Full History of Tavern


A History of Pittsburgh’s Old Stone Tavern (PDF Formated History)

By: Norene M. Beatty
Edited By: Francie Brentzel and Gretchen Haller

Pittsburgh’s Old Stone Tavern located at the foot of Greentree Road in the West End community of the City of Pittsburgh beckons to those passing by. The tavern stands waiting to share the stories of the birth of this great city, the stories of the brave men and women who over the years passed through its doors. The exact date of the construction of the tavern is not known. A dendrochronology test of the original timbers in the building would provide the year the trees were cut down from the surrounding virgin forest. This could provide the date of the stone part of the tavern. Over the years there have been additions to the rear of the structure. There is a faint date stone on the side of the building that reads 1752. However, there are questions about the date of 1752. We know the tavern existed in the early 1780’s. The tavern is thought to be circa 1782, making the tavern the oldest commercial building in Pittsburgh.

The date 1752 may have been placed on the stone by Alexander Lowery who was an Indian trader. Lowery became engaged in trading with the Indians in 1748 along with his father Lazarus Lowery and his older brothers. The presence of the Lowery traders along the Ohio River is evidenced by the fact that in 1750 the French offered a reward of one thousand pounds for the scalp of Alexander’s brother James Lowery.1 On August 18, 1750, Captain William Trent wrote to the Lieutenant-Governor of Pennsylvania about the death of John Lowery, another brother of Alexander. John Lowery was killed when a drunken Indian set fire to a keg of powder near him one mile below the forks of the Ohio.2

In the book A Century and a Half of Pittsburgh and Her People, Volume 3 by John Newton Boucher, he writes that Alexander Lowery established several trading posts in Western Pennsylvania. One of his trading posts was at Lowery’s Run, near Emsworth, Pennsylvania. It is possible that Lowery had another post where now the Old Stone Tavern stands. Trading posts were often located on Indian trails and along water ways. The Old Stone Tavern is on Saw Mill Run Creek that flows into the Ohio River a mile below the point of Pittsburgh and on the Catfish Indian Trail.

Indian traders had a “hangard”,3 a building in which they stored their furs and items to trade with the Indians. Alexander Lowery may have made a “tomahawk claim” on the land where the Old Stone Tavern stands. A person making a tomahawk claim would have carved his name on a tree marking the area of his claim. To identify his claim Lowery may have also placed his name and date on the hangard, and time has faded his name.

Daniel Elliott was an Indian trader who first worked for Alexander Lowrey and them himself. Although tomahawk claims were made on land west of the Allegheny Mountains the land legally belonged only to the Indians. That changed with the Treaty of Fort Stanwix on November 5, 1768, when land could then be claimed across the Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio River. The treaty enabled Daniel Elliott to receive a patent from Virginia in April of 1769 for the land on which the tavern stands. In the book Pennsylvania: Genealogies Chiefly Scotch-Irish and German by William Henry Egle, it states that Daniel Elliott established a trading post on Saw Mill Run in 1777.4 Perhaps he built the tavern on the foundation of the hangard, or was the tavern an entirely new structure? There are many unanswered questions and mysteries surrounding the beginning of the tavern. An archaeological dig could reveal much about the era of the tavern’s birth and its history.

Daniel Elliott married Elizabeth Lowery, daughter of Alexander Lowery, in 1774, and the couple moved to St. Clair Township in Western Pennsylvania. At that time in history the Old Stone Tavern was in St. Clair Township.5 Daniel Elliott served in the American Revolutionary War under his then father-in-law Col. Alexander Lowery. Daniel Elliott was an entrepreneur in the eighteenth century. The Old Stone Tavern was the core of his enterprises. On March 11, 1784, Pennsylvania granted him permission to operate a ferry from the mouth of Saw Mill Run Creek to the North Shore of the Ohio River.6 In 1789,7 he would also receive permission to operate the ferry from Saw Mill Run to Pittsburgh. The ferry was one of many business ventures that Daniel Elliott operated and owned. He operated the old British saw mill on Saw Mill Run, a grist mill, and he built boats that transported supplies to people along the river as well as taking their goods to Pittsburgh for sale.

The pages of the tavern’s ledger located in the Oliver Room of the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh gives a vivid picture of the eighteenth century. The ledger is lettered “P” and contains transactions from 1793 into 1797. The ledger makes reference to carrying forward balances as far back in the alphabet as the letter “H”. If each ledger represents an average of a three year period, the tavern transactions could go beyond the 1777 date which is mentioned in Pennsylvania: Genealogies Chiefly Scotch-Irish and German by William Henry Egle. We know that Daniel Elliott traded with the Indians prior to settling in the area, previous ledgers may have contained those transactions going all the way back to ledger “A”. Aware of Daniel Elliott’s other endeavors in the early 1780’s; the tavern is considered to have been built circa 1782.

The date may seem important but what is more important is what is recorded in the tavern’s ledger. The ledger records the lodging of guests at the tavern and the purchase of food and beverages. Whiskey and cherry bounce were the more prevalent beverages. We know that there were many card games played at the tavern due to the entries that read “lost at cards”. The tavern also served as a store, due to the entries for the sale of a great variety of items. Recorded is the sales of clothing items; shoes, hats, etc., along with items to make clothing such as cloth and linen, food supplies such as beef and bacon, etc. We also find the sale of hay and oats for their animals. There are some unexpected items that were sold at the tavern such as a silver watch. Perhaps the most unusual was a cash sale on December 26, 1793, of a bear to Peter Fawlkner.8

Recorded in the ledger are the passage charges on Daniel Elliott’s ferry. Some of the most prominent people in Pittsburgh traveled during this period on his ferry, as well as soldiers, farmers, slaves and pack animals carrying goods to and from Pittsburgh and the North Shore of the Ohio River. One very interesting account in the ledger is that of the government. This account was for the ferry fees of soldiers. General Anthony Wayne was sent to Pittsburgh in 1791 to put down the Indians who were terrorizing the settlers in Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Country. General Wayne found many distractions at Fort Fayette in Pittsburgh, so he moved his troops and established Legionville. Legionville was located on the north side of the Ohio River where Baden, Pennsylvania is today. Elliott’s ferry was used to carried soldiers and supplies over the Ohio River for the United States Army. The threat of Indian attacks would end with Wayne’s victory on August 20, 1794, over the Indians at Fallen Timbers.

The ledger records the ferriage of “Negroes” as some early settlers from Virginia had brought their slaves with them. General John Neville’s page records the largest number of “Negroes” using the ferry. Their passage was simply listed as “Negro”, with the exception of a ‘Negro” named “Betty”. Betty was owned by General John Neville and made frequent trips on the ferry, and she was always referred to as “Betty”. Pennsylvania outlawed slavery in 1780. Slaves did not all receive their freedom in 1780 rather over a time span. Some slaves would remain as indentured servants. The ledger makes no mention of free or slave for African American simple “Negro”.

Daniel Elliott’s boat venture in June of 1794, records in the ledger the sale of the following: one flat boat, one large flat boat and oars to Michael Berrickman. There are several entries in the ledger for the rental of boats. The men would rent the boats in order to bring their crops to Pittsburgh for sale. John Robert Shaw a soldier from Fort McIntosh wrote in his journal a story regarding Daniel Elliott and the use of one of his flat boats. John Robert Shaw recorded that one of Daniel Elliott’s flat boats was hired to take supplies from Fort Pitt to Fort McIntosh in August of 1784. Daniel Elliott went as a passenger on the trip which took four days; they drank a barrel of whiskey. 9

It was once said “Whiskey Built Pittsburgh”. That may not be true but it is true that it played a very significant part in the character and life of the eighteenth century in Pittsburgh. There are entries in the ledger for paying Sam Davis, a cooper, for making kegs. Also there are entries for the purchasing and selling of barrels and kegs in the ledger. One cannot read the pages of the ledger without realizing the great amount of whiskey which was consumed at that time in history. It is interesting to note that the last entry in the journal is to an Indian, the only Indian mentioned in the ledger, Detamuhim. He was sold six gallons of whiskey to be paid for in two months.

The ledger includes the period of the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania. One of the most interesting pages in the ledger is that of the account sheet of John Woods, General John Neville’s attorney. In July of 1794, someone wrote the word “spy” beside John Wood’s name on his ledger page. It was a very difficult time for the patrons of the tavern because there were men on both sides of the whiskey excise tax issue.

The ledger contains the accounts of seventy men who were participants in the Whiskey Rebellion. They were:

  1. Michael Baker
  2. John Baldwin
  3. John Barnet
  4. Colonel Blackney
  5. Andrew Boggs
  6. James Brison
  7. Major Thomas Butler
  8. Colonel Arthur Campbell
  9. John Campbell
  10. John Clark
  11. John Collins
  12. Adam Craig
  13. Charles Craig
  14. Major Isaac Craig
  15. William Cunningham
  16. Captain John Dunlap
  17. George Elliott
  18. John Elliott
  19. John Frew
  20. Alexander Fulton
  21. Col. John Gibson
  22. John Hamilton
  23. Col. James Hunter
  24. Robert Johnson
  25. Samuel Johnston
  26. Thomas Lapsley
  27. Alexander Long
  28. John Lucas
  29. Col. John Marshall
  30. Thomas Marshall
  31. Major Robert McClure
  32. William McClure
  33. John McKee
  34. John McMasters
  35. Hugh Montgomery
  36. John Moore
  37. General John Neville
  38. Presley Neville
  39. William Nicholson
  40. John Ormsby, Jr.
  41. Joseph Patterson
  42. Thomas Patton
  43. Capt. Benjamin Pearsol
  44. Thomas Phillips
  45. John Powers
  46. John Reed
  47. William Richmond
  48. Phillip Ross
  49. Colonel William Sample
  50. Ensign Steel Sample
  51. Joseph Scott
  52. Thomas Scott
  53. Col. William Semple
  54. Captain Nehemiah Sharp
  55. Captain John Sharp
  56. Colonel John Shields
  57. John Small
  58. Major Andrew Spear
  59. John Steveson
  60. Jeremiah Sturgeon
  61. William Sutherland
  62. William Tucker, Sr.
  63. Gabriel Walker
  64. Isaac Walker
  65. George Wallace
  66. Thomas White
  67. John Wilkeson
  68. John Wilkins, Jr.
  69. Colonel Samuel Wilson
  70. John Woods

In 1794 a mail route was established to the settlements down the Ohio River. Due to the threat of Indians along the Ohio River between Pittsburgh and Wheeling the mail was carried by post overland from Pittsburgh to Wheeling. The post rider traveled past the Old Stone Tavern over Catfish Trail, which became known as the Washington Pike to Washington, Pennsylvania. From Washington, Pennsylvania the rider would follow the Mingo Indian path to Wheeling. From Wheeling the mail would then be taken by boat down the Ohio River to the settlers.

Daniel Elliott died in 1794, and the tavern over the years had several owners and many tavern keepers. The tavern would see the early frontiersmen replaced by farmers, miners, local laborers, railroaders always remaining a meeting place of the community. In the Pittsburgh Press on September 8, 1901, is the story about a duel fought one cold, late winter night behind the tavern. The article goes on to speak of the many old sporting events that were held at the tavern in the past. The “Old Sports” being chicken, dog and prize fighters. The article said, “Every old sport in this half of the state knew the tavern as well as his own home, for there has been more chicken fights, dog fights and miscellaneous fights at or around there than other place in the state.”10

Excluding Daniel Elliott, the owner of the tavern, the ledger research to date has disclosed the names of forty-seven men who served in the American Revolution. They were:

  1. Michael Baker
  2. John Beaver
  3. Richard Brown
  4. William Bell
  5. Alexander Burns
  6. Thomas Butler
  7. John Campbell
  8. George Catt
  9. John Clark
  10. Isaac Craig
  11. John Crawford
  12. William Dougherty
  13. John Edwards
  14. Jacob Ferree
  15. John Fisher
  16. Alexander Fowler
  17. John Gibson
  18. John Irwin
  19. Joseph Kerr
  20. John Matthews
  21. John McKee
  22. John Moore
  23. James Morrow
  24. John Neville
  25. William Orr
  26. John Reed
  27. Phillip Ross
  28. Robert Simpson
  29. Jacob Smith
  30. John Smith
  31. John Sparrow
  32. Jacob Springer
  33. Joseph Sproat
  34. John Stevenson
  35. David Steel
  36. Jeremiah Sturgeon
  37. William Taylor
  38. William Thompson
  39. Gabriel Walker
  40. George Wallace
  41. James Watson
  42. John Wilkins, Jr.
  43. Thomas Williams
  44. William Wilson
  45. John Wolf
  46. John Woods
  47. Aaron Work

Included also are the accounts of sixteen men who served in the War of 1812. They are:

  1. John Beal
  2. John Beam
  3. John Brunton
  4. Joel Ferree
  5. James Hamilton
  6. John Hamilton
  7. Robert Johnson
  8. Robert Kerr
  9. John McCoy
  10. John McClean
  11. William McCune
  12. Col. Henry Noble
  13. James Patterson
  14. Joseph Robison
  15. Charles Wilson
  16. William Wilson

The tavern has been a survivor. Arthur M. Fording in his book Recollections and Reminisces of West End – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania wrote about the oil refinery fires near the tavern following the Civil War and in 1873. The largest fire that threatened the tavern was known as the “Orchard Fire” in 1873.11

Arthur Fording also wrote that the greatest flood he was aware of happened on Saw Mill Run on Sunday, July 26, 1874. The flood would be known in local history as the “Butcher’s Run Flood” because of the great damage it did on Butcher’s Run on the North Side. However, the flood was devastating to the Banksville area and the West End, through which Saw Mill Run flows. He wrote, “Bridges were washed away, and at several places debris formed dams and did untold damage. William R. Zeigler’s brick grocery store was washed away.”12 The brick building stood at the junction of McCartney’s Run and Wabash Avenue. The back of the Old Stone Tavern property was along McCartney’s Run, and the front of the tavern was only a short distant from Zeigler’s Grocery Store at the intersection of Wabash Avenue and Washington Pike. Across from the store McCartney’s Run emptied into Saw Mill Run. The newly erected salt works farther down Wabash Avenue, where the West End Library now stands was completely washed away by the ragging waters of Saw Mill Run. The Old Stone Tavern stood. The Washington Reporter of Washington, Pennsylvania reported that on July 29, 1784 seven lifeless bodies had been found and that from twenty-five to thirty people were still missing along Saw Mill Run.13

Robert Smith operated the tavern as a roadhouse for thirty years or more. When he retired near the end of the nineteenth century, he closed the tavern and resided there. In 1902 George Schad purchased and reopened the tavern in 1903.14 He owned the tavern a short period, selling it to Charles P. Bolger in 1903. Charles Bolger owned the tavern until 1921,15 when he sold it to Max Green. The Green family operated and resided at the tavern until the mid-1960s. During the prohibition period the tavern became a confectionery store. One of Mr. Green’s granddaughters shared that during prohibition neighborhood men would meet in the cellar. They would play cards and have refreshments.

The tavern has many stories to tell. Stories about the rooms in the basement used as holding cells. Law enforcement officers bringing prisoners to court in Pittsburgh would stop at the tavern and the prisoners were placed in the cells. The officers would then have nourishments in the tavern. There are also those who remember family meals eaten at the tavern on Friday evenings and Mrs. Green’s lime pie.

The tavern closed in 2009. Still there is much to be learned from the pages of the ledger. Scientific studies of the building and earth around the tavern could reveal even more about the early days of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. The Old Stone Tavern, once the hub of the community, waits silently to regain its rightful place as the cornerstone of the community.

1 Conrad Weiser and the Indian Policy of Colonial Pennsylvania by Joseph Solomon Walton page 242

2 History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: With Biographical Sketches.. by Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans page 17

3 Guide to Historic Places in Western Pennsylvania compiled by the Western Pennsylvania historical Survey. The book refers to “The site of Brownsville was first occupied by the Ohio Company in February, 1754, when Captain William Trent was sent to build a storehouse, or ‘hangard’, for the company’s projected trading and settlement activities”. These hangards were buildings in which Indian traders stored their firs and items to trade with the Indians.

4 Pennsylvania: Genealogies Chiefly Scotch-Irish and German by William Henry Egle page 653

5 Pennsylvania: Genealogies Chiefly Scotch-Irish and German by William Henry Egle page 19

6 Act of 11Mar. 1784 (Carey and Bioren, 2 Laws of Pennsylvania) :”An Act to establish a ferry over the Ohio river at the mouth of Saw-mill run. Sect. I. Whereas Daniel Elliot, of the county of Washington, by his petition, hath represented to this House the necessity of having a ferry established on the river Ohio, at the mouth of Saw-mill run, about one mile below Fort Pitt, from the land of the said Daniel Elliot at the mouth of the said run, on the south-west side of the said river, over to the north-east side thereof, into the reserved lands of this state, and praying the said ferry to be established in right of him, the said Daniel Elliot, his heirs and assigns ; and this House being fully satisfied that a public ferry at the place aforesaid would be of public utility.

7 A digest of the acts of assembly relating to and the general ordinances of the city of Pittsburgh etc. by W. W. Thompson page 637

8 Page 166 of Ledger “P” of the Old Stone Tavern Ledger

9 Picture of Early Western Pennsylvania by John W. Harpster pages 163 And 164

10 Pittsburgh Press newspaper, September 8, 1901 “Stone Tavern-Old Time’s Sporting Arena”

11 Recollections and Reminisces of West End-Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Arthur Fording page 90

12 Recollections and Reminisces of West End-Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Arthur Fording pages 90 and 91

13 Washington Reporter, Washington, Pennsylvania, PA Volume:LXVI, Issue: 34, Page 1 July 29, 1874

13The Pittsburgh Chronicle, Monday, May 4, 1903 article

15 Recollections and Reminisces of West End-Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Arthur Fording page 65