Washington County Picture Page
Many Distinguished Guests Stopped at West
Alexander Inn, in Days Long Gone.
The following, from The Pittsburg Leader, will be read with interest, by many
Washington county people.
To spend a few hours in West Alexander is like pushing back the screen dividing
the present from a bygone time. The little town is heavy with an historical atmosphere
and almost every corner presents some landmark vividly recalling the scene and
incidents of three-quarters of a century ago.
The community lies along dividing road known as the National Pike.
To anyone at all conversant with his country's history, this old road lately swarms
with ghosts, not scary ones flitting around in sheets, and omitting sepulchral
howls, but the figures of quaintly clad, serious faced men who came and went through
the town on errands which had much to do with molding the history of the
The world was very much younger in those days than is presented by the
mere lapse of years. It was the day of the stage coach and relay house, when railroads
were yet feebly crawling in their infancy, and when the wildest dreamer had never
thought of the telegraph or telephone.
West Alexander then gained its only communication with the outer world by means
of the stage coaches and post riders who came laboriously pounding on
steaming horses into town, only to start again as soon as an exchange of animals
could be effected.
Down the pike, almost at the extreme southern end of the town stands an old
building which has weathered the storms of winter and summer for more that a century.
It is called the Lawson house, and is today one of the best examples of the
old-time tavern to be found anywhere in this state. It has sheltered at
different times a number of the presidents and many of the prominent statesmen
of this country.
An immense hall runs through the front building, and gives access to many rooms
on either side, while a wide staircase lead to the upper floor. On the first floor,
at the southern end, the first to be reached by the old coaches coming in from
Wheeling is the tavern office. The room is long and narrow, and looks like a picture
taken from an old book. As you enter the door a long desk, which more resembles a hotel
bar, faces you. It is primitively made, and whatever may have been its use long
ago, it now bears nothing more exhilarating or intoxicating that a tumbled confusion
of old newspapers, farm journals and calendars, behind it are rows of pegs and
books on which the top hats and riding cloaks of the old guests used to hang while
their owners were refreshing themselves, against the toll of the next stage of their
journey. Along the wall, on the same side of the room runs a long, low settee or
old-fashioned bench, reaching close up to the mammoth fireplace which almost fills
the southern end of the room. One can almost hear the snap and crackle of the
high-leaping flames as they pile on fresh wood to warm the shivering travelers,
and there was room at the fireplace for more than one man to stand close in to
the fire if he happened to be particularly cold blooded, or was cheery of sharing
the heat with his neighbors seated in front. There is an old-fashioned wooden
mantelshelf, which is now almost black from age and the smoke of countless fires.
The Old Register.
On the side opposite to the old bar is now a little square deal table and here,
if you know where to look for it, may be found the hotel register, a volume
about as large as a school girl's diary, but not as ornamentally bound. On one side
of the fireplace is a washstand, and on the other a table where you can lay your
coat or hat, if you want to.
The fine old fireplace is no longer used, its place having been usurped by a
small iron stove, constructed something on the plan of a barrel organ. It has a crank
at one side, and when you want to stir up the fire or rattle out the ashes, just
turn the crank, and maybe it will work.
At different times the old hostelry has entertained very distinguished guests
among them being Lafayette, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, General Zachary Taylor and
Daniel Webster and President Polk. Not all of these spent a night under its
hospitable roof, but they stopped at the tavern with their coach and partook of
refreshments, if it consisted of nothing more that a cup of coffee or some hot
beverage handed in through the porch window, while the horses were being changed.
Remembers Polk's Visit.
There were two lines of coaches, which made the trips from Wheeling to Cumberland,
the "Good Intent" and the "National." They were owned by different companies,
but were identical in pattern and mode of operation. The coach of those days was a
big cumbersome creation like an ark, very deep and long in the body. It was hung
by big straps from huge springs at the four corners and was wonderfully superior
to horseback riding as a means of stirring up the system and toning up the appetite.
It contained three seats, each seating three persons, while not infrequently, even
in the winter time, there were hardy souls who shared the driver's lofty seal,
and viewed the landscapes, across the backs of the four horses which supplied the
motive power. Sometimes when the road was well nigh impossible with snow, the wheels
were taken off and the coach was placed on runners, transforming it into a queer
Joseph Lawson, conducted the tavern house from 1817? to 1847?, but before
his time the tavern was there and its warm lights were a welcome sight to many a
welcome sight to many a coach load of travelers.
Mrs. J. N. Charnock, the present proprietress, is the daughter of Joseph
Lawson, and was born in the tavern.
She has vivid recollections of President James K. Polk's passage through the
town on his way to Washington for his inauguration, and recalls his nervous manner
and paucity of words _ _ _ _ but the loyal greeting extended him by the townspeople
who had helped to elect him. Mr. Polk did not stay long at the Lawson house, but got
out and walked about in the snow, stamping up and down and drawing big breaths
of the frosty air, squaring his shoulders and talking to himself. He took a
sparing amount of food, and finished long before the horses were ready being apparently
consumed with a fever of impatience to be on his way.
Most of the early celebrities who stopped at the Lawson house came from the
south or southwest, coming up the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Wheeling, where they
were obliged to travel by coach to Cumberland on their way to Washington, D.C.
Hauled General Taylor.
Sometimes they left the boat at Kates Rock, and took coach there. When General
Taylor was on his way to Washington to take the oath as President, the Ohio
River was impassable with ice above Moundsville. The winter had been an exceptionally
severe one, and that the river froze was not a surprise to many of the people, who
were looking forward to General Taylor's trip. One of these was George Wilson, one
of the earliest leading citizens of West Alexander. He kept himself posted as to
the condition of the river, and when he heard that the packet carrying the
President elect was stalled, he hitched up a spanking team of speedy and in a big
closed carriage drove all the way down to Moundsville. There, he found the boat, and
General Taylor in despair. Explaining his mission, he soon had the doughty warrior
off the boat and seated beside him in his carriage. Away they drove and reached
West Alexander in fine time. Mr. Wilson wanted to entertain the distinguished traveler
for at least a day. But was compelled to relinquish him to the coach when it lumbered
up to the Lawson house. Then, General Taylor was taken down to the old tavern, and
after warming himself in front of the fireplace and joining Mr. Wilson and a few of
the prominent townsmen in a glass to the health of the new President, climbed into
the coach and left the town to cherish the memory of his brief stay among them.
When Andrew Jackson was posting to Washington, West Alexander saw but
little of him, but they knew that the country's hero was inside that coach; and all
the time, the horses were being changed at the Lawson house, you may well believe that
it was the centre of a curious crowd of men, women and children. And how they cheered
Jackson when he finally condescended to look out of the window and bow affably to
the crowd, and how they watched his every motion as he -------so as to shake hands
with a couple of the more prominent men of the place. And how their cheers rang
out as they watched the old coach swing away as the horses sprang forward under
the cracking whip of the coach driver. They were exciting times for West Alexander;
true, there were intervals of sometimes a full year between the advent of any
celebrity, but that was nothing.
It provided them with food for conversation, and endless reminiscence of
the departed hero, as well as delightful speculation as to the manner and appearance
of the next great man who might come through town.
Henry Clay drove into town one day. He got out, and went into the old office,
and lounged about in front of the fire a short time. Then he went back and
cusconced himself in the rear of the coach. The intelligence flew all over the
town that the great Henry Clay was present in the flesh. One of the pioneer physicians
of West Alexander was Dr. Samuel McKeehan, who was a power in politics, and a
man whose force of character was known and respected in many other places. He
was personally acquainted with Clay, and he lost no time in running down to
the tavern. Not finding him inside the worthy doctor strode over to the coach and going
up to the window called out "Is Henry Clay in there?" Clay instantly recognized
his voice, and lost no time in descending and warmly greeting the doctor. While Dr.
McKeehan had been a personage in the community before that, afterwards you may
be sure, he occupied a place of respectful admiration seldom accorded a mere man.
Another incident that is still talked about by the older storytellers relates
to the appearance of Lafayette in town while making his visit to this country. Lafayette
got out of the coach and walks about town for a short time, and up where the Liberty
road crosses the National pike, he encountered two residents of the town named Mayes
and Humphry. The three gazed at each other for a moment and then rushed together and
were locked in on another's arms. Mayes and Humphry had serves under Lafayette in
the Revolutionary war. The marquis shed tears of pleasure at meeting his old
comrades in arms, and held the coach nearly a half an hour in comparing notes
with them and chatting about the scenes they had gone through together.
But down at the base of the ridge on which lies West Alexander now
stretches the railroad. The National pike no longer hears the rumble of the
stagecoach of the clatter of the hard driven horses. The coach
driver is a lost
calling and the crack of his whip or the blast of the guard's horn are almost
With their passing the business at the Lawson house has also changed and
the office is no longer crowded with hurrying guests. But is crowded with ghosts,
the pleasant memories of the past.
(End of article)