Sunday, October 5, 2014

Forgotten Toll Houses Of Westmoreland County


  The Toll Gates Of Route 31


 Come on in and make a pit stop on Fayette/Westmoreland Forgotten History and let life slow down for a couple of minutes. Go ahead, sit back, relax a moment with your favorite brew and join us here at my homey site for a scenic discussion where you're always welcome.

Improvements in Historical Awareness and Signs of Neglect

    I feel the need to try do a part, however small, toward bringing attention to these more unique areas enveloped in our local places, hamlets and boroughs. I admit it is limited, yet I have experienced some success. Here our interest is with the townships of Mt. Pleasant and East Huntingdon. There are parts of the southwestern counties that might seem neglected here and I apologize and will try to rectify this oversight as I learn of more distant things.

    Happily, in recent years we have seen improvements in the "coal and coke" walking trails. An example would be the Allegheny Passage; bicycle paths and picnic areas are greatly improved. In many locations signs and routes are easily discoverable and it is a smooth transition to get a hold of good information and keep it at hand. Dunbar has its own reconstructed coke oven for all to observe and admire. Look at some of the developments at West Overton Village. Connellsville has seen the return of the Canteen and railroad museum pieces to their proper place. That reminds me, these two wonderful places and projects will certainly garner a future post! Mount Pleasant has much going for it as well. The website alone of the Society at Bullskin has links to many interesting topics as the Ore Mines, old soldiers, lots of b & w photos, the list of township schools, churches and much more.Though we are hardly in a position to assess their historical society by any means, Scottdale, itself is, well, doing some kind of flower pot arrangements on Pittsburgh Street with brick paved walkways. I confess to being ignorant of the meaning, beyond beautifying the town and an immediate result is restrictive in the sense of a few less places to park a vehicle. So, maybe judgment should be reserved, at least for the time being. We can hope, folks. The historical society is quite partial to house tours, painting and the occasional geocache. There are likely constructive projects in other areas and they have a fairly decent Facebook page.

   These enhancements are only seen and earned through hard work and genuine effort, of which everyone that takes part should be proud. Accolades go to those that put in the extra time and there is an intrinsic trust of the newspapers that do their part in acknowledging them. So, I might add, shouldn't those less inclined to be informed, grab a moment to reminisce on their personal memory lane? If you visit the posts regularly, you probably knew that was coming!

    Preachiness does have its limits and much indeed has been accomplished. So, on the lighter side we have in our midst an impressive renewal of historical societies and organizations. Nobody knows our towns and villages as well as those that live there. Sometimes it seems so much of our cultures and communities are left in the unsure, and sometimes tainted hands of others with differing goals. Though shamefully, funds have been threatened to be "turned off" to many important places of great historical intrigue and import in our state in exchange for more government buildings, offices, raises and what not. Much of the slack is taken up by grassroots movements, charity and books and newsletters. Thankfully, there is the 'little 'guy'...and maybe more frequently, the 'little woman,' as well, and here's to them!

  Yes, it is to be admitted there are regions and cities more prominently displayed and economically sound that might give the onlooker an idea of a more pivotal standing in history than this article addresses, and sometimes, deservedly so. Such appearances do not by any means belie the only reality. The toll houses of Route 31 is a peculiar situation where someone 'out there' may well have photos with more detailed stories to relate, because, frankly the impoverishment has me stumped. The website could certainly use your input here, so, if possible, point in me in the right direction.
  We know the toll houses and gates were authorized to the states in 1831. There is a rather remote  chance a few were once rebuilt and renovated, but I doubt that. Near the southern Fayette area there are old descriptions and photos to still document their existence and to an extent in other regions of southwestern Pennsylvania, yet this is a case of those that appear lost to us and apparently forgotten and even unmourned. Some might say, 'well, they were just old buildings'. E gads.To this I would indeed ask, when should one actually mourn and grieve over such keen losses to our regional heritage? Here, I confess to doing just that in a whirl of frustration. (Do an advanced Google search and see what you find for yourselves!) The attachment of any blame clearly refers more to the larger county and state societies. That's the way I see things, anyway. Although these large establishments  share more responsibilities, there is usually better funding and recognition and so better capabilities and resources. Some can breathe a little easier after reading this, but should still be careful guardians of their own backyard treasures.

Brief Description of Historic Toll Houses

  The collection of tolls was discontinued in 1906. It is an interesting observation that many of the toll keepers were known to live at the gates, passing their years and siring children on the premises.

  For instance, in Greensburg, a city where one would consider they would be kept better record of, there were suppose to be five toll gates. Maybe three I have gotten wind of; one on East Pittsburgh St. east of Stark St; another was at the strange name of Mt. Odin Park on Toll Gate Hill Road near Rt. 30. Those from the region should probably recognize the reference. There was one near the northeast corner of the Courthouse. These were a part of the Greensburg-Pittsburgh Turnpike Road Co. and one off Rt. 30 to the west of McDonalds. Oddly enough, I notice some of the GPS coordinates from Wikipedia send me willy nilly to other locations. According to 'The History Of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Volume 1', on page 240, "The name turnpike, as applied to a road, originated from the fact that a pike or pole was placed across the road at a toll house, which prevented the traveler from passing until he paid his toll, when the pike or pole was turned around, and he was allowed to pass through."

   A Few Toll Houses In Pittsburgh

   The very first toll gate was said to be on Federal Street, another was a half mile east of Charles Street and one was past Jake Born's tavern centered at East Street. The famous Joe Keating Tavern was at West View, a popular rendezvous for passengers, sleigh parties and wagoners alike. Others were briefly stated as on the Allegheny and Franklin road, the Butler Plank Road of 1849. There were also tolls on Center Avenue and Brady Street. And then the Pittsburgh and Braddock's Field road came into being, the Temperanceville, Noblesville and Manchester roadways were made, and soon traversed. As many of them lost the toll privilege, things changed again. I don't have access to photos for these places, sorry about that.

Below you see the location of the quaint toll house above Mt. Pleasant.

Limited Information

    So far as I've been able to ascertain, very little information is available to historians or to the public, unless in some library on a musty shelf, rarely visited. Why is this, and just who and what is responsible for such a condition? Is it just the shedding of what was becoming old and rundown in years of progress? That might well be the situation. I will try to address this issue. Whatever the cause, sadly, we might be capable of doing little here to rectify it.

    Well, back when I wrote to the Westmoreland Historical Society, they were very cooperative as far as it goes. Their historian kindly informed me, though there may of been some write up in the past in a newsletter (?) I am welcome to  come up to search the library at Sand Hill, but they have no knowledge of any old photos. Some small good news mingled with the bad. I don't personally blame these people, yet it is a disappointing setback. In fact, they may not be aware of, or have no conception of where this material might be located, or even if it exists. Things do get lost and relegated. Ultimately, someone should take some responsibility. It may lie in the keeping of those that are no longer among us. As this post goes out to the public on the internet, I may be partly at fault as well for NOT discovering more, or maybe not digging deep enough.

   On top of this, I once saw info on the Laurelville toll gate, but, as of late, have not been successful in finding it. When, and if I do, I will be sure to swiftly slide it in as much needed corroboration.

   Journeying up and down the old Glade Pike, (basically, Route 31),  so frequently traveled to New Stanton and on to West Newton from the east and toward Donegal township and Somerset and Bedford counties from the west. There are still one, here or there, to be seen and appreciated, and that's fantastic that they have been preserved and restored.

    At these favored places, we can get a real old fashioned picture postcard. The careful jingling of the shillings or pennies, the impervious attitude of the toll keeper magnates in charge of halting the local traffic, the panorama of bellowing dusty cows and sheep, even turkeys and chickens; the wagon loads of goods and produce; the whinny of impatient horses. The rumbling, romantic stagecoaches of all types and the cowled dashing, long whipped driver and his yells and whistles, amid a constantly renewed day to day trample onward to and from those neighborhood farms and mills. Kids and families would of been closely recognized that were permitted entrance with no fuss or bother, as the law required. Then the welcome sight of the inn or tavern to which many travelers retired for well needed refreshment and sustenance on the long journeys, clearly marked and well known for their quality for miles around through local gossip. Addison, Searight's, these fabulous toll houses have been cared for for future generations to visit and wonder at the historical interest they justly deserve.

   As mentioned elsewhere, these little authoritative buildings shut down in the early 1900's, never to reopen. Of course, in a broader scope, the canals disappeared to the railroads and the toll roads gave way grudgingly and temporarily. The modern effects of the trailer trucks resulted in a usage for the toll roads of today. The same feeling could be evoked concerning those to the southeast of Westmoreland and Fayette Counties as I am to reference on an article about the National Road some day 'around the bend' and in the not too distant future. To be frank, the problem was in not having much of anything to work with for this article. Here along a large parcel of this road, among the grass and gravel, there is not even a hint of a beat up historical marker to remotely show to anyone these places existed at all. What a shame.

  SO, this is clearly a failure to be able to deliver the goods. Yes, I have discovered their basic whereabouts. In this there is small consolation since the maps are easily available. No, I have not located much else to, in any meaningful way, share a good description of their specific historical underpinnings.

 Other References to Toll Houses

  One point of interest comes from the DAR. At this site you see the story and old photos of the Fort Pitt blockhouse. This would be from The Fort Pitt Society of the Pittsburgh Chapter. Though many are aware of this organization, fine tuned toward historic preservation, restoration and educating others for 120 years, with great archives of pivotal American material, I would also direct you to the National Society of the Sons Of The Revolution, descendants of the male line and the requirements of membership, also referring here to the honorable purposes of the Pennsylvania Chapter.  I am slowly approaching the process of pursuing this line of genealogical recognition when time permits.I will keep FWFH, (Fayete/Westmoreland Forgotten History), informed.

Now I do want to point out something about one of the websites connected with the Great Crossings Chapter of the DAR in our region who were responsible for restoring the Addison toll house in Petersburg, which began in 1835. The Iron Toll Gate was made by William Hatfield of Brownsville in 1836. The restoration was done in 1997.

  Apparently, when they innocently list the toll houses and title this as "The Pennsylvania Toll Houses Were:" well, let's say it is a bit deceptive, in the sense this only includes those that were on the National Road, which I do plan to document further in the near future, rest assured. What of the toll houses of the Glade Pike? Are these not surely "Pennsylvania toll houses" as well? Certainly. You tell me what is wrong with this picture. It should be obvious. One would do well to advice specificity guidelines with a proper explanation of region as more helpful, and this would keep those like myself from avoiding unnecessary searches with many of the same results. Otherwise, with the research and restorations, they can hardly be faulted, but, instead are to be congratulated.

   To enumerate, they list Addison, Mt. Washington Tavern, Searight, Bealsville, near Washington, and the one near West Alexander. That is all from the website of the DAR chapter. They do a good service with listing the usage, prices and toll keepers. For instance, you see sheep and hogs at 10 cents each and a coach or chaise with 2 horses and 4 wheels up to 12 cents. Exciting that people kept track of this info. A refusal to pay was the whopping amount of $3.00! That could really break someone, (if they had access to those finances at all). The earliest mentioned is William Condon for 1840. What are we to make of the lack of available material for this region in Westmoreland County? All I can conclude is the fact the National Road grew in popularity and the Pike may of been traveled less frequently, thus the lack of acknowledgement. This is pure speculation on my part.

  Basic Locations

   So these three toll houses once existed on this stretch of a once greatly acclaimed roadway. In general, many of these were removed, or occasionally turned into houses, rarely there was a restoration as far as can be assessed. Most were simply tore down after languishing as an eyesore, probably standing awkwardly in the way of industry and progress in the late nineteenth century to the teens or 1920's of the last century as the trains whizzed past, soon to be replaced for shoppers and visitors, by the trolleys and street cars, and finally, the automobile. You might suppose this was then somewhat more understandable, that these historical buildings had seen their usage and were found wanting as many were given over to another purpose or derelict, abandoned or just plain unwanted and unneeded any longer. Well, there should a limit on how much one can be expected to have a philosophical outlook toward the value of your own history.

  In Laurelville, Pa, the Glade Road led east to the Plank Pike of the Somerset and Mt. Pleasant Road, (or maybe the other way around), said to be one of the finest roads in the whole country.

  Here is a photo of an original piece of old road, much more than a trace or any scar, southeast of Mt. Pleasant near Laurelville and north of Cherry's Mill of what became Route 31:

a glimpse of the original Route 31 Glade Pike Road

   As near as can be ascertained, this toll house was on Rt. 31 close to the bottom of the Three Mile Hill which heads toward Donegal. Possibly, the early location was slightly farther uphill than the place projected here, as I only have a rough estimation. In the environs of Laurelville, on the outskirts of Mount Pleasant and Bullskin Townships, lies a conspicuous intersection by the old feed mill. Technically, I am  unsure if this did not have a somewhat different position. Regardless, this is a reasonable candidate for the vicinity of the old toll house just to the east of the old mill places on Jacob's Creek. In its favor, you can clearly see the closeness of the road between the buildings here on old Route 982 where it may have once been:

The rear of buildings at Laurelville, on the remnant of Old Route 982.
Coordinates, 40.143440, -79.483509

Lobingier's, or Cherry's Mills Toll House on Barker's Westmoreland County Map

On Route 31 at the overpass of Route 119 northwest of Mt. Pleasant, was a quite prominent toll house:

Possible location of the Mt. Pleasant toll house
GPS coordinates are 40.154732, -79.564779

another view of a projected location of
the Mount Pleasant toll house to the south of Rt 31
Route 31 toward the 119 overpass and Mt. Pleasant

Roughly about 5 miles away at Ruffsdale,  close to the old Market area and Post Office, another toll house appears to of been placed right past the little stream called Buffalo Run near the treeline on the next photo:

Probable area of the Ruffsdale Toll House
GPS coordinates approximately 40.171761, -79.608228

  A few sentences and occasional anecdotes are sometimes related off hand in old articles or regional books. Such mentions appear inclined to give a high profile to some prominent person or family in the community of the past, and their industrial, financial standing, religious persuasion and political affiliations as all important at the time. Of course, this is natural to some degree, not only were they always, 'steady and forthright', an absolutely required position to be touted, even for bankers, many times including the amount of children, their grandparents and whether they were masons or Methodists! But, not necessarily the exact location where they resided or the local school they attended. Rarely, does it appear to of been fashionable to be at all considerate, or far sighted enough, to keep a record of many of the old school houses, taverns, wagon stands, stage coaching places, or these toll gates and houses.

  Another area with more information yet available are those railroad stations that lined the little hamlets and groups of town and city tracks, and the rail yards remembered by many today. This is more true of the railroads themselves, and are fairly represented by some well researched websites and books, well beyond the research of this post. The railroads experienced such amazing booms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is difficult for us to conceive of it. By the way, the stations themselves are not properly signed or well known either. Nope. Many people, is spite of much enthusiasm, have hardly a clue where the old stations were with the exception of some of the larger ones, a handful of which are still in existence.

  Back to our subject matter. The toll houses all saw the life blood of the people passing through every day...from cattle drives and wagon trains, to those same prominent citizens passing through to stump somewhere on a soap box, parade or banquet, to the normal flow of travelers and visitors from one place to another. Easily taken for granted and naturally neglected through time in various places in these southwestern counties and townships. That is particularly and oddly apparent if one just does a search. Left to the local hamlet alone in a bit of gossip and stray tradition, and just possibly to be found in a dusty newspaper archive or a library somewhere. Otherwise, zilch.

Old Toll Gate in Ruffsdale past 117 on Rt. 31
with No. 5 schoolhouse to the side

   Above is a small portion of East Huntingdon township on Route 31, from the 1867 Beers Westmoreland Atlas marked with the toll house of  Ruffsdale clearly noted. Does anyone recall the schoolhouse shown next to it? I don't suppose it would pay to make the inquiry if anyone remembers the toll house. Unfortunately, this is the lone reference.

   In "The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Volumes 1-3" of 1918, courtesy of Google Books, is an excellent start for material bringing good descriptions of how the tiny, powerful toll houses operated and worth checking out. The toll houses on the National Road can be searched as to the prices for how many horses or oxen, and some record of who worked them is available. These were very important landmarks in the 19th century and saw tons of activity. Please to the powers that be, consider the efficiency of those dated places which our trade and commerce depended so highly upon. These are marvelous links to our past. Not to be too harsh or judgmental, but really folks, from this latter day vantage point, the result of this situation over years and decades seems nothing less than deplorable and inexcusable.  The sight of our modern tolls on the Interstate and U. S. routes surely are less attractive and meaningful, only unless you are desperately searching for the right directional lane on a busy day!

   Mapped below is the marked area of the Ruffsdale toll house from an 1858 map:

East Huntingdon Map of 1857 showing Ruffsdale Toll House

   We have an unusual reference in the 'Biographical and Cyclopedia of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania' in a rare mention of the accomplishment of one of the 'fairer sex', by John F. Grisham on page 300, to a "rather remarkable woman", Mrs. Elizabeth Mellender-"...She was left at fifteen years of age without a home; she began earning a livelihood by sewing and spinning by the week at Mount Pleasant and afterwards worked for some time at Greensburg. By economy, when soon accumulated sufficient money to purchase a farm of one hundred acres at the foot of Chestnut Ridge, for which she paid $500. After living on it for several years, she, on April 1, 1848, moved to the Mount Pleasant toll-gate and became tollkeeper on the turnpike, and afterwards at the bridge across the Youghiogheny river at West Newton from October 1, 1862, to 1884." She was indeed remarkable and gained a living worth $20,000, in those days a huge sum, and even built a parsonage!

 Small Editorial

   This lack of serious attention might be considered all the more unfortunate and disarming, even as much of the time the historical societies feel the intent need to be more often involved with fundraising, membership drives, costumes, tickets and bake sales, however practical and useful. It may appear a cruel endeavor to pass criticism toward this loss and apparent neglect to some extent, as those things, though necessary, do help maintain a proper function in the scheme of various needs of the community. Yet, we should face the truth in this situation that a problem still exists and may be compounded, if much of the 'meat' of our history gets slowly, steadily, pushed aside in the bustle of our times for the 'milk' and those of milder presumptions or delicate, refined dispositions. Not having the time or inclination to search out these pivotal and meaningful places for the benefit of those that still retain some tradition or memory is not an all encompassing excuse. Let's hope research can shine stronger light on the lost toll houses some better day for those younger and impressionable ones we hold dear that would latch on to a slice of the past over our upcoming generations.

   As always, if errors appear, or adjustments should be made, please be so helpful as to point these out with evidence or verification and they will be promptly corrected as much as is possible.

   In this excursion to these old places of great activity, there is a feeling of a small, but substantial piece of the puzzle to a better understanding of this region and one key aspect of our heritage. I enjoyed taking the photos in better weather. Thanks for being an integral part of the website, see you for the next post!

    ~  Histbuffer

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