In the mid-1700s, old Native American trails that were turned into rough roads during the military expeditions of the French and Indian War were the catalyst for westward expansion. Unsurprisingly, it was along these roads that towns would often spring up to meet the needs of those traveling westward.
One of these communities was Hanna’s Town. Located north of present-day Greensburg, the town was situated along Forbes Road, which was an important road that stretched 300 miles from Fort Littleton (in present-day Fulton County) to Fort Duquesne (at The Point in Pittsburgh).
Just west of where Fort Ligonier had once stood, Robert Hanna built a tavern adjacent to the road on land he acquired in 1769. His tavern became an important stopping point along the road, and a small community soon sprang up around Hanna’s business.
In 1773, Pennsylvania created Westmoreland County and named Hanna’s Town the county seat. At the time, Westmoreland County comprised all of southwestern Pennsylvania and became the last county created in the state prior to the Revolutionary War.
As the county seat, Hanna’s Town was home to the first English courts held west of the Allegheny Mountains. Tours offer an interesting look at this history, along with going over some of the unique punishments that were dolled out during the 18th century.
In July 1782, Hanna’s Town was destroyed in an attack by British soldiers and Native Americas in one of the last actions of the Revolutionary War.
Interestingly, the attack was led by Guyasuta, a Seneca leader who had led George Washington on one of his first missions and is featured with Washington in a statue atop Mount Washington in Pittsburgh. Guyasuta was also one of the leaders during the nearby Battle of Bushy Run in 1763.
While the village was rebuilt after the attack, it lost its county seat status to nearby Newtown (now known as Greensburg) in 1785. For the next two centuries, the land that was the community was little more than farmland.
However, in anticipation of the bicentennial of the United States, Westmoreland County began to look into the restoration of Hanna’s Town. This led to Historic Hanna’s Town, a rebuilt frontier town that features a handful of historic or recreated buildings and a recreated fort.
The focal point of Historic Hanna’s Town is the rebuilt Hanna’s Tavern. Reconstructed in the 1970s, the tavern offers a fascinating look into life on the frontier. The two-story building is set up as authentically as possible with the first floor primarily being the tavern, which was the focal point of the community in the 1700s, and the upper floor being guest and family quarters.
In addition to the tavern, the site is also home to the Klingensmith House. Built in 1802 in Armstrong County and later moved to Historic Hanna’s Town, the home is designed in a Germanic-style, which provides an interesting contrast to the English-style homes you typically see in historic sites like this one.
There is also a wooden structure that protects an authentic Conestoga Wagon. The wagon dates from the 1790s and offers a great opportunity to learn more about the Forbes Road and how goods were transported west in the days before trains could cross the mountains.
Across what was once the Forbes Road is the rebuilt fort. Constructed based on archeological evidence from the original fort, this was the spot where the villagers came to escape the British and Native American raid in 1782.
While there isn’t anything inside the fort other than a memorial, this is a great spot to think about life on the frontier and the dangers that settlers faced.
New in the summer of 2019, the Westmoreland Historical Society has completed a state-of-the-art building adjacent to Historic Hanna’s Town. This building not only provides a great gift shop and access to the county’s historical archives but also features rotating exhibits from the history of Westmoreland County.
If you love local historical society museums, this is definitely a spot you won’t want to miss.
Overall, Historic Hanna’s Town offers an interesting look into the history of southwestern Pennsylvania. While it might not be among the must-visit spots when exploring the Laurel Highlands, it’s definitely a great spot to check out if you love history.
Note: My visit to Historic Hanna’s Town was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Historic Hanna’s Town
Hours: Tours run May-October
See website for days and times as they vary by season
Cost: Adults: $8, Students: $6, Children (5 and under): Free
Address: 809 Forbes Trail Rd