Although a settlement of some sort existed here before 1784 when the Hill
family built the Stone Tavern, this was another town that grew with the
coming of the National Pike. Originally called Hillsborough which
appears on the old mile posts and by which it was known through the pike's
prosperous years, the name was changed to Scenery Hill about 1870. The
land where the town stands was originally part of a tract called "Springtown,"
from the spring that still flows on the hill west of the tavern. It was
originally surveyed, February 23, 1785, to Isaac Rush, and he sold out
to George Hill who conveyed it to his son Stephen Hill, on February 13,
1800. From the records in the Courthouse it looks as if the stone tavern
was built by George Hill, but more will be said of this historic old house
in the proper place.
Later Stephen Hill conveyed an interest in the land to Thomas
McGiffin, a construction contractor on the pike, a member of the Washington
Bar and a prominent man in Washington County at that time. He
had an eye on the possibilities for a town on the road when he purchased
a half interest from Hill.
After construction of the highway across that point, Hill and McGiffin
laid out a plan of 106 lots in 1819, with the pike as the main street.
In the rear of the south tier of lots is South street, while North streets
is in the rear of those fronting on the north side of the road. Two other
streets Ten Mile and Crooks, cross the pike at right angles. The alleys were
named Cove, Mulberry, Pleasant, Corner, Pusey's and Keyhoe. A large plot
called Hill's reserve was laid out, on the east side of which was Corner
alley and cutting through the reserve from north to south is Crooks street.
A small section of the Reserve is on the west side of this road.
This street was named in honor of Colonel Thomas Crooks, a Revolutionary
War soldier, an Indian fighter, and an early settler in Bethlehem
Township. His tract, called "Richard's Valley," was a short
north of Hillsborough. During the war he served, first in the Continental
Line and then as leader of a company of Frontier Rangers. The Pennsylvania
Archives show that he was colonel of the Fifth
Washington County Rangers of the Frontier, a force of 38 officers,
629 infantrymen and a troop of 30 light horses. During the latter years
of the Revolutionary this force under Colonel Crooks saw
against raiding Indians in the pay of the British.
Little is known of the operation of this command, but from the Archives
one gains the impression that its service was almost continuous. One record
shows that Colonel Crooks and part of his command
at Fort Henry, where Wheeling now stands, in August, 1782. Crooks and
some of his men may have been in the fort when it was attacked by 20 Shawnees
and 50 British Regulars, known as the Queen's Rangers.
Colonel Crooks died on his farm February 25, 1815, and for a century
his grave was lost. During the great coal strike of 1922, Governor
William S. Sproul ordered the National Guard from Eastern Pennsylvania to
Washington and Fayette counties to suppress violence that had broken out.
On July 22, Colonel E.J. Stackpole Jr., a veteran of World War I, arrived
with 350 troops, increased the next day to
was an historic event, for it was the first time troops had invaded
Washington County since President Washington had sent an army to this same
section, 128 years before to suppress the Whiskey Insurrection of 1794.
Colonel Stackpole established his headquarters camp in a field of
the Swagler farm, on a hill above Cokeburg and just north of Scenery
Hill. While cutting tall grass and weeds and briars to clear a camp site,
the soldiers discovered a headstone along the fence near the top of the hill,
and when they cut out the tangled mass of vegetation away they found that
this marked the grave of Colonel Thomas Crooks. Colonel Stackpole
immediately named the headquarters "Camp Thomas Crooks," in honor of
this old soldier of long ago.
The old records show that Richard's Valley was surveyed to Colonel Crooks
on a Virginia Certificate, February 25, 1785, the date of his death 30 years
later, for the stone shows that he died February 23, 1815, at the age of 80
years and six days.
This spot is the Crooks graveyard. In those long days it was customary
for each family to bury its dead in a private cemetery on the home farm.
Other graves are there, just how many is not known. When the troops left,
the ancient cemetery was given over to the briars and weeds and grass and
there in this forgotten and long neglected grave the bones of Colonel
Thomas Crooks, soldier of the Continental Line and Indian fighter of
Revolutionary War days, still lie under the sod and dew until the last
Hill and McGiffin immediately started the sale of lots by a public auction
as shown by the following in The Reporter of July 19, 1919:
The publick are informed that a town has been laid off
to be called Hillsborough on the National Road, adjoining Hill's
stone tavern, about equal distant from Washington and
Brownsville, and that lots will be sold on the premises on
Monday the 19th of August at publick auction. Sale to commence
at ten o'clock A.M.
The situation is healthy and pleasant and accords strong
encouragement to the enterprise of the Merchant, the Mechanic,
and Innkeeper. The surrounding country is fertile, well
improved, and contains a numerous and enterprising population.
There is no town or village within ten or twelve miles distant
which can rival it. Nor is it presumed that any can be
established short of that distance which can have that effect.
The plan and terms of sale are liberal.
Evidently the proprietors of Hillsborough did not consider that
the village of East Bethlehem, to be laid out as Beallsville with in
two months, would ever become a rival; but it did and very shortly.
of October 3, 1819, gives the interesting
information that "a post office has been established at Hillsborough,"
with Samuel Stanley as postmaster. Crumrine states Stanley was a carpenter
who settled there 10 or 12 years before the town was laid out. He held
this office until his death in 1860, when his daughter succeeded him as
postmaster. After passing of 135 years this is still a post office, one
of the oldest in the County, in spite of rural free delivery which wiped
out many other offices.
Crumrine tells us that Jeremiah Coleman was the first merchant in
Hillsborough, and the first two physicians were Drs. McGougan and Henry
Hallerk. Unfortunately he does not give the date of their settlement,
as he probably could not find it; but they must have located there before
the pike came through, as there was a village of some kind around Hill's
Stone Tavern at a very early date.
Hill's Stone Tavern, now The Century Inn.
This is another of those fine, massive stone houses that once dotted
the Washington County landscape long ago. The date of its erection is
not certain, but it must have been in the early 1790's. As early as 1794
Stephen Hill kept a public house here for the benefit of travelers
and emigrants over the old road, once an Indian trail, to the Ohio country,
known as Nemacolin's or the Mingo Path; and for 160 years its proprietors
have catered to the public, giving it the distinction of being the oldest
tavern in continuous use on the route of the National Pike between
Baltimore and Wheeling True, there were others along the roads later followed
by the pike in Maryland, before 1794; but they have vanished or long since
ceased to be taverns.
The long years of interesting history that was made in this old house
is not to be found at any other along the entire length of the road. No
other inn rivaled its popularity among both stage coach travelers
and Pike Boys. From the days of Stephen Hill down through all the years
of pike travel to the present time it has been noted for the excellence
of its table, always a great drawing card for any establishment. The large
wagon yard in front and on the east side, its good meals and good whiskey
made it equally popular with both travelers and wagoners. It was one of the
few stage taverns on the road that was freely patronized by both classes.
Searight says that Thomas Hill, a near relative, probably a nephew,
succeeded the original proprietor, and after him came Samuel Youman, John
Hampson, John Gibson, William Dawson and Oliver Lacock.
The modern history of this ancient hostelry begins with Mrs. Jacob
Gehrlein, who spent more that 40 of her 93 years as its hostess. She lives
in Scenery Hill with her stepson, Henry B. Gehrlein. After a long
hard work her mind is as clear as ever. At the age of 94 years she can
remember events that took place 85 years ago with a vividness that is
startling. It was not until 1946 that she retired from the hotel business,
and even today she still does her own work. Hard work certainly did not
shorten her life. In fact, I think it contributed to her longevity,
as it kept her busy, one reason her mind is so clear, and I spent several
interesting hours at different times recently listening to more that 70 years
of the history of the old Stone Tavern.
I had not seen her for years, but when I introduced myself she immediately
recalled times when my wife and I had stopped there, and when my father and
mother drove out to Gehrlein's for a good chicken dinner.
She told me that Oliver Lacock operated the hotel for many years and
after his death his son, John, continued the work. After John Lacock died
his widow married Percy Tombaugh, who operated the hotel until he moved to
Washington in 1903. John Simons then rented the property, and continued
the business with varying success until Jacob Gehrlein bought the old
place in 1906.
The coming of the Gehrleins marked a new era for Hill's Old Stone Tavern,
just as the coming of the Harringtons 40 years later marked another
change. Like many another tavern along the pike in the old days and in later
years, its success was due in a large measure to a capable housewife.
Mrs. Gehrlein did the cooking, managed the house, saw that all her guests
were pleased, and attended to a thousand and one things necessary
for a successful hotel. Her table was unsurpassed in all Western Pennsylvania,
and the old hotel soon became popular for sleighing parties on a winter's
night, or a place to drive out from Washington during the summer and get a
good meal. You could drop in at any hour and in a short time Mrs. Gehrlein
would serve a chicken dinner fit for a king. It was a popular resort in
which to spend a few days or weeks during vacation, and was always crowded.
In 1923 the Gehrleins sold the property to Mrs. Mary Miller, but
under her management it did not have the old Gehrlein touch, and in 1931
Mrs. Gehrlein had to take it back. Her husband had died in 1928,
the aid of her stepson, Henry, she again operated the old hotel
success. Mrs. Gehrlein doing a lot of hard work as usual, until 1
they sold the property to Dr. and Mrs. G.F. Harrington.
As the old hotel is now well into its second century the name was
changed to Century Inn.
Mrs. Gehrlein told me that during the old days of travel on the National
Pike the wagon yard where the stage coaches stopped and the Pike Boys parked
their big Conestoga wagons was where the present lawn is at the front and
east side of the house. Like wagon yards at all good taverns on the pike
it was paved with cobblestones to keep the big wagons and other vehicles
out of the mud. This cobblestone paving is still there, covered with good
earth and sod.
Sixty or 70 feet up on the side of the hill across Crooks street, on
the western section of Hill's reserve, is a fine spring that has been the
source of water supply for the tavern during all of its years. This was
an added attraction for travelers and wagoners, for plenty of good water
was important then as now. Even today this spring and a well supply all
of the water used at the Century Inn.
Mrs. Gehrlein told an interesting story of a man born in the tavern
during the latter days of the pike era and returned 72 years later for
a drink from that spring, and to see once more the room of his birth. It
was one day in 1933 or 1934 that an old man and his wife from Missouri,
with their son and the son's wife, stopped.
The older man told Mrs. Gehrlein that he was a son of John Hampson, a
proprietor during the pike era, and he was born in the old tavern 80
years before. He was eight years old when his father moved farther west,
and he had never been back. Afraid that the ancient tavern building that
had been his boyhood home was no longer standing, he was delighted
when he found that it was still a public house. He climbed up to the spring on
the hillside for a drink of the cool water he had not tasted since his
boyhood; and he had his picture taken in the room where he was born.
Back in those days of the National Pike it was customary for Stage
travelers to leave Washington at a very early hour, too early for a meal,
and the east bound stage took them to Hills Stone Tavern for
LaFayette, like George Washington, is credited with stopping
and sleeping in many places he never saw; but on his journey through
Washington County from Wheeling to Uniontown he did stop at Hill's for
breakfast. That this actually did occur is established beyond all doubt
by the contemporary accounts in The Examiner of May 28, 1825, and The Reporter
of June 6.
General LaFayette and his suite arrived in Washington from Wheeling on
the late afternoon of May 23, 1825, in a private coach, probably furnished by
on of the stage lines and stopped at the famous Globe Inn, where he was
entertained that night. More will be said of that in the proper place.
The old newspaper files give the information that he left Washington at
6 o'clock the next morning (May 26), escorted by the committee of arrangements,
military officers and a large party of gentlemen on horseback, and stopped
at Hillsborough for breakfast. This could have been at no other than Hill's
Stone Tavern, for at that time it was the only place there equipped to
entertain such a distinguished visitor. The Washington escort undoubtedly
accompanied him to Hillsborough, for no one would let such a chance pass.
Hill's must have been taxed to capacity that May morning; and what a meal
that must have been. Probably never before or since has such a breakfast
been served in the old Stone Tavern.
Other noted men on their way to the National Capitol stopped
there for breakfast. The Examiner of December 4, 1824, states that Andrew
Jackson spent the night on November 29 in Washington, and left at 7
o'clock the next morning, accompanied by an escort of gentlemen as far as
Hillsborough where they breakfasted, again at Hill's Stone Tavern.
While on his way to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration.
Jackson stopped there on February 2, 1829.
While making a tour of the United States in 1837, General Santa Anna,
President of Mexico, stopped in Washington on January 15; following
the custom of the time, he probably took breakfast at Hill's Stone Tavern.
This was only a year after the massacre of the Texans at the battle of
the Alamo, and Santa Anna was not very popular, so there was no reception
committee. All known of this visit was the mere mention in The Examiner
of his passing and a well grounded tradition that a local man named Brice,
whose brother had drawn a black bean at Gollad, lay in wait just west of town
to take a pot shot at the self styled "Napoleon of the West" as the stage
rolled by. Fortunately for Santa Anna the sheriff heard of the plot, and,
probably against his personal inclination, gathered Brice into his official
fold until the Mexican was safely through Washington. Incidentally,
Brice was a dead shot, and might have saved the United States much
trouble nine years later if the sheriff had let him alone.
It is interesting to note that when Santa Anna returned to the United
States in 1865 he hired a young man named James Adams as English interpreter
and secretary. Adams noticed that Santa Anna was constantly chewing chicle,
and when the general left he gave a quantity to his secretary. Adams did
not like the taste too well, but he experimented by adding pleasant flavors,
and thus the Adams Chewing gum Company was born. This company still one
of the leading manufacturers of chewing gum, although James Adams has
long been dead.
James K. Polk and Mrs. Polk stopped at the Mansion House in Washington,
February 10, 1845, while on their way to his inauguration, and they, no
doubt, breakfasted at Hill's.
(To Be Continued)
For part 10 of The National Pike Story