(Continued From Saturday)
A mile west of Valentine’s is the historic village of West Alexander,
the last town on the National Pike in Pennsylvania, the state line being at the
foot of the hill. The town site was laid out in 1796, by Robert Humphrey, a
Revolutionary Soldier, who had settled in nearby Ohio County, Virginia. Most
accounts give this name as Humphreys, but the deeds do not have the final “s”.
On February 27, 1786, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania granted
him a patent to a tract of land called, “Doublet.” Old deeds show that the town
was known by several names—Alexander, Alexandria, and West Alexandria before
it finally became West Alexander. Crumrine says that Humphrey named the town for
his wife, Martha Alexander. In records of public documents referring to the
construction of the National Pike, the town is referred to as West Alexandria,
or more frequently Alexandria.
There is no plan of the original plot on record; but on April 30, 1873,
Thomas McCleary made a survey of the town as it existed at that time, for its
incorporation as a borough. This only shows the property lines and names of the
owners; and is of little historical value as no lot numbers are given.
Old records show that the first lot was sold on June 18, 1796, to John
McMillen Jr., Lot No. 14 in the town of Alexander,” for $8.50.
Crumrine states that the sale of lots was slow; but that was the case
with most early towns. Washington included. The deeds on record show that Humphrey
sold four lots in 1796, five in 1797, two in 1798, and none in 1799. From 1800 to
1829 inclusive, he sold 20x lots, and six form 1830 to 1833, making a total of
37. Then the record ceases.
Crumrine’s History states that Charles De Hass, who laid out Columbia and
West Columbia where Donora now stands, bought land adjoining West Alexander,
and thus became the principal proprietor as Humphrey had failed to found a town
or village of any size or importance. However, this must be a mistake, as I can
not find in the Recorder’s Office that De Hass owned any land at or adjoining West
Alexander at that time, in spite of Crumrine’s statement that De Hass sold many
On May 22, 1817, De Hass did advertise in The Reporter “a number
of town lots adjoining the west end of the continued part of West Alexandria,”
to be sold at public sale on June 10, De Hass was one of the original promoters
of sub-divisions, for no modern real estate salesman could write a more glowing
description. He advertised that a “brewery and distillery were erecting,
a brickyard is established and another one progressing, and a nail factory is
As far as I can learn the brewery and distillery, and nail factory were
never built, but the brickyard probably.
He muse have been promoting the sale of lots for Humphrey, for
there are no deeds showing that De Hass owned any land in or near West Alexander
in 1817. However, on April 27, 1818, he purchased for $400 from William Hawkins nine
lots “in the continued part of West Alexander on the United States turnpike
road.” Six of these lots extended back to Decatur alley, two back to Harrison
alley, and one to Rodgers alley. The names of these alleys may still be in West
Alexander. There is nothing to show what became of these lots, for I could not
find that De Hass ever sold any property in his name in West Alexander.
De Hass died in Brooklyn, New York, early in December 1876, as shown by
his will which was probated in Kings County on December 9. He was survived by his
wife, three sons and four daughters. One son was Dr. Willis De Hass, who was born
in Washington on July 4, 1817, at the very time his father was trying to promote
the sale of lots in West Alexander. It is evident from this that his father never
lived in the latter place. During the Civil War De Hass was lieutenant colonel
of the 77th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was the author of “History of the
Indian Wars in Western Virginia,” a book now very rare and a collector’s item.
He died in Pittsburgh on January 24, 1910.
I found few people there who remember the old taverns of the National Pike
era, except the Wheeling House and the LaFayette Inn. Both stood until, recent
years. There were undoubtedly others, but those who knew them and their locations
have long since passed from the scene and with them much history was lost. The
original pike did not go down the hill as in later years. The old route was along
the ridge past the La Fayette Inn site, and then descended the hill farther on.
Searight mentions 21 tavern keepers during the pike era, but unfortunately
does not identify them with any particular stand, except Duncan Morrison, who opened
the American Eagle as earls as 1796, and Joseph Lawson, who subsequently kept
the LaFayette Inn. In this connection, there is no deed on record to record
to Duncan Morrison prior to June 4, 1811, when Humphrey conveyed Lot No. 1 “in the
town of West Alexandria” to Morrison for $15, which shows that no building stood
on the property. From this it is safe to say that Morrison did not open his American
Eagle Tavern until after that date. While there is no record of Morrison’s sale of
this lot to any person, it is very probable that it was the location of the
Others mentioned by Searight are: Charles Mayes, Zubulon Warner, John
Gooding, John Woodburn, William McCall, Solomon Cook, James Sargent, Charles
Hallam, Mary Warner, James Bell, Silver Gilfillan, Samuel Beamer, James
Matthews, John Irons, Noses Thornburg, Samuel Doak, Joseph Dowdal, William F.
Gordon, and William McCutcheon. If all kept taverns there must have been a large
number for a small town in those days—and there probably were.
LaFAYETTE INN Picture
The old building known for more than a hundred years as the LaFayette Inn
was the principle tavern during the National Pike era. This was a large building,
constructed of logs, heavy oak and pine timbers and frame, probably built in
sections at different periods.
It is not unreasonable to believe that the original section of logs
was the American Eagle built by Duncan Morrison in 1811 or possibly in 1796,
for those days most buildings in Washington County, no matter how large, were of
log construction. At any rate Morrison is given credit for keeping the first
tavern. It was probably known as the American Eagle until LaFayette’s visit,
but there is no record of the landlord after Morrison or of how long he was there.
The date Joseph Lawson took charge is not known, but he was the landlord
when LaFayette passed through this town in 1825, and he may have been there for
several years prior to that event, and most sources say that he was proprietor
during the pike era. This tavern was an important point on the old road where stage
horses were changed, and undoubtedly on many occasions travelers put up there for the
night. The stand enjoyed a large trade from the Pike Boys, as there was a spacious
wagon yard and a large stable.
On September 29, 1837, John Irons, of Washington, conveyed to Joseph
Lawson, “a certain house and lot of ground in the town of West Alexandria in which
Joseph Lawson now resides; bounded on the west and north of the old Wheeling and
National Road.” The consideration was $2,800. This description fits the LaFayette
Inn property. It appears very probable from this that Lawson had rented the hotel
from Irons, for the latter had operated taverns in Washington for a number of
years prior to 1837.
Among the distinguished person who, some claim, were entertained here
were LaFayette, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison. We know
that LaFayette was there, and very probably Jackson and Clay but Harrison was never
in Washington County. On his journey to Washington City for his inauguration he
went by boat from Wheeling to Brownsville.
Much has been told of LaFayette’s visit at West Alexander, most of
which is unverified by newspaper accounts of the time. He did stop at Lawson’s for
refreshments and was received there by a committee of citizens. Immediately after
his departure, probably before LaFayette was out of sight, Lawson changed the
name to LaFayette Inn, and for 115 years, until the building was finally razed, that
name appeared in large letters painted on the front and side. But LaFayette did not
sleep there, notwithstanding local tradition.
Another local tradition that will not down is that when LaFayette was wounded
at the battle of Brandywine he was carried from the field by Robert Humphrey.
According to this old story, when LaFayette arrived in West Alexander he immediately
recognized Humphrey and embraced him. This scene was enacted during an historical
pageant staged by the people of the town on May 23, 1925.
It seems a shame to explode such a good story, one that would add much to
the history of the county, if true; but several Revolutionary veterans claimed
to have carried the wounded LaFayette from the battlefield.
In the account, of his visit to Pittsburgh, from May 30, to June 1, the Pittsburgh
Gazette says that among the Revolutionary veterans who greeted him were
Galbreath Wilson, who “asked the general if he remembered the young man who
assisted him over the fence, immediately after he had received the wound in his
leg at the battle of Brandywine, which caused his lameness? The general instantly
recognized in Wilson the gallant young soldier who had performed that service; and a
very cordial embrace followed.” This account, which first appeared in the
Pittsburgh Mercury on June 1, was copied by the Gazette on June 2,
W.E. Woodward in his excellent biography of LaFayette, in referring to
this wound, says: LaFayette was within twenty yards of the advancing British
when he was shot. It was only a flesh wound in the leg and he did not know he
had been hit until somebody told him that his blood was dripping to the ground.
He grew faint from bleeding eventually, and his aide, Major Gimat, rode at his
side and supported him on his horse. By that time, the whole army was in retreat.
Washington came up and ordered LaFayette to retire and have his wound dressed. To
the surgeons Washington said, “Treat his as though he were my son.”
Because of the 1825 account in the Pittsburgh Mercury and later in the
Gazette, it is possible Wilson did help LaFayette over a fence; clear—nobody
carried the heroic Frenchman from the field.
When I visited West Alexander in the fall of 1953, I found that the
LaFayette Inn had vanished; but fortunately, I had photographed it years ago. A large
garage and service station operated by R.K. Grimes and Son now occupy the site.
Mr. Grimes informed me that he had purchased the property from J.B.
Chambers and Mrs. Mary B. Atkinson about 1940, at which time he tore down the old
tavern and used much of the material in his new building. He pointed out a
number of white pine timber joists from the inn, which he placed in the roof of
the garage. They are 33 feet long, 12 inches wide and three inches thick.
The old front door of the inn is preserved and is not the entrance to
the garage office.
Another door taken from a bedroom of the old tavern is between the office
and garage. Over this door is a copper plate upon which appears “LaFayette
Room.” Mr. Grimes found it above the bedroom door. But unfortunately for
the village tradition, LaFayette did not “sleep here;” he only dined “here.”
The wagon yard and blacksmith shop stood southwest of the tavern and
along the pike, on part of the ground now occupied by Mr. Grimes’ home. In
excavating, he found the old stone paving.
While excavating, Mr. Grimes discovered the old tavern well, which had
been covered over. It is from 10 to 12 feet across and 55 feet deep. He found a
strong flow of water, and so he lined it with concrete, installed a pump
and uses the water in both the garage and house. No matter how dry the season,
there is always plenty of water.
Mr. Grimes said that after Joseph Lawson, the old proprietor died
in August 1866, his daughter, Mrs. Mulvina Schwarock, took over the business. The
names of several other landlords were furnished by some of the older residents, Mrs.
Benjamin Exly followed Mrs. Schwarock, and J.W. Vermillion came next. He was
succeeded by Charles E. Linn, and Mrs. Lillian Mars, of Wheeling, took
charge after Linn; but she quit the business about 1940, not long before Mr.
Grimes bought the property.
This was a large, two story brick building, on a corner in the center of
the town. Some claim that it was in operation during the travel on the pike; but
this is rather doubtful. When I first knew it in 1910, it had been a hotel
for many years. As I recall hearing at that time it had been built after the
pike travel ceased. I was unable to learn its history or the names of the
proprietors. It was torn down several years ago.
For nearly three quarters of a century, West Alexander was the Mecca or
Gretna Green for all runaway couples, youthful and otherwise, form Pennsylvania,
West Virginia, Ohio and all points west. Before October 1, 1885, Pennsylvania did
not have a marriage license law, and so couples from states that did have such a
law, fled to West Alexander. The Reporter files contain a number of records from
time to time of marriages at this haven for the lovelorn.
The West Alexander marriage mill was started in operation as far
back as 1811 by Justice of the Peace Isaac Mayes. Several years ago the complete
marriage records of Isaac Mayes from October 6, 1811, to his last ceremony in
June 1844, and those of his son, Joseph Findley Mayes, Justice of the Peace from
May 1, 1862, until his death 25 years later, were presented to the Washington
County Historical Society.
The first couple married by Squire Isaac Mayes was Andrew Madeas and
Miss Druscilla Hurst on October 6, 1811, and when he quit in June 1844, he had
performed 903 ceremonies. That first year of 1811 he only united two couples, for
the fame of the town as a matrimonial bureau was not known abroad, but, its
reputation soon spread over the land west of the mountains, and business increased
from year to year until in 1836 he married 91, a good number for those times. During
the great panic of 1837 business declined and only 55 couples were married in
1837 and 1838; but 1839 saw an increase to 59. The panic was subsiding.
After 1844, John Sutherland was Justice of the Peace, and he joined 913
couples during his career as a marrying squire, according to The Reporter of
November 6, 1878.
The Reporter of that same date records that William Alexander, who
followed Sutherland, married 200. Joseph Alexander, the next marrying squire,
had a record of 500. The fame of West Alexander was increasing with rapid strides.
Joseph F. Mayes, son of Isaac Mayes, took office on May 1, 1862, and on
May 22, he performed his first ceremony, when he united Mordicai H. Carter and Miss
Jane Atkins, of Boston, Belmont County, Ohio. In speaking of this first marriage
years later he said: “I was scared to death when I got through with my first job.”
But he soon got bravely over that fear. During the next ten years he united 680,
and by October 26, 1879, the number reached 870. Then business increased with a boom,
and by October 1, 1885, when the Pennsylvania marriage license law went into effect,
the number reached the enormous total of 2,674 for a little over 23 years. His last
ceremony was performed on February 1, 1887, when he joined John McManus and Miss
Bridget Condry, both of Wheeling. His total fees for the 25 years he was in the
business amounted to $3,354.55.
These records show a total of 5,190 during the 74 years of West Alexander’s
marriage market from October 6, 1811, to October 1, 1885; but this does not
include ceremonies performed by local clergymen. Their records are not available,
and may not have been preserved.
Squire Mayes was not a candidate to succeed himself at the election on
February 15, 1887. He was evidently not well, for he died on March 3, 1887, two
months before his last term expired.
(To Be Continued)
For part 27 of The National Pike Story For part 29 of The National Pike Story