Uniontown, Pa., (pop. ~10,000) is the county seat of Fayette County, Pa., and one of the larger historic cities along the National Road. Coincidentally, Uniontown was founded on July 4, 1776, and was originally named “Beesontown” after Henry Beeson, its founder.
Like most National Road cities, the arrival of the road translated into rapid growth for Uniontown through the 19th Century. In addition, Uniontown’s geographic location, allowed it to feed off the steel, coke and coal industry in Pittsburgh and the Monongahela River Valley. The presence of heavy industry continued in Uniontown and Fayette County, and at its peak in 1940, the county had just over 200,000 people. The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce has a more detailed history of the county, Uniontown and other communities on its webpage here.
Today, although Uniontown is smaller than its peak, several indicators of its industrial past and explosive growth remain. Despite de-industrialization’s negative effects throughout the Rust Belt and Appalachia, many cities are finding ways to transition into a different economy than that on which they were built. Uniontown has done a pretty successful job (at least aesthetically) to preserve its downtown area, with clean, modern parks, mostly-filled storefronts and a variety of attractions.
The original routing of the National Road – now Business U.S. 40 – runs along Main Street, which is now one-way east to west. The west to east complement in downtown is Fayette Street, to which Main Street connects at both ends. Most of the larger historic buildings in Uniontown are located on Main Street, but streets branching off from the main drag also have significance of their own.
Today, downtown has a variety of things to do to fill an afternoon and evening, from dining at newer and older establishments, to shopping opportunities at a number of small businesses, to catching a performance at the historic State Theatre. Uniontown also seems poised for reversing its population decline, through the addition of the Mon-Fayette Expressway from Morgantown, W.Va. to Pittsburgh, increasing accessibility, and efforts by local governments to promote business and fight blight downtown.
To travel downtown on the National Road: from the east, exit U.S. 40 at the base of Chestnut Ridge toward Hopwood; from the west, continue straight on Business U.S. 40 instead of entering the Uniontown Bypass, which carries U.S. 40 and U.S. 119 around the city. Parking is available on streets throughout downtown, and a parking garage is on South Street, one block south of Main Street.