The Bridgeville Area Historical Society kicked off its twenty-first year with its first Fall program meeting last month. The speaker was Norene Beatty, President of The Pittsburgh Old Stone Tavern Friends Trust, a non-profit organization with the mission of preserving one of Pittsburgh’s oldest buildings.
Located at the intersection of Greentree Road and Woodville Avenue in the city’s West End neighborhood, the tavern was originally built in the late 1700s and functioned commercially until 2008. In 2009 it was scheduled for demolition, a threat that mobilized concerned citizens to organize the trust and initiate a program to acquire the property and preserve it for future generations.
The best clues for determining the year it was constructed are contained in a Ledger Book in the Oliver Room at the Main Carnegie Library. The Ledger records transactions at the tavern in the years from 1793 to 1797. Information in the Ledger suggests that it probably was built in 1782 by Daniel Elliot. Mr. Elliot was a prominent entrepreneur in this area, operating a saw mill at the mouth of Saw Mill Run and a ferry across the Ohio River at that site, in 1784.
A stone on the face of the tavern has the date 1754 lightly engraved on it. It is well documented that Indian trader Alexander Lowery was active in this area in the 1750s and that Daniel Elliot, eventually his son-in-law, was his employee here. One imaginative amateur historian has speculated that Lowery built a trading post near the mouth of Saw Mill Run and engraved the date into the wall of a stone storage building, that later became part of the tavern. At any rate, we do know that Elliot received a patent from Virginia in 1769 for this property and that he constructed a trading post there in 1777.
After the dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania over sovereignty of southwestern Pennsylvania was resolved, binding patents were issued. Mr. Elliot’s patents for a square mile of property bounded by Saw Mill Run on the southeast and the Ohio River on the northeast are recorded in the Allegheny County Warrantee Atlas. They include “Elliot’s Design”, 303 acres, and “Elliot’s Delight, 337 acres, both patented on April 20, 1785. Together they make up the current neighborhood known eponymously as Elliot.
Regardless of the exact year the Old Stone Tavern was originally built, historians are in agreement that it is one of four oldest surviving buildings in Pittsburgh, the other three being the Fort Pitt Blockhouse in Point Park (1764), the Neil Log House in Schenley Park (1765), and the John Woods House in Hazlewood (1792).
There is an interesting link between the John Woods House and the Old Stone Tavern. Woods was the third attorney elected to the Allegheny County Bar, in 1788, and was quite active during the Whiskey Rebellion. He represented Allegheny County in negotiations against the insurrectionists and also served as attorney for the Neville family.
A Federalist, he was the natural adversary for Hugh Henry Brackenridge. Following the Whiskey Rebellion, he and General John Neville approached Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in an attempt to implicate Brackenridge, citing a letter allegedly sent to Whiskey Rebel leader David Bradford. The effort failed when the letter turned out to be addressed instead to Attorney General William Bradford.
The link between Woods and the Tavern is an entry in the Ledger. On July 16, 1794, one day before the Rebels burned Bower Hill, John Woods’ name appears relative to a transaction, using Elliot’s ferry to cross the Ohio River. Noted close to it in the margin is the appellation “spy”. Apparently, someone in the Tavern management was a Whiskey Rebel supporter.
Numerous other familiar names from that era are in the Ledger – Isaac Craig, Pressley Neville, Col. John Gibson, Gabriel and Isaac Walker, and Robert Johnson. We remember Johnson as the first agent of General Neville to be tarred and feathered by the Rebels. He survived that indignity and went on to be one of the earliest residents of the village that eventually became Bridgeville.
The tavern had an excellent location at the north end of an important overland transportation artery. In pre-colonial days an Indian trail, Catfish Path, ran down the Chartiers Valley from what is today Washington, Pa., to Woodville, where it then followed today’s Greentree Road to Pittsburgh’s West End and the Ohio River. The settlers improved the path and dubbed it “The Black Horse Trail”. In the early nineteenth century it morphed into the “Washington-Pittsburgh Turnpike”.
Throughout its long history the Tavern functioned as public house, hotel, general store, court house, venue for sporting events, toll-house, bank, and neighborhood social center. During prohibition it became a confectionery and its cellar became a place where patrons could play cards and be served “refreshments”. In its later years it was a popular neighborhood restaurant.
The tavern consists of a main two-story structure, forty-seven feet wide by twenty-three deep, with a single story leanto attachment thirty-eight feet wide by seventeen feet deep behind it. The main portion has a full basement and an attic. It does indeed appear to be an excellent candidate for an upscale historic restaurant.
Disagreements about the actual age of the Old Stone Tavern are irrelevant. It is old enough and in good enough condition that it deserves to be preserved. We commend Ms. Beatty and her colleagues for their commitment to see that this preservation does indeed occur.
The next program in this series is scheduled for 7:30 pm, October 26, 2021, in the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. It promises to be equally relevant as Ron Baraff, Director of Historic Resources & Facilities for Rivers of Steel, discusses “The Story of Carrie Furnace”.