Group vows to save tavern
Lee Harris made it no secret he wants to demolish the historic Old Stone Tavern so he can operate his West End masonry business with more ease. But he is holding out–so far–so that a group of volunteers can come up with cash to purchase the building and potentially restore it to its traditional use as a storied bar.
The tavern, located at 434 Greentree Road, was built by Daniel Elliott–a war veteran from the Revolutionary War–between 1782-84, according to architect Michael Shealey. The site has been eyed by the non-profit volunteer group the Post Friends Trust since the city of Pittsburgh designated it an historic building in 2010. That means Harris has to appeal city council to raze it. But he’s still sitting on his hands while the group scrambles for cash and interested developers.
“It’s going to have to be six figures,” Harris said of the price for him to sell his entire 5-parcel lot that includes the tavern. “It’s all or nothing if I sell. I’ll sell to move out of here, but I can’t just sell one piece in the middle,” he said. Harris bought the building for $38,500 in 2009, according to county real estate records. Neither Harris nor the Trust volunteers want to publicly discuss potential asking prices.
“The cart’s really before the horse right now. When they come up with cash, we can talk. I can then do my own research of its worth.”
“I’m sympathetic to their cause, but they need to do some serious fundraising,” he said, “it’s the oldest commercial building in Allegheny County. You’d think there would be an interested party somewhere.”
Trust president, Paul Sentner, said the history of the building and potential future use makes the tavern worth saving.
“It’s survived wars, floods ... it connects history of this region to westward exploration. We need at least one interested stakeholder that recognizes the value of it, to steward it, protect it, and hopefully restore it,” said the fourth-generation Elliot resident.
“First priority is to protect it. Then we can talk about restoring it and maybe putting it back to use as it was originally intended,” he said.
For Trust secretary Norene Beatty, a former Elliott resident who now lives in Bethel Park, history is demanding to be accounted for. She said a ledger that details the tavern’s travelers from 1793-97 is a sort of Rosetta Stone to decoding the region’s history as well as the tavern itself.
“There are signatures from William Clark, who was with Brady’s Rangers. In September 1793 five Wyandot Indians stole horses from a local farm just above Raccoon Creek. He was among seven rangers who pursued and killed the (natives) to get the horses back,” she said, referencing historical books from Allan Eckert, which corroborated the ledger’s dates.
Other names in the ledger–housed in the Oliver Room of the Carnegie Library–include General John Neville and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Hugh Henry Brackenridge, both of whom partook in the uprising of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791.
“There are over 400 accounts here. And there were allusions to previous editions and earlier ledgers. That makes me believe the building is older than what our architect is telling us,” Beatty said.
Other details in the ledger included favorite beverages ordered at the tavern; one of which was the Cherry Toddy, a bourbon-based drink flavored with crushed cherries. The drinks were sure to temporarily wash away the harsh realities of a developing America on the border of wilderness. But Beatty said it’d be a shame to let the past wash away beyond memory.
“We don’t hold the values and the lessons of the past. How can we criticize this younger generation for not appreciating our country when we haven’t even taken care of its history? How can we, if we don’t remember and honor the sacrifices and blood spilt by and from people who stopped in this tavern?”
For more information, or to donate to the non-profit, visit http://postfriendstrust.org/