When Europeans first reached North America, the mysterious Monogahela People inhabited the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Youghiogheny River. For unknown reasons, this powerful tribe disappeared just as Europeans arrived, leaving few traces behind. Other tribes of American Indians migrated through the area as the increasing European population pushed them out of their lands. The name Ohiopyle is believed to be derived from the American Indian word "ohiopehhla" which means "white, frothy water."
In the mid-1750s, the Iroquois Nation, the French and the British vied for the Ohio River Valley. Employed by the British, George Washington traveled through the Ohiopyle area to talk to the French in 1753.
A year later Washington returned with sixty soldiers to evict the French. Washington arrived at Confluence and tried to find an easier travel route by the river, but the falls were impassable. Washington continued towards the future site of Pittsburgh and surprised a small party of French soldiers. One French soldier escaped and sought reinforcements. Washington built Fort Necessity to await the French retaliation. Overwhelming French forces caused Washington to surrender. The French and Indian War had begun. Two British armies cut roads through the area, eventually defeating the French and securing the important Ohio River Valley.
The recently acquired land was declared Indian territory by the King of England and European settlers were asked to leave but did not. In 1768, King George III purchased the land from the Iroquois. Pennsylvania and Virginia both claimed the territory and the dispute continued through the American Revolution and was not settled until 1784.
Centered in Western Pennsylvania, the Whiskey Rebellion tested the resolve of the new United States. A tax on whiskey was viewed as extreme and in 1794, citizens attacked tax collectors. George Washington and 15,000 militiamen marched through the Ohiopyle area to put down the revolt.
The land around Ohiopyle was slowly settled, and eventually the rugged land near the river was settled. The early settlers were farmers, hunters and trappers. In 1811, the National Road passed near Ohiopyle, making the area more accessible to settlers and to markets. Lumbering became a major industry. The production of barrels and other wood products, tanning, salt mining and coal mining were small industries.
In 1871, railroads reached Ohiopyle. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and eventually the Western Maryland Railroad had stations in Ohiopyle. At the turn of the century, lumbering became a major industry with narrow gauge railroads snaking around the hills hauling lumber to the mills in town and the larger railroad lines. A large mill was erected near Ohiopyle Falls.
The railroads brought tourists to Ohiopyle. It cost $1 to ride from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle and back. By the 1880s, there were numerous hotels in the area, and Ferncliff Peninsula had a boardwalk, dance pavilion, bowling alley, walking paths, tennis courts, ball fields, fountains and the Ferncliff Hotel.
The freedom afforded by the automobile was the end of the resort. The buildings eventually were removed, allowing the forests to regrow. Foundations of these buildings can still be seen in the Ferncliff Peninsula. Recognizing the natural beauty of the area, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy purchased much of the property and sold it to the Commonwealth in the mid-1960s.