The Old Trading Path Becomes Part A

Part of The Lincoln Highway


†† Only the braver, the more daring settlers pushed beyond what is known geographically as the Appalachian Barrier, in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. One of the most practicable routes for these sturdy pioneers to follow was the Old Trading Path by which Indian traders used to carry their goods and skins to and from Ohio. Its eastern terminus was Philadelphia, but it is with the history of that part of it from Car1isle to Raystown, as Bedford was then called, which was of greatest concern to the early dwellers of Fulton County.

†† Pennsylvania desired to share in this Indian trade which Virginia hoped to monopolize. This played a large part in the rivalry between the two colonies up to the time of the French and Indian War, when this trade was at a standstill. When the struggle between the French and English for the control of the territory now embraced in the United States and Canada was beginning, Governor Morris of Pennsylvania was requested by St. Clair, Braddock's Deputy Quartermaster-General, to open a road across Pennsylvania to the Youghiogheny in order that the stores to be furnished by the northern colonies for the capture of the French forts upon the Great Lakes, the upper Allegheny, and at Fort Duquesne, where Pittsburgh now stands, might be taken thither by a shorter route than by the roads then being opened through Maryland and Virginia. Morris answered that there was no wagon road west of Carlisle through the mountains, only the horsepath by which the Indians had traveled--The Old Trading Path referred to above. The trail over the ridge, west of McConnellsburg, is part of this old path, locally known as Packersí Path, goods being carried upon pack-mules. It is on record that it had been surveyed prior to 1755. Morris was empowered the middle of March to open the road. Advertisements for laborers for the cutting of the road were dispersed through the Counties of Lancaster, York, and Cumberland. In the following May, one hundred and fifty men were at work. June 2, 1755; the road up Sideling Hill, sixty-seven miles west of Carlisle, and thirty miles east of Raystown, had been artificially cut. The point named places it four miles west of McConnellsburg.† The report goes on to state that there were many discouragements. This stretch of road is, still regarded as putting very great strain upon trucks. During the World War, the Packard Company sent its army trucks here to be tested, because this thirty-five miles was regarded as the equivalent of five hundred miles upon the level.

Thus did the Old Trading Path become a white man's road.† Braddock's defeat a little later in the year put an end to any improvement for several years. Until this defeat, Pennsylvania had done nothing toward the preservation of the colony except the ordering of the road to be cut. They furnished not a man, and voted not a pound toward the expense ofsecuring the wagons and horses which had made Braddock's march possible. But failing the ounce of prevention they came quickly with the pound of cure. Now the chain offorts previously referred to was built under Colonel Armstrong. Pitt now put General Forbes in command of the English forces and the road westward now became known as the Forbes Road. This name, however, can only be applied to that leading west from Bedford (Raystown). The Forbes Road was built from Cumberland to Bedford. With the fortification of the gaps ofthe mountain, the road Pennsylvania is building turns northward at Fort Loudon toward Path Valley, crosses toFort Lyttleton, thence to Juniata Crossing and westward to Raystown. So fora generation, from 1757 to 1787, McConnellsburg was not on the most-traveled road westward. †This fortified road became the great military route from the Atlantic seaboard to the Trans-Allegheny empire-- the most important military road of equal length on the continent throughout the eighteenth century. It was over this road that the western forts received their ammunition and supplies throughout the Revolutionary War.

Such was the importance ofthis road that soon after the Revolution, Pennsylvania took steps to improve it. At first it was called the Western Road to Pittsburgh. About 1817 the part of the road from Chambersburg to Bedford was further improved and becomes known as the Chambersburg-Bedford Turnpike, with tollgates at intervals at which toll was collected for its upkeep. When it was no longer necessary that it be a fortified route, the detour northward from Loudon was abandoned and McConnellsburg again became an important stop for change of horses. The taverns, as hotels were generally called then, were not large buildings, but the tavern yards, with gates opening one at the east, another at the west, were filled nightly with the great Conestoga wagons. Where Mr. Frank Ott's house stands was the first of these, at the eastern end of town, kept by a man named Fosnought. Where the R. & G. Garage and the Lincoln Restaurant are, was the Joseph Flickner Tavern; the third included Mr. Will Nesbit's house and store, the wagon yard extending eastward to Miss Jennie Cooper's home, and was known as the Ford House. The western exit from the yard was back of the house on the cross street. The Tourists Hotel was The Eagle, its eastern gate on the cross street. The Union, the old part of The Fulton House was next. The tavern where the First National Bank stands was known as The Crosskeys. Further down at the next corner on the northern side of the street was The Buckhorn. Most of the wagon yards were a half-acre. Those two blocks were the very oldest part of the town. As the stagecoaches with four, six, or eight horses came winding down the mountains, the drivers blew their horns long and loud as a signal far the tavern keepers to have food for the passengers, and horses to be in readiness to put into the coaches. The wagon-trains of the settlers went westward to take up new lands--to push the frontiers back. Eastward over it passed droves of cattle and of wild horses for eastern markets.

One of the mountain ranges, Sideling Hill, was given the name because the road was so sideling that when it was being built, as many men as could be spared from the work in hand were required to pull at the sidestays or long ropes attached to the upper side of the wagons to prevent them from upsetting. The wagons of the emigrants which later passed over this road were unprovided with brakes. They were checked by a large log or tree tied to the back of the wagons and dragged along the ground, a condition which happily no longer exists, but has been immortalized in the name. To meet this condition, George Diven, a farmer and wagoner, living in McConnellsburg from 1782-1858, became a benefactor of the human race by an invention never patented by Diven, of the friction brake, in which not a single essential change has been made since Diven constructed the first one. About eighty years after his death representatives of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. The American Brake, Shoe, and Foundry Company, and The Mack Truck Company, paused in McConnellsburg to lay a wreath upon the grave of this earliest inventor of the handbrake wagon.

With the invention of the automobile and the annihilation of distance, which that made possible, the turnpike, its toll-gates banished earlier, becomes a unit in the famous Lincoln Highway, constantly thronged by present day travel. Crowning Tuscarora's summit is one of the beckoning lights that guide the planes along the much used air-route. To the southeast of McConnellsburg, a short distance,† is an emergency airfield, visited on June 4, 1931, by Amelia Earhart in her autogiro.

† †The road from Baltimore and Washington leads into McConnellsburg from the southeast. McConnellsburg was its terminus in early days, as we are told by Francis Bailey, F. R. S., President of The Royal Astronomical Society, who left a record of experiences on this pioneer highway. In October, 1796, he left Washington, passing through Hagerstown and Chambersburg, and he states that he met the Pennsylvania road at McConnellstown, as the little village was then called, and traveled thence to Pittsburgh. The celebrated Morris Birkbeck, founder of the English settlement in Illinois, traveled this route in 1817, and left the following record: "The road from Washington terminates at McConnellstown, where it strikes the great turnpike from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.† He speaks of the cost of a carriage per cwt., of the money paid for conveyance annually for the goods on this road, then sums up: "Add to this the numerous stages loaded to their utmost, and the innumerable travelers on horseback, on foot, and in light wagons, and you have a scene of bustle, and of business extending a space of three hundred miles, which is truly wonderful."

But that was long ago, and now it is Route 16 from Washington, joining 522 to become The Pioneer Trail to Tyrone.


(Source: The History of Fulton County Pennsylvania, Elsie S. Greathead, 1936, pp. 22-25.)

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