The Beginnings of a Tradition: Rain Day
by Matthew W. Cumberledge
Waynesburg, a small and quaint town situated in the extreme southwestern corner of rural Pennsylvania, is a place with an extremely unique and interesting history that stretches back well over two hundred years to the founding of Greene County in 1796. This region was first known for its participation in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-1794 and as a launching point for western expansion during the early years of the United States. However, Waynesburg’s history doesn’t stop there.
Waynesburg is perhaps best known for a summer-time event, their annual Rain Day celebration on July 29. The local holiday is known around the globe and receives national attention each year as locals enjoy the festivities on High Street in Greene County’s “County Town” hoping that rain will fall from the sky, keeping a tradition alive that dates back a little over a century.
But how did such a small rural community get their own holiday? As with any interesting event there is always a story, and Good Old Greene certainly has one to share! The story begins with the life of an ordinary farmer that has led to over 100 years of celebrations in Waynesburg.
Caleb Ely was born July 29, 1829 to Jonas and Euphen Wilson Ely in Washington County, Greene County’s neighbor to the north. He would have led a relatively simple life, attending one-room school houses and working on his family’s farm throughout his childhood. By the age of 14, his family had moved south into Greene County and life very likely would have remained the same for Caleb.
It wasn’t until August 25, 1862 that the world changed for Caleb. The Civil War had begun, and Caleb answered his Nation’s call to enlist in Company F, 44th Regiment, 1st Cavalry of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. In 1863, after a little over a year in the service, he was wounded during heavy fighting in Auburn, Virginia. He spent the rest of his enlistment seeing very little action and working mostly behind the lines.
At the end of the War, he returned home and married the love of his life, Elizabeth Patterson. The remainder of Caleb’s life with Elizabeth was spent farming his land a few miles south of Waynesburg in Center Township and raising his family.
One day, Caleb Ely walked into a drug store operated by the Allison Brothers and mentioned that it always seemed to rain on his birthday. William Allison began making notes in his store ledger for years after that, and Caleb’s words proved true! Rain Day grew from that point forward, evolving from the birthday of a relatively unknown farmer to a major local celebration.
Caleb Ely died a very well-known and respected citizen on May 4, 1915 without knowing the great celebrations that would evolve from his birthday and the simple comment made in a drug store.