"National Road 200th Anniversary"
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Abel Colley Tavern and Museum
The Searights Tollhouse opened in 1835 and was built because of the National Road. This was the first road built entirely by the Federal government and was commissioned by Congress in 1806, under the administration of Thomas Jefferson, with large support from the Secretary of Treasury, Albert Gallatin and Statesman Henry Clay. The tollhouse is situated at Mile Marker 68 at 7328 National Pike East.
The road started in Cumberland, Maryland in 1811 and was completed to Wheeling, VA, which is now West Virginia, in 1818. To build the road, hills were leveled and huge stones hauled away, trees toppled, underbrush cut back, stumps pulled, and roots grubbed out to make a clearing 66 feet wide. Ditches and culverts were also excavated along the sides of the road for water drainage. The road was covered with measured stones, then covered with sand and gravel.
This road was very important in the development of the United States and was called the National Road and the Cumberland Road, but more affectionately known as the Old Pike. The cost of the road was over $13,000 a mile.
As soon as it was opened a tremendous amount of traffic started to travel the road. Twenty four coaches could be seen at one time, including huge canvas covered freight wagons with large broad wheels which were pulled by six Conestoga horses, which were visible all-day and even into late evening. Drovers with thousand of animals were pushed along on way to market. It was said “looks more like a leading avenue of a great city than a road through a rural countryside.”
With all this traffic and no maintenance, the road began to fall apart. The Federal government, seeing the problem and wanting out of the road business did it over again in the Macadam System of road building. John MacAdam came from Scotland and all the roads in England were built in this fashion. The roadbed was raised above ground level to allow for drainage and to slow erosion. Several layers of crushed stone were laid and compacted by the traffic that rolled over it, creating a solid surface.
Once the road was in good condition it was given to the individual states – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. These states were so proud of their newly refurbished road they placed iron obelisk markers every mile of the road from Cumberland to Wheeling.
The road necessitated the building of tollhouses to collect fees for the upkeep of the road. Tollhouses were every 15 miles, with two in Maryland and six in Pennsylvania and along the road in Virginia. Most of them were made from bricks, but two were of native cut stone. The Petersburg Tollhouse, also known as Gate Number One in Addison, Pennsylvania was built of stone. It was the first Toll Gate after crossing the Maryland Line into Pennsylvania. The second was the tollhouse located near Fort Necessity, which is no longer standing.
The Searights Tollhouse, also called Gate Number Three, was named for William Searight, a prominent Fayette County resident who was the commissioner of the National Road in Pennsylvania from 1842 to 1845. Searight was later the commissioner of the National Road as well, but only in Fayette County.
The tollhouses were built with a room above the main room of the building that was used as a bedroom. At one time, the toll keeper for the Petersburg Tollhouse had 2 adults and 13 childrenusing the one bedroom. A very crowded area, but the toll keeper could get a good view of the road and on coming trafic.
Three of the tollhouses are still in existence, our Searights Tollhouse, Addison Tollhouse, and the tollhouse located in LaValle, west of Cumberland, MD.
Great iron gates attached to tall iron obelisk posts were hung at the tollhouses to collect fees for the maintenance of the National Road.These gates were made by William Hatefield, a blacksmith by trade. He served many years as a Justice of the Peace and subsequent to 1855 served a term as Associate Judge.
The name turnpike comes from a large pole or pike across the road to stop traffic. As fees were paid, the pike was turned to allow travelers to go through – thus, “turnpike”. If enterprising young people of the National Road, called Pike Boys or others went around the pike, they were known as “pikers”, for they were too cheap to pay the toll.
There is a very interesting story about William Hatfield in a book by Thomas B. Searights of the same family of the tollhouse. The book was written in 1894 about the National Road. Everything and anything you want to know about the National Road is included in this book. The book is called The Old Pike, A History of the National Road, With Incidents,Accidents, and Anecdotes Thereon, and is currently in reprint.
Accordingly to Searights’ book there were 294 taverns in a 300 mile span from Baltimore to Wheeling. Taverns were like today’s hotels and motels, from the Hilton to Motel 6, they catered to the very rich and to the very poor. The social standing of the travelers led to a distinction among the taverns. Different classes of people traveled and there was a tavern to fit all needs.
The first type and highest in social standing was the stagecoach tavern catering to the Carriage Trade. Here the traveler could eat, sleep, and drink. These taverns were usually imposing stone or brick buildings. Nearby were large stabling facilities since the stage horses were changed several times a day and teams had to be ready each day.
The next type of tavern accommodated the Wagoners, who usually carried their bedding with them and often slept on the tap-room floor. These wagon stands needed large yards for these enormous wagons. The Conestoga wagon, which is built like a ship, was a common sight to the National Road. They hauled manufactured goods from the cities on the Atlantic seaboard to towns and business in the west. These freighters, the 18-wheeler of that time, returned to the east with materials from farms, and products from the mines to keep factories in operation.
Drover stands were for the men who herded sheep, hogs, some horses and cattle to market. You could see 2,000 to 3,000 animals being moved along the National Pike. The places they stayed had large enclosed pens for the livestock to be turned into each night. Hopefully this would prevent them from wandering off, or being killed by larger animals, or not be stolen by rustlers.
Travelers also journeyed by horseback. People were moving west and any shanty or shed that accommodated travelers overnight were included in the count of Searights’ book “The Old Pike”. As you travel Route 40 today there are many of these commodious stage coach taverns still standing.
Comments of the National Road “ the rougher the road and the faster the schedule, the worse the ride.” Passengers in a stage coach would travel 60 to 70 miles a day stopping every 10 to 15 miles for a team of fresh horses. The carriage had steel tires, no springs and seats of hard boards, holding up to six to nine passengers. If the coach was full it would be a better ride.
History of the County
Fayette County, carved from Westmoreland County in 1783, was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero who aided the American colonists in their fight for freedom from England. Early exploration and mapping of the rich forests and fertile valleys of this region was done by Thomas Cresap and Christopher Gist in 1750-51 working with the native Americans . Gist built his home on a large tract of land known as Gist Plantation, near the current site of the Isaac Meason House, a National Historic Landmark near Mt. Braddock. He joined Wendell Brown and sons who had earlier settled in the western part of the county . Gist left the area with George Washington after the defeat at Fort Necessity, but his son Thomas Gist returned and reclaimed their property after the end of the French and Indian War. Other early settlers were Col. William Crawford, also a friend of Washington's, who came to the area in 1765 and built a log cabin where Braddock Road crossed the Youghiogheny River, near Connellsville.