The Name Behind Westmoreland County
by Karen Fetter
Many already know what makes Westmoreland County so special, from its rich history and attractions to its people and places. However, what many may not know is how it got its name or how the final boundaries were formed for this southwestern county in Pennsylvania.
According to the book, History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania that was edited by George Dallas Albert (1882) from the Westmoreland County Historical Society, Westmoreland is a name that comes from a county in northeast England also named Westmoreland.
In England, territory names typically described the geographical surroundings. The book also explains that the English pronounce Westmoreland with a primary and a secondary accent on the first and last syllables.
Another book, A Short History of Westmoreland County: The First County West of the Appalachians by C. M. Bomberger, explains more about the name’s origination. The book explains how even the word “county” is another name for the old English shire. There are Westmoreland counties in New Brunswick, Canada, and New South Wales, Australia as well as in the state of Virginia and in Tasmania.
What makes it more interesting that Virginia was locked in a dispute with Pennsylvania for many years over which state our own Westmoreland County really belonged in.
Each state made a claim on the land. Once the Revolutionary War began, the focus of the argument lessened. It took until the establishment of the Mason-Dixon Line to settle the dispute in favor of Pennsylvania.
Westmoreland County also has a nickname. Do you know it? Our county has been called the “Star of the West,” which has several meanings behind it.
- One meaning is that it was given to Westmoreland County by politicians because the area was predominantly Democratic in the 1840s.
- Today, the Westmoreland County Historical Society refers to the county as the Star of the West based on a tale of 18th century German pioneers who traveled from the east through the area into western territories.
- The society also refers to the 5-pointed star as representation to the five counties that were carved from Westmoreland’s original boundaries – Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland.
Westmoreland County was originally created on February 26, 1773 and was the last county established under British rule before the American Revolution.
Arthur St. Clair, who represented the Penn family in western Pennsylvania, petitioned for another county to be established so that people would not have to travel over a 100 miles from the Pittsburgh area to Bedford for court and other governmental issues. As a result, Westmoreland County was born.
Westmoreland was a mother county to what became several other counties that we know today. At this time it not only included Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, and Washington, but also parts of Beaver, Armstrong, and Indiana. Westmoreland County originally covered a huge area.
The first and temporary county seat became Hannah’s Town on Forbes Road. The General Assembly later selected Greensburg, known then as Newtown, as the county seat because it was located along a new road, known as the Lincoln Highway, that connected Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
The first court was held in 1787 in a log building. New buildings replaced the log cabin as there was more growth.
As time proceeded, five other counties were carved away from the mother county of Westmoreland – Allegheny, Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana, and Washington. Then after 1800, there were 11 other counties derived from Westmoreland County – Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, and Warren. The boundary lines have not changed since 1803.
Then in 1907 the well-known Westmoreland County Court House was built in a French-renaissance style.
What began as one of the first settlements west of the Appalachians has grown to become a prosperous and established area that includes a mixture of settlers from a variety of nationalities including, Irish, Scottish-Irish, Slovak, Italian, German, African Americans from the southern states, and immigrants from other eastern and southern European countries.
Westmoreland began as an area known for agriculture and changed to include the metals industry, glass, and the mining of coal. Today there are industrial parks and small businesses as well as colleges and universities that contribute to the growth of a vibrant culture and a great place to live.