washington narrowly escaped death at the hand of an Indian assassin allied with the French. About two miles east on Route 68, you’ll find a historical marker recognizing this incident.
The final location is on Franklin Road out of Evans City. Where it intersects with Route 228 in Cranberry Township, you’ll find another historical marker. When Washington passed through this area on December 27, 1753 had just survived his first brush with violent death. More life-threatening dangers awaited him. Thankfully, you can safely rest in Cranberry Township. About a dozen hotels are located in this area, as well as dozens of shops and restaurants. Sleep peacefully in a warm bed rather than a bed of pine branches and a woolen blanket like George!
Think about it… our history would be different if George Washington had been shot or drowned on his return trip from Fort LeBoeuf. His influence was monumental in our country. He had a hand in the start of the French & Indian War, an important role in the Revolutionary War, and the establishment of our government. As well as being our first president, his presence directed many aspects of our nation’s growth.
Brochures and Guides