United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
Section number 8; Page 1
Statement of Significance
The Beallsville Historic District is significant for its physical representation of an intact pike town in southwestern Pennsylvania and for its association with the history of commerce and transportation on the National Road. From the time of the National Road's completion in 1818 and the town's chartering a year later, Beallsville prospered as a stop for the tens of thousands of wagons and coaches carrying goods and passengers to the western frontier and the cities of the east. The large number of surviving early 19th-century buildings lining the streets of town represent an architectural style typical of the homes, taverns and other structures in the pike towns of southwestern Pennsylvania. The linear settlement pattern along the National Road accompanied by a grid of narrow streets and alleys is itself an important indicator of this type of road-related town. The survival of these elements in Beallsville after the decline of the National Road following the 1852 opening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad makes it one of the best-preserved pike towns on the route of the old pike. Beallsville is recommended for nomination of an historic district under the Criterion A because it is significant for its association with the history of the National Road. The town also has significance under criterion C as one of the finest surviving examples of a pike town on the National Road in Pennsylvania which developed during the pike era and continued to thrive for years later.
Historical background and significance
As early as 1774 pioneer Robert Thornton had settled on the wilderness land on Fishpot and Plum runs in southwestern Pennsylvania near the place which would come to be known as Beallsville. It is uncertain under what right he held the land since there is no record of a Pennsylvania warrant being issued to Thornton for the acreage he claimed. He may very well have simply held the land under a "tomahawk improvement right," which meant that he claimed the land to be his simply by his presence on it. Nevertheless, on May 14, 1785, Thornton sold his land to Zephaniah Beall who registered the sale with the land Office of Pennsylvania. Beall had the 349 ½ acre tract surveyed a little more than two weeks later on May 30 under the title of "Clear Drinking," a name recognizing the plentiful freshwater springs found in the area. Beall held the land for over ten years and then, on October 24, 1796, he conveyed 184 acres of the tract to his son, also named Zephaniah. Sometime afterward, Christian Kreider and George Jackson bought interest in the land.
In 1818, travel began between Cumberland, Maryland and Wheeling, Virginia along 130 miles of the National Road, the country's first federally-funded highway. Up until the opening of the pike, the wooded mountains and hills of southwestern Pennsylvania had remained a somewhat remote area where such events as the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and the Whiskey Rebellion (1794) were played out against a backdrop of untouched frontier. Ninety miles of the National Road passed through Pennsylvania, bringing with it thousands of new settlers and decades of prosperity to the entire region.
The newly-opened pike ran straight through the land owned by the Bealls, Kreider and Jackson who recognized the opportunity for development. On August 30, 1819 the four land owners chartered a town on their land and gave it the name of Beallsville in honor of Zephaniah senior. At the same time, they hired famed surveyor and engineer Jonathan Knight to lay out a plan for their new town along the National Road. Knight had already made a name for himself as an engineer working on the construction of the National Road, and he would later be responsible for several of the plans for southwestern Pennsylvania's pike towns. The survey Knight created was a linear plan with 128 lots, most of which measured 180 feet deep with 60 feet of frontage on the National Road, now serving as Main Street. Two major crossroads of Gay and Maiden streets, also commonly known as the Pittsburgh and Morgantown Pike or Bentleyville Road, were also laid out. A grid of narrow alleys named for trees and local natural features completed the survey and plat of the town which Knight dated September 13, 1819.
A week before the town was chartered, the four land owners had already distributed the following advertisement to potential buyers in the region:
The public are informed that a town is laid off to be called Beallsville, on the National Road, including the tavern stand now occupied by Christian Kreider, at the Cross-roads about nine miles from Brownsville and fifteen from Washington. The lots will be sold on the premises on Monday, the 13th of September next at public auction. Sale to commence at 10 o'clock a.m. Any further comments on the advantages of the site is considered unnecessary, as those wishing to purchase will view the premises.
The conditions will be made easy to purchasers.
Zeph'a W. Beall
Aug. 23, 1819
The Tavern House will be sold on said day.
The advertisement rings with an air of confidence shared by many land developers along the National Road in its early years of existence. A similar view had been taken by the nearby town of Hillsborough (now Scenery Hill) which had been platted a month earlier in July by Knight. The proprietors of Hillsborough had promised prospective buyers:
"There is no town or village within ten or twelve miles distant which can rival it. Nor is it presumed that any can be established short of that distance which can have effect."
In the years following, Beallsville would far outstrip many neighboring communities in its prominence on the National Road during the heyday of the pike era from 1818 to 1852. By 1819, Christian Kreider was already operating a tavern. Two years later, Thomas Stewart was keeping a tavern in a small log house and Thomas Norfolk was operating an inn built by Joseph Mills called the Beallsville Sun, the first brick structure in the young town. Within a few years, Norfolk built his own brick tavern at the town's central junction of the National Road and Maiden Street. The tavern became a popular and famed stop along the pike during the years it was owned and operated by William Greenfield as the Greenfield Stand (later the National Hotel). Greenfield also operated the Beallsville Savings Bank out of the tavern, issuing notes in small denominations to the growing community. On the north side of the pike, opposite Greenfield's establishment, Charles Miller constructed the Miller Tavern (later the Guttery Tavern) in the late 1820s. Town histories speak of a number of other taverns being kept in Beallsville throughout the 1820s, 30s and 40s, though most of the details on their locations and descriptions have been lost.
In the first two years of Beallsville's existence as a pike town, numerous log, frame and brick homes were built by the growing population. Families, single men and several doctors came to settle in these formative years. General stores, a blacksmith shop, wagon makers shop, tailor and grocers sprang up, and prosperous farmsteads developed on the hills surrounding the village. Fraternal orders of Odd Fellows and Masons were founded to provide a much-needed social outlet for the men of Beallsville, and the construction of a Methodist Church in the mid-1820s brought the otherwise rapidly expanding community an air of civility.
At its peak, daily National Road travel through Beallsville and other pike towns would have included tens of thousands of head of livestock, goods being taken to and from markets in conestoga wagons, and mail traffic using the country's first pony express system. Coach services carried the likes of Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, William Henry Harrison and the Marquis de Lafayette, as well as thousands of common travelers, to the western frontier and back. Along the route of the pike, taverns provided food and lodging for travelers; while livery stables, blacksmiths and repair shops serviced the pike's coaches, wagons, oxen and horses.
Unfortunately, the prosperity in the pike towns was relatively short-lived. In 1852 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's line from Cumberland to Wheeling opened and almost completely halted traffic on the National Road. Even so, the pike was still widely used for local trade and travel. Beallsville became an incorporated borough in this same pivotal year and continued to thrive with a steady population which grew to over 400 by 1870.
One of Beallsville's greatest local claims to fame came during the Civil War when citizens wrote themselves into the history books with the raising of the Ringgold Cavalry. Though initially discouraged by the War Department in Washington, DC which desired infantry volunteers, local men were determined to organize a cavalry unit. Local doctor John Keys finally convinced Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to accept Beallsville's cavalry volunteers. On June 22, 1861, 7000 people crowded Beallsville's streets near the National Hotel to bid farewell to Captain Keys and the 70 members of the Ringgold Cavalry. They are said to be the first cavalry unit to go into service for the Union Army during the Civil War, and an additional 100 men would later serve under Keys' command during the war.
In the years following the Civil War, Beallsville returned to its pre-war normalcy and continued to grow. By 1870, the town's businesses included two hotels, four stores, two grocers, two tailors, a saddle and harness makers shop, a blacksmith, wagon maker, marble factory and shoemaker. The discovery of deposits of coal and natural gas added to local prosperity. Around 1872, Jess P. Miller constructed Miller's Private Bank east of the junction of the National Hotel and Maiden Street. When the bank finally closed during the Great Depression in 1933, it was the last surviving private bank in Washington County. The International Order of Odd Fellows constructed a new meeting hall in 1873, and a year later a new brick Methodist-Episcopal Church was built at the west end of town adjacent to Beallsville's 15 acre cemetery. Nearly 20 years later, a Presbyterian Church was constructed at the opposite end of town. The borough's small, two-room school became overcrowded during this time as enrollment grew to over 90 students. In 1896, a modern brick building was constructed at a cost of $6000 to accommodate elementary and high school classes, which it did until its doors were closed in 1949.
In the 1920s, the National Road saw a rebirth in travel and popularity as an automobile touring scenic highway. Some portions of the old pike were moved to follow the newly-created Route 40, but the road remained on its traditional straight path through Beallsville. New businesses such as gas stations and automobile dealerships sprang up in Beallsville and some of the other pike towns to accommodate new travelers, while more traditional road-related services such as restaurants and inns experienced an upswing in patronage. By the 1950s, Beallsville's population peaked at 650 residents and then began a decline to its present level of nearly 300 people. [Note: The Municipal Directory for Washington County shows the Beallsville population at 530 in 1990].
Unlike the nearby pike towns of Scenery Hill to the west and Centerville to the east, Beallsville has retained a great deal of its original 19th-century character. In Scenery Hill, most of the Jonathan Knight-designed grid of streets and alleys have been abandoned, and many pike era buildings have been converted into tourist-oriented craft and antique stores. Centerville was bypassed by the rerouting of the National Road into Route 40 in the 1920s, and it too has lost many of its secondary streets. A loss of direct connection to the old pike has resulted in the decline of many of Centerville's 19th-century buildings and much of the town's identity.
While both Scenery Hill and Centerville still have a great deal of heritage to be proud of, Beallsville has managed to escape many of the challenges other pike towns have faced. Almost all of the original streets and narrow alleys survive along the centrally-defining axis of the National Road. Around twenty 19th-century structures have been lost over the years, primarily to major fires at the center of town in 1944 and 1977, yet the streetscape is still one of over 150 years ago. The local population continues to occupy the small 19th-century homes lining the streets of town, and the farms sitting atop the hills surrounding town are still being used for agricultural purposes. The businesses which once served the National Road are mostly gone now, but Beallsville maintains a direct link to its prosperous past as a pike town in southwestern Pennsylvania.