Harriet K. Branton’s favorite story for the Observer-Reporter was about an old passenger train that ran between Waynesburg and Washington.
Construction of the Waynesburg & Washington Railroad, better known as the “Waynie,” was made possible by a group of citizens who felt the two counties needed to be linked by train.
That type of community spirit appealed to Branton.
“I loved that two little towns in the 1870s decided ‘we want our very our train system,’ and they set about building it,” she said.
Her research revealed that 13 men formed a railroad company to purchase the railroad ties and track, grade the road bed and oversee construction despite some farmers’ objections that their property values would be destroyed or their livestock frightened by the train.
“It’s fascinating to me every time I think about it,” Branton said of the W&W.
Bringing the past to life was Branton’s speciality in the 279 historical articles she researched and wrote for the Observer-Reporter between 1978 and 1986.
Her essays were later incorporated into the four-volume series “Focus on Washington County,” published in the early 1980s.
Now Branton’s articles are in a book due out in April. “Washington County Chronicles: Historic Tales from Southwestern Pennsylvania” features 30 of her essays. They include pieces about the early formation of Washington County’s courts, the Whiskey Rebellion, founding of The Reporter, construction of the National Pike, the abolitionist movement, the LeMoyne House, Gallow’s Hill, the area’s participation in the Civil War and World War I, and the oil and gas industry, among others.
“The given essays represent how the citizenry responded to all the forces that were changing history,” she explained.
It was former Washington residents Emsie and Leslie Parker, who now live in Colorado, who spearheaded the book project. Emsie Parker had offered to put Branton’s articles on a computer disc when, on a whim, she contacted the History Press in Charleston, S.C., which specializes in regional history. She heard back from an editor there the very next day.
“I just thought it was too valuable to lose to time,” she said of Branton’s meticulously researched history.
Now 88 and living in Chevy Chase, Md., Branton used a laptop computer and worked with Leslie Parker to prepare the articles for publication.
The Parkers are listed as the book’s editors, and the foreward was written by A. Parker Burroughs, former managing editor of the Observer-Reporter.
Before Branton and her husband, Clarence, now deceased, moved to Maryland in 2006 to live closer to their children, she donated all her records to the Washington County Historical Society.
Her ties to Washington remain. She will be back in town the weekend of April 12-14 for a symposium and historical marker dedication for author Rebecca Harding Davis. Branton will be available to sign her book at the Swanson Science Center and also is scheduled to give a talk on women.
Branton continues to be amazed – and touched – at how interest in her work remains and its development into a book.
“I wrote all this stuff all those years ago, and for it to resurface now is just downright miraculous,” she said. “I was just having a good time.”