Greene County Historical Society Museum: One of the Largest and Best Historical Society Museums in PA
Greene County sits in a bit of a forgotten corner of southwestern Pennsylvania. As one of the state’s least visited counties, you might think that it has little to offer the average PA traveler. Because of this, I wanted to visit and find out what I could uncover in this corner of Pennsylvania.
To learn a little more about the history of the area, I did what I often do when visiting a new county, and checked out their local historical society.
The Greene County Historical Society sits a few miles outside of downtown Waynesburg, the largest borough and county seat of Greene County. Many Pennsylvania historical societies are located in large, Victorian homes in the heart of downtown, but not this one. Instead, the Greene County Historical Society is located inside the area’s former poor farm.
However, the history of the building dates back a bit further. The building was originally built as a farmhouse for the Rinehart family in the 1850s. A few years later, the home was sold and turned into the Greene Hills Poor Farm.
Here, dozens of poor residents toiled in the fields to produce enough produce to feed themselves and support their home. Over the years, the building was expanded considerably until it reached its present day size.
In 1969, the building was finally closed as a poor farm and leased to the historical society for $1 a year.
Today, the Greene County Historical Society welcomes visitors into one of Pennsylvania’s largest historical society museums. The sheer size of the building allows the society to showcase a large number of items related to both the area’s local history and how Greene County and its residents have impacted the world.
During my visit to the museum, I had the opportunity to be guided by the museum’s administrator, Eben Williams. Williams is a transplant from Massachusetts, but his love for the local history and desire to showcase it shined through as he walked me around the museum.
We started in the museum’s large temporary exhibit space. Despite the huge square footage of the museum, they have many items that they can’t regularly display. In order to show off as many items as possible, the museum rotates their temporary exhibits twice a year, focusing on different aspects of their collection.
At the time of writing, the museum was focusing on some of the personal collections of the historical society’s founders. While some of these items aren’t necessarily related to Greene County, there are also some items, such as Native American tools, that would make interesting permanent exhibits.
There are also several exhibits in this area that are permanent, including a great collection of River Pottery. One of the most interesting pieces was a tombstone that was made from clay along the Monongahela River. While many of the jars on display are similar to those you see in various museums around the state, the tombstone was quite unique.
The next section we came to is known as the “Walk Down Main Street.” In this long hallway are many different rooms that used to be the residences of people who lived at the poor farm. Today, each room features a collection of tools and memorabilia from industries that made their mark on Greene County over the years.
While many of the rooms featured the types of items you expect to find in a historical society museum, the displays were well done. There were two rooms, however, that I found especially interesting.
The first room had a collection of items related to the poor farm that used to be in the building. These items included clothes, ledgers, and, most interestingly, a collection of puppets made by residents.
The second room of interest was the museum’s collection of military memorabilia. While not overly unique, the collection includes every war from the French and Indian War to the Korean War. One cool piece is a large World War 1 machine gun that sits underneath the room’s window.
While in this section, don’t miss the display of model boats at the end of the hall. These very large and intricate models showcase several of the boats that used to ply the Monongahela River through Greene County in years past.
Moving upstairs, the Greene County Historical Society has several bedrooms set up with items from locally important families, including the Rinehart family that built the home.
However, the most interesting area upstairs is the room dedicated to Edward Martin, a military General and politician from Greene County. During Martin’s career, he served in four different wars, was a US Senator, and was the only Pennsylvania Governor from Greene County.
The centerpiece of the room dedicated to Martin is the desk that he used while the Governor of Pennsylvania. On the walls of the room are pieces of memorabilia from his life, including military uniforms, George Marshall’s battle flag from World War 2, and pieces of paneling that were removed during the refurbishment of the White House.
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Outside the museum, the Greene County Historical Society owns multiple acres of land. While most of it is undeveloped, there are several outbuildings. These buildings are primarily used for events, though they are open from time to time.
The most interesting piece in the buildings is a train engine that used to run from Washington, PA, to Waynesburg in the early 1900s. If you visit during an event, you might be lucky enough to see this beautiful engine.
Overall, I quite enjoyed my visit to the Greene County Historical Society Museum. Going in, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I came out with a great appreciation for the little known history of the area.
To be perfectly honest, the museum was not only one of the largest historical society museums I’ve visited in Pennsylvania, but also one of the best. It’s rare to find a museum that does such a great job showcasing local history, and I was very glad I took the time to visit the Greene County Historical Society Museum in Waynesburg.
Note: My visit to the Greene County Historical Society Museum was hosted by the museum. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Greene County Historical Society Museum
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 10a-3p
Cost: Adults: $7, Children: $5
Address: 918 Rolling Meadows Road