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Former National Pike tavern offers history, business opportunity

Saturday, February 21, 2004

By Kevin Kirkland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Over nearly two centuries, thousands of people have crossed the four thresholds of this building on U.S. 40. Conestoga wagoners and pioneers on the National Road came first, followed by a couple of doctors and their patients. Then came furniture customers, both living and dead (if you count caskets) and human and equine members of the Hedge family.

Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
This historic National Road tavern, built around 1825 in Scenery Hill, Washington County, is on the market for $205,000.
Click photo for larger image.


Open house

An open house will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. today at 2188 E. National Pike, Scenery Hill. For information, go to www.northwood.com, MLS No. 487116 or call Alan Henderson of Northwood Realty, 412-885-8530 Ext. 147.


These days, it's mostly tourists, and mostly when the weather is nicer. BarbraAnn Woodfill, who runs a gift shop here during the warmer months, is happy to see them -- except for the historical curiosity seekers.

"They run in the shop, look at the brick floor and fireplace and turn around and run back out," she said. "It's nice, but it's annoying."

It's one of the drawbacks of running a business in a historic house in Scenery Hill, Washington County. Woodfill, who with her husband, William, has owned the building and an adjacent old store since 1999, has put them on the market for $205,000 through Northwood Realty.

Many of the old homes along this stretch of U.S. 40 double as shops for much of the year. The tourist trade kicks off with Pike Days in May and rises and falls with the seasonal closing and reopening of the nearby Century Inn, a restored tavern that is now a restaurant and inn.

The building at 2188 E. National Pike was a tavern, too, run by Zephania Riggle in the first quarter of the 19th century. Riggle, who at different times also kept taverns in nearby Centreville, shows up several times in the 1894 book "The Old Pike: A History of the National Road" by Thomas Searight.

"He catered to the wants of the traveling public, drew a good trade," Searight wrote. "He was the only person that ever kept this house as a tavern."

Searight, the son of a prominent tavern owner, mentioned hundreds of buildings, tavern keepers, wagoners, stagecoach drivers and other characters who made the National Road the main east-west artery for commerce and immigration before the rise of the railroads in the 1850s. Of the 300 taverns that once lined the 131 miles of road between Cumberland, Md., and Wheeling, W.Va., about 30 remain.

Most are modest brick or stone houses, which is what they were mainly built to be and used as. The only signs that they were once taverns are spacious front porches (or their remains), closeness to the busy highway and sometimes two front doors (one to the barroom, one to the dining area or other rooms).

Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
Though it's no longer functional, the old tavern's 7-foot wide sandstone fireplace with its hewn-log mantle may once have been a horseshoeing forge with walk-through service for four-legged clients.
Click photo for larger image.

Woodfill's property has two central doors, but it's more Victorian-looking and impressive than many old taverns, thanks to Dr. Bryon Clark, who owned the building from 1862 to 1882. Clark, who saw patients and ran a patent-medicine business from the house, added the front gable and two one-story wings on the sides. He also covered the brick with stucco, enlarged the first-floor windows and added the wooden gingerbread trim on the porches and eaves. Woodfill believes he also reduced the size of the front porch, which would have covered the front of the building when it was a tavern.

Other owners have made changes, too. The Hedge family, which bought the house from Clark and owned it until the 1980s, rented the front rooms to another doctor and later ran a furniture business with a sideline in simple pine coffins. The building next door was the main furniture showroom and still boasts a large pot-bellied stove.

Area residents still call the main building the Hedge house. Woodfill has heard plenty of family stories, including ones about their using the mammoth stone fireplace in a back room as a horseshoeing forge (with walk-through service for four-legged clients).

The back room, which has a dark beamed ceiling and brick floor, was likely the tavern's barroom, where wagoners caroused and eventually fell asleep, feet toward the fire. Other than the few rough logs mixed in among the attic rafters, the 7-foot-wide sandstone fireplace with a hewn log mantel is the only indication of the house's true age. Like the building's other five fireplaces, it doesn't work. If you look up its wide brick-faced chimney, you'll see it ends at the ceiling.

The rest of the old house's rooms are fairly small -- no bigger than 10 feet long or wide -- and each filled with racks of lace, candles, collectibles and other merchandise. Heavy Victorian or earlier molding decorates the doors and windows upstairs and downstairs.

Though structurally sound, the old building needs lots of cosmetic work. The stucco is cracked and deteriorating in spots, and the red and green paint is peeling. There is no kitchen or bathroom in the old building. To get to the three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths, you must go up a tight set of stairs or through to an addition put on by previous owners in the 1990s. With large rooms, lots of glass and a spiral steel staircase, the addition is a radical departure from the old building.

Woodfill said the addition's contemporary look put off at least one potential buyer. But she believes it nicely frames views of the countryside from the second-floor deck and brick patio. It was the beauty of the wooded hills that inspired a change in the town's name in the late 1800s from Hillsboro to Scenery Hill. And it's just as beautiful at night, Woodfill says.

"When you go walking out the back, the stars -- it's breathtaking," she said.


Kevin Kirkland is the Post-Gazette's real estate editor. He can be reached at kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.

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