The Histories of Penn State
Penn State Intercom......September 26, 2002

Fulfilling a need

Fayette campus responded to society's needs in a changing economy

Editor's note: Most people know the history of Penn State as that of a school chartered in 1855 at the request of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society to apply scientific principles to farming. Since that time, Penn State has grown from that one campus at University Park to 24 locations statewide, and each of those other locations has its own history. Throughout this academic year, Intercom plans to continue highlighting those stories.  

By Melanie Dawn Thomas
Penn State Fayette Fayette_future

In 1907, the city of Uniontown in Fayette County was known to have
13 millionaires in the county, at a time when miners had good jobs making about $1 a day. The coal and coke era had produced a booming economy. But as this industry disappeared, the area struggled to find as lucrative a substitute. Citizens looked to education, and community leaders including Orville Eberly, Robert Eberly Sr., Jim Driscoll and Herman Buck strived to bring a college to the area. Several colleges, including Waynesburg College and the University of Pittsburgh, tried to foster a campus, but it was Penn State that ultimately was successful.

"My first recollection of the possibility relative to getting a Penn State Commonwealth campus for Fayette County was in the boardroom of the Gallatin National bank when Orville Eberly indicated that the Waynesburg College was going to close their branch in Uniontown," said J. Lewis Williams. Williams was a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees and also served on the Uniontown Gallatin Bank board. Fayette_lion

Williams approached Penn State President Eric Walker about having the University return to the area. Walker visited the area, and quickly saw the area's potential. With help from Orville Eberly and his son, Robert E. Eberly, and other community leaders, the University began offering classes in temporary facilities in downtown Uniontown in 1965.

"We knew the area needed education in the future," said longtime campus and University supporter Robert Eberly. "In the '30s and '40s, kids went straight to work, and made pretty good money. But you could see times changing, and things getting harder. We knew Fayette County was going to need education in the future, so a lot of good people spent a lot of time on it."

O.C. Cluss and William Metzler spearheaded a fund-raising campaign that secured $1.2 million for a permanent campus. The newly formed Penn State Fayette Advisory Board then purchased a 194-acre farmstead between Uniontown and Connellsville. Classes began at the campus in the fall of 1968.

The creation of the Fayette campus actually marked a return by Penn State to the area. In 1934, the University had established an undergraduate center in Uniontown to provide the first two years of baccalaureate studies to students who were location-bound because of the Great Depression. The center closed in 1940 on the eve of World War II.

The land that holds Penn State Fayette is immersed in the area's colonial history. Fort Necessity at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield, where George Washington fought a battle against French and Indian forces in the summer of 1754, is located eight miles east of Uniontown. A monument to British Gen. Edward Braddock, killed in the French and Indian War, is one of area's attractions.

The original house on the Garner Farm was built by Issac Wood in 1834 on land he purchased from Christopher Gist. The land was part of a settlement awarded to Gist by King George III for Gist's service as a guide for Braddock during the French and Indian War. Wood purchased the property after he was banished from the Quaker Community in Philadelphia for marrying without the permission of his bride's parents. The property passed from hand to hand until dairyman Harold Garner sold the house and land to the Penn State Fayette Advisory Board. Now called The University House, the farmhouse is used for office space.

The first new building on the campus was the Eberly Building, followed by a student union, later named the J.L. Williams Building. Initial enrollment stood at 180 students, yearly tuition was $525 and Penn State Fayette's curriculum included an associate degree in mining technology.

A campus library, gymnasium, engineering solar laboratory, biomedical technology building and other facilities have been added over the years. Plans are under way for a new $10 million gymnasium and community center slated for completion in 2004.

Today the Fayette campus is enjoying its fourth year of record enrollments and offers five baccalaureate and seven associate degrees, and a diverse continuing education program. Penn State Fayette offers courses at three off-site locations at the Uniontown Mall, at United Parcel Services in New Stanton and at Somerset Hospital. The Coal and Coke Heritage Center was built on the campus to house disappearing artifacts, interviews and other memorabilia from the area's history.