Friendship Hill National Historic Site New Geneva, Pa. Visited: June 1, 2006 NPS Site Visited: 296 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Longtime home of founding father Albert Gallatin, a Swiss ťmigrť who, along with his rival Alexander Hamilton, helped to create, design and oversee the federal monetary system and economic philosophy of the young United States of America.
BEAUTY (4/10) Albert Gallatin never actually spent much time at his western PA home. His numerous vocations, politician, economist, diplomat and Treasury Secretary, kept him away. In 1823, the House underwent a large scale remodeling overseen by Gallatinís son with Old Albert giving instructions from Paris. Upon his return and the remodeling completion, Albert declared the House too ugly for words and vowed never to live in it again.
The House was sold a few months later. Who are we to argue with Mr. Gallatinís aesthetic tastes? Friendship Hillís grounds do afford pleasant views of the northward-flowing Monongahela River and the tree-lined dirt/gravel entryway adds a stately air to your trip. And the house, while no stunner, is not a completely revolting architectural nightmare.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10) Little occurred at Friendship Hill or New Geneva, the town Gallatin built around it; they serve as conduits to reintroduce a nearly forgotten man. Unlike Thomas Stone, Gallatin did more than share the air with famous men; he advised them, guided them, influenced their thinking and ultimately gave up his dream home and vision of an industrial town in Fayette County to join them in constructing a new nation.
Albert Gallatin served almost thirteen years as Secretary of the Treasury, the longest tenure for that office. As a Cabinet member under Jefferson and Madison, Gallatin financed the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition and reduced the national debt, only to see his savings consumed by the War of 1812 and the construction of the outdated-before-they-were-opened series of coastal defense forts.
Before rising in the national political sphere, Gallatin gained respect as a mediator, attempting to resolve the disagreement between local farmers and the federal government which culminated in the Whiskey Rebellion; he sided with his neighbors.
CROWDS (6/10) A few other southwestern Pennsylvania wanderers found their way to Friendship Hill. We doubt the crowds could ever reach a level here that would make you feel crowded.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) Friendship Hill NHS is located in the nether regions of southwestern Pennsylvania. Two hours from Pittsburgh, an hour plus from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and at least 30 twisting miles north of Morgantown, W.Va. and Interstate 68.
Here are the multiple directions from the Parkís website. The NPS has thankfully posted incredibly helpful brown signs at every conceivable intersection on the way to Friendship Hill. The signs tell you which way to go while they taunt you with the miles-to-go info. It is no wonder that society lady Mrs. Gallatin felt Friendship Hill was too rural and interminably delayed her returns here from New York City, Paris and London.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) Friendship Hill NHSís book selection is paltry at best. Sure, there hasnít been much written about good old Gallatin but the Site only stocked one book revolving around its honoree, the strangely titled To Live and Die in the Monongahela Hills. And that book was published by Eastern National, the outsourced company that runs most of the National Park Sites east of the Mississippi. Gallatinís involvement in so many other historical and oft-written about events calls for a more substantial selection than what is here.
COSTS (4/5) Entry is free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) One lone Ranger welcomed us to the Site but was unable to answer many of our questions about Gallatin. No fault of hers, she is actually a Ranger at Fort Necessity filling in for the regular staff. She was lovely to talk to, eager to turn on the film and happy to pull out whatever resources she could find to answer our questions that she could not.
TOURS/CLASSES (7/10) The Site boasts two unorthodox but effective exhibits. The first is a bizarre introductory video. In it Gallatinís severed head tells viewers his life story, Swiss accent and all. The video used to be stranger. Mr. Gallatin was once a full bodied hologram projected onto the Visitor Center floor a la Princess Leia (Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi youíre my only hope) in ďStar WarsĒ. If you look closely at his DVD head, you can still see a radiant sheen.
The Siteís other teaching tool is a tiny typed timeline of Gallatinís life glued on multiple poster boards and scattered throughout the house. The timeline looks more like a middle school science project than a polished National Park Site display. But like Gallatinís hologram, the pastiche timeline does a successful job of explaining their complex and influential subject.
We read every timeline entry and hung on every one of the disembodied Gallatinís words. We knew nothing of the man before coming to Friendship Hill and left with admiration, understanding and a desire to learn more.
FUN (6/10) Fort Necessity Rangers were pretty sure that we would have time to see both sites in the same day and recommended that we spend the bulk of our time with them at the Fort. That left us to believe there was not much to see at Friendship Hill. Minimal expectations gave way to pleasant strolls around the grounds, relaxed conversations with the Ranger and undivided attention to all that the Site had to offer.
We did have time to see both Sites in one day, but our time at Friendship Hill was much more fulfilling than anticipated. Wonderful weather and a clearly marked drive to the Site added to our good moods. But along that drive we did have a shocking revelation.
Friendship Hill is in Pennsylvania and the surrounding houses fly West Virginia University flags! That is blasphemy to us Penn State diehards. University of Pittsburgh, we understand, but not West Virginia!
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10) A trip to Friendship Hill? Probably not. Only if you happen to be en route to a WVU Mountaineerís football game. Mrs. Gallatinís protestations about being in the middle of nowhere werenít without merit.
However, Albert Gallatin is certainly a man worth knowing more about. Given the absence of biographies and History Channel mentions, an American history scholar is left with no choice but to come to Friendship Hill to hear about Gallatinís contributions to the development, exploration and expansion of the United States.
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