Jimmy Buffet sings about the carefree life of the Florida Keys, but he would feel just as at home on the laid-back western shore of the Monongahela River in Fredericktown. From the funky décor and cold beverages at the Riviera Restaurant to the quirky roadside landmarks courtesy of Rudy Fabricating and Machine, this Pennsylvania hamlet invites you to kick back and enjoy its unique charms.
The Washington County town is located seven miles south on Route 88 from the Fredericktown exit off Route 43 out of Pittsburgh. As you enter, catch a glimpse of colorful pleasure boats on the river, blue metal fish flying on the roadside, or the giant white chicken on the roof of the famous Fredericktown Butcher Shop.
Populated by only about 400 people year round, Fredericktown has become a hotbed for recreation-seekers. Just ask Dennis Slagle, head of the local chamber of commerce. He calls Fredericktown, “headquarters for fun and sun on the Mon.” Rarely seen without a smile on his face, Slagle also is spokesman for the Maxwell Basin Recreational Area — 20 uninterrupted miles of prime boating on the river bordered by the Maxwell Lock and Dam.
Add that to the five local marinas and newly renovated Ten Mile Creek County Park, and there are plenty of places to launch a boat, pontoon, jet ski, canoe or kayak. (Check with Washington County Parks for information on permitting details.) With all that open water, it often feels like you have the river to yourself, even on a sunny summer day.
“Other people go on vacation just to be in a place like this for a few days,” says Slagle, who has had a Fredericktown address his whole life. “I get to call it home.”
Slagle’s daughter-in-law, Chelsea Slagle, feels the same way. Though she works in Morgantown, West Virginia, a 55-minute daily commute, she would never leave.
“Why would I want to live anywhere else?” she asks, gesturing over the sunset-lit water on a summer evening. “Look at this place!”
Judging by the lively summertime crowd at the Greene Cove Yacht Club’s restaurant, Chelsea is not alone in that sentiment. Bar Manager Becca Gutosky was busy serving up cold beers and tropical drinks to regulars coming in from a day on the water. Greene Cove has over 200 slips for rent, with very few going empty. Above the marina sits a private permanent “campground,” a hidden summer enclave where the transportation of choice is a golf cart.
The adjacent Ten Mile Creek feeds into the Mon. Significantly longer than ten miles, the waterway was named for being ten miles south of Brownsville…or maybe after a Lieutenant Tenmile who surveyed the area for George Washington’s army. It depends on who’s telling the story. The creek is a “no wake zone,” making it peaceful for pleasure boaters, canoes, kayakers and fisherman. Crafts can easily launch from Ten Mile Creek County Park. Pavilions can be rented for picnics and events, and park visitors are welcome to bring well-behaved dogs.
Slagle has always loved to fish, but he only recently bought a boat and began casting a line locally. Angling is becoming more and more popular here, even spawning a night-time crossbow fishing charter. Slagle’s wife, Lynn, noted that now that the Mon and Ten Mile are healthy again for fish, the water is also safe for swimming.
“Families go out on the river in pontoon boats with floats and picnic supplies for the day and take dips from their boats,” she says.
As peaceful as it is most days, there are times when Ten Mile Creek transforms into a floating party. The five marinas — Greene Cove, Engle’s Holiday Harbor, Sunset Marina, 10 Mile Yacht Club and Greenwood Marina — plan a number of events throughout the season that bring hundreds of revelers to Fredericktown, for example the upcoming “Halloween Canoe Race” from Clarksville to Greene Cove.
“Other people go on vacation just to be in a place like this for a few days. I get to call it home.” – Dennis Slagle
This is a second life for the waterway. Along the shores of the Maxwell Basin pool, boaters pass charming cottages along with vestiges of the mining industry. Abandoned coal tipples and barge pilings rise up occasionally from the now-sparkling water, an impressive reminder of when coal was king.
And it is not only echoes of industry: Pleasure boaters share the wide Mon with massive coal barges that occasionally glide by.
“Even with a couple hundred boats tied at the pilings during the musical event ‘Rockin’ on the Mon,’ there is more than enough room for the barges to get by,” insists Slagle.
Another favorite destination for boaters and landlubbers alike is John Shaw’s Riviera Restaurant, a mostly outdoor lounge where flip-flops are the shoes of choice. Bartenders Paige Butka and Natasha Sigwalt sling drinks behind the bar, sharing their view of the river with patrons who pour in off the water and the roadway. The patio’s view becomes even more spectacular when Fredericktown sponsors fireworks, launched from the opposite shore.
For those who prefer their recreation on land, the recently extended 6.8 mile Greene River Trail trailhead originates at Greene Cove. The trail follows the creek then runs along the Mon on an abandoned railroad bed through a stretch of scenic woodland. The route affords sweeping views of the water as you walk or bike through Rices Landing and pass its historic W.A. Young & Sons Foundry.
A visit to Fredericktown isn’t really complete without a visit to the Fredericktown Butcher Shop and its giant rooftop chicken. In addition to the fresh hand-cut meats (at amazingly low prices), they offer all the basic necessities for a day on the river. Stepping through the doors is like going back in time.
A little further down Front Street, The Riverside Inn, a restored hotel, offers a quiet spot for food, drinks and lodging.
Looking to plan a visit? Events are scheduled throughout the season: August will see the popular Ribfest at the Riviera, a golf outing and the Fourth Annual Clarksville Festival. September’s “Party on the Point” at the Greene Cove Yacht Club includes an open Corn Hole tournament with slots for 64 two-person teams. The season culminates with October’s Halloween events. (For more information, check out the Mon River Coalition’s event calendar.)
So how did this little riverside town become such a hot spot? Slagle, the Riviera’s Shaw and Morgan Boyle of Greene Cove met in 2010 to talk about planning events and bringing businesses to Fredericktown. Then Slagle saw an article about The River Town Program.
“I called Cathy right away,” says Slagle, referring to program director Cathy McCollom. “Fredericktown was on board. We were one of the first Mon River Towns to join the Mon River Valley Coalition. The program helped us with marketing so people can hear about our events, and with signage so they can find them once they get here.”
It’s pretty easy to see why the locals don’t want to leave and why visitors keep coming back. The town’s neighborly feeling is infectious. People here on the water are relaxed. They say hello. They smile. Next time Jimmy Buffett wants a “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” tell him to float up to Fredericktown.
WENDY DUCHENE is an attorney with offices in Allegheny and Somerset Counties. She is also an avid user of the many hiking and biking trails in western PA, where she can often be found on her recumbent bike or walking her dog Sander.
This story was created in partnership with the Keystone Edge.
Fishing is big business. Did you know that more people fish than hunt in the United States and the audience is growing? According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation researched and prepared by the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners, more than 33 million Americans aged 16 or older fish our waters. This was up from 30 million in 2006. The total annual impact amounts to $41.8 billion spent on trips, licenses, and equipment.
The Monongahela and its tributaries share in this number. We wanted to get a better idea of fishing along the Mon, so we talked with Dennis Slagle, both an angler and community advocate. Dennis is actively involved in the River Town Program and other efforts aimed at leveraging local waterways as community assets.
Dennis fishes the north and south branches of Ten Mile Run, which he says is stocked with trout and smallmouth bass. Why does he fish? “I do it for the exercise. I like to get out and walk, wade the stream. When you fish the river, you’re fishing a different kind of fish.”
According to Dennis, some favorite fishing holes along the mid-Mon include the mouth of Ten Mile Run, Greene Cove, and below the Maxwell Lock near Brownsville. Anglers have reeled in everything from catfish and walleye to smallmouth bass, sheepshead, sauger, and muskie. (The photo above is of angler Josh Haley, with a 41 pound, 46 inch muskie he caught in the Mon.)
Dennis also clued us in on another sort of fishing taking place on the Mon. Guided night bowfishing trips are now offered by the charter outfit Nocturnal Addiction Bowfishing. The company offers trips on just a few waterways (Ohio, Pymatuning Lake), and the Mon (launching from Fredericktown) is one of them. Their trips start at $125 a person.
For others, traditional fishing tournaments and derbies offer enough of a rush. The Washington, PA Bassmasters host tourneys on the Mon (Dennis says they’ve put over a hundred boats on the river some years). And this weekend – Saturday, July 16 – the Marianna Outdoorsmen Association is hosting its 2nd annual M.O.A. Catfish derby. The catch and release tournament will run from 4-9 p.m. in Marianna. The cost is $15 for members and $25 for non-members. This includes a BBQ and prizes for the largest and most fish caught. Call (724) 986-5708 for more information.
In addition to the economic impact referenced earlier, fishing can and does play a role in stewardship and community-building. We thought you would enjoy this great video produced by the Maxwell Basin Recreation Area. With programs like Kids’ Fishing Day, watershed monitoring, canoe races, wounded warriors fishing events, conoeing and fishing classes in local schools, and stream clean ups, it’s so very clear that fishing and water recreation are used to connect area residents to local waterways. Recreating leads to appreciation, and appreciation results in stewardship. And this is what’s needed to continue to promote and protect our waterways.
If this post has got you running for your rod and tackle box, please come fish along the Mon. Bring a kayak or canoe for an especially serene experience. Here’s a list of boat launches and marinas in the area. We don’t know about you, but as soon as we’ve posted this, we’re going to set our “out of office” message and let people know we’ve “gone fishin.’”
A quick jaunt from Pittsburgh for those looking for their next adventure
Submitted by Amy Camp
As a Pittsburgher who does some work in the Mon Valley (helping out with the Mon River Town Program when called upon), I’ve come to appreciate the area as a close-to-home day trip. I’m still pleasantly surprised to find the pastoral setting complete with rolling hills and two-lane curvy roads so close to the city. That’s why when faced with an extra day off this week, my wife and I headed for the river valley.
Here’s how we spent our day:
Triple B Farms in Monongahela
Even before reaching the farm, we’d been transported to another place. If you arrive via Raccoon Valley Road as we did, you may feel the same way. We were on a quest for black raspberries, but found so much more. The farm store was loaded with fresh produce (we went home with berries and sweet corn), homemade fudge, and all sorts of jams, jellies, and pickled items. And I’ll be back soon to pick up a 10-gallon bucket of sour cherries. The folks at Triple B meet a Michigan farmer halfway in mid-July and then haul them back to Washington County for waiting pie makers. If you’d like to be one of them, get on the list by July 11.
Outside, there were goats and other animals, an observation beehive, and pick your own fruits. The “pick your own” is weekends only and depends on crop availability. Call ahead (724-258-3557) or follow the farm’s Facebook page. Feeding the goats was a personal highlight. I have to say, the thrill of having a baby goat nibble feed from your hand extends into adulthood. Go see the goats!
Brownsville’s Historic Northside
I’ve been to Brownsville quite a few times but never parked the car and walked the Northside neighborhood, which is a National Register-listed historic district. The main thoroughfare, Market Street, is part of the Historic National Road. Pittsburghers may know of the astronomer John Brashear. His birthplace in a 19th Century tavern is just steps from one of the old National Road markers. When you go, take your favorite camera, because there’s a lot to shoot here – church steeples, historic homes and storefronts, and even an old hospital (Brownsville General) and nurses home being reclaimed by nature (no trespassing, of course). Poke around the area long enough and you’ll find great river views and a churchyard structure constructed from old gravestones.
Route 40 Classic Diner
We continued on from Brownsville and went to the Route 40 Classic Diner. While we went hoping for pie, our dishes pushed us over the eating edge and pie proved to be impossible this trip. This is bound to happen when you order chicken pot pie and chicken and biscuits, both daily specials that afternoon. The stainless steel diner looks as if it’s been there all along, but it was hauled 500 miles to this spot in 2007 – a great addition to the National Road.
North Belle Vernon
We made one more stop after the diner. We headed off for North Belle Vernon, where we’d done some antiquing last summer. We only made it to one shop – Broad Avenue Treasures – before closing and were pleased with our finds and shop owner Stefanie McCulloch’s hospitality. There are a few other vintage shops in North Belle Vernon (one where I bought my favorite cast iron skillet last year, a Griswold, made in Erie). The shops are collaborating to host “Antiques on the Avenue” on July 23. The event runs from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., rain or shine. Outside vendors can join them and set up along Broad Avenue. (Call Stefanie at 724-929-7467 to learn more.)
What we didn’t do
The list of stops we didn’t make is long. We could have spent time in any number of Mon River Towns or hit up any of these spots:
- We passed Keystone Bakery (open 90 years!) on our way home from North Belle Vernon. We weren’t able to stop this time, but will the next time we’re through. Check out their specialty and ethnic items page, which lists a number of goodies that celebrate the ethnic heritage of Mon Valley residents.
- Donora Smog Museum – we’ve been there before and enjoyed learning more about the smog event that was one of the impetuses for the environmental movement.
- Nemacolin Castle, Flatiron Heritage Museum, and Frank L. Melega Art Museum, all in Brownsville
- Antique shops in Monongahela, followed by a meal at Lenzi’s, a Mon Valley Institution
- High Point Restaurant and Lounge near California, where the river curves like a horseshoe – be ready for one of the best views in southwestern PA. The High Point is open Thursday-Saturday only in the summer.
- Mingo Creek County Park (those coming from Washington, PA, and other points west may be particularly interested in checking out the park and its iconic covered bridges)
- The Speers Street Grill and Back Porch Restaurant in Speers. In addition to its formal dining, the Back Porch has a Side Door Bistro, a casual lower level space that stands out with the exposed stone foundation.
- Further south, a few of my personal favorite stops are Friendship Hill National Historic Site (go for the FestiFall event in the fall and try the bean soup), the W.A. Young & Sons Machine Shop and Foundry (it’s so cool to see the volunteers get the old belts and pulleys running), the Greene River Trail, and Apple Annie’s restaurant, known for its desserts.
These are all spots that I know of and am personally attracted to. Mon Valley residents, leave a comment to let us know what you recommend.