(Continued from yesterday)
TAVERNS AND TOWNS
In traveling over the pike I found many of the old taverns still standing,
and located the sites of others that had vanished with the years. In
gathering this information I made many trips between West Brownsville
and West Alexander, interviewing older people who remembered these old
taverns and who could give definite information as well as legends
that had been handed down by their fathers. In the work I also used Searight’s
book as a guide, and found that he was very accurate as to mile, locations
and the people who ran these taverns and wagon stands. I considered
this to be very important before the passing years would wipe out the
history of the old road through Washington County.
For many years I have made a collection of historical items on the
Old Pike, found in the files of The Washington Reporter and The Washington
Examiner. These give much important history of locations of taverns,
stage drivers and events that occurred along the pike in Washington
Beginning at West Brownsville I started to locate the points of
interest. I found that Searight missed some points and incidents of historic
interest, which I describe as we travel over the old pike. I was fortunate in
finding a number of persons along the route who gave me good descriptions
of old taverns and life on the road of long ago.
West Brownsville, first town on the west side of the Monongahela
River, was a very important point on the pike. Many stage passengers
and some emigrants who had the money left the pike at Brownsville,
Fayette County, and embarked down the river to Pittsburgh and Wheeling; but
most of the emigrants and a large number of stage passengers, probably the
majority, cross the river at West Brownsville, and went overland across
Washington County to Wheeling. The same was true of the journey from West
to East. Washington County was the short cut and it saved more time than
the longer river route. This was as important in those days as it is now.
As I have stated the construction of the pike reached West Brownsville
The Covered Bridge
In the early days of the old emigrant road before the pike was built
the only means of crossing the Monongahela at this point was by ferry,
which was operated as early as 1794 by John Krepps. This gave the early
village the name of Krepps Ferry. The ferry was located a few hundred
yards above the present bridge and in the rear of the Owen’s Tavern.
As early as 1810 a toll bridge was projected across the river, for
in that year the legislature passed an act authorizing the Governor
to incorporate a company to build a toll bridge at this crossing.
Neil Gillespie, the grandfather of James G. Blaine was named as one of the
commissioners to solicit subscriptions, but the bridge was not built,
probably because the necessary stock was not subscribed.
During the 13 years following the construction of the pike all stage
coaches, Conestoga wagons and other vehicles, together with droves of
cattle, horses, swine and sheep, crossed the river at Krepp’s Ferry.
In addition to the delay caused in travel and transportation
because there was no bridge, mail was often held up by ice. This is shown by
an item in The Examiner of January 28, 1828:
“Owing to the danger from ice in crossing the river at Brownsville,
we have and no mail from Washington City since Monday last. People are
therefore dissatisfied at such delay, as very naturally they would be
and some intimate the necessity of Congress instituting an inquiry
respecting the cause why the Monongahela Bridge on the National Road at
that place is not erected.”
Delays of more than a week, as in this case, were probably frequent
during every winter until the bridge was finally erected, not by the Federal
Government, but by a private company.
The next move for a bridge was in 1830 when the State of Pennsylvania
took over from the Federal Government the section of the pike lying
within the borders. A company was incorporated that year with Ephriam L.
Blaine, the father of James G. Blaine, as one of the contractors.
This company erected a covered wooden bridge in 1833, and during nearly 80
years this was a toll bridge.
This was one of the most historic bridges on the entire route of
the National Pike, and for more than three quarters of a century travel and
traffic of all descriptions passed over it—stage coaches, Conestoga
and farm wagons; all kinds of private vehicles, both ox and horse
drawn, including sleds, sleighs, Dearborns, sulkies, chairs or chaises,
chariots, private coaches, phaetons, and carts, all vehicles that have
vanished in the clouds of yesteryear and are almost unknown today, and
drivers of horses, cattle, hogs, and sheep and even turkeys, all in one
long cavalcade of travel in the glamorous 19th century. History marched
over that old bridge in one grand pageant 80 years long—Presidents
and statesmen on their way to and from the National Capitol, emigrants
in covered wagons to seek new homes in the West, Forty-Niners bound for
California; Indians and Indian fighters of the old regular army; soldiers
fresh from the battlefields of Mexico and the Civil War, and soldiers
of 1898, down to automobiles of the early 1900’s.
Finally in 1910 the War Department declared that the old bridge was
an obstruction to modern river traffic, and when it was removed travel
once more crossed on a ferry as it had a hundred years before. This
continued until the present steel bridge was opened.
The old bridge was sold to the Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh and Lake
Erie railroads, traffic over it closed on September 25, 1910, and the
next morning the work of tearing it away, was started. That some morning
two ferry boats were placed in operation.
On the evening of October 13, after much of the covering had been
removed, a strong cable was fastened around the heavy timbers of the truss
and the other end tied to the steamer Robert Jenkins, commanded by Captains
Shaw and Donaldson. The original was given when all was clear, and the
steamer backed down the river. There was a long steady pull, the great oak
timbers cracked and cried out in protest, and then the entire structure
fell into the river with a crash that could be heard from more than a
mile and a mighty splash that drenched hundreds of spectators who lined
the river banks on both sides. The old covered bridge was no more.
The present steel bridge was completed and formally opened for traffic
by Governor John K. Taner on September 8, 1914. Figures in the County
Engineer’s office show that the old bridge was 66 feet long from face to
face of the abutments. The water span of the present bridge is 681.75
feet but the total length of this bridge over both land and approaches
and water is 983.75 feet.
Birthplace of James C. Blaine
West Brownsville is noted as the birth place of James G. Blaine,
one of our most famous statesmen of the 19th Century and one of Washington
County’s most distinguished son. The house in which he was born January
31, 1830, was torn down some time in the 1890’s, but the location
is marked by an historical marker placed by the Pennsylvania Historical
and Museum Commission. After graduating from Washington College in the
class of 1847, Blaine located in Maine, from which he served as a representative
in the 38th and 44th Congresses, and as United States Senator from 1863
to 1883. In 1881 he was appointed by President Garfield as Secretary
of State; and in 1884 he was Republican Candidate for President, but was
defeated by Grover Cleveland when he failed to carry New York State by
less than 100 votes in 1889. President Harrison again named him Secretary
of State, in which office he served until his death on January 27, 1893.
Born on the National Pike, where he spent his youth, he knew the life of
the old road during its greatest years, and its memories were cherished
by him all his life.
On October 22, 1886, Mr. Blaine returned to Washington County for
the first time in many years. As this was an important event in the history
not only of the County, but of the old pike, I will give a rather
full account, taken from The Reporter of October 23 and 25, 1886.
At West Brownsville he visited the house where he was born, only to
find that the ruthless hand of time had made many changes as it often
does. He probably wished that he had not come, for he found the old home
of his early boyhood dilapidated, dismal and gloomy; but for all it was
dear to the great statesman. However the old home then falling in ruin
left a deep ache in his heart.
Pointing to the house he remarked: “That part of the old stone end
is 80 years old.”
As he turned to the nearby river he described the surroundings
of his boyhood, “Ah, how things have changes over there. We had a lovely
garden, and this was a fine yard all the way down to the river bank. I
must go up and see the room in which I first saw the light of day, it
is up there, in that corner,” and he pointed to a second story window.
As he entered what was once the well kept, comfortable home of his
boyhood, now little more than a ruin, and climbed the creaky old stairway
to the room a look of disappointment swept over his face. Slowly turning
to a boyhood friend he quietly said, “This is not the room. Although
I left this house when but five years old, I am positive I would know it.
This is not the room.” He left the house, visibly shaken and sad with
He spoke that night to the people of Brownsville, and early the next
morning set out with his party to drive over the old pike to Washington.
Before leaving he paid a visit to Johnny Malone, an Irishman
who had worked for his father, and visited the house where he went to
live when five years old. When he saw an old man sitting on a bench
in front of a dingy little house, quietly smoking his pipe, a look of
recognition passed over his face, and the great statesman jumped from the
buggy. As the old man arose, Mr. Blaine asked, “Do you know me, Joseph
“Yes, Jim Blaine, I remember you as a lad when I worked on all the
farms hereabouts,” and tears streamed down the old man’s face as he warmly
shook “Jim’s” hand.
At Beallsville he was welcomed by a large crowd, and over the village
store was a “Blaine and Logan” banner, when he reached Scenery Hill he
was welcomed by another old friend. Representative Brit Hart, whose
little daughter gave him a bouquet.
The reception committee from Washington met him at Doaksville,
known today as The Doak fruit farm. The Doak home, still standing,
was once the Harting Tavern, a famous stopping place in the days of the
old pike and was well remembered by Mr. Blaine. This old house is now
the home of Rollo V. Doak.
The time of his arrival in Washington was uncertain, but before he
reached the town many carriages had joined the procession and a long
line of vehicles followed Mr. Blaine. Arriving at 1:30 p.m., he went
immediately to the residence of his uncle, Major John H. Ewing, in East
Beau street, where he took dinner. Major Ewing’s residence was razed
about 1899, by Dr. Joseph Thistle and a row of apartment houses was
erected. In 1954 this building was torn down by the Bell Telephone
Company for the erection of a modern telephone exchange.
After dinner Mr. Blaine marched with the college students, 230 strong,
to the Washington and Jefferson campus, where he made a brief address.
Later, in company with S. B. Elkins, who had accompanied him on his
journey, and William Smith, Washington banker and merchant. He visited
the famous Bunghole and several other oil and gas wells in that vicinity.
During a reception held that evening in the college chapel, with Dr.
James D. Moffat standing at Mr. Blaine’s side, the famous statesman
met many old friends, and classmates and remembered over the old days more
than 40 years past, when he was just Jim Blaine, a student at Washington
When one lady came up to him he grasped her hand, and exclaimed:
“You are Mrs. John A. Wills. No,” he quickly added, “Miss Madeleine
LeMoyne, I mistook you for your sister.”
This lady was later Mrs. Madeleine LeMoyne Reed, who died October 27,
1943, at the age of 100 years, five and 18 days. She bequeathed the old
LeMoyne homestead to the Washington Historical Society. She will be mentioned
When a niece of Joshua Wright was introduced she told him that her
father was his classmate and had often told stories of their college
days. With a twinkle in his eyes, Mr. Blaine shyly replied, “I am afraid
to ask what those stories are.”
When another woman approached Mr. Blaine said to his uncle, Major
Ewing, “Don’t tell me who this lady is.” Then he called Miss Jennie
Burd by her full name, although he had not seen her for a quarter
of a century.
The next day, Sunday, he attended morning services in the First
Presbyterian Church where the sermon was delivered by the Rev. Dr.
Patterson, of Philadelphia. In the evening he went to the Methodist
Church in company with his uncle and Marshal John Hall. Both churches
were crowded. The next morning he visited William Smith at Trinity
Hall, where he lingered on the porches, viewing the scenery of his college
days; and after a call upon Mr. And Mrs. George Adams, friends of his
youth, he left for Pittsburgh in the afternoon. This was Mr. Blaine’s
last visit to Washingnton County.
It is interesting to not that Mr. Blaine was the second famous
man entertained by William Smith at Trinity Hall. President Grant, a
personal friend of William Smith of years standing was entertained
here several times—once in September, 1869, again in 1873, and the last
time in April, 1897. There were other visits of which the record is not known.
General Grant’s first visit to Washington was June 12, 1867, when he
was entertained at the Smith home in the old brick building on the Gree
Tree Corner of Main and East Beau streets.
(To Be Continued)
For part 5 of The National Pike Story For part 7 of The National Pike Story