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N. Huntingdon road has long history

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 4:56 p.m.

Although covered with pavement and painted with double yellow lines, Old Trail Road in North Huntingdon Township still retains some traces of its former self as a stagecoach road and section of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Pike.

The area was known as Jacksonville when it was originally laid out in 1810 by James Irwin and Humphrey Fullerton. Nineteen years prior, the Greensburg Pike was routed through Jacksonville, making the area a popular choice for businesses.

'Old Trail was the main route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,' said the Rev. Joseph Kim, who grew up in the Jacksonville area. 'It had three inns that I know of.'

Humphrey Fullerton's son, William, opened up a store and stagecoach stop in their home on the corner of the pike and Southside Road. Built in 1798, the Fullerton House, then called the Jacksonville Stagecoach Inn served as a tavern and hotel for travelers making the 300-mile, 56-hour trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The former tavern is now a private residence owned by the Edward Sverdrup family.

In the early 1800s, Col. John Irwin recognized the need for an organized roadway through the area. Irwin proved crucial in the creation of the Pittsburgh to Greensburg Pike. The road ran through Adamsburg, Strawpump, past Irwin's home on Brush Hill Road in Irwin and through Jacksonville, Circleville and Turtle Creek.

Originally, a turnpike was a long pole that straddled the roadway to block travelers from gaining access without paying the toll. After the toll was collected, the gate man turned the key and lifted one end of the pole, thus giving travelers admission onto the turnpike.

The collected tolls - ranging from 6 cents to 12 cents - were used to pay for grading the dirt roads and building simple wooden bridges so stagecoaches and travelers on horseback could cross streams.

A stagecoach trip cost $20 for the east/west journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in the early 19th century. The coaches could hold nine passengers and were considered luxurious modes of transportation. The interiors were lined with velvet and iron springs gave travelers a smoother ride than buggies and horse-drawn wagons. Stagecoach drivers earned 37 cents for a 12-hour day.

The McIntyre House was another inn along the Old Trail, Kim said. Hugh McIntyre, a prominent abolitionist, purchased the house in 1854 and ran the inn with his wife, Jane, until 1894. The location was a primary station for the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.

'Across the street from the Fullerton House is a frame house that was built around 1810-1815,' said Kim. 'It was another inn and is now the private residence of Alice Racey.'

The Racey house was formerly owned by the David Magill family.

'David Magill owned Lincoln Coach Lines and he had three sons, Paul, Dave and Tom,' Kim said. 'We used to play hide-and-seek in the buses.'

The third stagecoach inn on Old Trail Road, Jacktown Hotel, began its long life as a log cabin in 1810.

During its early years as a stagecoach inn, a coach driver named James Black stopped to water his cold and tired horses. He then drove his stagecoach and its passengers to the Jacktown Hotel. After arriving at the inn, Black didn't jump down from his seat to help his passengers exit from the coach. When several passengers investigated, they found Black dead. He had froze to death.

Throughout the years, the Jacktown Hotel was renovated and remodeled many times.

'The Herold family owned it for years. There was the main building with the front pillars,' said Kim. 'It had a bar and main dining room. There was another wing that used to be Proctor's Garage. I remember when the pillars were put into place in 1935 or '36. I was about 6 years old at the time. We all ran up to watch them put up the posts.'

Fire ripped through the Jacktown Hotel in 1966, destroying the area landmark.

Kim grew up in what is known as the Robinson house on Old Trail Road. The house was Built in 1800 by David Marchand, a physician who is credited with constructing the first hospital west of the Allegheny Mountains in 1770. The hospital was located on Little Sewickley creek about two miles south of Adamsburg.

'My parents restored the Robinson house. I grew up there and I recall old Mrs. Robinson had a hard time making ends meet,' said Kim. 'My parents purchased it and began restoring it in 1950. They sold it in 1961 to the Price family, who then sold it to Jack and Pat Miller.'

Kim also remembers fondly his time in the historic Fullerton house.

'One family that lived in the house during the 1930s was the Harry White family. Katherine White, Harry's daughter, was like a sister to me and I used to go in and out of that house all the time.'

When White got married, she had her reception at the Jacktown Hotel.

'I was about 10 years old at the time when Katherine White got married,' Kim recalled. 'The wedding was on a Friday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m. in September or early October. My dad said I couldn't go to the wedding because it was a school day. Then he said I could take my good clothes to school and change, so I got to go to her wedding.'

The Jacktown section of the township bustled with activity until the advent of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Trains carried passengers from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh faster and in greater comfort than stagecoaches. And when automobiles became the up-and-coming mode of transportation, the need for a safe and uninterrupted east/west hard surface roadway was vital.

'Old Trail was the main road then Center Highway became the next stage of that,' said Kim.

Traffic on Old Trail Road declined after Center Highway was constructed in 1928. Eleven years later, the four-lane Lincoln Highway was built to provide access to the new Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened on Oct. 1, 1940, to much fanfare.

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