History of Bedford

The scenic beauty of Western Pennsylvania is unsurpassed and Bedford County in its twenty five miles of width, is one of the most picturesque. Its mountains are well timbered and rich in minerals, while its valleys are fertile and most productive. Ray's Hill on the east and the Alleghenies on the west are the boundaries and in between lie Warrior's Ridge, Tussey's, Evitt's, Dunnings, and Buffalo mountains. This part of "Penn's Woods" was purchased by William Penn from the Six Nations (Indians) in 1754 and 1768, the "mother county" being named in honor of the Duke of Bedford. The roads, in most places, are over high ground, as they were formerly Indian trails, and both east and west of Bedford much of the Highways follows the "first settlers' thoroughfares." Occasionally some farmer, in his plowing, will unearth arrowheads and other Indian relics have been found in this section.

First Settlers

The first white explorers in the vicinity of Bedford came about 1732, but of them nothing is known. In 1751 Robert Ray erected several buildings and the trading post became known as Raystown. In 1752 came Garrett Pendergrass, who bought the land from the Indians. This deed is on record in the Court House and very interesting it is. It is dated February 1770, and is recorded on page 58 of Book A; the paper is brown with age and crackles at a touch, the form quaint, but the writing is legible. The mark of Chief Anonguit is a turtle; Enishshera, or Capt. Henry Mountare's signature is followed by the letters "H. M.," and a circle marks the signature of Connehracahecat, the White Mingo. The date of recording is September 19, 1772, before Arthur St. Clair, the first Prothonotary and Register of the county, who was a Captain and afterwards Major-General. Still later Pendergrass transferred to his son, Garrett, Jr., "the land on both sides of the Raystown, containing 300 acres," but did not long remain here and there were, evidently, no more English-speaking white settlers until the section was occupied by the vanguard of General Forbes' army in 1758, when the fort was erected. About that time the first taverns were built and soon the town became a stopping place for traders. Here was born William Frazer, the first white child born in the county. A number of whites were massacred by Indians in this section.

The Old Fort

In 1758 the advance guard of the army of General Forbes erected a fort at this place, it occupying the ground between Richard, Penn, and Thomas Streets and extending back to the river bank, covering 7,000 square yards. That fall, Col. George Washington, with six thousand men, encamped there. The stronghold was names Fort Raystown, after the first settler, the village having been known by that name.

The fort stood on the ground which is bounded on the north by the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River, on the east by what is now Richard Street, the west by Thomas Street (historians differ, some say it extended west only as far as Juliana, but it seems, according to old records, to have been nearer the spring at the foot of the hill.-Ed.), and on the south by Pitt Street - the latter being then the Forbes Road. The fort covered about 7,000 square yards. It had five bastions and places for the use of swivel guns, a gallery with loop holes extending from the central bastion on its north front down to the water's edge, in order to secure water within this shelter in case of attack. The main gate was on the south side and it also had a smaller gate on the west side and a postern opening northward. Storehouses and hospitals were situated on the outside and to the southward of the front of the fort, nearing Penn Street. The fort was protected on the front and west side by a moat, eight feet deep and ten feet wide at the bottom and fifteen feet wide at the top. The fort became a ruin before the beginning of the Revolutionary War and was never rebuilt.

The troops continued westward and erected Fort Ligonier and soon thereafter Fort Pitt was erected and named for the English Premier, William Pitt.

In 1759 the name Fort Raystown was changed to Fort Bedford, in honor of the Duke of Bedford, who presented a beautiful English silk flag to the Commander, General Stanwix. This flag is in good condition, was recently presented to the state and is now preserved at Philadelphia by the State Historical Society. In 1769, the Black Boys, a band of American rebels, captured the fort and freed a number of their companions who were in captivity for depredations. In 1771 the fort was dilapidated but for some years thereafter, when attacked by Indians, the settlers came here for protection.

Bedford County was taken from Cumberland County in 1771 and was the "mother county' of more than twenty of the present counties. In 1772 there were 350 taxables, being principally Scotch-Irish and Germans. The first court was held by Justices of the King in 1771. Bedford Manor was surveyed in 1761 and the town laid out in 1766, of 200 lots, the streets being named, chiefly, for the members of the Penn family. Through it flows the Raystown Branch of the Blue Juniata.

The famous Bedford Springs lies a mile to the south and in 1796 the medicinal qualities of the springs were accidentally discovered by a laborer; in 1796 the old mill was built and the following year the old stone house which stands across the road from it.

The Early Taverns

In 1755 Frederick Nawgel built a tavern on the property on West Pitt Street now owned by Dr. A. C. Wolf, and George Funk conducted an inn on the lot adjoining, owned by the heirs of the late Daniel Miller. On North Richard Street, where the residence property of Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Smith now stands, was a tavern whose proprietress was Mrs. Margaret Fraser, and there, in 1759 William Fraser, the first white child born within the present limits of the county first saw the light of day.

The Anderson house on East Pitt Street, where the Kiser dwelling now stands, was conducted by Elijah Adams. Prior to that time was erected the "Old Fort House" or "King's House," on the south side of East Pitt Street. (The present location of Shoemaker's Drug Store), which was constantly occupied by British forces during the French and Indian War and was a refuge from the Indians until the fort was built in 1758. This later became the "Rising Sun Hotel."

The old Nagel House stood on the site of the present Grand Central Hotel and in 1777 Dr. Joseph Dodridge, then a lad of eight years, stopped over night en route to school in Maryland from his home in Washington County. In 1824 he returned, seeking the tavern where he had his first taste of coffee, served " in a little cup which stood in a bigger one." As he related the occurrence, the taste was nauseating but, imitating his elders, he continued to drink, wondering when it would end, as the cup was immediately refilled. By watching the other guests attentively, he learned that the small cup, turned bottom upwards with the spoon across it, indicated that the guest desired no more, to his great relief. There, also, on Christmas day 1829, Humphrey Dillon, proprietor, served his guests with strawberries and cream, the fruit having been grown on vines after the manner of house plants.

Pillory and Whipping Post

In the early days, these modes of punishment were common and even after the British yoke had been thrown off. In 1780 an offender was sentenced to be taken to the whipping post and receive "21 lashes on his bare back, well laid on;" another directed to receive fifteen lashes, but the most extraordinary is a matter of record in the court minutes, stating that one should be "taken to the public whipping-post between the hours of 8 and 10, to receive 39 lashes well laid on his bare back; immediately thereafter to be placed in the pillory for one hour, have his ears cut off and nailed to the post, and forfeit to the Commonwealth the sum of 15 pounds, being the value of the goods of Ludovick Fridline, which he was convicted of stealing, and pay costs" in addition. Another record shows a similar sentence imposed on a prisoner for horse stealing.

Titles and Quit-Rents

Thomas and Richard Penn, for the sum of ten thousand pounds, in November 1768 acquired the Indian title to an immense body of land in Pennsylvania and in February 1796, at their land office in Philadelphia, sold numerous tracts on the terms of five pounds sterling per hundred acres and one penny per acre as annual quit-rent. Often the quit-rents were a small acknowledgement of corn, a sheaf of wheat, etc.

A deed dated May 25, 1798 recorded in the office of Register Stewart, in which the Proprietaries conveyed to Samuel McCashlin of the town of Bedford, for the sum of fifteen pounds current money of Pennsylvania, lot number 27 in the general plan of lots of Bedford, situated on the west side of Juliana Street, contains the following:

"Yielding and paying to the said John Penn, the elder, and John Penn, the younger, the yearly quit-rent of one pepper-corn on the first day of March of each year and every year forever hereafter, if demanded." The lot above referred to is that upon which now stands the Bedford Inquirer building.

What a predicament should the heirs of the late Proprietaries demand back payment of pepper-corns! In 1784 annual quit-rents were discontinued but interest was demanded from the date of first improvement.

Bedford Springs

At the Springs is the finest water golf course (18 holes) in the United States, a magnificent swimming pool, tennis court, etc.

James Buchanan, for sixteen years previous to his election as president, was an annual visitor at our famous summer resort, during his term, and afterwards, as well.

It is on this property, east of the Limestone spring, that the cave of Davy Lewis, "the Robin Hood of Pennsylvania," is located. Lewis was a robber bandit who, during the early years of the nineteenth century, used the cave as a hiding place. He entered the hill at that point (the entrance being now about two feet in width, under a ledge of rock on the east side of Constitution Hill) but was never seen to emerge, proving that the exit is, as many local people know, on the west side of the opposite, - Federal - Hill. He was in the habit of robbing the rich and leaving the booty at the homes of the poor. Lewis made his first appearance here in 1815, when he was arrested for passing counterfeit coins. He escaped from jail by burrowing under the walls after cutting through the solid oak floor, and released all the prisoners except one, stating that "he was a common fellow who had robbed a poor widow." Twenty-four hours later on Sideling Hill he relieved a Pittsburg merchant of $1,800 and, pursued, disguised himself and with great delight joined them in chasing "the bold bandit."

When President Washington Missed a Turkey Dinner

During Washington's first term as President, taxes were levied to provide funds to cancel the national debt and in Western Pennsylvania it was decided that no tax should be paid on whiskey. The rioters were so numerous and so well organized that twelve thousand militiamen were ordered out to suppress the insurrection. The troops were called from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. The New Jersey and Pennsylvania troops, over six thousand strong, assembled at Bedford and the President, with several of his cabinet and Commander-in-Chief General Henry Lee of Virginia, reached here on October 19, 1794. The Virginia and Maryland troops marched from Fort Cumberland to Pittsburg, but before they reached there the rioters dispersed.

Soldiers encamped upon every available spot in and around Bedford. Cavalrymen patrolled the streets and guards surrounded the house in which General Washington had his headquarters. This house, which stands in the central part of town and directly on the Lincoln Highway, has since been known as "Washington's Headquarters," is but little changed and is in an excellent state of preservation.

At that time the property was owned by David Espy, Esq. whose guest the President was. His good wife, known for her hospitality and the excellence of her cuisine, had made elaborate preparations for the distinguished guest's first dinner under her roof. The piece de resistance being wild turkey. Several thousand soldiers camped on the public square not far away and cavalrymen guarded the Espy house.

Preparations for the dinner were completed and the guests had gathered around the board, awaiting the turkey. The bird, done to a turn and exuding delicious odors, was placed upon a huge platter and borne from the kitchen by one of the good women of the household. As she was passing through the butler's pantry, in which was a small window high in the wall, a mounted soldier leaned through and, impaling the fowl with his bayonet, succeeded in getting out of sight with his prize before the astonished lady could give an alarm. With the empty platter in her hands she appeared before the assembled guests in great consternation and apprised them of the "calamity." She was assured by the great man, in his kindly manner, that altho the loss was irreparable she was blameless and that he should, nevertheless, enjoy the bountiful repast before him. It was afterward learned that a few of the "select" greatly enjoyed the tender fowl.

The President remained here three days. Before the troops reached Pittsburgh the insurrection was quelled and the President issued a proclamation of pardon to all parties except those directly charged with offences. In August of the following year general pardons were granted. The Pennsylvania and New Jersey troops returned by way of Fort Lyttleton, Strasburg, Shippensburg and Carlisle.

The bed in which Washington slept is in the possession of local relatives and the bowl, pitcher, and washstand he used were recently presented to the local D. A. R. and are in their room in the Community Center.

In this same building in 1771, was the office of the first Prothonotary of Bedford County, Arthur St. Clair. It is now owned by the Washington Bakery.

Four other Presidents visited Bedford during their terms: Harrison, Polk, Taylor and Buchanan and many other famous men paid visits to the town in the early days, it being on the principal route of travel between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The first line of mail stage coaches was established in 1830. The first railroad was built into the county from Huntingdon to Mt. Dallas, in 1865, and on to Cumberland in 1871.

Notes of Interest

The highest point in the county is near Pavia, - Blue Knob, 3,165 feet; at the Bedford-Somerset line, 2,589 feet; Grand View is 2,464 feet, and at the Bedford-Fulton line, 1,957 feet, according to State Highway surveys. The elevation of Bedford is 1,108 feet (at the Court House).

First newspapers were established: 1805, Gazette; 1812, Inquirer.

First schools were built about 1800 with the first established school in Bedford in 1810.

First bank, 1815, in the building now known as the Community Centre, the "home" of various organizations.

The first protestant church was built in 1770 by Lutherans and Reformeds. The first services were held in the fort in 1758. The oldest building in the county is the church in the old graveyard at Schellsburg, built in 1806, still in wonderful condition. There are graves older than the church and several Indians, also, interred there. In 1793 the Friends built a church on Dunning's Creek. The first Catholic church was built in 1822 and still stands on East Street, Bedford, now occupied as a dwelling.

The first court house and jail, combined, built in 1773; the present court house in 1828; the present jail, Thomas and Penn Streets, in 1895. The first execution for crime, and the only one under the law in the county, was that of James Rice in 1842 for the murder of James McBurney, a trader, on Ray's Hill.

Tradition tells of the execution , by military law, of a German soldier, a tailor here, in 1760. He was hanged on a locust tree where is now the corner of Richard and John Streets. He is said to have sat in the cart on his coffin, smoking his pipe nonchalantly; When the cart was driven from under him, the rope snapped, letting him fall and he jumped up, cursing the awkwardness that had broken his pipe.

About a mile and a half northeast of Bedford is the Chalybeate Spring, surrounded with bog iron ore. When digging out this spring, many years ago, part of the skeleton of a prehistoric animal was unearthed. The spring is owned by the Hafer heirs, of Bedford, and the water is of great medicinal value.

In July 1763, Colonel Boquet (who had charge of the Pennsylvania troops when Fort Bedford and the Forbes road were built) again passed through here, with two regiments of regulars and a large convoy of provisions, to relieve the beleaguered garrison at Fort Pitt.

The first term of court was held on Tuesday, April 16, 1771, before six "Justices of our Lord the King" and the first business was to divide the county into townships.

In November 1789, Hugh Barclay was commissioned the first postmaster of Bedford. He erected the dwelling, known locally as "The Grove," about 1794.

A session of the Supreme Court was held in Bedford on August 11, 1855, presided over by Judge Kane, of the U. S. District Court, of Philadelphia, to argue the celebrated Passmore-Williamson case.

James M. Russell was the first Chief Burgess of Bedford, being elected in 1817.

In August 1817, the first Councilmen of Bedford decided that a reservoir (16,000 gallon capacity) should be constructed "near the public spring" and the contract was placed, $2,000 being borrowed from the Allegheny Bank; the casting came from Pittsburgh and the public was supplied with water during that winter.

The first fire engine was purchased in 1839, for the sum of $500.

In the fall of 1846 the telegraph made its appearance in Bedford.

The present town clock (in the Court House Tower) was purchased in 1876 for the sum of $250.

The Soldier's monument was erected in 1890.

Among The Bravest

In the Reformed graveyard on West John Street lies the body of James Henry, who was killed by Indians near Frankstown in 1768. Savages had been terrorizing the white settlers and a company, in charge of Captain Dunlap, who was also killed on this expedition, pursued them. Henry had told a companion of a recent dream of being captured by Indians and remarked that he would fight to the end rather than be captured. His friend advised him, in event of capture, to submit and his friends would rescue him. Following a battle in which the settlers were defeated, Henry was missing and a posse began a search. His terribly mutilated body was found against a tree and nearby were five dead Indians; the tree and ground showed that there had been a bitter struggle and Henry took five lives before surrendering his own.

A Curiosity

The first wagon brought into Mann Township, this county, was a four-wheeled vehicle which aroused the inhabitants more than a visit from an aeroplane would at the present time. It was owned by a Shipley and not long afterward one Henry Martin, a farmer, invested in a like vehicle. It was an object of much curiosity and speculation and young people came many miles to see it. During its first night in the barnyard a calf hanged itself in a wheel and Martin, perhaps fearing other calamities, surrounded it with a high fence and the wagon passed into uselessness.

Famous Visitors

Many other famous and brave men have lived here or visited here, among them being: Thaddeus Stevens, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, General Stanwix, Alexander Hamilton, Col. Crawford, who was burned at the stake; Judges Black, Tod, Tawney, and others; Edwin Forrest, the actor, "Mad Anthony" Wayne, Col. Levin Powell of Virginia, who died while on a visit here; Cornstalk, chief of the Shawnee Indians, John Brown, of Harper's Ferry fame; Simon Kenton, the Indian hater; Simon Girty, the renegade, adopted by the savages; Jacob Coxey, General of "Coxey's Army," and many others less illustrious.

Bedford County's Service in Her Country's Wars

Within ten days after the battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) the news had reached the Pennsylvania province and her first rifle battalion was ready for the field. Col. William Thompson of Carlisle (a resident of Bedford in 1776) was in command and the company formed of Bedford County men was under the command of Captain Robert Cluggage, Robert Magaw, of Carlisle, the first attorney admitted to practice in Bedford County (April 1771), served as first Major. They were the first companies south of the Hudson to arrive in Massachusetts and attracted considerable attention.

A company of Bedford County soldiers, under Captain Solomon Sparks served in the War of 1812. At that time the payroll was: Captains $40, lieutenants $30, ensigns $20, sergeants $8, corporals and musicians $7.33, privates $6.66. The commissioned officers and musicians carried rifles as well as the non-coms and privates.

About 80 men besides the officers comprised a company of volunteers from this county who served in the war with Mexico. It was a part of the Second Regiment which won imperishable fame as the first regiment to enter within the walls of the Mexican capital, and the Bedford Company was in the "storming party" at the Battle of Chapultepec and many were killed or wounded.

President Lincoln's first call for troops was responded to by Bedford County men, and on April 25, 1861, the first company, under Capt. J. H. Filler, left Bedford. Hundreds of brave men from this section took part in the Civil War.

Even before the United States entered the World War, a number of the county's sons and daughters were in the service of the Allies. Upon our entrance, hundreds enlisted and including those later called by their country, Bedford ranks among the highest in point of number. Many saw service overseas, nurses as well as soldiers and sailors. Bedford Borough alone lost five brave boys and a nurse, in whose memory a beautiful native rock with a bronze tablet thereon has been erected in Federal Square in front of the Post Office.

The present population of Bedford is over 2,800. It has four banks, two newspapers, four hotels, a summer resort, seven churches, a baseball park, county fairground, moving picture theatre, numerous garages and up-to-date stores, public school building, a new High School building, a Smock Factory, a band, A chamber of Commerce, Automobile Club, a handsome Federal Building, ice plant, milk plant, the only peanut factory in the U. S., public library, wholesale house, electric plant, a charging station of the A. T. and T. Company, (the largest between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh).

Copyright 2010; Cathy Wentz & Contributors
All Rights Reserved.