Lemon House and Coal Mine
Historic Structures Report (Part I—Historical Data)
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Even though Samuel Lemon did not construct his stone tavern until some years after he purchased the tract of land, he wasted no time beginning his occupation as innkeeper. Shortly after construction of the nearby wagon road referred to as the "Northern Turnpike," or "Great Northern Route," he built a two-story log house beside the road. It was considered one of the most popular "wagon taverns" along the road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. It was said that as many as fifty wagons would spend a night at "Lemon's." The Conestogas would carry merchandise to the west and return with a "back-load" of bar iron. The teamsters' routine upon arriving at the tavern was recalled in 1867:

They would adjust the "feed-trough" on the tongues of the wagon, prepare it full of "chop-feed," secure the horses to it, unswing their own beds from the wagon, carry them to the bar-room, and after a bountiful supper, they would regale each other with stories of the road, and an occasional song, and retire to rest. [12]

The isolated and dormant tavern no longer evokes the impressions of exuberant confusion and activity of early days. No longer displayed is the excitement of arrivals and departures, and the colorful and gay exhibit of dress and equipage.

The journals and letters of travelers tell us about the tavern trade, although no account has been uncovered relating to the Lemon Tavern. One wagoner wrote,

"I have stayed overnight with William Sheets, on [the] mountain, when there would be thirty-six-horse teams on the wagon yard, one hundred Kentucky mules in an adjacent lot, one thousand hogs in other enclosures, and as many fat cattle from Illinois in adjoining fields. The music made by this large number of hogs, in eating corn on a frosty night, I will never forget." [13]

The bars enjoyed a thriving business, offering "slings," "todys," "bounces" with "whiskey," "cherry," or "jinnn." The drovers slept in the barroom, usually in a circle with their feet to the center where a supplementary stove stood. Invariably the traveler complained of the primitive board and lodging. [14]

The Interiors of the old taverns have been radically altered. The dining rooms were partitioned and the barrooms (the social centers of the tavern) and wagon stands changed beyond recognition. A few of them have been preserved, however. In the Definbaugh Tavern, the counter register desk and cupboards are intact. An early photograph of the White Swan barroom shows a quaint little bar, typically ornamented with fancy lattice work. The study of these examples might well apply to the Lemon House in a general way. [15]

In the early years before the establishment of the Portage Railroad, Samuel Lemon prospered slowly but certainly. During his second year of ownership he added over 250 acres of land to his holdings. [16] Gradually he added to his livestock and the valuation of his property crept slowly upward until 1835 when the tax assessor raised the value of his property almost $1000. to $1450. This re-evaluation was probably due to the obvious value of land located so strategically along the railroad. By 1839 the tavern seemed profitable enough for the assessor to double its worth. [17] By then Lemon's stone mansion-tavern was in full swing. The railroad was bringing him a great traffic for food and drink. By the mid-1840's his trade more than doubled and by 1848 the county valued his entire property at $5020. and taxed him the enormous sum of $72.76. On the basis of the size of this tax levy, Samuel Lemon was the wealthiest man in Washington Township and a random selection of pages from the tax records of 1848 suggests that he was one of the wealthiest persons in Cambria County. By 1847 he had outfitted his home with some fine pieces of furniture and owned a carriage conspicuous enough to be taxed. [18]

Recent accounts of the Lemon House refer to the structure as a "hostelry," suggesting that the mansion provided overnight accommodations. Accounts contemporary with the operation of the structure do not describe it as a hotel, but as a place for momentary respite and a meal and drink. Undoubtedly, there were overnight guests but probably not on a scheduled basis. While the Lemon House is a large home, it is not a hotel. Furthermore, other more spacious establishments along the route and at the termini of the Hollidaysburg-Johnstown run were operated specifically as hotels. [19]

There is one account which, on the contrary, indicates that the Lemon House was indeed frequented as a hotel. It is an extract in the possession of Mr. Irving London of Johnstown. The passage entitled "Travel over the Portage Railroad, 1835-1845, page 177," describes, "the Mansion House" as a "large and commodious hotel where passengers and emigrants could obtain lodging, food, and other refreshments . . . ." It further relates that the hotel was "erected at the Summit." Neither Mr. London nor this writer has been able to locate the source of this statement and thus it cannot assuredly be identified as a contemporary or modern source.

Occasionally it is heard that many famous individuals stayed at the Lemon House -- Henry Clay, Governor Joseph Ritner, Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln, and others. That they traveled on the Portage Railroad there is no doubt but no reference has been found that establishes that any notable stayed at the Lemon House. In fact, the place most frequently referred to in contemporary documents is the "Summit House" or "Riffles" or perhaps "Denlinger's." This was a hostelry of some 42 rooms. It was where the opening of the Railroad was celebrated and more likely the meeting place for general festivities. [20] It is probable that many historic figures momentarily stopped at the Lemon House. It would have been reasonable for them to have rested within or taken a meal there while the locomotive or horse team was being affixed to their train for the level section of track. If they did, however, no evidence of it has yet been seen.

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Last Updated: 03-Nov-2009