Jonathan Knight's Home.
At a point seven-tenths of a mile west of Taylor Church you will see
the old home of Jonathan Knight, the civil engineer who built the
National Pike throughout most of Washington County and the first chief
engineer of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. A road leads down the hill
to the house from this point, but it is easier to reach it by going over
the new Route to, which passes in front of the house.
Jonathan Knight, on of the great civil engineers of his time, was
self-educated in his profession, as his limited means did not permit
attendance at a college. For some of the facts of his life I am indebted
to a pamphlet, "Biographical Notes on Jonathan Knight (1787-1855),"
by Dr. Harold L. Dorwart, of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut,
an off-print of from "The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography",
for January, 1951. This was first brought to my attention by Dr. Raymond M.
Bell, of the faculty of Washington and Jefferson College, Charles M.
Ewing, Director of the Historical Collections of the college, has secured
an autobiographical sketch written by Mr. Knight about two months
before his death in 1858, together with a number of letters and other
documents of great value, which were presented to the college by his great-
granddaughter, Mrs. Irene Knight Patton. Her son, Roger K. Patton, also
gave me much information for this brief sketch.
Mr. Knight states that he was born in Burks County, November 22,
1787, and came to East Bethlehem, Washington County, with his parents in
1801. He was a member of the religious Society of Friends or Quakers.
In 1809 he married Ann Heston. Without means to acquire an education,
he says that his unquenchable thirst for knowledge impelled me to read
and study at home mostly at nights, by which means I acquired a pretty good
American education and a competent store of mathematical learning,
and became a teacher in schools and a surveyor of lands and roads."
His first important work was about 1816 when he was appointed
by the Governor to make and report a map of Washington County for Melish's
map of Pennsylvania. This work required 100 days. He was elected County
Commissioner for three years.
Taking up engineering as his profession, he served in a subordinate
station in the preliminary surveys for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal,
which has recently appeared in the public press. When the surveying
corps for the National Pike arrived in Washington County in 1818, one
of the engineers remarked while passing the Knight farm "that they needed
a man to carry the chain." Quoting from the "Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Magazine" in 1917: "Thinking this would be a source of practical education,
the farmer-surveyor applied for the job conditional that he be allowed free
access to the engineers' books and the privilege of looking over the work.
The proposition was accepted."
Tradition has handed down several stories of the origin of the name of
Eggnog Hill, all of which are basically true, for it did come from an over
indulgence in eggnog. This article gives a slightly different version,
which, coming from McKnight*, we may accept as more nearly correct.
*[probably Mr. Knight]
When the surveying party arrived at this high hill they made a
quantity of this concoction to help them in calculating the heavy
grading that would be necessary. All indulged freely except Mr. Knight,
who true to his Quaker doctrine, neither drank intoxication liquor
nor used tobacco. After the calculations were completed, Mr. Knight
detected a mistake in the work of one of the engineers, which was probably
caused by too much eggnog. This mistake of another led to McKnight's
promotion. In recognition of his ability the pike commissioners commended
him to the authorities at Washington, D.C., and he was appointed
surveyor to complete the line through Washington County and on to Wheeling.
In 1825, the Federal Government appointed him as a commissioner to extend
the road, which he did through Ohio and Indiana to the Illinois line.
In 1822, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature, and served
in the House and Senate for six sessions. He resigned his seat in the
Senate to enter the engineering department of the new Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad. However, before entering upon his work he went to England to
study methods of civil engineering for railroads, When he entered in
1830, he was appointed chief engineer of the Baltimore and Ohio. He made
many improvements from the methods then believed to be correct in railroad
construction. Among his inventions which became standard railroad
equipment were the "T" rail and the "combined cylindrical and conical car
wheels," which were of the utmost importance in turning curves.
Mr. Knight resigned from the service of the Baltimore and Ohio on
September 30, 1842. During the years he had been a railroad engineer he
had served the company faithfully and well, and became one of the
outstanding men. He was one of the last of its pioneers to leave the official
ranks. After he retired to his farm in Washington County, he became
consulting engineer for the city of Wheeling. In the election of 1854 he
was the Wig candidate for Congress from the 20th District, composed
of Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, and defeated William Montgomery,
of Washington, the Democrat, by a majority of 2,340. Mr. Knight served
through three sessions of the 34th Congress, but in 1856, Mr. Montgomery
defeated him for re-election by 855 votes. Knight carried Washington
County by 243 votes.
Jonathan Knight died in the latter part of November or early in
December, 1858, as shown by the date of the probation of his will, December
6, 1858. It is interesting to note that the witnesses to his will, dated
September 9, 1857, were C.M. Reed, Samuel Hazelett, and D.S. Wilson, all
prominent citizens of Washington at that time.
Mr. Knight was buried in the cemetery at Westland Meeting House, south
Zepheniah B. Knight, a son of Jonathan Knight, studied law and later
became a newspaper editor. He was a delegate to the convention that
organized a new political party at Jackson, Michigan, in 1856. It was he
who made the motion that this new party he called the "Republican."
This convention nominated General John C. Fremont, the Pathfinder of
the Far West, as the party's first Presidential candidate. Mr. Knight died
July 10, 1910, at Omaha, Nebraska, aged 88 years. This paragraph is condensed
from The Reporter+, July 21, 1910.
It is a little hard to determine the date of erection of the house
now standing on Jonathan Knight's farm. This interesting old dwelling
was built in two sections. The rear part of stone was the original
Knight home. The front addition of brick, which is a house in itself, was
added by Oliver K. Taylor, who purchased the farm on April 1, 1845, from
Jonathan Knight's son, Abel, then living in Oakland County, Michigan. At
that time the farm contained 105 3/4 acres and 68 perches, located in
West Pike Run and East Bethlehem townships. The consideration was $8,000.
Jonathan Knight's will mentions this as his home farm. He had purchased
it on March 29, 1839, from the executors of Dr. Charles Wheeler, deceased.
The records show that this was part of a tract of 354 acres,
Charles Wheeler by warrant dated March 3, 1786. Wheeler must have built
the stone house, for Knight paid $8,940.35 for this section of the patent.
Wheeler's will was probated September 5, 1813, which would indicate
that he died in August. The house was probably built during the 1790's or
around the turn of 1800. At least that is a good guess.
My first visit to the old home of Jonathan Knight was more that 30
years ago when it was occupied by the Pepper family. Although I passed it
many times later it was one day in September, 1953, before I stopped.
This historic building is one of those fine old homes that once dotted the
landscape along the National Pike from Baltimore to Wheeling. Many have
disappeared with the passing years; others have been allowed to deteriorate
until they are only ruins of a glorious and historic past.
I found that repairs had not been made up and the ancient house was
in a fair way to becoming a ruin. Last year it was purchased by Mrs. Ruth
Coletti and her husband Silvio, an orchestra leader. Mrs. Coletti, a
former school teacher, quickly saw the possibilities, and started to
restore the old home to its former glory. They are doing the work
themselves. The interior woodwork in both the old stone section of
Knight's time and the later brick addition, is of the finest oak and walnut,
probably cut on the farm, for oak and walnut were the cheapest and best
lumber obtainable here in early days. This woodwork would cost a small
When I stopped Mrs. Coletti was engaged in refinishing the entire
interior herself, and she was doing a job that any professional would
The Colettris very courteously conducted me on a tour throughout
the entire house. Mrs. Coletti is very enthusiastic over her work of
restoration. She is collecting real antique furniture with which she expects
to furnish their new home, and when she has finished this will it be one
of the show places on the National Pike. The old stairways in both the
stone section and brick section were constructed of the finest material by
the best workmen of their time.
By following the old route of the pike from the road to the knight house,
you will reach Centerville (spelled Centreville in the old accounts),
as important village during the National Road era. First known as East
Bethlehem post office, the name was changed to Centerville when the present
town was laid out in 1821 after the pike was completed throughout
MONROE-A lost Town.
From an old advertisement it looks as if an attempt was made to call
this village Monroe before it was Centreville. While going throughout
The Examiner files I found in the issue of August 23, 1819, an advertisement
of the sale of lots in the new town of Monroe, undoubtedly named for President
Monroe. This advertisement follows:
A number of lots handsomely and conveniently situated in the
above newly laid off town, will be offered at public sale on the
28th inst, on the premises, six miles west of Brownsville and
central between Uniontown and Washington, on the great National
turnpike: The situation is healthy and pleasant, the surrounding
neighborhood is fertile, abounding with timber, coal, grist and
sawmills, and nearly all the necessities of life, both for
building and subsistence. A more eligible situation for
mechanics, innkeepers, and merchants, could scarcely be offered
in the western country, and should a division of counties take
place, Monroe may boldly contend with any neighboring village
for the seat of Justice. The plan, which is liberal, elegant and
original, will be exhibited on the day of sale, and terms
advantageous to the purchaser made known by the proprietors.
Sale to commence at 10 o'clock a.m. August 23, 1819.
Where was the town of Monroe and did it ever exist?
I have searched through the old records in the Recorder's office, and
am unable to answer these questions. This advertisement is the only
reference I have been able to find. My own conclusion is that it must have
been Centerville, for the description fits that place exactly,
"six miles west of Brownsville, and central between Uniontown and
Washington;" and both John Cleaver and Lambert Boyer owned land at this
On April 7, 1819, John Cleaver sold six lots in Centerville,
showing that the plot was in existence at that time. By August 23, he
may have tried to change the name to Monroe, but it was evidently
not a success, for there are the deeds for lots in Monroe on record.
The part of Centerville, which is offered, states that it was laid out
June 25, 1821, and it contains 53 lots and a brickyard.
Searight says that the first tavern was kept by John Rogers.
Built in the early 1820's, after the pike was completed, this old building
is still standing in the center of the village, at the northwest corner of
the main street and Pike Run Road. Robert Rogers, son of the first
proprietor, succeeded his father and kept the tavern for many years; but
at intervals it was kept by his son-in-law, Solomon Bracken. Searight
states that throughout the pike's prosperous era this tavern was noted as
a quiet, orderly, well kept house of entertainment. It is now the home
of Mrs. Emma Garwood and Miss Annie Watkins, and is in excellent condition.
Searight tells us that the leading wagon stand was on the hill at
the west end of the town and on the south side of the road, with the wagon
yard in the rear. The present building is the second that has stood on
this site. The first, kept at an early date by Zephania [spelled this way
in article, but ended with an “h” in descendant’s records] Riggle,
was burned while Riggle was proprietor, and the present house was built
immediately. Riggle was succeeded in 1845 by Peter Colley, Henry Whitsett,
the next proprietor, was followed by Jacob Marks; then came William
Garrett, Jesse Quail, and in 1893 Searight found that Joseph B. Jeffreys
owned the building and still kept it as a tavern.
This is now the home of Mrs. Mary Myers, the present owner. She informed
me that her mother, Mrs. John Stathers, bought the property in 1902. Her
grandfather, William Mitchener, voted in this house a hundred years ago,
when it was a tavern.
The burning of the original tavern prior to 1845 proves that the
present building was erected before that year. The style of the doors,
mantels, and woodwork throughout the interior show that the house dates
far back in the 19th century.
(To Be Continued)
For part 7 of The National Pike Story For part 9 of The National Pike Story