POINT MARION, PA.: Friendship Hill has close ties to a key figure in American history.
No, not George Washington nor John Adams. Not Thomas Jefferson nor James Monroe. It was statesman Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), who had ties to the founding fathers.
Friendship Hill National Historic Site is where Gallatin built his country estate in southwest Pennsylvania. He bought the land in 1786 and built the two-story brick house in 1789.
It is now an eclectic historic 35-room house on a ridgetop above the Monongahela River between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W. Va.
Gallatin is an “unknown hero of early United States history,” says ranger Kitty Seifert who works at Friendship Hill.
Not exactly a household name, Gallatin was elected to Congress and served 13 years as secretary of the treasury under Jefferson and Monroe from 1801 to 1814, the longest anyone has served in that position.
He helped the young United States finance the Louisiana Purchase and the Meriwether Lewis and William Clark expedition, and helped negotiate the peace at the end of the War of 1812.
Lewis and Clark found the headwaters of the Missouri River where three rivers flowed together. They were named the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers.
He served as U.S. ambassador to both France and Great Britain. He was elected to the U.S. Senate, only to be kicked out because he was born in Switzerland. He served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1795, while in the House and fighting Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Gallatin created and chaired the powerful House Appropriations Committee that oversees federal spending.
He was the first to suggest that the federal government finance the National Road from Cumberland, Md., to Wheeling, W.Va. Construction began in 1811 and that route opened in 1818.
He played a key role in the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania in 1794. His speech was widely credited with ending the rebellion as federal troops moved to arrest farmers who were protesting a federal tax on the alcohol they produced.
He was nominated for U.S. vice president in 1824 but withdrew due to lack of support. He moved to New York City, became a banker and helped found New York University in 1831. He also researched and wrote a highly praised report on the history of American Indian tribes.
Friendship Hill between Point Marion and Masontown is where Gallatin built his Federal-style brick-and-frame house in 1789.
The property is now tucked between the river and state Route 166 in Springhill Township, just north of the Pennsylvania-West Virginia state line.
You can tour the house and hike on 10 miles of trails on the 675-acre tract that is operated by the National Park Service.
The well-preserved house offers a self-guided audio tour, with documents, books, artifacts and furnishings that go back to Gallatin. Some were passed on by the family. The house is sparsely furnished and history vignettes are available in different rooms.
Friendship Hill was acquired by the park service in 1979, opened in 1982. Renovations on the run-down structure began in 1985, and it was opened to the public in late 1992.
The hodgepodge structure sits atop a ridge 200 feet above the river and meadows. A log addition from 1798 was eventually razed and a stone structure was added, later covered in stucco.
A 2½-story stone addition was built in 1823, the largest section of the T-shaped structure. Other sections were added in 1895 and 1900.
It had at least one section that Gallatin strongly disliked. He was in France and wrote letters to his son, Albert Rolaz Gallatin, on what he wanted done. He expressed disappointment when he finally saw the results years later.
The 1823 addition of Grecian-style limestone blocks faces the entrance road, not the South Meadow below the ridge. That may have been the source of Gallatin’s unhappiness, although that it is not clear. It is unknown why the layout of the addition was flipped.
Gallatin built the house before he was to marry Sophia Allegre. She died within months of their marriage. She is reportedly buried in the woods along the Monongahela River, the spot marked by a stone wall.
Gallatin rarely stayed at Friendship Hill after that. His second wife, Hannah Nicholson Gallatin, was a New York City woman who didn’t enjoy southwest Pennsylvania. The family’s longest stay was about 18 months in 1824-1825.
In 1825, Gallatin hosted the Marquis de Lafayette at Friendship Hill. After that, he never returned and sold the property in 1832.
Gallatin also started nearby businesses: a glass factory, boring mill, sawmill, gristmill and a musket factory near New Geneva, Pa. It was to be a refuge for immigrants fleeing the French Revolution. He envisioned a canal being built along George’s Creek to aid industries, but that never happened.
He was known as a workaholic who often stayed in Washington, D.C., even when summer outbreaks of yellow fever would result in most members of Congress fleeing.
The trails at Friendship Hill are first rate, with large signs posted at trailheads. They can be accessed from parking lots near the main house or along the main entrance road.
The trails interconnect and lots of loop options are available, running through the meadows and the forested property.
House hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from May through September. It is open on Saturdays and Sundays from October to April. The grounds are open daily year-round.
It hosts FestiFall with historic crafts and music from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 23-24. For information, call 724-725-9190 or go to www.nps.gov/frhi.