The Three Tourist Booms of Fayette County
There have been three big tourist booms in Fayette County. Congressman Andrew Stewart started one in Ohiopyle in 1871. Edgar Kaufmann donated the Ferncliff Peninsula and Ohiopyle Hotel to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which spawned Ohiopyle State Park in the 1960’s. But it was George Titlow who kicked up tourism action in Fayette County in 1913 when he organized the Summit Mountain Hill Climb races. Titlow already had a plum business serving the wealthy coal and coke barons, but after the success of the race track set up at the 1912 Home Week festivities, Titlow had an idea.
He was a lucky man and wanted others to enjoy the wonderful countryside and amenities Fayette County had to offer. When he held a meeting to form the county's first automobile club, did he envision what the next decade would entail?
After 3 years of hill climbs, some of the wealthiest men in America invested in the famous 1 and ⅛ mile board track called the Uniontown Speedway. It was made of hemlock and it's world famous drivers drew crowds of up to 50,000 to Hopwood from 1916 through 1922. The wealthiest people from all over the country traveled to Uniontown by train, silent film stars and film executives, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Willie Vanderbilt, the Chevrolet Brothers, and thousands more.
This boom ended abruptly, when the Uniontown Speedway President took off to Cuba with their money, but what a run it was. Titlow sold the Titlow Hotel due to Prohibition, and the end of the coal & coke & board-track boom, saying, “You can’t run a hotel without spirits.”
For 105 years, the Titlow Hotel has been serving travelers great meals, refreshments, and music.
Give it top-billing on your Fayette County tour!
George Titlow, the silver dollar man of Fayette County
By: Marci Lynn McGuinness
Titlow is not a name you often hear, but in the mid 1800s, Flavius Titlow moved from Middletown, Md., to Uniontown. His father, George, was a well-to-do farmer, landowner, and proprietor of a National Pike inn.
Flavius became a tailor and moved to Fayette County. Here, he married Drusilla Beeson, daughter of Henry Beeson, who was the son of Jacob, one of Uniontown’s founders.
Flavius ran a tailor shop and clothing store on Main Street Later, he became station agent for the railroad, selling the first train ticket in Uniontown. He died of a heart attack at the age of 42, hunting in the Dawson woods, after instilling the ideals of a sportsman in his five children.
Flavius’ son, George Flavius Titlow, has been the subject of my research for many years. After high school, he spent four years working at his father’s store. In 1886, he took a job as a clerk at the Yough House hotel in Connellsville. Rockwell and Marcus Marietta owned the Yough House. They, and several of their 17 siblings, were on the town council. Rockwell later became the town’s first mayor. This was during the coal and coke boom. The hotel business in the bustling burg of Connellsville was flourishing.
A few years later, the Mariettas opened the Hotel Marietta, also in Connellsville. They promoted George to manager of the fine establishment. He had already been meeting many rich businessmen responsible for the development of the local boom, and quickly moved up the proverbial ladder.
It was 1889. The Connellsville Coke region had endured several violent strikes. H. C. Frick now had 30,000 workers who were happy with their “Frick Scale” wages. Connellsville was in the midst of the biggest boom of its history, and George Titlow, an intelligent young man with a flamboyant personality, rode this wave with great flair.
He married that year and bought the Jennings House hotel in Uniontown for $40,000 the next year. This was an unheard of price in those days, but Titlow had a plan. In addition to the coal and coke boom, automobiles and motion pictures were being developed, making this an immensely exciting time in history.
Soon after, he bought the dilapidated McClelland House on Main Street in Uniontown. After rebuilding and renovating it, he sold it for $90,000. At this time, George bought an automobile, the first in Uniontown. He then purchased 80 lots off of McClellandtown Road, and while running the Jennings House, gathered investors for his dream hotel.
Twenty years after taking his first hotel job, the Hotel Titlow was built as headquarters for the most prestigious coal, coke and steel barons of our region. Over $150,000 was spent to make the Hotel Titlow the most elaborate in western Pennsylvania. Just a block away, J.V. Thompson had built the First National Bank building, and Uniontown caught up with Connellsville as the Klondike Coke Region prospered.
Just three months after the grand opening of Hotel Titlow, where over 1,500 visitors took in its magnificence, Connellsville threw the biggest party in its history. H.C. Frick had his men construct a coke arch costing $1,000 at Brimstone Corner. for the Centennial Celebration. It went on for days including a 3- mile long parade and a separate automobile parade. The Marietta brothers were instrumental in organizing this historical event, and George Titlow, as always, was taking mental notes.
Three years later, he bought the Fayette Springs Hotel, added a huge front room and porch, and named his summer and weekend home, the Stone House. George was a family man who often passed out silver dollars to his nieces and nephews. At this time there were over two dozen millionaires in Uniontown and money flowed like rain water.
In 1912, several things happened, prompting the next tourist boom in the county. Titlow was chairman of Entertainment for Old Home Week. He had a dirt racetrack built, brought and a biplane that did stunts over Uniontown for three days, organized an elaborate parade including Pittsburgh Brewing Company’s six-horse team, and honored the Jubilee Queen with a diamond.
The year 1912 also marked the building of the Titlow Residential Annex, and the start of the Fayette Automobile Club. Through the auto club, Titlow put into motion the first Summit Mountain Hill Climb, which drew 4,000 spectators. The next 10 years put Uniontown in the national limelight as one of the top racing venues in America. The second and third years of the hill climbs brought in professional race-car drivers as the Indianapolis Race Track had, just been built.
In 1916, the famous Uniontown Speedway boardtrack was constructed because the hill climbs were outlawed. This steep-banked, 1 and ⅛ mile oval track drew the most famous drivers of the day. Ralph DePalma, Barney Oldfield, Louis Chevrolet and his two brothers, Tommy Milton and many others traveled between Indianapolis and Uniontown to take the prize for their daring sport.
My book, “Yesteryear at the Uniontown Speedway,” depicts each race and the men who wowed the crowds of up to 50,000 in Hopwood. Universal Films President Carl Laemmle sponsored the coveted solid silver 3-foot tall Universal Trophy Cup which was handed down each year to the winner of the big race. Starlets, wealthy coal barons, auto makers, and the country’s elite traveled to Hopwood to be entertained, to gamble, and to spend their money in Uniontown.
I understand how difficult it is to imagine 50,000 people in the stands in the unassuming meadow, but special trains were brought in, and as they say, “anyone who was anyone” did not miss a race.
In 1922, the manager of the track ran off to Cuba with the proceeds, prohibition hit, and George Titlow sold his beloved hotel saying, “You can’t run a hotel without spirits" He was speaking of alcoholic spirits. Not the spirits who still linger at 92 West Main Street
Marci Lynn McGuinness is the author and publisher (Shore publications) of 25 books and the “Around Ohiopyle Map & Gift Guide.” She also consults with authors about publishing choices today. Questions, stories or requests for book order forms or presentations can be sent to:
145 River Street Adah, Pa., 15410
724-710-7801, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a free book brochure: www.ohiopyle.info.