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Whiskey Was Once A Way Of Life And Taverns Came Before Churches

By Pat Barber (The Daily Review, Towanda, PA., Thursday, July 22, 1976

Whiskey was warmth, courage, medicine and a prime ingredient of socializing. It was a necessity, an item of barter and trade, more in use as legal tender than the hard money so scarce in Bradford County’s early history. In community after community, the first public building erected was a tavern or house of public entertainment, usually some years before the building of churches and schools.

Clement Heverly in "Pioneer and Patriot Families," published in 1913, lists, the county chronologly. "The first houses of public entertainment in the county were kept by Isaac Hancock, who was licensed a ‘taverner’ for Springfield (Wyalusing) and Thomas McClure for Tioga (Athens) in 1788."

It wasn’t until 1791 that the first church organization was started. It was the "Church of Christ at Wysox on the Susquehanna River in the State of Pennsylvania" and met at the house of Jehial Franklin on Oct. 3.

In 1797 there was a prospect of war with France and the following June, Governor Thomas Mifflin issued a call for volunteers.

This is what John Hollenback, recruiting sergeant for the area wrote. "I enlisted 14 men at Wyalusing by Kingsley’s spring. I got them to play ball and sent to Justus Gaylord’s for two gallons of whiskey and after they got well "yorked" I paid them eight silver dollars apiece. When the women got hold of it, they were going to kill me. I slept in a little old barn south of Peter Stevens’ house to keep out of their way."

Presumably the women were more worried about the prospect of war than of whiskey, for in the early days nearly everyone drank. In his chapter on pioneer customs, Heverly wrote: "Liquor was always had in abundance at chopping, logging and mowing bees, raisings, shooting matches and weddings. It was a very common drink, even church members and preachers imbibing. The best could be had for six shillings a gallon, and when a tippler got boozy he was not a week in getting over it. ‘Spirits’ were regarded as a necessity and every family kept a supply."

Another account of husking and other bees reads: "In early times social life was all aglow and sometimes fun was fast and furious…times of great social and convivial talkativeness, song and merriment." The writer, Elder S. W. Alden of Monroe, described a husking bee in great detail. A half hour after the husking started, the owner of the corn called out, "Boys, the jug, the jug, pass the jug," and in a moment the jug is started; handed along from hand to hand and from mouth to mouth along the entire pile, until each man has taken a moderate sip of the pure ‘old rye.’ Just from the still-house, and no corn in it in those days. This was repeated every half hour through the entire evening, and yet they didn’t not get drunk but just had plenty."

William Tracy of Springfield wrote his impressions of the life-sustaining fluid in the early days of the 19th century. "When I was a boy it was common for everybody to drink whiskey. Not only men, boys and women, but even ministers thought as much of taking their bitters as they did their meals. On one occasion when Brother J was making his pastoral calls, he stopped at our house just before noon with the announcement that he would stay with us during the night. Of course we boys were glad to see him as the table always furnished the best the house could afford, together with an extra supply of whiskey when he was visiting us. On this occasion we were nearly out of liquor, so mother hastened one of the boys to the field where father was, informing him that Brother J had come and that there was but a pint of whiskey in the house. ‘That will do for dinner.’ ‘Yes, but Brother J is going to stay all night.’ ‘Take the horse and bag and go to _ _ _ and borrow a gallon of whiskey, but be sure and keep the snout of the jug up, so that the cob will not come out.’ The bag was thrown across the animal’s back with the stone in the one end and the jug in the other. The whiskey was obtained and the evening pleasantly spent in the way of years ago.

While many people had their own still-there was a Still Creek in Troy-there had to be taverns to sell to those who didn’t and for other important reasons. Taverns were a gathering place for the community to solve its problems, to catch up on local news, and to share news from further afield when the rare newspaper was brought in by a postrider.

Most important, there had to be frequent public houses to accommodate travelers and their horses. Both needed rest and refreshment. In an age where traveling hundreds of miles a day is commonplace, it is hard to realize that there was a time when 20 miles was a long day’s trip. The Bicentennial Wagon Train, which passed through Bradford County, tried to keep its pace to 20 miles a day as they crossed the country but, of necessity, some hops were a little longer.

The Red Tavern in Towanda, run by William Means, was one of the most important watering spots in the county. Means, who started out by working as a boatman for the county’s first storekeeper, Matthias Hollenback, went into business for himself conveying the French people and their baggage from Harrisburg to Asylum. He built a log house near the river with his profits. It was directly opposite where the dam was constructed, and for many years he kept a ferry and a distillery at that place. He kept a store in the log house and opened an inn there in 1797 until 1804 when he built a two story framed building on the north side of Franklin at its intersection with Main Street. This was the Red Tavern, so important that when the county was formed in 1812, the Red Tavern was fixed as the place for holding courts until the first courthouse was ready for occupancy in January, 1816.

Larger houses of public entertainment were needed as travel increased and communities expanded. The many stage coach routes which criss-crossed the county needed places for passengers and horses to refresh during the day and to sleep at night. As most stage houses had one big dormitory on the top floor, sometimes divided by a partition to separate the sexes, they came to be used for community balls, dances and other public gatherings.

There were some peddlers in wagons or on foot who also needed a place to stay, and the advent of the railroads brought an influx of traveling salesmen and other visitors, most of whom needed accommodations. Taverns, inns, halfway houses and hostelries gradually came to be known as hotels and many were enlarged. All the terms mean the same and come from the word ‘hostelry’ which is found in both Old English and Old French languages.

Space does not permit the naming of all the early inns and old hotels but here are a few. Isaac Hancock opened the first public house in Wyalusing and kept it from 1780 to 1795; he was also the first justice of the peace in that area. The rush of settlers to other parts of the county kept this hostelry busy with people traveling on horseback and in canoes.

Bradsby writes in his 1891 history of the county, "In the period from 1820 to 1830 there were five stills in full operation in the township; two taverns, of which one was kept in full blast by one of the church deacons, who sold liquor freely, and another prominent brother ran one of the distilleries."

By 1878 there was a good hotel in Wyalusing and another in Camptown; by 1890 there were two in Wyalusing. The Bradford County Business Directory for 1900 lists the Hotel Middendorf and the Wyalusing Hotel, with Joseph Middendorf and J. Morgan Brown as the respective proprietors. John M. Reed kept the Camptown Hotel.

Abner C. Rockwell came to Monroeton in 1800, was elected the first sheriff and kept the "old log jail" at one end of his house. When his term of office expired, he built the original bridge spanning the South Branch at Monroeton and also a large framed house, which he opened as a hotel. It was the largest and best in town and was dedicated as "the Beauty of Monroe." One side of his sign was painted with a picture of General Lafayette, the other ornamented with Masonic emblems. He had a distillery and manufactured his own liquors. Close to 100 years later, there was Hinman House, George H. Lancaster, proprietor, and Summers House, M. M. Coolbaugh proprietor in Monroeton.

By 1825 there were 28 men licensed to keep inns or hotels in the county. Heverly lists the names but not their places of business. However, readers will no doubt recognize one or more names from their own locality.

They were Abner C. Rockwell, Warren Brown, Jonathan Lawrence, Rowland Wilcox, Frederick Fisher, Sheffield Wilcox Jr., John F. Satterlee, James Long, Horatio Ladd, John Taylor, Humphrey Brown, William Means Jr., William W. Rice, John Watkins, Ebenezer Shaw, Warren Jenkins, James Calkins, Daniel Miller, William Snyder, Darius Bullock, William Myer, Joseph Armstrong, Russell Fowler, Daniel Bartlett, Jesse Woodruff, Hosea Hill, Vine Baldwin and Isaac Pomeroy. In those days rye whiskey cost 26 cents per gallon and expensive apple whiskey was 37 cents.

The last two men named were Troy tavern keepers. Baldwin first had a distillery on Bentley Creek in Ridgebury, then moved to Troy in 1821 and kept tavern where the Troy House, now the Troy Hotel stands. His lot cost him about $10.

Colonel Pomeroy arrived from Connecticut about 1818. A few years later he bought Conant’s Tavern on a corner, replaced it in 1837-38 by the Eagle Tavern, a wooden building with lofty columns which was destroyed by fire in 1852.

Major Ezra Long had an earlier place of entertainment. Long’s Tavern in Troy, near the present junction of Routes 6 and 14, was started in 1812 and was called "Compass and the Square." It was the home of the area’s first Masonic meetings, also of local brew called "mudpaw." Other early hotels in Troy were the Adams Hotel where the VanDyne Civic Building now stands and the Welch House on part of the Acme lot.

Sylvania House was built soon after the Civil War and was torn down in the 1950’s. Many still remember hilarious hay or sleigh rides that ended up in the public room at Sylvania House, as they remember hotels that used to do a thriving business at Gillett, Austinville and Columbia Cross Roads. The latter burned near the turn of the century, was rebuilt and run by the Grinnell family. The Budd Mitchells have the bar chairs in their dining room.

Further south the Bailey family ran a hotel for many years at Bailey’s Corners. It is now a private residence. The White Tavern in Alba started out as a stage coach stop, and Canton had its own Red Tavern. It stood on the site of the present T. Burk and Company and also housed the first post office. By 1900 there were six hotels in the Canton area including the Packard House and the Park Hotel, both still standing, although the Packard House has been made into apartments.

Burlington had the Morse House and The Burlington Hotel. There is still a bar in the old Morse building, but it is not as elegant as it used to be when some visitors to Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Lake preferred to stay in Burlington. The other is now a private residence across the street.

Mountain Lake, which was once a thriving community with its own post office, was popular as a summer resort then as it is today. A huge three-tiered hotel was completely destroyed by fire sometime around the turn of the century. It was run by Reuben Rockwell at one time, had a livery attached with regular hack service to Troy and Towanda to meet the trains. Rooms cost $10 a week. The second Mountain Lake Hotel is still standing and was operated in 1900 by J. H. Rathgeber. The same year the Mt. Pisgah Inn was run by Mrs. M. H. Atwater.

The 1900 directory lists 14 hotels for Towanda. Most of them are gone along with stages and trains, displaced by motels on the outskirts and along the highways.

There were many other hotels in the county well into the 20th century, but one more deserves special mention. The Temperance House in Granville Center, operated by 1900 by B. F. Taylor, meant just what the name implied. The original Taylor, Jeremiah, came to Granville in 1800 and was the first permanent settler. In 1849his son, Levi, built the firs public house for the entertainment of travelers in Granville. The books do not say if it started as temperance or when it became so, but a great Temperance Movement swept the county in 1829 and again in 1837.

Heverly wrote of the first movement: ‘In the early history of the county, whiskey was regarded as a panacea for all ills. The man who built a distillery was a public benefactor. It was considered no offense against good morals to make, sell or use it. "Deacons and Elders made it and sold and drank it, "not infrequently to intoxication. Everybody drank whiskey – young men and old men, women and maidens. Whiskey was the currency of the country, the standard of value. Things were bought to be paid for in whiskey. A man agreed to work for so much whiskey a day. The state of things was deplorable. We were fast becoming a nation of drunkards."

Temperance House managed to do a thriving business without the deplorable stuff; the house was also a voting station with a slot in the wall for citizens to slip in their ballot. It is now a private residence.

Although Isaac Smith of Columbia and John Watkins of Ulster quit the distilling business in 1837 "for the good of humanity," not everyone was so inspired. In 1832 Towanda had two hotels, but neither school house nor church. The Fourth of July was always an occasion for great celebration all over the county with rousing speeches, roasted bear or other barbecue and other programs, plus toasts!

Wyalusing, Towanda and Wysox observed the first general celebration of American Independence on July 4, 1801. "William Means provided an entertainment, the style and elegance of which reflected great credit on his taste and industry. After dinner a number of appropriate toasts were drank."

On July 4, 1815, citizens of Towanda and Wysox gathered to celebrate at Mr. Haslet’s inn in Towanda village. "When the fare was over, 23 toasts were drank, accompanied by the discharge of guns and the hilarity of the festive board," reported the "Bradford Gazette."

Monroe’s grand celebration in 1822 led off with sacred music and a prayer, and led up to 17 toasts. Capacities were slipping as only 13 toasts were drunk in Wyalusing the following year, but Windham did just fine with 23 toasts. Warren in 1836 managed 13 toasts which were listed in "The Settler," and early newspaper. One was to civil liberty, "May we have the wisdom to secure it; the strength to defend it and the generosity to share it with others."

It seems fitting to close with a note from "The Settler" about the Monroe celebration. "At six in the afternoon, each individual returned to his home thankful for the blessing s their forefathers had achieved for them."

The West Franklin Hotel, Hiram B. Burroughs, proprietor in 
1900, was a great favorite with workers on the ill-fated B. P. & E. Railroad, one of whom took this photograph in 1906.
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 25 DEC 2006
By Joyce M. Tice
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