Places: Near Fort Necessity, a National Road inn is reclaiming 1830s interior

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Tony Tye, Post-Gazette photos
Mount Washington Tavern, built in the 1830s on land purchased by George Washington in 1769, is part of the Fort Necessity National Battlefield historic site in Fayette County.
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Visiting Fayette County taverns on the National Road

Summer programming

Fort Necessity National Battlefield is at U.S. Route 40, about 11 miles east of Uniontown. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for interpretive center; sunrise to sunset for park. Admission to interpretive center: $5; children 15 and under free.
Monday, 7 p.m.: "50 Years of Wampum and Trade Beads in Western Pennsylvania, 1730-1780," hourlong slide program by Bob Winters, a member of the Platform Reservation Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation and leading authority on the subject.
Aug. 5-6, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Trent's Company Encampment, with demonstrations.
Aug. 12-13, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.: American Indian Encampment, with demonstrations.
Aug. 19-20, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Work Party Encampment; re-enactors will help finish repairs to the storehouse and stockade.

Ongoing events

Soldier Life program: noon-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 2 and 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon, and 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday.
Ask a Ranger program: 1 p.m. daily; various topics.
Mount Washington Tavern restoration tours: 10 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. daily.
"Road of Necessity": 19-minute big-screen film debuted this month, shown every half-hour.

Fifteen years after the conflict ended, George Washington bought the land on which he'd lost 30 men in the opening battle of the French and Indian War.

Was it sentimental attachment to history or just business? There is evidence on both counts for Washington's 1769 purchase of the 234 1/2-acre tract that held the bowl-shaped Great Meadows, in which his men had hurriedly built Fort Necessity to guard against French retaliation for the death of Ensign Jumonville.

In 1784, Washington wrote that the tract, patented as "Mount Washington," would be "a very good stand for a Tavern" and inn, should a proper road ever be built through it. In 1818, almost 20 years after his death, the National Road was completed from Cumberland to Wheeling, and the Federal-style tavern was built in the 1830s by Judge Nathaniel Ewing.

Today the tavern and the battlefield are part of the National Park Service's 900-acre Fort Necessity National Battlefield historic site, where an impressive new $8 million interpretative center opened last fall. The center's first summer season brings outdoor programs and encampments, beginning with the July 3 evening commemoration of the 252nd anniversary of the battle, during which 33 luminarias will be lit, one for every life lost, including those of two Frenchmen and an American Indian.

For the next few months, visitors also can tour the Mount Washington Tavern as it undergoes interior restoration to bring its walls and floors, long covered with modern wallpapers and carpets, more in line with their 1830s appearance. When the work is complete in the fall, the inn once again will be furnished and interpreted as a National Road stagecoach stop.

Judge Ewing's 11-room, brick-and-sandstone tavern was designed to accommodate stagecoach passengers, who tended to be more affluent than those who stopped at the more affordable "wagon stands." Tax rolls show Mr. Ewing likely never lived there but gave his tavern an elegant elliptical doorway, generous room sizes and ceiling heights, and a wide center hall leading to a three-story staircase with cherry handrail all the way to the attic -- indicating the third floor could be pressed into service as a dormitory.

"Like many National Road inns, the Mount Washington Tavern was not associated with a town, but played a central place function to the surrounding rural areas," attracting locals by their food and ambience, write Karen Koegler and Kenneth Pavelchak in the 1996 book "A Guide to the National Road."

After employing a series of innkeepers, Ewing sold the tavern and land in 1840 to James Sampey, a constable and a justice of the peace whose wife, Rebecca, ran the tavern after his death four years later -- "one of the few respectable and profitable occupations open to women in the 1800s," Ms. Koegler and Mr. Pavelchak report.

In 1856, the estate was sold to farmer Godfrey Fazenbaker, who used the building as a residence, for by then travel on the National Road had shifted to the railroads. His descendants, who occasionally took in lodgers, held the property until 1932, honoring the battle site by keeping the Great Meadows unplanted. As the Fazenbaker family grew, they had attached a two-story frame addition to the west end of the former tavern, probably in the 1870s, but otherwise maintained its integrity.

The same cannot always be said for the state of Pennsylvania, which purchased the former tavern as a historic site and immediately set about making changes "for the purpose of making the building appear older and more formal than it actually is," wrote architect Tony Crosby and historian Greg Cody in their 1997 Historic Structure Report for the National Park Service, which in 1962 added the tavern to the Fort Necessity National Battlefield site. The two-story addition was removed, and four windows, including an arched one that may have replaced an existing rectangular window, were added to the west, gable end of the building in the 1930s, and an exterior doorway, thought to have led to the barroom, was bricked in.

The tavern's three-story staircase features a cherry handrail that reaches to the attic. When the restoration is finished, the inn will again be furnished and interpreted as a National Road stagecoach stop.
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The National Park Service is restoring the tavern's interior to its original appearance. Wallpaper and carpets are being removed to make the walls and floors look as they did in the 1830s.
Click photo for larger image.

The double chimneys on each gable wall were made more prominent and symmetrical. Fortunately, other changes planned at that time, including the addition of a two-story, columned porch a la Mount Vernon, were not executed.

A Historic Structure Report is a marvelous thing, an accretion of small but telling details about a building, its owners and occupants. This one reports that most of the tavern's interior fabric is original, right down to the door hardware. Paint analysis showed the woodwork originally had been cream in color, but Mr. Crosby and Mr. Cody found no evidence of wallpaper earlier than the 1930s.

After a three-day site visit in May, architectural conservator Barbara Yocum recommended removing the layers of wallpaper and painting the walls a neutral color (they'll be white) and the woodwork cream.

But should the house survive another century or two, historians might want to know what the 20th-century wallpaper looked like. Why not keep a small section of wall with its layers exposed? That's part of the history of the house, too. MaryEllen Snyder, the park's chief of visitor services, said she would propose it, as it would be in keeping with building interpretation at other federally owned historic sties, including the nearby Albert Gallatin home, Friendship Hill.

Ms. Yocum also recommended the oak floors, most of them original, not be power-sanded or uniformly refinished or painted, but rather that treatments for each room be determined by examining the wood hidden beneath the toe moldings at the edges of the rooms. Braided area rugs will be added later.

Also this summer, repairs are being made to Fort Necessity's reconstructed stockade and storehouse, which is getting a new roof.

"Washington was silent on any sentimental or historical interest the land may have held for him until he drafted his will during 1799, at which time he succinctly mentioned that the land 'is distinguished by the appellation of the Great Meadows, where the first action with the French in the year 1754 was fought,'" according to the historic structure report.

Washington never profited from his Fayette County land, but thanks to the National Park Service's improvements, Pennsylvania and its citizens are better prepared than ever to profit from his association with them.

When the state of Pennsylvania bought Mount Washington Tavern as a historic site, it made changes "for the purpose of making the building appear older and more formal than it actually is," said a 1997 Historic Structure Report for the National Park Service.
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Architecture critic Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590.


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