(Continued From Yesterday)
This was a popular and well patronized wagon stand on the south side
of the pike two and one-half miles west of the city line and four miles
from the Courthouse. It is now the residence of Chris Altvater, who operates a
service station just across the road.
Searight says that John Coulson kept a tavern here as early as 1820
and probably before that date, in a frame house. The original may have been
frame, but if so it was torn down many years ago, for the present building
in which Coulson did keep his tavern during the pike era is brick. The construction
shows that it was built at a very early date.
I am indebted to James Coulson, 14 Murtland avenue, for the history of
this tavern which he obtained from his mother, Mrs. Clara B. Coulson, who,
at the age of 90, remembers much of the history and lore of the old National
Pike. A daughter of James Moble, the old stage driver and wagoner, she is
one of the few links between the present and the long ago. John Coulson was the
great-grandfather of James Coulson.
John Coulson came from Ayreshire, England, about 1812, and settled in
Washington County; but it was not until 1822 that, he bought this farm from a
man named Smith, and opened the tavern, which he operated until 1847; but no one
ever ran it after his death. It is possible that Smith may have kept a wagon
Coulson conducted an extensive establishment for the Pike Boys. On
the east side of the house was one of the largest wagon yards on the road, with
a large barn at the back, on the site of the present barn.
The wagon yard afforded packing space for many Conestogas. Back
in those far away years it must have presented an interesting and picturesque
scene when the big covered wagons were drawn up and the wagoners gathered around
their camp fires, for most of them preferred to sleep outside when the weather
permitted. During bad weather they rolled up in their blankets in the barn or on
the tavern floor. The old wagon yard is now a large, well kept lawn, and on the
site of the original barn is another, built in 1867 by Elijah Coulson, John’s son.
During the evenings the Pike Boys gathered in the barroom, located
in the front, and on the east side of the house, where they made merry with arguments
that often ended in bloody fights. James Coulson told of one fight in particular
that is a family tradition. One wagoner lashed out at another with his blacksnake
whip. The intended victim dodged and the lash struck the door with such force that
it actually cut a deep mark in one of the panels. Although the door has been painted
many times since then you can still see the mark left by that whip long ago. This
door is on of the old “witchcraft” type. While going through the house with Chris
Altvater he told me that once the plaster came off the old barroom wall next
to the kitchen, and he found marks showing where the shelves of the backbar had
James Coulson remembers marks left on the floor by whiskey barrels;
and in the cellar was a rack on which barrels of whiskey and wine were set,
each with a big wooden spigot over a trough at one end of which was a wheel. This
was a very ingenuous _____?. A tray of glasses set in receptacles was
placed on the wheel. When whiskey was called for the spigot on the barrel was
opened, the liquor ran into the trough, and when a glass was filled the tray
was turned by operating another wheel at the other end of the trough. The two
wheels were connected by a rawhide belt. When the glasses were filled the tray
was lifted out and carried to the dining room. Much liquor was probably spilled
by this operation, but whiskey was almost as cheap as water in those days. If
wine was wanted the glasses were filled in the same manner. When a boy, James
Coulson amused himself by rolling marbles down the trough into the wheel. This
interesting device was still in the cellar when the Coulsons moved to Washington,
after the death of his father, Emery, in 1911.
John Coulson was a blacksmith, an occupation that came in very handy in
connection with his wagon stand. His shop was across the road where Altvater’s
service station stands. Like all blacksmiths, Coulson was a very powerful man,
and James remembers a family story of two men engaged in a heated argument
in the shop. Finally, John got tired of hearing them, and ended the argument by
picking a man under each arm and throwing them into the road. When he wanted
to move an anvil he simply hooked his arm around it and placed it in the desired
Among James Coulson’s possessions are his great-grandfather’s
horseshoe hammer and two large hammers he made by hand. Another interesting
relic of those old tavern days, still kept by Mr. Coulson, is a percussion cap
rifle given to his great-grandfather in payment of a dept. It seems that a
wagoner owed John Coulson a bill which he could not pay, but being an honest
man, like most of the Pike Boys, he offered his gun in payment. It is a fine old
rifle, inlaid with German silver and a patch box, with the name of the maker,
“Amos Border & Co.,” stamped on the barrel.
The date of this old tavern is established by Mrs. Clara Coulson, who
remembers hearing older people say that the original tavern section was
built in 1803. The west end was erected in 1875-76. Chris Altvater,
who bought the farm from the Coulsons in 1919, took me through the interesting
old house from cellar to garret. The hall and stairway are in the original
section of 1808 and have not been changed in a century and a half. In the
attic you can see the old hewn oak rafters over the original section, and
where the attic stairway was cut through later the split lath are plainly
visible. The porch is not the original.
JOHN McDOWELL HOMESTEAD
On a knoll on the south side of the pike a short distance west of Coulson’s
and four miles from the City line, is a large brick house, which was the residence
of Hon. John McDowell in the days of the pike, McDowell was a prominent farmer
and sheep breeder, and for many years before toll was removed from this section
of the National Pike in Washington County. His grandson, Harry M. McDowell, who
accompanied him on trips over the road to receive the toll that had been collected
at the gates, has given me an interesting description of the toll houses of later
years. This will be given later.
Just west of the McDowell house is the site of Wolfe’s Fort of pioneer
times. Jacob Wolfe settled here about 1780, on what was then one of the most exposed
points on the
western frontier. Wolfe built a strong stockade around his house, which became
a refuge for settlers during Indian raids. There is no record that it was ever
attacked, probably because of the stockade. When a boy, William Darby spent some
time with his parents in Wolfe’s Fort during the winter of 1782, and in February
the winter of 1782, and in February the family moved to Washington.
The central cabin stood in the McDowell garden, where foundation stones
may still be found, and the stockade extended over where the pike is today.
During the years relics of Wolf’s Fort have been plowed up in the McDowell
An old story is told that in October 1784, Lydia Boggs, whose father
lived at that time near the present Taylorstown, and her friend, Christiana
Clemens, where pursued by Indians and fled to Wolfe’s Fort.
Hugh H. Brackenridge, admitted to the Washington County Bar in 1781,
had taken up land not far from Wolfe’s, where he met his future wife. The story
is told that when he was at the fort one day he saw Jacob Wolf’s daughter, Servenia,
jump over a high
rail fence with an agility displayed by few men. Young Brackenridge made
many other visits, and finally married this girl of the old frontier. He moved
to Pittsburgh, and took rather a prominent part in the Whiskey Insurrection of
1784. Later he became a judge of the Pennsylvania courts.
The stockade was torn down after the days of Indian warfare. Years
ago two large pear trees stood near the McDowell yard, which, according to well
authenticated tradition in the McDowell family, were planted by Johnny Appleseed.
Near the site of Wolfe’s cabin some old-fashioned tiger lilies are still growing.
One mile south of Wolfe’s Fort were two blockhouses built by Laurence Strickler
at about the same time as the fort. One was torn down, and the logs used to
erect a log house nearby. The other stood until 1899 when it was razed and the
logs used in a barn, which was later struck by lightning and burned.
A short distance west of the site of Wolfe’s Fort at the summit of the
long hill leading to the “S” Bridge, is a large brick house on the north side
of the pike. This house was erected at a very early date, according to
tradition about 1818. Searight says that Levi Wilson kept a wagon stand here
before 1836. He was a good tavern keeper, and many Pike Boys made their
headquarters here. East of the house was a large wagon yard.
According to Searight, John Miller moved there in 1838 from a stand two
miles west of Pratt’s Hollow, east of Cumberland, and succeeded Wilson. A son of
Levi Wilson married Miller’s daughter. Miller died in this house; and after
his father-in-law’s death Levi Wilson occupied the house as a private residence.
By that time the prosperous days for wagoners had ceased, and Levi gave his
attention to the large farm.
James Wilson, an undertaker in Washington years ago and a son of Levi Wilson,
farmed here for a number of years before he came to town about 1896. His son, Dr.
George Wilson of Saranac Lake, New York, still owns the old place. The house
was repaired and placed in good condition some years ago.
MARTINSBURG—A LOST TOWN
A short distance west of the Wilson Tavern, probably at the foot of the
hill or near the “S” Bridge, John Martin attempted to found a town 135 years ago,
but it seems to have been a dismal failure and no trace of it remains, if it ever
existed except on paper.
Quite by accident I found an advertisement in The Examiner of
November 29, 1819, which tells the story:
The subscriber will offer for sale on Friday the
17th of December at the newly laid off
Town of Martinsburg
five and a half miles from Washington, and five
from Claysville, on the national turnpike road. This
town is handsomely situated in a pleasant valley and
in the midst of a wealthy settlement—convenient to
Grist and Saw mills and is not excelled in point of
situation by any laid out on the U.S. road—it is
admirably well watered, having several good springs
within the town plot. Any person purchasing or building
within one year from the first of April shall have
timber for shingling gratis, and other timber very
reasonable. The terms of sale will be liberal.
OUT LOTS of such size as may suit purchasers, will also
be offered for sale. An indisputable title will be given
for said lots. Any further comment on the advantages of
this town is unnecessary, as it is presumed that all
those wishing to purchase will view for themselves
Martinsburg, Pa. Nov. 22, 1819.
John Martin’s dream of founding a town was never realized. He evidently
believed that with the coming of the National Pike this would be a good location.
I have found no further reference to it in old newspaper files, and the sale was
evidently not a success, for only one deed was found in the Recorder’s Office
for a lot.
This deed is dated September 6, 1820, from John Martin and Mary Martin,
his wife, to Aaron Scudder, for $130, for “one lot of ground in the town of
Martinsburg, on the United States turnpike road, being lot No. 7” 60 by 160 feet.
All other trace of Martinsburg has vanished completely, and no one ever heard
of it today.
This old wagon stand was located a mine and thre-quarters west of
Wilson’s, and was probably very close to the site of Martinsburg, in the
valley near the foot of the long hill. The old frame house is still standing on
the north side of the road, now the home of Lawrence Kelley, owner of the
Searight says that this stand was kept as early as 1830 by a man named
Scott, and in 1836 Abraham Bedillion took charge. He had a manner that
immediately won the Pike Boys, and soon built up a good trade. Just how long he
remained is not certain; but, again referring to Searight, Christly Wolfe,
of the pike contracting firm of Buck, Lyon and Wolfe, was there as late as 1843.
George Boyd, who seems to have been the last keeper of this stand, was there
in the early 1850s. Searight says that he was not very successful because
he came too late and the wagoners patronized old Pike Boys when they could.
Mr. Kelley told me that he had often heard his father, Samuel F. Kelley,
speak of this tavern of the National Pike’s heyday.
Like many of the old taverns and wagon stands left in Washington County,
and from its appearance you would never dream it was built so long ago. It
looks more like a modern house. The high porch is decorated with ornate wood
trimming and ornamental grill work.
The wagon yard was just east of the house and on the same side of the
road, paved with heavy stone which are still there, buried under a heavy layer of
earth. The old barn of the pike days, just across the road, was razed years ago.
In fact, few of the original barns are left at the taverns in the country.
DEEP TEST WELL
Just across the road and little west of the Bedillion stand is the deep
test well drilled by J.A. Fox, drilling contractor for the Washington Oil
Company, C.S. Coen and J.A. Fox. Work was stopped in May 1954, in the Oriskany
sand at a depth of 7,250 feet. Only small pockets of gas were found. The casing
was left in the hole, as they intended later to drill down to the Clinton sand
about 2,500 feet below the Oriskany.
THE “S” BRIDGE
This double arch stone bridge over Buffalo Creek, 6.65 miles west of the
Washington City line, was famous in stage coach and Conestoga wagon days on the
National Pike. The reason for its construction in the shape of the letter “S”
is not known, for it would have been straight. Possibly the engineers wanted
to leave something unusual to show their skill, and they certainly did.
The names of the contractors and stone masons seem to have been lost in
the maze of old records. However, the general contractors for the construction
of the pike from a point two miles east of Washington to the Virginia (West
Virginia) line, were Thomas McGiffin, Thomas H. Baird and Parker Campbell, all
members of the Washington Bar. This firm sublet contracts for sections to a
number of smaller contractors, and it was one of these who built the bridge.
No matter, who the builders were they did their work well. For 112
years this bridge carried traffic from stage coaches and traffic from stage
coaches and Conestoga wagons to automobiles and heavy trucks, with very little
if any repairs. When the new route of the pike was built between Washington and
Claysville in 1929 the bridge was eliminated by a straight-crossing over
No repairs were made to the historic structure after it was abandoned
by the State Highway Department, and in the course of a few years high water
washed out some of the stone in the arches and it was in grave danger of
collapse. Edward Martin, one of our most historically minded Governors, became
interested and through his efforts the Highway Department made the necessary
repairs, and landscaped the approaches. However, like many other historic objects
no further work was done, and it is again badly in need of repairs. Unless
something is done it will soon be only a memory of the past.
Miss Katherine Kelly, who will be mentioned later, told me that the stone
for the bridge and most of that used in the construction of the pike in this
vicinity, was donated by her grandfather, from a quarry on his farm.
Searight says that in 1894 a post office called the “S” Bridge Post Office,”
was located here.
(To Be Continued)
For part 22 of The National Pike Story For part 24 of The National Pike Story