Tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Laurel Highlands is one of Pennsylvania’s most historic homes. Known as Friendship Hill National Historic Site, this was the home of Albert Gallatin, one of the most influential men in American history. And, while Gallatin’s contributions to American history might be little known today, a visit to his Fayette County home offers visitors a chance to learn more about the man and his contributions to the American government.
Gallatin was born in the mid-18th century in Geneva, Switzerland. He immigrated to America in 1780, bouncing between several areas of New England before becoming a French professor at Harvard. He was involved in the buying and selling of land in western Pennsylvania, and purchased the land on which he’d build his home in 1786. He began building his home on a tract of land high above the Monongahela River in 1789.
Friendship Hill was on the edges of the wilderness when Gallatin built his home, and so he established the community of New Geneva near his home in 1798. His goal was to provide a new home for Europeans fleeing the French Revolution, much as French Azilum in northeastern Pennsylvania did, as well as providing a community near his home. However, the new community never took off, though there is still a small population living in the area today.
The first building was a Federalist-style brick home. Over the years, Gallatin and future owners added various additions to the home, creating a somewhat mishmash-style of architectural features. The last addition to the home was added in 1903, and the home was opened as a national historical site in 1976.
Visitors to the home can take a self-guided audio tour through the home to learn more about the home and Gallatin’s impact on the United States. During his time as the owner of the home, Gallatin served as a US Senator and Representative and the US Ambassador to both France and the United Kingdom. However, what Gallatin is most widely remembered for is his tenure as the Secretary of the Treasury.
Gallatin served in this position from 1801-1814, during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. His 13-year career makes him the longest serving Treasury Secretary in US history. During his tenure, Gallatin was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, the first time in US history that the federal government acquired land, and helping Lewis and Clark plan their expedition (which, incidentally really left from Pittsburgh, not St. Louis).
As visitors tour through the home, the provided audio tour tells about the function of the room, the history of the home, and Gallatin’s importance to American history. One interesting anecdote told is the story of the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to the home in 1825 during his tour of American. Shortly after Lafayette’s visit, Gallatin left the home, and eventually sold it in 1832. As much as Gallatin loved the home, his second wife was not accustomed to life outside of the city.
The home is sparsely furnished, but the chance to learn more about one of America’s forgotten early leaders makes a visit well worth your time, especially if you already find yourself in Fayette County, Greene County, or elsewhere in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Before leaving the area, take some time to stroll the grounds of Friendship Hill National Historic Site. There are more than nine miles of trails that crisscross the 600 acres at the site. One interesting destination is the gravesite of Albert Gallatin’s first wife, who died after just five years of marriage in 1789. The walk to the gravesite takes you past some of the estate’s most beautiful land and offers views over the Monongahela River.
Friendship Hill National Historic Site might not make many lists of must-visit destinations in Pennsylvania. However, those interested in learning about the history of early America will no doubt enjoy a visit to the site.
Friendship Hill National Historic Site
Address: 223 New Geneva Road