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Hands on History - 10 Must See Sites Near Pittsburgh


Experience history up close and personal at these must visit historic sites in Western Pennsylvania. All are located within a few hours drive from Pittsburgh.

1) Old Economy Village
Former home of the Harmony Society, a nineteenth century Christian communal society best known for its piety and industrial prosperity, Old Economy Village is a six-acre historic site representing the social, religious and economic hub of the Harmony Society. Located north of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River in Ambridge.

2) Seldom Seen Mine
Don a hardhat and head underground to learn about Pennsylvania's rich coal mining history. Tours at this family-run coal mine are led by miners or their descendants, and provide fascinating insight into the lives and working conditions of PA coal miners.

3) Johnstown Flood National Memorial
Probably the largest news story in the latter nineteenth century after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Johnstown Flood of 1889 destroyed an entire working class city. Other key flood sites to check out include nearby St. Michael National Historic District with the Clubhouse and Cottages of wealthy industrialists who owned the dam that collapsed, and the Johnstown Flood Museum in downtown Johnstown. While there, make a stop to see the Johnstown Inclined Plane, the nation's steepest vehicular inclined railway.

4) The Flight 93 National Memorial
A temporary memorial, managed by local residents, stands in rural Somerset County to honor the passengers and crew who brought down this airplane on September 11, 2001. A permanent memorial is being developed by the National Park Service.

5) Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life
This National Historic Landmark in Washington County has a 16,000 year-old campsite that provides the earliest evidence of people in all of North America. The 200-acre outdoor museum preserves the history of life on the land in Western Pennsylvania over the past 16,000 years, and also includes a recreated nineteenth century village.

6) The National Road
The first federally-funded road, the National Road (US 40) originally ran for 3,220 miles from Baltimore, Maryland to San Francisco, California. The section that travels across the corner of southwestern Pennsylvania includes numerous historic sites, such as Fort Necessity, General Braddock's Grave, Nemacolin Castle, and some really neat stagecoach stops. Plus, scenic views, friendly neighborhood shops and dining, and quaint shopping.

7) Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Set among the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, Fort Necessity seems an unpretentious place for such a momentous battle - the first major event in the military career of George Washington, and the scuffle that most mark as the beginning of the French & Indian War. Best time to go is during the summer because the National Park Service offers a number of ranger-led programs, and there are also three different encampment weekends to give you a live taste of what military life in Western PA was like way back in 1754.

8) Drake Well Museum & Park
The first successful oil well in the United States was not drilled in Texas. Oh no, this historic event took place in the rolling farm country of northwestern Pennsylvania if you can believe it. In Titusville, the Drake Well Museum and Park includes a full-size replica of this first oil well plus an interesting museum. Or you can take a train tour of the region while learning a little of the history on the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad.

9) The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
Our kids really like this place because they get to ride on real working trolleys! There are also almost 50 historic trolleys from various eras on display in the museum. A once very vital piece of Pittsburgh's past!

10) McConnell's Mill State Park
For the more adventuresome, a trip to Mcconnell's Mill State Park never disappoints. It's a nice short, but steep hike down to the restored gristmill, covered bridge, and Slippery Rock Creek, but both the hike and the sights are well worth it. They offer quite a few demonstrations at the old mill demonstrating what life was like for many in Western Pennsylvania during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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