PA Room offers look into Ligonier's first tavern
A display containing artifacts taken from the site of John Bridges' Tavern has been the centerpiece of the Ligonier Library's Pennsylvania Room since it opened in October of 2007. A glass-covered case contains fragments of bottles, dishware, cutlery, coinage and even pieces of smoking pipes that still have tobacco inside.
Jacob Grimm, a pharmacist and former curator at Fort Ligonier, found the tavern site in the back yard of his South Market Street home in 1967.
Grimm passed away in 2001, but the most prominent pieces of his collection is still on display at the library.
“I'm extremely excited to keep this stuff here and very grateful to Beverly (Grimm's wife) for allowing us to keep it,” said library archivist Shirley Iscrupe. “I ask her every year if she wants it back, and she says no. She's happy to have it here because more people see it here than in her shop. It gets a little more publicity that way. When people walk in the door, this display is the first thing they walk to.”
Iscrupe said she enjoys explaining the history of the site to people.
“It's right here in this town and it's early. That whole area down there was so impressive. People from Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian, Victoria & Albert in London, everybody all over the world, came to see those artifacts and to help identify them. That's a big deal, and most people have no idea about that.”
Beverly Grimm said after making the initial find, her husband read through historical documents, including journals by Samuel Vaughan in 1787, as well as a Dr. Cutler in 1788, both of whom talked about John Bridges' Tavern. Grimm began excavating the entire back yard in five-square-foot sections, expanding the project to include the driveway, the foundation level of the Forget Me Not shop, and even the part of their neighbor's yard.
“Jake collected every little fragment of any kind of porcelain, or broken dishes, or glassware. There are bunches of broken glass that archaeologists can learn a lot from,” Grimm said. “He was really excited. I think he expected to find some things being so close to Fort Ligonier.”
Grimm would clean, number and catalog every piece he uncovered, eventually setting up a display at Fort Ligonier. Iscrupe, another former curator at the fort, estimated that the collection numbered more than 30,000 just from the first excavation project in 1967-1968.
According to Grimm's research, John Bridges' Tavern was likely in use between 1770 and 1795. However, John Bridges' name does not appear in tax records from that time, which meant that he did not own the tavern. Grimm believed the building was leased to Bridges from various owners, which, as shown from records at the time, include Arthur St. Clair, Thomas Galbraith and the Ramsey family, all of whom were innkeepers at one time.
Grimm said her husband had been interested in archaeology since he was a young man, searching the Ligonier Valley for arrowheads and other historical relics. Each year, he would attend annual meeting for the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeologists, where he would take a display of his findings.
“We were married 38 years and the whole time during those years he was involved in archaeology somewhere; Hannastown, the fort, this project. It was just a part of our life to have these things; they were always about the house. He was always cleaning, and numbering them, and researching. It was an interesting time, certainly.”
Grimm had planned to pool all of his research to write an extensive article on the project, but was unable to do so before he died. Both Beverly Grimm and Iscrupe admitted that it would be a good memorial for Grimm's work if someone could continue where he left off and complete the article.
“I would really like to see somebody who understands 18th century artifacts and sites,” Iscrupe said. “Someone who knows about archaeology and has the time and expertise to pull all of Jake's research together and write the article that he wanted to write. It would be super if that could happen in Jake's memory. He was my mentor and I think he was a heck of a great guy. It would be a fitting testimonial to his knowledge and expertise.”
Peter Turcik is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
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