Although much of Peters Township has changed significantly during the past couple of decades, at least one feature has remained constant for the past couple of centuries.
Drive along Venetia Road near the township’s southeastern corner, and you’ll see plenty of reminders of Peters’ past: the red brick of Wrights United Methodist Church and the former Venetia Elementary School next door, plus the houses of the old mining village of Hackett, established in 1835.
Twenty years before that, the son of a Western Pennsylvania pioneer named Enoch Wright started work on a two-family residence that he finished the following year, using bricks that were baked on his property.
Today, the Peters Creek Historical Society owns and maintains the Enoch Wright House as a showplace for what life once was like, serving as what the organization calls the Museum of Westward Expansion.
During a recent open house, Len Marraccini of Finleyville, the society’s vice president, and his wife, Donna, conducted tours of the property and told a few of the 200-plus years’ worth of related stories.
Some are grim. For example, both Enoch Wright’s father, Joshua, and uncle James, who settled in the area about 1772, died at the hands of American Indians.
Others are much more pleasant, such as Len’s story about an open house last year:
“There was a knock on the front door, and a lady says, ‘I have something that needs to come back to this house.’ She has this beaver-skin felt top hat that was originally owned by Enoch Wright, the builder of the house.”
It turned out that her parents bought the hat at an auction that some of his descendants had conducted.
“The lady was cleaning out her parents’ house, getting ready to sell it,” Marraccini explained. “She came across the hat. She knew all about the story, and she said, ‘It needs to come back home.’”
The Wright House is full of memorabilia that traces the history of the family and the area where they lived from the Colonial era through the 19th century. Some once belonged to the Wrights, themselves, including the bed of Enoch’s granddaughter Charity and her husband, Dr. David Anderson.
Marraccini lifted the thin, straw-filled mattress to reveal what holds it aloft:
“It’s just a rope, and you tighten the rope to get it firmer.”
Next to the bed is one of the Civil War uniforms of Anderson, along with the medical bag he used in the war and when he returned home.
The house also features a mining room, with many of the items on display courtesy of the family of the late William “Bits” Jenkins of Gastonville, who donated his collection of memorabilia and dioramas he created to illustrate the antiquated roof-and-pillar mining method.
“The Wrights mined coal and burned it in the fireplace in winter,” Marraccini said. “So you can probably say that would have been one of the earlier mining activities here.”
When visitors reach the mining room, Marraccini often is the historical society member who provides an overview.
“Sometimes we have schoolchildren come through,” he said, “and on a couple of occasions they’ll say, ‘Hey, Mister. What’s the black rock?’ Young kids today have no idea what coal is.”
Nor do they have an idea about what they’re looking at when they see a sample of ‘red dog,’ the mining waste product that once paved many a Western Pennsylvania road.
“I have scars on my legs from when I was young and learned how to ride a bicycle on the ‘red dog’ alley behind my parents’ house,” Marraccini reported.
Behind the Wright House is a log house built in West Finley Township in the late 18th century. In 2002, the owner of the property donated the structure to the historical society, but it had to be removed.
And so members disassembled it, labeled all the pieces, moved everything across Washington County and rebuilt the house. Inside is a plaque dedicated to the late Fred Braun, an officer of the historical society and one of the main organizers of the mission.
From the vantage point of the log house, two doors are visible on the far end of each side of the house. Inside are steps leading to small rooms above.
“You cannot get into the rooms from inside the house,” Marracini explained. “One of the theories that historians have is the house was used as part of the Underground Railroad, and they hid people escaping the South coming north.”
Of course, no one kept records of such activities, so they’re impossible to verify. But the Wrights had a track record of taking an abolitionist stance.
Whatever the case, the house in which they lived continues to serve as a place to learn about the past, and the Peters Creek Historical Society, which has owned the property since 1976, always is seeking new members to help maintain the community asset far into the future.
The next open house is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 25. For more information about the Enoch Wright House, visit peterscreekhistoricalsociety.org.