David Leech born November 20th, 1791 in Warrington, Bucks Co., died November 13th, 1858 in Leechburg, Armstrong Co. having lived his entire life in Pennsylvania. Born the eldest son of John and Jane (Morrison) Leech he moved west in his youth and studied to become a civil engineer at Allegheny College .
Little is known about Leech’s early career. The first known record of his work appears in 1826 as a contractor on the Pennsylvania Main-Line Canal at Sharpsburg, PA. He arrived at Friendship, PA in 1827. Friendship was the name given to Leechburg, PA by the surveyors of the canal route due to the hospitality of the inhabitants of the time. Prior to that time it was known as White Plains after the lands prior owner; Indian Chief White Mattock. Mr.Leech and his partner Mr.Trux brought with them a contract to construct a lock and Dam #1 of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Canal.
David Leech recognized the importance of the site and arranged for the purchase of two tracts of land totally 337 acres. 172 acres were purchased from Matthew Shields. Joseph Hunter had drafted an agreement to sell 165 acres of land to Leech and Trux but was unable to make good on the title. Trux had become wearied with the delay and demanded to see the article of agreement, when it was furnished to him he promptly placed it in a stove and destroyed it along with his partnership with Leech. Leech moved forward with the agreement alone. He invested $1500.00 for the land on which to build a town that would serve the Pennsylvania Canal more than it would be served by it.
Leech understood that his vision required infrastructure. After completion of the canal lock and dam in November of 1827 Leech secured water rights from the Canal Commissioners at the price of $15 a month. Leech would construct a mill-race to channel water from behind the dam downstream to power his mills. By 1829 he had constructed a lumber mill and a woolen mill. That same year he had completed the construction of a canal boat dock, warehouses and canal packet boats. These docks and warehouses were the beginning of D. Leech and Co., a passenger and freight forwarding business that grow to become the largest on the Pennsylvania Canal. 1829 was also the year that Leech had finished laying out and advertising lots for what he would call Leechburg. Leechburg would need a post-office and postmaster, David Leech would serve as postmaster from 1829 to 1850 stepping down only as he had been elected burgess when the town was incorporated on March 22nd, 1850. In 1830 he added a grist mill and constructed a school with his own funds. In a span of three years he had transformed a small settlement consisting of eight inhabitants into a town that was well positioned to grow into a successful industrial center.
David Leech served his town in many other ways through the course of his life. Leech served as postmaster for many years until he was elected the town’s first burgess in 1850, the year Leechburg was officially incorporated. He built the town’s first school house in 1837, a one room log structure at the corner of Main Street and Bridge Street. Upon completion he provided the school with wood to heat the facility in winter, this was all done out of his own pocket for the betterment of the town. He constructed four homes in town, one of which he gifted to his son David F. Leech as a wedding gift in 1849, it now houses the Leechburg Area Museum. At the state level David Leech served a term as commissioner for the Pennsylvania Canal and for several decades was a delegate for the state Whig Party.