Last Updated on September 25, 2020 by Jeremy
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You may know a lot of what life was like during the early days of Pittsburgh's history thanks to the forts found nearby and famous battles that took place leading up to the Revolutionary War.
But the period after the war quiets down a fair bit (apart from the brief Whiskey Rebellion) until a few decades later due to the War of 1812. This triggered a rapid increase in iron production, which subsequently became the steel industry, and ultimately modern Pittsburgh as we know it.
One spot in the Laurel Highlands, the Compass Inn Museum, captures the history from this rather calm period, around the turn of the 19th century, and showcases what life was like for those living in (and more appropriately, passing through) southwest Pennsylvania around this time!
Exploring Life in the Early 1800s at the Compass Inn Museum
The guided tours at The Compass Inn Museum visit a number of historic buildings including the original Inn as well as three reconstructed buildings found on the property.
The first wing of the Inn was built in 1799 to be used as a stagecoach stop, and due to its popularity was expanded in 1820 to accommodate more guests. This is especially noticeable in the design of the building as one half is a log cabin (the original building) while the second is stone (the expansion) and is a kind of design you don't see all too often.
On the inside, you get to see period designs on what life was like in the common room, kitchen, and the somewhat cramped quarters where guests would likely split a bed in order to lower costs!
Beyond the Inn, the site also features a working cookhouse, blacksmith shop, and a barn. Many of these are reconstructions located roughly at or near where they originally stood and are made out of period materials and construction techniques as well.
The barn was one of the more interesting stops from the tour as it featured many artifacts from the early 1800s, including two stagecoaches/buggies that have been meticulously restored using period materials and construction techniques. Couple that with the stories of what life was like for stagecoach drivers and passengers, and you get a really robust appreciation for what it was like to live during this era!
But while the tour itself is great to see this kind of history, it is the staff that really brings it all to life!
The Staff Brings the Compass Inn to Life
It would be one thing to discuss the Compass Inn Museum purely based on the buildings found on-site and their historical significance, but that would be doing this one a disservice.
The reason for this is that, while the buildings are a treasure to the region, it is the staff that really showcases the history of the era.
During your tour of the grounds, you will be escorted by an employee who lives and breathes the history of the Inn. From their dress in period-specific costumes, their participation in themed events (the cooking experiences are high on our list to try), to the immense understanding of what life was like during the time, they really take the experience of visiting these historical spaces and transforms it into something else entirely.
It is because of this that we would suggest a visit for one of the many themed weekends or events that occur at the museum throughout the season. While a visit for a regular tour is wonderful, we can only imagine that these are even better!
The Compass Inn Museum is located at 1386 Lincoln Highway in Laughlintown, PA and is open May through October with select candlelight tours in November and December. It is part of the Westmoreland Heritage Passport. The museum is open seasonally. I was a guest of Westmoreland Heritage for this review. As always, all opinions are my own.
Looking for accommodations in the Laurel Highlands? Check out some great options on Airbnb!