By Rick Shrum

Photos by Celeste Van Kirk

Lisa Buchina was born in the cradle, capitol and pulse of our nation: Washington, D.C. This is where the president, Congress and federal departments function, where memorials, monuments and memories abound, and where corruption – lamentably – exists at varying levels.

D.C. is a large hallmark to history, almost to the point of suffocation. Yet Buchina embraced history as a child and embraces it today, decades and 215 miles removed from her roots.

“I think it’s very important that history is preserved and taught,” she says. “I’m glad we’re raising our daughter here. We have a good school district and all of this history here. We want her to learn and appreciate it.”

Perryopolis may not have the Smithsonian, distinctive buildings celebrating national leaders, a national cemetery or a population of 702,000, but it does have history – heaps of it – and a quiet, picture-postcard aura. This is where Buchina, a volunteer with the borough’s parks and recreation authority, resides along with her husband, Jeffrey, their 7-year-old daughter, and about 1,700 others.

Searright's Fulling Mill

Searight’s Fulling Mill was built around 1814 by William Searight. It’s the only free-standing fulling mill in the United States.

Separated by a busy state artery, Route 51, Perryopolis is a small borough in northern Fayette County, consisting of 1.5 square miles of generally flat topography, neatly appointed homes and businesses, an appealing town square and that history – beginning with the man for whom D.C. was named.

Nearly two decades before he would become the leader of a new nation, George Washington purchased 1,644 acres of real estate that would one day be Perryopolis. He found part of the land to be ideal for a grist mill, alongside a fast-running creek later dubbed Washington Run. The mill was finished in 1776, and attracted new and complementary businesses to the town.

Known in its formative years as New Boston, Perryopolis began to take shape in the early 19th century, more than a decade after Washington’s death in 1799. His estate sold the land he owned there and four men laid out streets in the shape of a wagon wheel, a project that was completed in 1814.

Although Perryopolis celebrated its bicentennial in 2014, the borough actually would not come into being until January 1953. It was formed out of the center of Perry Township, which was incorporated in 1839. The township, covering 20 square miles, now encircles Perryopolis, which was named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and his pivotal victory on Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

The grist mill and Shreve’s Distillery stand within yards of one another, and both require repair. “They are in the lowest point in town and there’s a serious drainage problem there,” says Noreen Halvonik, another parks and rec volunteer. “Hopefully, we’ll get that problem resolved sometime this year, then work on repairs.”

Perryopolis Area History Museum

Artifacts on display at the Perryopolis Area History Museum, which was formerly known as the Old State Bank Museum.

The distillery was severely damaged by fire in the 1970s, Buchina says. “My ideal would be to see distilled whiskey here again.”

More history is nearby. Searight’s Fulling Mill, where carding and fulling of wool were done, was built around 1815. Buchina says it may be the only intact fulling mill in the United States. There also is a blacksmith shop and the distinctive-looking Karolcik Building, circa 1921, which once housed a movie theater, bowling lanes, a billiards parlor, a barber shop and a grocery. It currently has one tenant, a vintage record and book shop.

Even more of the past is chronicled in the Perryopolis Area History Museum, situated in the Old State Bank building. The museum opened {span class=”st”}in 2014 and includes a neatly appointed collection of memorabilia, including the military uniform of World War I veteran John H. Luce, a banner marking the bicentennial, and testaments to the area’s abundant coal industry that stretched from the late 1800s to the 1950s.{/span}

{span class=”st”}There also is a photo from Vice President Harry Truman’s visit in November 1944. A genealogical center and a children’s history museum are within the walls as well.{/span}

Mary Fuller Frazier House

A view inside the Mary Fuller Frazier house, which is now owned by the Perryopolis Parks and Recreation Authority.

{span class=”st”}Aside from George Washington, no individual may have had a larger impact locally than Mary Fuller Frazier, who is memorialized in the museum. She was born in Perryopolis in 1864 and spent a large part of her childhood there with an uncle, Alfred Fuller, who made millions in coal and cattle. She inherited $5 million when he died in 1917.{/span}

{span class=”st”}Mary, who was considered to be eccentric, moved from the borough in 1887 and returned only once in the next six decades, two years before her death in 1948. But she left her original hometown $1.5 million to spend as it saw fit.{/span}

{span class=”st”}History isn’t the only attraction. Operating in the western part of the borough, along Route 51, are Perryopolis Auto Auction and a year-round Sunday flea market, both of which are popular. Eastbound motorists leaving town will cross the Youghiogheny River on the historic {span class=”st”}Layton Bridge, built in the 1890s as a railroad span. They may stop at Hazelbaker’s Bottom Yough Outfitters, featuring canoe and kayak rentals along the river, or Linden Hall, a destination location more than a century old with a mansion, events venues and 18 holes of golf. It is open from April to October.{/span}{/span}

Layton Road Bridge

The Layton Road bridge was finished in 1899, and the last train crossed over the Youghiogheny River on it in 1931. It was converted to automotive use in 1933.

{span class=”st”}Although Perryopolis may not have the volume of history that exists in Washington, D.C., the borough is indeed a testament to our nation’s past. It has an inextricable link to the “Father” of our country – who owned land and built a grist mill there – and his era.{/span}

{span class=”st”}George Washington, the only president to not reside in the White House, spent more nights in Fayette County than he did in the city named in his honor. That is historic.{/span}

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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