Stonewall Jackson, Sam Houston among guests at 200-year-old Stone House inn

F. BRIAN FERGUSON|Gazette-Mail photos
Two-foot-thick field stone walls have helped Pennsboro’s Old Stone House remain intact for 200 years. The 1815 structure, now a museum, once hosted travelers on the Northwestern Turnpike.
Two antique looms and a quilt stand can be found in one of 25 rooms in the Old Stone House Museum in Pennsboro.
David Scott in the antique tool room of the Old Stone Museum in Pennsboro.
A historic photo in the Old Stone House Museum in Pennsboro shows Ritchie County native Gen. Thomas Harris, left, and other members of the military commission that tried conspirators in the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.
A rifle and ammunition pouch used by a Ritchie County pioneer hang on the wall of one of 25 rooms that make up the Old Stone House Museum.

PENNSBORO — Pennsboro’s Stone House was already more than 25 years old when a teenaged Thomas Jackson, who would later be better known as a Confederate general with a nickname similar to the inn’s, arrived here, and by chance, met Sam Houston, the president of Texas.

Jackson, then 17, had been sent to Parkersburg to pick up a part for his uncle Cummins’ Lewis County mill from a boat traveling downriver from Pittsburgh. He was accompanied by boyhood friend Thaddeus Moore of Weston, who kept a journal of the 1842 road trip, according to “Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson” by Byron Farwell.

On Aug. 3, after spending the night with relatives in Clarksburg, Jackson and his companion headed west on horseback on the Northwestern Turnpike, a road linking Parkersburg to Clarksburg, built during the previous decade to replace a dirt track known as the Old State Road. Late in the day, they arrived at what was then the only inn between the two cities — the Stone House, also known as Martin’s Tavern or Martin’s Inn after its owner, James Martin.

After Jackson was introduced to Houston, who was en route to Rockbridge County, Virginia, where he was born, to visit family, the president of the Republic of Texas told the youth he remembered his relatives, and asked young Jackson to send his regards to his great-uncle John. Houston also inquired about Joseph Johnson of Bridgeport, a former Congressman who in 1851 would be elected governor of Virginia.

“He was a severe looking man, but of a good disposition,” Moore wrote of Houston in his journal. “We hardly appreciated him until after the meeting.”

Houston was in his second term as president during the 1842 trip. After Texas was annexed in 1845, he served as the state’s governor. In that role in 1861, he opposed secession and refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, and was removed from office.

The inn where Stonewall Jackson and Sam Houston met in 1842 is 200 years old this year, and the Ritchie County Historical Society, which owns the Old Stone House and operates it as a museum, will celebrate its bicentennial from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 12 with free tours, light refreshments, a door prize drawing and music on the museum’s century-old grand piano.

While Jackson and Houston may have been the building’s most famous known guests, thousands of travelers passing along the turnpike from Winchester, Virginia, to the Ohio frontier, spent time within its two-foot-thick rock walls on the way to making names for themselves as the nation accelerated its westward expansion.

“With a western terminus on the Ohio River and access to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the national capital in the east, the road became heavily traveled as a nationally important through route strongly associated with the westward movement and early United States transportation history,” according to the Old Stone House’s nomination application for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

With Pennsboro located a day’s ride by stagecoach or wagon from either Clarksburg or Parkersburg, the Old Stone House became a natural overnighting stop for travelers.

“Included in the list of visitors were numerous national figures on their way to and from Congressional sessions in Washington or important political or business meetings in the east,” according to the nomination application.

“Work on the building started sometime after 1810 by John Webster,” said David Scott, a retired air traffic controller who is president of the Ritchie County Historical Society. Webster, a native of New England, sold the incomplete building to James Martin of Harrison County, who completed the 2 1/2 story building in 1815, and received a license from the county court to operate a tavern, or an “ordinary” in his home. The license required Martin to provide “good, wholesome and cleanly lodging and diet for travellers” and “stablage, pasture and provender” for their horses, while refraining from allowing “any person to tipple or drink more than necessary” on the Sabbath.

The Old Stone House served as the community’s post office from 1821 to 1857, and the original postal clerk’s desk, with slots for letters, remains on display in the building. “The community was called Martins Inn until the post office came in and named it after a man named Penn who surveyed lots for the town,” Scott said.

After the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad linked Pennsboro to Parkersburg and Clarksburg and points east in 1857, the Old Stone House’s role as an overnight stop began to wane, Scott said.

The building remained in the Martin family’s hands until 1908, when it was sold to A. J. Ireland, who built a large wood addition to the stone structure and operated the facility as a boarding house to serve a booming period of oil and gas development, followed by the construction of glass and garment factories.

“By the time we bought it in 1977, it wasn’t being used at all,” Scott said.

Scott describes the museum that has taken shape in the Old Stone House as being of the “evolutionary style,” with artifacts and memorabilia from many themes and periods in the county’s history.

The 25-room museum includes a regional genealogy and history library and exhibits that include locally produced glassware, dolls, tools and implements, military history, the history of the Ritchie County Fair, quilting, weaving, wool-spinning, a fireplace cooking implement display, and a room filled with memorabilia, including the bed in which he was born, from the life of former governor and Ritchie County native John Cornwell, who served from 1917 to 1921. Cornwell lived in the Ritchie County town of Mountain, which had formerly been known as Mole Hill, until a publicity stunt engineered by the advertising firm representing the Borden Milk Co., made Mountain out of Mole Hill.

Scott said he would eventually like to see exhibits detailing the oil and gas industry displayed in the museum, but other projects need more immediate attention in order to protect and conserve Ritchie County’s oldest standing building.

“We need a new roof, and we need to pay the remaining $20,000 of a $60,000 loan we took out for work on the building’s foundation,” he said. “When that’s taken care of, we can get back to spending more time on historic research.”

For more information on the Old Stone House Museum, its Sept. 12 open house event and other Ritchie County historical sites, visit www.ritchiehistoricalsociety.com or visit its Facebook page.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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