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My Interview With Susan Ouellette

Posted by on Sep 17th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Susan Ouellette is the author of the thriller The Wayward Spy. I don’t usually read thrillers, but this one really kept me turning pages, and I can hardly wait for the second in her three-book series, The Wayward Assassin (coming from CamCat Books in March 2022). Here’s my interview with Susan.

How does she know so much about the CIA?

Kathy: Back in the 1990s, you worked as an intelligence analyst for the CIA. Can you tell us a little about what that was like? Was it as glamorous as it sounds?

Susan: I remember my first day of work at the CIA like it was yesterday. The first time my supervisor handed me documents stamped TOP SECRET, I had to suppress a gasp. So exciting! Some of the glamor wore off as I grew accustomed to reading intelligence reports, but every day held the possibility of learning something new and interesting. And I was there at a great time – as the Soviet Union was collapsing. It was like having a front row seat to history.

Kathy: Any interesting stories you can share from your time with the CIA?

Susan: When the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev happened in 1991, I worked on a 24/7 task force set up to monitor and analyze this very volatile situation. So there I was, a rookie analyst, working the overnight shift when the phone rang at 5 am. No one else was around, so I answered. It was the CIA Director calling to get an update on overnight developments. I just about fainted, but apparently did a good job briefing him because I didn’t get fired.

I also wrote a piece for the President’s Daily Brief about a situation involving a potential outbreak of hostilities in the former Soviet Union. My analysis went to the President and turned out to be spot on. That was thrilling. My third story is quite sad. I was out of the office the day Harrison Ford visited CIA headquarters. I missed Harrison Ford? I’m still not over it! 

Kathy: I love Harrison Ford, too. The kids and I tease my husband that he looks like Indiana Jones when he wears his leather jacket and fedora.

What made you choose the former Soviet state of Georgia as part of the setting for The Wayward Spy? Have you ever been there?

Susan: During my time at the CIA, Georgia was one of the Soviet republics (turned independent country) that I followed closely. Sandwiched between two worlds – the Russian behemoth to the north and Turkey and other Islamic countries to the south and east – Georgia is a country with a complex, rich history and culture. I have not been there, but it is on my bucket list.

Kathy: The Wayward Spy takes place in 2003. In your opinion, has the threat of a terrorist attack in the United State decreased, increased or stayed about the same since then? How would you say the threat has changed?

Susan: Up until the recent events in Afghanistan, I would have said that the threat of an organized terrorist attack (i.e., a non-lone wolf attack) on U.S. soil had diminished significantly. Now, with U.S. and allied military and intelligence assets out of Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and ISIS will have the latitude and luxury to train, organize, and grow (despite whatever rivalries and hatred exist among and between them and the Taliban). I’m afraid the threat of a major terrorist attack has increased significantly in recent months.

Kathy: Not exactly what I was hoping to hear…

And what does Susan read?

Kathy: What kind of books do you like to read?

Susan: I love spy thrillers, which I suppose is no surprise. I love time travel/parallel universe stories because I find it endlessly fascinating to think about how every decision we make has the potential to alter the trajectory of our lives. I also enjoy World War II fiction, particularly stories with characters living under Nazi occupation. As for non-fiction, I love Cold War spy books. The Spy and the Traitor (Ben Macintyre) is a must-read for any student of 20th century history.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite author? What do you like about that author?

Susan: This is such a difficult question. I enjoy so many thriller authors. Robert Littell, Nelson DeMille, Daniel Silva. And more. Their stories grab the reader and don’t let go. The best book I’ve read lately is A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles). It’s a beautifully written story about a Russian aristocrat whose life is smothered by the growing oppression of the Soviet state.

Kathy: I loved A Gentleman in Moscow, too.

What were your favorite books as a child? How did they influence you?

Susan: Nancy Drew! I loved how Nancy used her wits to solve every mystery thrown her way. She made me want to be a detective. That was my childhood plan – become Nancy Drew. Then I learned about the CIA and the KGB and decided that being a detective would pale in comparison to being a spy.

Her writing process

Kathy: I noticed in your dedication to The Wayward Spy that you had set the book aside for a while. Why did you do that? And what inspired you to dust it off and get back to work on it?

Susan: The Wayward Spy had several close brushes with publication many years back. When those didn’t pan out, I gave up on trying to get published for a long time. I had a young family and a job, so I focused my attention on them. But I never lost the desire to get the manuscript published. Fast forward many years, and I found myself at a writing workshop where several people took interest in the story. After much gentle persuasion, I decided it was worth one final try at publication.

Kathy: Once you got back to work on The Wayward Spy, did you work with a development editor? If yes, how did that help you?

Susan: Yes. At the aforementioned writing workshop, I met Elaine Ash, an author and freelance editor. She convinced me to send her the manuscript and we began to work together to rewrite the novel. She helped me untangle the essential threads of the story, which I had greatly overcomplicated. The plot was in there, but we had to detangle it and let it shine.

Kathy: Can you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Do you always know how the book is going to end?

Susan: I did not write from an outline for either The Wayward Spy or The Wayward Assassin (coming March 2022). With both stories, I knew the beginning and the end but not much in between. I am about to begin writing the third story in “The Wayward” series, and this time around, I plan to plot the story before I begin writing. My goal is to simplify the developmental editing process that comes after the draft manuscript is done. I have learned a lot from revising the first two books. It’s time I apply that knowledge to the first draft of my next book.

Kathy: How long does a first draft take you to write? How many edits do you usually do before you feel your book is ready to be submitted?

Susan: It took me about a year to write a first draft for both books. I wrote both while working and raising little ones so I only wrote about ten hours a week. I’m hoping to write a first draft of the next book in about six months. (I may fail miserably.) I plan to do a couple of edits before submitting the third story to my editor.

Kathy: It took me longer to find a publisher for The Saint’s Mistress than it did to write the book. How long did it take you to find a publisher for The Wayward Spy?

Susan: After working with the freelance developmental editor, it took about a year for me to sign with CamCat Books.

Kathy: What have you done to market The Wayward Spy? Have you found any marketing strategies to be particularly effective?

Susan: As a new author, I’ve discovered that there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to effective marketing. I’m definitely still learning and experimenting with different marketing avenues. I have blogged on my own website (susanouellette.com), done blog interviews with other authors, run a Facebook ad campaign, run several book give-away contests, and done several interviews with local media.

Kathy: Did you learn anything about yourself from writing your books?

Susan: This may sound trite, but I’ve learned not to quit. Although I put writing on hold for years, deep down, I never really gave up on getting published.

Oh, and what about those chickens?

Kathy: I see from your personal Facebook page that you raise chickens. How did you start that? What is the best part of raising chickens? What is the worst?

Susan: One of my favorite subjects! Five years ago, we moved from a home on a quarter acre lot to a small farm. We knew nothing about farming, so we decided to start with chickens (thank goodness for the internet!). The best part of raising chickens, aside from the fresh eggs, is watching them interact with each other. They have distinct personalities, moods, and quirks. I find them quite hilarious – the more dramatic they are, the better. The worst thing about chickens is their bathroom habits. Not the most sanitary beasts.

Kathy: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise readers.

Susan: I almost caused a full-blown national security incident on Capitol Hill. Accidentally, of course. I can’t provide details because I plan to weave this story into one of my future novels.

Kathy: The Wayward Spy ends on a real cliffhanger. Can you give us a few teasers about what happens in the second novel in the trilogy, The Wayward Assassin?

Susan: The Wayward Assassin begins about ten months after Maggie leaves us all hanging at the end of The Wayward Spy. In the sequel, Maggie is engaged in a furious pursuit of….someone…in order to prevent…something. I dare not say more. There are several characters who appear in both stories and some fresh faces to keep things interesting. It’s very fast paced. With any luck, this story will keep reader up reading late into the night!

Where to learn more about Susan Ouellette

Kathy: Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

Susan: Please check out my website at www.susanouellette.com. I also can be found on these sites:

fb.me/SusanOuelletteAuthor

https://twitter.com/smobooks

https://www.instagram.com/susanobooks/

https://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomsusan_ouellette

Sto-Rox Library Indie Book Author Expo

Posted by on Sep 2nd, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

I love meeting and talking to readers, especially those who have read The Saint’s Mistress. But, almost as much, I love meeting and talking to other authors. Saturday’s Sto-Rox Library Indie Book Author Expo gave me the opportunity to do both.

My family has deep roots in McKees Rocks and I lived there for the first three years of my life, so I have a sentimental attachment to the community. The Rocks has suffered hard times for the last few decades, and you’d think that the library would reflect that. You would be wrong.

The Sto-Rox Library is a vibrant community center. The library itself is fairly small, but it’s bright and attractive and the collection reflects the community’s diversity. There’s a café in the back, a cozy children’s room, and a modern theater. Maker spaces populate the basement. The library has received grants that allow them to provide short-term scholarships for makers, paying a stipend and providing materials.

The library is sponsored by Focus on Renewal, a local social service organization founded in 1969. FOR also sponsors a food bank, a community resource center and parenting programs.

Literacy Nation and UrbanKind partnered with the library to provide a full-day forum for indie authors (self-published or published by small presses) to share our work. The creativity and passion of the other authors I met was so inspiring that I want to share some of them with you.

Meet Some of the Authors

Rachel Vinciguerra has written two children’s books. Her most recent is Mary Canary and the Worried Feeling. It makes a story out of the old custom of keeping a canary in a coal mine as an early warning of bad air. In Rachel’s story, Mary is a sensitive, anxious canary in a forest. Mary smells smoke and feels warm, warning signs of a fire. Her sensitivity saves the other animals in the forest. Rachel was a sensitive child herself, and wrote the book to help children like her understand that sensitivity can be a super-power. I wish I’d had this book when I was raising an anxious, sensitive daughter of my own.

Stacy Wilson has written several books of poetry to encourage Black men and women to value themselves. The proceeds of Stacy’s book sales go to two charities that she and her husband created to mentor and empower Black men and women.

Dr. Elizabeth Carter is a leadership coach and author. Her immigrant father had a remarkable career as an educator, consistently breaking barriers, and Dr. Carter persuaded him to write first his life story and then a follow-up autobiography of his volunteer activism after retirement.

Meet Some More Authors

E Davis (pictured with me at the top of this post) is the author of eight works of fiction. Her frustration when seeking a publisher for her first book led her to create her own publishing company, Writers Block Publishing.

Phyllis Leyden-Alexander has written Different But the Same: Adventures in Noahland, about her grandson, Noah. Noah was born prematurely and has multiple disabilities. Now twelve, Noah is determined to live a full life, and his mom is equally determined to make that happen for him. Phyllis’s book recounts some of Noah’s amazing adventures, including participation in a 100-mile bike race, via a cart attached to a bike.

But the absolute standout of the day was seven-year-old author Ka’Maya Shanelle. Ka’Maya’s mom, Shana, is a motivational speaker and author, and has encouraged Ka’Maya to practice affirmations daily almost since she could speak. When Ka’Maya said she wanted to be an author like mom, Shana took her seriously. The result was Ka’Maya’s coloring book I Love Myself: A Coloring and Activity Book with Self-Love Affirmations. You’ve got to meet Ka’Maya to believe her. She is the most self-possessed seven-year-old I have ever met. Mom Shana Danielle is the author of the poetry collection Rise and a wonderful guided journal entitled Rising to Purpose.

The Great Commoner: William Pitt

Posted by on Aug 21st, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

He was called The Great Commoner but ended life a Lord. HIs government positions ranged from a cornet in the Army to Lord Privy Seal to Prime Minister to Groom of the Bedchamber (not as sexy as it sounds). He suffered from severe gout starting at a very early age. And the greatest city in the world  — OK, in the United States; oh, all right, the greatest city in Appalachia – bears his name. I’m talking about William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham.

The Pitt family

The origin of the Pitt family fortune comes from a gigantic diamond discovered by Pitt’s grandfather Thomas Pitt while he was governor of Madras in India. Thomas Pitt sold the diamond to the Duke of Orleans for the equivalent in 2021 USD of more than twelve million dollars. More than enough to put his son Robert in Parliament as a Tory MP from 1705 until 1727.

William Pitt was Robert’s second son. That meant that his older brother, another Thomas, inherited the Pitt estate. William had to do what most younger sons did in eighteenth-century Great Britain: serve in the church or the army. Pitt chose the army, obtaining a cornet’s commission in the King’s Own Regiment of the Horse. But he never saw battle or left Great Britain. Bored, he ran for Parliament and was seated in 1735, though still an army officer.

The Great Commoner as a young Patriot

Although his father had been a Tory, Pitt joined a Whig faction called the Patriots. They were critical of Prime Minister Walpole’s government. In particular, they were eager for glory and thought Great Britain should enter the War of Polish Succession. Ever hear of that war? Me neither, until exactly today. That should tell you how little it was worth the loss of British lives and treasure.

In my opinion, Walpole had the better position when he said “There are fifty thousand men slain in Europe this year, and not one Englishman.” By staying out of war, Walpole also managed to reduce both taxes and the national debt.

The Patriots did badger the government into a mini-war with Spain in the late 1730s. They were incensed that, when the Spanish caught British smugglers, they treated them badly. That war did not go well for Great Britain and was more or less abandoned. So, our friend Pitt was wrong about a lot of things early in life, as so many of us are.

Pitt’s political rise

Through his friend the Prince of Wales (the future George III), Pitt gained the positions of Vice Treasurer of Ireland and Paymaster General in 1846. Here, he performed exceptionally well. It was common for men in the paymaster role to skim off a commission for themselves in addition to their salary. Pitt refused to do that. His honesty earned him the love and respect of the common people of Britain, and his nickname The Great Commoner.

Pitt had his political ups and downs for the next decade or so. But, by 1757, he was Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons. He again proved his worth by revamping the British strategy in the Seven Years War. Under Pitt’s guidance, Great Britain allied itself with Frederick II of Prussia. Frederick’s little Prussian force managed to keep French forces pinned down in Europe. That gave Great Britain the freedom to successfully attack the French elsewhere in the world: West Africa, the Caribbean, North America. The British gained Pittsburgh, Guadeloupe and Quebec in 1758 and 1759. With their victory in Montreal in 1761, the war was essentially over. Pitt claimed to have “won Canada on the banks of the Rhine.”

Pitt and the Americans

But success came at a price. The war was costly for Great Britain. As every American school child knows, the British attempted to tax first stamps and then tea, to pay for their expensive North American victory. The American colonists, of course, objected violently. Pitt was an ally to the colonists, arguing in Parliament against the stamp and tea taxes. Later, as the War for Independence loomed, he tried unsuccessfully to convince Parliament to make concessions to the rebellious Americans and correctly warned that the colonies could not be held by force.

Pitt and Pittsburgh

William Pitt the Elder died at age 69 on May 11, 1778. His legacies were his status as one of Great Britain’s most highly-regarded statesmen; his son, William Pitt the Younger, who became Britain’s youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at age 24; and, of course, the city that bears his name.

Following his victory at the Forks of the Ohio River in November of 1758, General John Forbes wrote in a letter to Pitt dated November 27, 1758, “Sir, I do the honour of acquainting you that it has pleased God to crown His Majesty’s Arms with Success over all His Enemies upon the Ohio…I have used the freedom of giving your name to Fort Du Quesne as I hope it was in some measure the being actuated by your spirits that now makes us Masters of the place.”

When the city of Pittsburgh was officially chartered in 1816, it adopted a seal based on the Pitt coat of arms. The original seal was lost in the 1845 fire and had to be recreated from memory. The three gold coins, called bezants, are loosely based on Byzantine coins, and symbolize honesty. The blue and white checks are the Pitt family livery colors. The Castle simply symbolizes a city. Pitt’s city.

Sources

Lorant, Stefan. Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City. Lenox, MA: Authors Edition, Inc., 1988.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Pitt,_1st_Earl_of_Chatham

https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1182.html

Fort Ligonier

Posted by on Aug 6th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

George Washington started it.

Beginning with Washington’s disastrous, accidental skirmish at Jumonville Glen, about fifty miles from Pittsburgh, the Seven Years War turned into a world-wide battle that built and broke empires. By the end of the war, Prussia had barely survived and Great Britain dominated India, North America and the West African slave trade. France was on the road to revolution and Spain on its way to irrelevance.

Last week, Al and I visited an important Seven Years War site: Fort Ligonier, in Ligonier, PA.

The war didn’t begin well for the British in North America. The 1755 Braddock expedition towards present-day Pittsburgh ended in the death of General Braddock and a disorderly retreat (read my short story about the Braddock expedition HERE). But, by 1758, the British prepared to once again try to gain possession of the headwaters of the Ohio River. They learned from the catastrophic Braddock expedition that they would need a supply depot and a point of refuge in case their new effort also ended badly. In short, they needed a fort.

Construction of Fort Ligonier

The only British forts between Carlisle and present-day Pittsburgh were Forts Loudoun, Lyttleton and Bedford, all too small and too far from the forks of the Ohio to suit British purposes. The British placed General John Forbes, a Scotsman, in charge of this latest attempt to dominate the interior of the great North American continent.

He chose as the site for his new fort a rise fifty feet above Loyalhanna Creek, halfway between Bedford and Pittsburgh. He named it Fort Ligonier, in honor of his superior, Sir John Ligonier. Ligonier, a Huguenot refugee, had risen through the British military ranks to become the overall commander of the British army.

Forbes was determined to succeed where Braddock had failed, in dislodging the French from the forks of the Ohio. In early September of 1758, 1500 men began construction of Fort Ligonier under the management of Major James Grant, Ensign Charles Rohr and Colonel James Burd.

The French Defeated

Of course, the French knew the British were coming. On October 12, they sent a party to attack Fort Ligonier while it was still under construction. By that time, 6000 British and colonial troops manned the fort – making Ligonier briefly the largest community in Pennsylvania after Philadelphia –  and they easily defeated the French.

The French suffered other blows in October of 1758. That same month, Forbes sent Colonel Henry Bouquet, along with George Croghan and a contingent of colonials, to a peace conference with France’s Indian allies. The result of the Easton Conference was a treaty between Great Britain and the Iroquois, Lenape, Mingo and Shawnee peoples. The Indians would abandon their alliance with the French if and the British promised to prevent white settlement west of the Alleghenies. We see how well that second part worked out, since I am writing this from the suburbs of Pittsburgh.

The French understood that they could not hold Fort Duquesne against Forbes’ force, especially without their Indian allies. The Forbes expedition set off from Fort Ligonier on November 15, 1758, with no tents and limited supplies, intending to move fast. On November 25, they arrived to find that the French had blown up and mined the fort, and then abandoned it. The future site of Pittsburgh, and the gateway to the vast North American interior, was theirs.

Decline and rebirth of the fort

Fort Ligonier served as a refuge for white settlers fleeing their homes during Pontiac’s rebellion in 1763. But, by 1766, it no longer had a purposes and Arthur St. Clair was appointed civilian caretaker. The fort slowly fell into ruin. In 1794, James Ramsey bought large tracts of the land originally owned by St. Clair. His son, John Ramsey inherited the land and in 1817 laid out the town he named Ramseyville. The town changed its name to Wellington not much later, and finally to Ligonier.

In the nineteenth century, Ligonier was known for agriculture, coal, stone and lumber. By the early twentieth century, interest in the historical fort began to grow. In 1927, John Jacob Hughes purchased the former site of the fort and presented it as a gift to the local Daughters of the American Revolution.

The DAR erected a monument at the site of the fort in 1934, and by 1946 a Fort Ligonier Memorial Foundation came into being to explore a reconstruction. The reconstructed fort opened in 1954, almost exactly 200 years after Forbes first conceived of a supply depot above the Loyalhanna.

Our visit to Fort Ligonier

Al and I had a wonderful time visiting the fort. The reconstruction is meticulous, and the museum has much improved and expanded since our last visit several years ago.  The museum features what my husband tells me is an excellent miniature model of the fort, as well as a reconstruction of St. Clair’s parlor. The historical exhibits on the two galleries are very informative from both the micro view of the Forbes expedition and the macro view of the Seven Years War. Don’t miss George Washington’s pistols, a recent museum acquisition.

We had a delicious lunch at Carol & Dave’s Roadhouse in downtown Ligonier (think before your order wine; their pours are very generous!). And then we enjoyed the shops in Ligonier’s shopping district. Al loved the Toy Soldier Gallery. I bought some fancy loose tea at Crumpets Tea Shop (they made a blend just for me!), and started my Christmas shopping at My Honeybee. I’m old enough to be pretty jaded by gift shops, but My Honeybee was definitely special. The clerks in both shops were super-friendly. Ligonier benefits from their proximity to a Mellon estate. The shops are high-end but not overly pricey and there’s not a chain store to be found. This trip was so worth the 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh!

Here’s a sampling of our photos of taken at the fort.

Coming up…

The trip to Ligonier made me curious about so many people who were part of the Forbes Expedition. Was the Pittsburgh suburb of Upper Saint Clair named after John or Arthur St. Clair? Why? How did George Washington get in trouble again at Loyalhanna Creek? And why is Pittsburgh’s Grant Street named after Major James Grant? These questions and more will be answered in future posts. Also, this fall Al and I will be travelling the final sections of the National Road in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Stay tuned!

Sources

Lorant, Stefan. Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City. Lenox, Massachusetts: Authors Edition, Inc., 1988.

Stotz, Charles Morse. “The Reconstruction of Fort Ligonier: The Anatomy of a Frontier Fort.” Bulletin of the Association For Preservation Architecture, Vol. VI, No. 4 (1974), 2-103

https://forbesroadbook.com/historical-context/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbes_Expedition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Years%27_War

The National Road in West Virginia

Posted by on Jul 16th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

One of the most delightful aspects of the drives that Al and I take for my blog posts is meeting people who love their home town and are eager to talk about it. We’ve met that kind of person in almost every small town that we’ve visited, including on our recent trip to a much bigger town: Wheeling, West Virginia.

The lady above is Lydia Boggs Shepherd, an early example of a West Virginia lady who loved her home town and had the right friends. The National Road wouldn’t have gone through Wheeling without her.

Heimberger House

Al and I very much enjoyed our travels on the Maryland and Pennsylvania portions of the National Road. So,we recently decided to continue, moving west. First stop on the National Road in West Virginia: the Heimberger House.

Also known as the Old Stone Tavern, this federal-style tavern and inn was built in he 1820s, very shortly after the National Road reached West Virginia in 1818. The small town where the tavern stands is named Roney’s Point, after the original landowner.

Ninian Bell originally owned the Old Stone Tavern, and James Beck succeeded him in 1828. Subsequent owners included Mrs. Sarah Beck, Moses Thornburg and Jacob Beck (not a relative of the original Becks). August Heimberger ran the hotel from 1869 until about 1892. Stage lines stopping at the tavern over the years included the Simms line and the Good Intent line. A construction company appears to currently occupy the building.

After the Heimberger House, we drove through several miles of heartbreaking rural poverty: abandoned houses, trailers and cars, rusted trailer homes, houses with peeling paint or mildewed siding. Front porches that looked like flea markets, jumbled with rusty bicycles, faded plastic toys, sprung sofas and plastic garbage bags with indeterminate contents. I hate to perpetuate a cliché, but this stretch of the National Road in West Virginia is really, really sad.

Shepherd Hall

The view improved as we approached Wheeling. The Wheeling suburb of Elm Grove is a bit scruffy around the edges in places. But it boasts a magnificent Presbyterian Church which appears to be thriving and very active in the community, as well as Shepherd Hall, now known as Monument Place.

The Hall currently serves as a headquarters for the Masons, but in the early nineteenth century Moses Shepherd and his wife, Lydia Boggs Shepherd, lived there. See her picture above.

In the eighteenth century, Moses Shepherd’s father David had settled in the area, along Wheeling Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River. Local Indians burned David’s original home, which he called Fort Shepherd. Moses inherited the land upon his father’s death in 1795 and built Shepherd Hall at its current location in 1798. Moses and Lydia’s plantation and grist mill prospered. The couple became quite influential and had friends in Washington, DC, including Kentucky Representative Henry Clay. Their friendship with Clay was instrumental in diverting the National Road to go through Wheeling and pass right by the Shepherd home. Moses died in a cholera epidemic in 1832. Lydia remarried and lived at Shepherd Hall until her death in 1867, at the age of 101.

Another Madonna of the Trail stands near Shepherd Hall. We learned that twelve of these statutes, all identical, line the National Road and other migration routes in the west, from Maryland to California.

How friendly is this Indian really?

Next, we stopped at the Mingo Indian statue at the top of Wheeling Hill. Considering that the Indians were incensed enough about something to burn Fort Shepherd, one wonders if they really felt as friendly as this portrayal indicates. The inscription on the plinth reads “THE MINGO Original Inhabitant of this Valley Extends GREETINGS and PEACE to all Wayfarers.”

Wheeling’s Historic District

The historic district in north Wheeling encompasses a mixed bag of nineteenth century buildings. Some slump in a state of decrepitude. But many have been lovingly restored to magnificence. West Virginia Independence Hall also stands in the historic district, at 1528 Market Street. Built in 1860 at a cost of about $97,000, it served the federal government as a custom house, post office and courthouse. The building is famous as the home of the Wheeling Convention and the West Virginia Constitutional Convention, turning points in the separation of West Virginia from Virginia in the Civil War. It served as West Virginia’s seat of government from 1861 until 1863. Today, the building houses a museum of West Virginia history, but it was closed when we visited.

The National Road to Wheeling was completed in 1818. But, until 1849, passengers were ferried across the Ohio River for the next leg of their journey. The bridge that changed that is still a highlight of the historic district. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was the subject of legal controversies that went all the way to the Supreme Court. When finally completed, it was the first bridge to span a major river west of the Appalachians, and the world’s largest suspension bridge from 1849 to 1851. It still stands today. It is closed to vehicular traffic, but foot traffic is still allowed.

See below for some photos of the bridge and some of Wheeling’s historic buildings.

Centre Market District and Beyond

The highlight of Wheeling for us, though, was the Centre Market district. Only a few blocks long, the district includes the repurposed 1853 market building and original train station. Independently-owned restaurants and small shops line the street.

We had a wonderful lunch at The Market Café, and I bought a T-shirt at Ziklag and a candle at VC Wares. We also enjoyed Redecorate Consignment, for its high-quality furniture and friendly clerk.

Jenny, our waitress at The Market Café, suggested one last stop to us. She said that we must see The Lookout. The Lookout is the remains of an unfinished mansion. The owner intended it for his beloved wife, and lost the heart to finish it when she died. The remains have been spray-painted by graffiti artists (some of them pretty lewd), and the location is a hangout and party site. But the view rivals Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington overlooks. You can see the whole city of Wheeling laid out below you, and the Ohio River winding its way southwest towards Kentucky. We met a couple of friendly teenage skateboard types who urged us to drive on to Folansbee and see Steubenville from the Folansbee lookout, which they claimed was ever better. We didn’t have time that day, but we will make a point of visiting Folansbee on a future trip.

Worst thing about West Virginia: the rural poverty is sadly obvious. Best thing about West Virginia: the people are super-friendly and love their home state. Also: JUST as we got into our car to head back home, the rain that had threatened all day finally burst forth. Even the weather in West Virginia is friendly.

Sources

http://nationalroadpa.org/maps-attractions/west-virginia/

Heimburger House: https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=66677

Shepherd Hall: https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMKCT6_Shepherd_Hall_Wheeling_West_Virginia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepherd_Hall

Suspension bridge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheeling_Suspension_Bridge

https://www.ohiocountylibrary.org/wheeling-history/3304

Thomas Paull house: https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/wmJD66_Thomas_Paull_House_Wheeling_Historic_District_Wheeling_West_Virginia

George Paull house: https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/wmJDBD_Thomas_Paull_George_Paull_House_Wheeling_Historic_District_Wheeling_West_Virginia

First Presby church: https://www.ohiocountylibrary.org/wheeling-history/5337

Independence Hall: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Virginia_Independence_Hall

The End of the National Road In Pennsylvania

Posted by on Jun 24th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

I love people who are passionate and knowledgeable about something, whether it is clocks or old books or astronomy. I especially love people who are passionately interested in and knowledgeable about their own communities. In our travels along the National Road over the past few months, Al and I have met several people like that. And we met one on our most recent drive.

This week we made our last stops on the National Road in Pennsylvania, stopping at the S Bridge, passing through Claysville, and visiting West Alexander.

First, Lunch

We stopped in Washington, PA, on our way to this week’s destinations, and had lunch at Chicco Baccelo. We enjoyed our lunch there when we were in town last summer vising the David Bradford House. Once again, it did not disappoint. My Hannah wrap, iced chai latte and chocolate chip cookie, and Al’s Brenda Lou sandwich, hot chocolate and molasses cookie were delicious.

Some other places we enjoy in Washington:

The Union Grill. Cool speakeasy vibe and the BEST house-made chips!

Liberty Pole Spirits. Their distillery tour is so much fun that we’ve now taken it twice. This family-owned business is so very passionate about making whiskey.

The S Bridge

I had never heard of an S Bridge before, but it was a pretty common construction in the early nineteenth century. Builders usually used the S-bridge approach for a crossing small, curving stream with uneven banks, when the bridge had to cross the stream at an angle. The S is formed by constructing the bridge at 90% angle to the stream, with aprons on either bank, forming a letter S.

The 1815 S Bridge over Buffalo Creek, just outside Claysville, has been almost completely restored. The young man we met later in West Alexander told us about Gerald David McKenzie. McKenzie almost single-handedly saved this bridge. For years, he sat along the road near the bridge with an American flag, telling the story of the bridge to anyone who would stop and listen. Watch this YouTube video to hear an interview with McKenzie from 1994, and see the deterioration of the bridge at that time. Thanks to McKenzie’s efforts, the bridge was restored, through a combination of private donations and state funding.

Claysville

John Purviance, one of Claysville’s earliest farmers, also opened a tavern nearby as early as 1800. When he learned in 1817 that the planned National Road would cross his land, he saw opportunity. Purviance plotted out a town along the planned route of the road, and named it Claysville after U.S. Senator Henry Clay. Clay had been a strong proponent of public works like the National Road.

Like so many other towns along the National Road, Claysville thrived after the road came through in 1820. In the nineteenth century, the town was a regional agricultural service center. It was also home to businesses serving the oil and gas industry, and many other small businesses. The town has diminished since then, but it isn’t in the decrepit state of some other towns that we’ve seen in our travels. It’s a pleasant, small community that seems to be holding its own. Its Main Street still strings along the route of the old National Road, near Routes 40 and 70.

Claysville’s most famous native son is probably William Holmes McGuffy, who was born near Claysville in 1800. He authored the McGuffy Reader series, which was used almost universally in American schools in the nineteenth century. The local school district is named for him.

Pennsylvania’s Gretna Green

As so often happens to us when we explore small towns, on our last stop we met a friendly local person with lots of knowledge and enthusiasm.

Jeremy Wiley noticed us poking around in the graveyard in West Alexander and pointed us to the location of the oldest graves, and we got to talking to him. He owns the row of old two-story frame houses that used to form the nucleus of West Alexander’s quaint shopping district in the 1970s and 80s.

When I was young, I remember my mom going to West Alexander once or twice a year to shop for antiques and pottery. In the early 90s, part of the block burned in a fire, and the rest of the retro little business district never really recovered. Jeremy is now working towards combining the row of buildings into a wedding venue.

A wedding venue sounds like a pretty good bet for a community that was once known as Pennsylvania’s Gretna Green. Gretna Green is a town in Scotland, right on the border with England. Between 1754 and 1929, English law required parental consent for brides or grooms under the age of 21. Scotland had no such requirement. So, eager young couples often crossed the border to Gretna Green to marry. Similarly, West Alexander stands very close to Pennsylvania’s border with both Ohio and West Virginia. In the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania had no marriage-license laws at all, and West Alexander became a popular elopement destination for couples from Ohio and West Virginia, where the laws were stricter.

West Alexander History

Robert Humphrey founded the town of West Alexander in 1792 and named it after his wife, Martha Alexander. Once the National Road came through in 1820, the town boomed, with as many as 25 stagecoach stops daily.

Jeremy’s buildings date to the 1840s, right after West Alexander’s first disastrous fire in 1831. He’s found newspapers in his cellar dating as far back as 1875. He believes that his buildings rest on the foundations of older buildings that were destroyed in the 1831 fire, and that the stone chimneys also predate the fire. Jeremy and his wife have found remnants of the old foundations in his basements, and charcoal that is probably what remains of the old wooden buildings. He also found the old stacked-stone wells in his backyards, and has dug out one of them, to find it filled with discarded bottles. Jeremy is still finding old pottery molds as he cleans out the portion of his property that was the pottery shop. If anyone want pottery molds, he is giving them away for free.  Contact him at jeremyhaydenwiley@yahoo.com.

Jeremy also showed us the marker that indicates where the first church service was held outdoors in 1790. It stands in the graveyard, below and to the left of the current church.

West Alexander Architecture

The West Alexander graveyard is lovely and peaceful, right between the town’s two churches. Similar to Beallsville, much of the old architecture in West Alexander is still intact, in spite of at least two major fires.

West Alexander’s Future

The people of West Alexander are making a strong effort to improve their town. Jeremy is working on his property, a community center recently opened along the main street, and the recreation committee is fund-raising for a community playground. The owner of the old bank building (see above) seeks to renovate the building into condos or apartments, and even hopes to re-open the theater that once graced the top floor. Al and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this pretty little community, and plan to stop back and check on its progress.

COMING NEXT: Now that we’ve completed our drive along Pennsylvania’s section of the National Road, it’s on to West Virginia and beyond!

Sources

https://www.livingplaces.com/PA/Washington_County/West_Alexander_Borough/West_Alexander_Historic_District.html

https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=9372#:~:text=In%201832%2C%20Claysville%20was%20incorporated%20as%20a%20Borough,to%20grow%20as%20a%20regional%20agricultural%20service%20center

https://old.post-gazette.com/neigh_washington/20030504wacover0504p2.asp

Vivian, Cassandra. The National Road in Pennsylvania. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Battle of Cedar Creek

Posted by on Jun 11th, 2021 in Blog | 1 comment

From any of the 75 scenic overlooks along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, you can view the broad, green expanse of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. It lies between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west. No more than 25 miles wide at any point, it is peaceful, bucolic and semi-rural. Before the American Civil War, it was Virginia’s breadbasket.

And during the war it was hotly contested.

Encyclopediavirginia.org aptly describes the valley as pointing “dagger-like at the North and especially at Washington, D.C.” And the Union wanted that dagger blunted.

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson successfully defended the Valley in 1862. And Robert E Lee used it as the jump-off point for his Gettysburg campaign in 1863, using the mountains to screen his army’s movement.

Prelude to the Battle of Cedar Creek

But by 1864, conditions favored the Union. Stonewall Jackson was dead. The Confederates were running out of supplies and the loss of the valley would deprive Lee’s army of a desperately-needed source of grain and livestock. Grant had Lee pinned down near Petersburg. And three years of war had depleted Confederate manpower.

The 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign was characterized by hubris on both sides. And the Battle of Cedar Creek is particularly interesting because it featured so many surprising twists and turns, all in one day.

In the early summer of 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early conducted raids out of the Shenandoah towards Washington, D.C. He hoped to force Ulysses Grant to divert some of his forces to defend the capital, which would bring some relief to Lee at Petersburg. Instead, Grant decided that it was time to eliminate the pesky Early. He gave the job to General Philip Sheridan, along with orders to pursue Early “to the death.”

Sheridan Surprises Early

Early had some initial success in fending off Union forces and Lee became complacent enough to bring a division back to defend Richmond. So, when Sheridan next attacked, he swept the Rebel army out of Winchester, forcing them to retreat south through the Shenandoah Valley to Waynesboro.

Presaging Sherman’s March to the Sea in the west, Sheridan executed a scorched-earth campaign through the valley to deprive the Confederate army of desperately-needed food. Following Grant’s order that he make the valley “so desolate that crows flying over it would have to carry their own provender,” Sheridan slaughtered sheep, hogs and cattle, and claimed to have put the torch to 2000 barns and over 70 mills.

But now it was Sheridan’s turn to become over-confident. Convinced that he had sufficiently weakened his opponent, Sheridan sent a whole corps back to Petersburg. He established his headquarters at Cedar Creek, and left for a meeting in Washington.

Sheridan had some reason for complacency. His troops were well-positioned behind Cedar Creek near Belle Grove Plantation, and they outnumbered the Confederate forces. But the Rebels knew the terrain. And General John Gordon took a look from one of the mountaintops and thought he saw a small chance to surprise their opponents.

Early Turns the Tables

Everything had to work perfectly. Without the benefit of modern communications, three columns of Rebel infantry and two cavalry brigades had to converge on the Union flank at the same time, crossing both Cedar Creek and the Shenandoah River, and travelling by night. Against all odds and aided by heavy fog, the Rebels completely surprised the Union Army of West Virginia, including a division commanded by future president Rutherford B. Hayes. Future business magnate Henry DuPont received a Medal of Honor after the battle, for stalling the Confederate advance with his artillery, and saving nine of his sixteen cannons. But is wasn’t anything close to enough.

Union General William Emory ordered a brigade into the fighting to slow down the Rebels. To me, this is the most poignant moment of the battle. A brigade of no more than 1000 men from Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut is sent towards the battle line to hold off the enemy until a larger force can form a new line. They must have known that they would take heavy casualties. As the Vermonters at the front of the skirmish line moved forward, retreating forces rushed past them in the other direction. 

One Vermonter described the moment when they met the Confederates at dawn in the fog-shrouded woods:

“One of the most desperate and ugly hand-to-hand conflicts over the flag that has ever been recorded…Men seemed more like demons than human beings, as they struck fiercely at each other with clubbed musket and bayonet.”

Of the 165 Vermont men who fought, 110 we killed or wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania suffered 40 killed and 134 wounded out of 300 men. But they had bought precious time – and help was on the way.

The Tables Turn Again

Sheridan had spent the night In Winchester on his way home from Washington. He heard reports as early as 6 a.m. of sounds of artillery coming from the south. But he didn’t round up his cavalry and start riding south until 9 a.m. By the time he reached the battlefield around 10:30, the Union had retreated and begun to form a new defensive line.

It was the Confederates’ turn to be complacent again. Early had thoroughly routed his enemy and failed to pursue. The Rebel troops focused on plundering some much-needed supplies. This is another poignant moment. The Rebel soldiers, barefoot and hungry, cold and wet from their march, come across a bounty. Blankets and uniforms. Boots! Food! And 24 captured union artillery pieces. But they weren’t counting on Sheridan. The Union general immediately began organizing a counter-attack and swore that he would make coffee from Cedar Creek by evening.

At 4:00 the Union began their attack. One of the day’s heroes was General George Armstrong Custer, whose cavalry hit the Rebels hard. By 5:00, there was no more Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley.

Total Union casualties for the day numbered 5665, against 2910 Confederate casualties. But those were men that the South could ill afford to lose. The North would control the Shenandoah Valley for the rest of the war. And Appomattox was only six months in the future. 

NOTE: If you want to drive the battlefield, the National Park Service offers a guided tour that can be downloaded to your phone HERE. Also worth a visit is the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation headquarters, located at 8437 Valley Pike in Middletown, VA. They have a very nice selection of art and books about the battle and the Civil War in general, as well as gift items made by local crafters. They were closed for remodeling when we stopped, but they let us in to look around anyway and were very helpful in directing us to the NPS guided tour download.

Sources:

https://www.nps.gov/cebe/planyourvisit/self-guided-driving-tour-brochure.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cedar_Creek

Virginia Civil War Battlefields (and more)

Posted by on May 28th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

My own interest in history focuses primarily on Western Pennsylvania. But Al is a lifelong American Civil War buff. So, as a treat to him for our 38th wedding anniversary last week, we visited some Civil War battlefields in Virginia. The trip also gave us a chance to return to Shenandoah National Park. And we celebrated our anniversary with a fabulous dinner at a tapas bar in downtown Front Royal.

First Stop: Winchester, Virginia

We arrived at the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum just as it opened on a Wednesday morning. The museum lives in an 1840 Greek revival building that once served as the Frederick County Courthouse. One the first floor, the courtroom has been restored to its nineteenth-century austere beauty.

The second floor displays an extensive and well-organized collection of Civil War relics, as well as reproductions of pencil sketches made on-site during the many battles that took place in Winchester.

Winchester’s Civil War History

Winchester was an important market town in the nineteenth century. It also stands at the northern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley. These features guaranteed that both armies would fight hard for control of the town. Its location northwest of Washington, DC and almost directly north of Richmond meant whichever army controlled Winchester could threaten the other’s capital.

Local historians estimate that Winchester changed hands at least seventy times in three major campaigns during the four-year course of the war.  The long series of battles and the resulting occupations caused suffering for the citizens of the town. As the armies descended and vacuumed up supplies, prices for necessities spiraled upward, until people had to carry their currency to the stores in baskets. The soldiers brought filth, odors and disease with them, and the wounded needed nursing. Private homes were often looted as one army or the other retreated.

Most of Winchester’s citizens were fiercely loyal to the Confederacy. Many had family members in Stonewall Jackson’s cavalry. Secretary of State William Seward said of Winchester’s populace, “the men are all in the army and the women are all devils.” Women loyal to the Confederacy served as spies. As the Union army retreated from the town in the 1862 campaign, local woman shot at them.

But Union loyalists also lived in Winchester. Rebecca Wright spied for General Sheridan in the 1864 campaign, sharing with him the strength and positions of the Confederate Army.

The Courthouse

During the war, the courthouse served at various times as a prison, a barracks, and a hospital. Soldiers left graffiti on the walls, some of which is still visible. One bitter Union prisoner scratched out this wish for Confederate President Jefferson Davis:

Its a little hard to read. Here’s what it says, “May he be set afloat on a boat without compass or rudder. Then that any contents be swallowed by a shark, the shark by a whale, the whale in a devil’s belly, And the devil in hell, the gates locked and the key lost. And further may he be put in the northwest corner with a southeast wind blowing ashes in his eyes for all eternity.”

By the end of the war, this town, which housed only 4400 citizens in 1860, saw two hundred homes completely destroyed and a hundred more severely damaged.

But, some lovely eighteenth and nineteenth-century buildings survive. Several blocks in the historic downtown have been preserved and blocked off for pedestrians only. After our visit to the museum, Al and I had a nice time strolling the historic area, and had wood-fired pizza (and a limoncello martini!) for lunch.

Back to Shenandoah

We had such a good time in April, spending a week at Shenandoah National Park with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson, that we were eager to return. On our April visit, the trees weren’t yet leafed out at the high altitudes. So, this visit, only a month later, looked very different.

We hiked a different trail each day of our stay. The Limberlost, Traces, and Big Meadow trails are all short and level enough to be easy for a hiker with a bad back, like Al. Here are a few pictures from our hikes and our daily drives through the park.

Clockwise from top left: Along the Traces trail; Big Meadow; A bluebird; My favorite spot in the park, about milepost 8 on Skyline Drive, is like a green cathedral; Layer upon layer of mountains like ocean waves.

A Hidden Gem of a Museum

After a quick stop at the site of the Battle of Cross Keys, we drove to the nearby town of New Market intending to visit the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. On our way, we passed the New Market Battlefield Military Museum and decided to stop there first. It turned out to be a great decision.

This museum houses one man’s collection of military relics, primarily from the Civil War. The acquisition, preservation and display of these treasures has been his life’s work. The collection is vast, well-organized and well-displayed. Admission was only $12, and we ended up spending the whole afternoon there. We were lucky to meet the owner, John, and have a delightful conversation with him.

The collection includes everything from slave tags to John Wilkes Booth’s travel trunk to a lock of Robert E. Lee’s hair, as well as hundreds of original photographs of Civil War soldiers. The photographs are complete with names, unit identification and history, mostly organized by what battle they fought in. It also displays quirky items like a Sharp’s Carbine with a coffee mill built into the buttstock, and valuable artifacts like the sword that General Barksdale carried in Pickett’s charge.

And finally, our anniversary dinner

We chose ViNoVA Tapas & Wine Bar for our anniversary dinner on the recommendation of the desk clerk at our hotel in Front Royal. Another great choice. We selected seviche, shrimp, and a triple plate of cheese and meat, along with two different breads. Everything was delicious, and our server made it extra fun. Chris is the bar manager as well as a server, and the conversation with him was as good as the food. When I described a really good cocktail that I’d had years ago in New Orleans and forgotten the name of, he tried to reproduce it for me (and came really close). We also bonded over the use of the term “jagoff” in both Pittsburgh and his hometown of New York City.

Later, the owner, also named Chris, came out and we also enjoyed a chat with him about how he started the restaurant eight months before Covid hit and kept it going during the pandemic. The two Chrises made our anniversary extra special!

One our way out of Front Royal on Friday, we visited the site of the Battle of Cedar Creek, which will be the topic of my next post.

Sources

The National Road: Beallsville to Scenery Hill

Posted by on May 17th, 2021 in Blog | 1 comment

A little town with no fewer than three 18th-century log houses still standing. A 1784 inn that burned to the ground and rose again. And a monument to the unsung heroes of America’s pioneer age. These sights greeted me and Al on our most recent drive along the National Road.

Beallsville Early Days

We stopped first in Beallsville. The drive into town along Route 917 features a pretty stream, sun-dappled woodlands and beautifully-sited homes.

The first significant building that you see when you enter the town is the 1788 log cabin of Zephaniah Beall, one of the town founders (984 Maiden St). The building is still occupied as a private residence. Robert Thornton was the area’s first white settler, in 1774. A few years later, he sold his land to Beall, Christian Kreider, and George Jackson. We don’t know why Beall got the town named after him.

Nineteenth-Century Beallsville

 Beallsville thrived as a stage stop along the National Road in the early nineteenth century. Taverns, inns, stables, general stores, blacksmiths, and wagon makers served travelers along the busy road.

The Greenfield Tavern and hotel (also called the National Hotel) had an especially good reputation. William Greenfield also operated the Beallsville Savings bank in the building and printed his own bank notes which were treated as currency in Beallsville. After William’s death, his daughters Eleanor and Lewiza ran the business until they also died. The tavern closed in 1835, and the building was used as a general store and residence over the years. The building still stands at 2848 Maiden Street. It has recently been completely restored and is once again operated as a restaurant and store.

During the Civil War, Beallsville raised a unit called the Ringgold Cavalry, consisting of 70 initial volunteers, with 100 more added later. Led by a Beallsville doctor, John Keys, they were initially turned down as a cavalry unit by the State of Pennsylvania. The state was interested in infantry, not cavalry. But Dr. Keys persisted. He wrote directly to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who accepted the cavalry unit.

The last living veteran of the unit was Hopkins Moffitt. The captain of the Confederate unit, McNeill’s Rangers, who faced Moffitt in battle, declared him “the most intrepid” Union soldier that he faced in the entire war.

On a more personal note…

As we strolled Main Street, taking photographs of Beallsville’s well-preserved architecture, a local man was curious about what we were doing. We struck up a conversation and discovered that he was the owner of a fine 1852 house with an 18th-century log cabin on the property. It turns out that Mark is also a local historian, with family roots in the area going back to the 19th century. He offered us a tour of the log cabin – which was damaged by being rammed by a truck in this past winter’s snowy weather, and which he is hoping to repair and remodel. Mark allowed us to look at some historical documents in his possession, including town histories dated 1952 and 1976, and a receipt written to a former owner of his house, dated 1854: ten cents for a ride to town.

He also told us the story of an old woman who came to their porch one day in the 1990’s and told them that her mother had run a kitchenette from the back porch of the house in the 1890’s – called Etty’s Kitchenetty!

Below are some photos of the log house.

Beallsville Architecture

We saw a total of three 18th-century log buildings still standing in Beallsville, and there may be more. Beallsville’s old houses in general are very well preserved, representing almost 150 years, from the 1780’s to the 1920’s. Here’s a gallery of some of the prettiest examples.

Clockwise, from top left: 2872 Main St. (National Road), an Italianate building that once housed a bank; 11 Gay St., formerly the Beallsville school, this beautiful Romanesque style building now houses the community center, post office, and public works offices; An early 20th-century Craftsman-style bungalow; Late 19th-century Queen Anne; Another Craftsman bungalow; Beautifully restored Queen Anne; This duplex was once the home of Beallsville’s National Road toll-keeper

And, just for fun, I’m including this sign which we found on a down-on-its luck Queen Anne along the National Road in Beallsville. Do you know what the three languages are besides English? Answers in the Sources section!

Madonna of the Trail

On our way between Beallstown and Scenery Hill, we stopped to see the Madonna of the Trail statue, a memorial to the pioneer women of the early 19th century. Commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, one of these statues stands in each of the twelve states along the National Road.

The Pennsylvania statue was funded completely by contributions and dedicated by the Pennsylvania DAR on December 8, 1928. The woman depicted is homely and plainly dressed in heavy boots and a simple dress, but she emanates strength and courage.

Scenery Hill

Our last stop was Scenery Hill, home of the historic Century Inn. Like the Greenfield Tavern, it stands right along the old National Road, but predates it by a couple of decades.

The town of Scenery Hill was originally named Springtown when Isaac Bush first surveyed the area in 1785. Later, the town was renamed Hillsboro in honor of George Hill and his son Stephen, the original owner of what was called Hill’s Tavern.

Over the years, the tavern has hosted famous guests such as General Santa Anna, David Bradford, Chief Black Hawk, Andrew Jackson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Abraham Lincoln also visited and reportedly loved their breakfast.

Al and I were not such famous guests, but enjoyed lunch on the sun porch of the beautiful old building, meticulously decorated in period style. It was hard to believe that the building burned to the ground in 2015 and, over the following 2-1/2 years was lovingly rebuilt and restored. The original fireplace remains, as well as a step stone that led visitors from one building to the other.

Sources

Answers to the languages on the Hate Has No Home Here sign: Elvish from Lord of the Rings, Klingon from Star Trek, and . . . whatever the language is in Dr. Who.

https://www.centuryinn.com/inn-history/

https://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2018/04/23/Century-Inn-Scenery-Hill-fire-reopens-National-Road-Historic-Register-Whiskey-Rebellion/stories/201804210007

http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~florian/family/towns/beallsville_pa_1.htm#:~:text=Beallsville%20made%20its%20place%20in%20the%20history%20of,after%20a%20major%20Union%20setback%20at%20Harper%27s%20Ferry.

https://www.livingplaces.com/PA/Washington_County/Beallsville_Borough/Beallsville_Historic_District.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_of_the_Trail

The National Road: Brownsville

Posted by on Apr 29th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Three imposing bank buildings within two blocks, all of them shuttered and deteriorating. Whole blocks of boarded-up storefronts. Lots covered by the rubble of torn-down buildings. These sights first greeted us when we drove into Brownsville, our next stop on our tour of the National Road. We’ve seen many down-at-the-heels Pennsylvania towns on our drives, but Brownsville makes Uniontown look like Paris. The decay was truly shocking. Yet, signs of life appeared, too, and we found much that was worth seeing.  

A Little Brownsville History

Indigenous people occupied he site of Brownsville for at least a thousand years before Europeans came. The indigenes had built earthwork mounds along the Monongahela, which the early European settlers called Redstone Old Fort. During the French and Indian War, a European fort, Fort Burd, stood on the site.

White settlers arrived in the area around 1785. An early settler, Jacob Bowman, built a trading post on the bluffs above the river, with his family’s home on the second floor. Back then, the town was still called Redstone. Jacob his wife had nine children.  His heir, Nelson, and his wife had six children, but only two survived to adulthood. Nelson died in 1892 and left the house to his son Charles, who lived there with his wife well into the twentieth century. The Bowman family added on to the building several times over the course of the nineteenth century, and it earned the name Nemacolin Castle. It still stands today, with tours available by appointment.

The town in the shadow of the Castle thrived in the nineteenth century. Brownsville became a gateway destination for emigrants heading west by river, a transportation hub and a center of boat-building. Small industries related to steel-making grew up later in the century.

Like so many small industrial towns in our state, Brownsville declined in the late twentieth century. But lots of historical sites remain, some of them very well-preserved.

Brownsville’s Historic Buildings

We stopped first at the Flatiron Building, which houses an art museum and a local history museum. Both are closed until further notice. But a peek through the windows and this review made us want to return when the museums are open. The building itself dates to 1835 and is owned by the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation.

A walk toward the creek below town puts you on the Dunlaps Creek Bridge, the first cast-iron metal arch bridge in the United States, dedicated on July 4, 1839.

The building that housed the Black Horse tavern still stands on Front Street, next door to the Castle, although it has been modernized and expanded. The Black Horse was the site of the first public act of the Whiskey Rebellion, on July 27, 1791. Here,  David Bradford and the other Whiskey rebels intercepted mail from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, looking for evidence that civic leaders in both cities sought to put down the rebellion. 

The Shreve House also still stands, at the corner of Front and Third Streets. Henry Shreve was a prominent local businessman, steamboat captain, boat-builder and inventor. Shreve is most famous for the 1814 construction of the steamboat Enterprise, which he also captained to New Orleans to deliver munitions to Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. The city of Shreveport, LA, is named for him.

The Brashear tavern and house at 519 Market Street, was built around 1796 by Basil Brashear. Lafayette addressed Brownsville citizens from the tavern door when he visited that same year. Basil Brashear’s grandson, John A. Brashear, was born in Brownsville and became a well-known Pittsburgh astronomer, inventor and educator.

Brownsville’s Historic Churches

Two historic churches also grace the town of Brownsville. St. Peter’s, at 188 Church St., is a Gothic revival building constructed in 1845. It houses the oldest continuously operating Catholic parish in Western Pennsylvania, and is believed to be the location of the first Christian services offered west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Christ Protestant Episcopal Church stands on the corner of Church and Fourth Streets. First organized in 1785 and served by missionaries, the first church building was erected in 1823. The current building dates to 1856. Thomas Brown, the founder of Brownsville, is buried near the church door. In the graveyard behind the church, you can also visit the graves of the whole Bowman family. They’re hard to miss; very large obelisks mark them.

A Really Good Lunch – and a surprise bonus

When we do these drives, Al and I like to find a non-chain local restaurant for lunch. We found a great one on this drive: Paci’s in West Brownsville. They serve pub grub, but really, really good pub grub. The French fries were very crisp and not greasy. Al’s steak sandwich contained a real slab of steak, not chipped steak. And – bonus! – the restaurant building formerly served as the stable for a National Road Inn.

The inn also still stands on the site, now the private home of a Paci family member. While waiting for our lunch, we looked at the historical information about the inn that covers a whole wall of the restaurant. The inn, built in 1822, also served as a schoolhouse for many years. The stable was built in 1830 and was converted to a restaurant and bar in 1936. From 1895 until 1924, after the inn closed, the Grimes family owned and farmed the property.

Bonus Photo Gallery: then and now

We got so many interesting pictures in Brownsville that I wanted to include a few more of them. We found some great old photos in the Arcadia book (see Sources) from the town’s heyday, and I was inspired to take photos of the same locations today.

Sources

Swetnam, George and Smith, Helen; A Guidebook to Historic Western Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1976

Vivian, Cassandra; Images of America: The National Road in Pennsylvania; Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing; 2003

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Miller_Shreve

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownsville,_Pennsylvania

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brashear

http://nationalroadpa.org/2017/08/15/the-steamboats-of-brownsville/

https://www.nemacolincastle.net/about

https://monrivertowns.com/itineraries/a-day-in-brownsville/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Brown_(businessman)

Copyright 2014 Kathryn Bashaar | Design by | Adapted from PureType