SOME HISTORY ABOUT SOMERFIELD, PENNSYLVANIA
This is an article that was published on December 17, 1991 and it is a History on Somerfield, Pennsylvania by: FRANCES BORSODI ZAJAC a staff writer for the Herald-Standard..The following is respectfully summited by Lawson L. Duckworth and the Old Petersburg-Addison Historical Society.
THE LITTLE TOWN WASHED OFF THE MAP
By now, the water is well on its way to covering up the triple arch bridge once again. Soon, it will reclaim the side walks, the foundations, the land that used to be known as the town of Somerfield, a little village that lived along the banks of the Youghiogheny until it was destroyed in the 1940's to make way for a new dam.
First demolished and then covered by water, the town remained forgotten, until this fall when 1991's drought became so severe that the water at Youghiogheny Lake had to be drained to feed area rivers for navigation and water supplies. As a result, the remnants of the little village of Somerfield appeared from the past.
People traveled from as far away as Washington, D. C., Virginia and North Carolina to see the village firsthand. "Everybody wanted to know about its history". said Tom Beggs, a member of the Old Petersburg-Addison Historical Society, which is striving to become the local experts on Somerfield and quickly sold over 500 photographs of the Bridge to visiting tourists.
"Its was gratifying to see so many people interested in the past", said Marshall Augustine, president of the Society.
Jack Cornish, whose family owned the Cornish Hotel in
Somerfield, said of the crowds,"(After the story broke)
there were over 4,500 people there the next Sunday and it's been
that way ever since. People walked half a mile to get there. Even
people in wheelchairs..It brought back a lot of memories for me,
about the "Old Town" and being a kid and swimming on
the river, canoeing on the river".
Jacob Speers, also known as Spears, was the first white man to own land in what later became the village of Somerfield, according to the Old Petersburg-Addison Historical Society.
Basing their research on the Books "Somerfield-Bedford Counties History" and "Somerset-Bedford-Fulton Counties" and interviews with former residents, the Society is preparing to publish a book on the area in time for "Old Pike Days next May".
Augustine, Beggs, Ruth Wirsing, Eugenia Younkin and Sarah
Bartlett told the following story:
One of the first white men who crossed this area was George Washington, who made the journey in 1753-55 during early expeditions and with Gen. Edward Braddock.
Speers recieved a warrant on the land on April 17, 1769. He sold it to Philip Smyth in 1816. Not much is known about Smyth, except for a slur delivered by a traveler in a jounal who called the town's founder "a fat, irgnorant Dutchman".
Smyth, who had already owned a tavern in the surrounding Addison Township, laid out the town in 1818 as Smythfield. But the name had to be changed because there already existed a town called Smithfield in Fayette County.
The town grew with the creation of the National Pike, which ran through the middle of Somerfield. The town actually had only two streets: Bridge Street (which was Route 40 and ended at the triple arch Bridge) and River Road, which ran along the Youghiogheny River. In addition, there were a few alleys.
Across the river from Somerfield was the town of Jockey Hollow. Down the river was Watsondale. In all, the Army Corps of Engineers reports 10 villages were destroyed for the creation of the Dam.
On July 4, 1818, the Triple Arch Bridge was dedicated. It had been built by three men named Kinkaid, Beck and Evans, who were housed in a tavern built especially for them: the Youghiogheny House, which was later owned by the Endsley family and eventually run by the Cornish family as the Cornish Hotel.
Dedication of that bridge was a momentous occasion. President James Monroe, along with several members of his cabinet and other officials, turned out. Residents from all over the countyside were present.
The town grew and prospered with westward expansion. A number of Taverns or Hotels were built. Several stage coach lines had stops in the town, including the Good Intent Stage Company and Stockton Lines. Many stage coach drivers lived in the town.
By 1830, Somerfield had a Post Office with Dr. William Frye as the town's Postmaster and probably its first Physician.
But as the Pike came into disuse, the prosperity of the town declined. Books note the town took on a dilapidated appearance. Population fell to about 80 inhabitants, but there still was some commerce: two stores, one blacksmith shop, a spoke-factory operated by William Endsley & Son, one wagon shop, one cabinet shop, one boarding house and a Methodist Church.
Salvation came with the Confluence and Oakland Railroad, a subsidiary of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Once more, business and population grew. By 1893 when the town was formally incorporated as a borough, there were five stores in Somerfield, including Hook's Department Store. John W. Endsley was the first Burgess.
A number of Victorian-Style Homes were built during this time. There was also a bank: the First National Bank of Somerfield. Reports indicate a Tannery and Flour Mill were in operation and the town had an Elementary School. Residents prospered from the Lumber and Deep Coal Mining Industries just outside of town.
But it was the car that meant the most to Somerfield. That creation turned the little town into a Tourist Attraction as people sought out camping and recreation. Part of that recreation was gaming, which became a big part of town life during the 20's. Society members said Ray Montague ran a store where high-stakes card games were often played--with as much as $10,000 on the table at a time. Montague was also famous for serving up White Lighting. Mrs. Bartlett said he had the largest "Gin Mill" in the area.
On the more respectable side, the town was a favorite of Church Groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Somerfield also attracted United States Presidents. President Taylor passed through, Herbert Hoover reportedly dined at the Hook's Department Store and Restaurant as an ex-president.
President William McKinley actually spent six weeks in Somerfield each summer at the Youghiogheny Hotel, later known as the Cornish Hotel. He had family in nearby Somerset, including his niece, Mable McKinley, about whom a story still circulates in the area.
According to the story, Mable was playing in the Hotel with Gilbert Endsley when she threw a ball that went through a window above the door. The window was patched, but never replaced. It remained a memento of the occasion.
Somerfield also saw one of its own rise to prominence, James William Endsley, son of Willaim Gilbert and Julianne (Watson) Endsley, rose from the town's first Burgess to the States General Assembly in 1904 and 1906.
Endsley, a Republican, organized the Listonburg Coal Mine Company (of which he became Secretary and General Manager) and directed the Somerset County National Bank of Somerset, the largest financial institution in the County during its time.
But, as Transportation made Somerfield, it left it behind. Augustine said that at the turn of the Century, there were only five miles of paved roads in the County. People in cars traveled gravel roads. During the late 30's, these roads were paved, allowing people to drive farther and faster. Now, instead of staying in River Towns like Somerfield, people traveled farther to Grand Hotels and the Ocean.
Yet as Somerfield experienced this downturn, something else was in the works-an idea for a New Dam that would spell the end of the town.
Members of the Petersburg-Addison Historical Society said townfolk were upset to be losing their homes. Tempers flared at the mention of the name of "J. Buell Snyder", a Fayette County Congressman who pushed for the creation of the Dam.
Plans for the Dam did materialize. The Government bought the land and 176 people were forced to move. They dispersed in all directions. World War II slowed down plans for the new Dam, but by the mid-40's the town was demolished and flooded. Except for one house. Society members say it still stands as a two-story frame structure on the hill above the town. Once the summer home of a wealthy Pittsburg woman, it serves as the only reminder of a town that lasted through three centuries of American Life.
Until that "Stone Bridge" resurfaces again.