Monday, March 24, 2008

Old Stone House

My family lives in a very historic part of the country. Without really knowing it, I grew up along scenic U.S. 40, the first national road that started on one coast and ended on the other – also known as the old National Pike. The road is peppered with mile markers, old toll houses, and inns that have been converted to restaurants and private residences. One of the most striking of these buildings on U.S. 40 is The Old Stone House overlooking Little Meadows, the valley named by George Washington during the 1754 campaign.

The Old Stone House was built as an inn in 1818 by Jesse Tomlinson, who chose Little Meadows not only for its scenic beauty but for its opportune location on the National Pike about a day’s ride from Cumberland (today, it's a 20 minute trip by car.)

Tomlinson’s inn was built to last, of blocks of stone 2 feet and 3 feet square, with chimneys 30 feet wide at the base and 2-foot-deep windowsills. A community center, the inn housed a general store and the county’s first post office. Stagecoach passengers feasted on mutton, venison, turkey, pheasant and brook trout for 50 cents per person; the wagoners, whose trade was essential, got a discount, plus corn whiskey at 3 cents a shot.

According to the historical society, celebrated 19th-century guests at the inn included Henry Clay, Jenny Lind, P.T. Barnum and four U.S. presidents: Jackson, Taylor, Polk and President-elect William Henry Harrison – en route from Ohio to his fatal inauguration, maybe?

Of course, there are ghost stories. One of the bedrooms is said to have a perpetually bloodstained floor. The historical society passes along an even better legend:
The most intriguing story is about a beautiful, heavily veiled woman with quantities of expensive luggage bearing foreign labels, who got off the stage to spend the night at Stone House. She had her supper brought to her room and did not once set foot outside of her door. The next morning one of the little servant boys brought her hot water. But she had disappeared. All of her baggage remained, but there was no trace of her. The woods were searched as thoroughly as possible, but she was never found; and to this day no one knows who she was.
From the outside, the building seems to be in good shape. It’s a private residence now. Here is a postcard by John Kennedy Lacock: