Lemon House and Coal Mine
Historic Structures Report (Part I—Historical Data)
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This report is concerned essentially with the Lemon House structure and the various outbuildings related to the mansion. It also deals specifically with the coal mine shaft and stone quarry located on the Lemon property. Word should also be said about the possible remains of the government structures which were part of the railroad and were built in the immediate vicinity of the Lemon House. The area map (Illustration No. 6) identifies the structures and sites reviewed in this report.

The Lemon House

In summary, the stone mansion house built by Samuel Lemon is significant because of its intense relationship to the development of the Allegheny Portage Railroad. Its existence, use, and location are dependent upon the railroad. The House is the only historic structure along the trace of the Portage Railroad that can be satisfactorily utilized to interpret the social and economic effects of the railroad.

The Lemon House was constructed in the early 1830's at the time of the construction of the Portage Railroad. It was Samuel Lemon's intention to profit from the operation of the rail line. To this end he utilized a part of the structure as a tavern and store, serving passengers, laborers, and settlers who were drawn to the area by the influence of the railroad. The house was used as living quarters by Samuel Lemon and his family. The use of the mansion as a hostelry seems to have been occasional rather than usual. Undoubtedly, the structure was also used as headquarters of Lemon's coal operations. After Lemon's retirement to Hollidaysburg, the building became a summer cottage and family retreat until it was sold to J. C. Weston about the turn of the century. Weston operated the property as a farm. Bruce Roberts, who purchased the property in the 1950's undertook modernization of 2/5 of the interior. The exterior has been less altered. The precise modifications can be gauged by the appended photographs (Illustrations Nos. 9, 10, 11, 1 and 2). [41] The illustrations, however, demonstrate only the structural changes that occurred since the 1930's. The earliest pictorial evidence of the Lemon House, available to this writer, is the painting by an unknown author of the head of inclined plane no. 6. The work shows the Lemon House in the right foreground (Illustration No. 7).

The painting, or the subject on which it is based, is assumed to be contemporary with the operation of the Portage Railroad. The Lemon House is shown with less length and fewer windows than it exhibits today. This fact has led some people to suggest that the west end of the structure was added sometime later. If this was done at all, it is not of recent memory . . . and no documentary evidence other than the painting has been discovered to support that position.

Although the painting suggests the extension of the structure, the reduced size as shown in that work might be the product of artistic license. On the other hand, the painting seems to be a literal translation of the subject matter and the possibility of the enlargement of the building should not be ignored. Furthermore, observation of the basement reveals the remains of a foundation wall separating the main structure from the west wing. It appears that a stone wall at that location was knocked out and later replaced by a frame wall. This fact tends to support the theory of an addition. The few early maps available do not show the Lemon House as anything more than a dot or rectangle. Later maps of the 1890's show the structure generally as it appears today. Fundamentally, the evidence is not sufficient to decide this question. Hopefully, closer architectural examination of the building will evince more of the details.

The Barn

The field Investigation Report of 1962 says the "barn adjacent to the engine house site was not part of the historic scene and should be removed." [42] Samuel Lemon likely maintained a barn to stable and feed his livestock. It is unlikely that the present barn was the one used by him. However, the frame superstructure of the building is older than indicated in the field report which dates it 1955. The fact that its main supports are secured to cross-beams by mortise-and-tenon joints makes the structure more than twelve years old. In fact, the description of the barn carried in the field investigation report does not fit the structure. [43] The foundation of the barn seems originally to have been composed of a stone floor and rock walls, although the floor has been cemented over.

The barn occupies an area which is either directly on or adjacent to the site of the engine house. This raises the possibility that the barn basement may have been part of the engine house complex or perhaps a section of a subsidiary structure related to the railroad operation. Such a structure appears between the engine house and Lemon House in one of the historic paintings (Illustration No. 7).

Engine House

The engine house straddled the track of the railroad at the head of plane no. 6. It housed boilers and engines, the later connected to shafts and pulleys which operated the lifting cable used to hoist the cars up the incline. The pulley housing and engine foundations were apparently set deep in the ground and have been filled in since the days of operation. Today, a land slump has developed in the middle of the trace just off the northeast corner of the barn.

Further archeological investigation of this cave-in in conjunction with the adjacent barn foundation should be carried out to establish the historical authenticity of the sites involved and their interrelationship, if any.

Lemon Coal Mine

It is reasonable to conclude that Samuel Lemon's most profitable venture was coal mining. Regardless of the traditional account of the discovery of the "Lemon" seam, documentary evidence discloses that Lemon possessed a "coal bank" and was indeed shipping coal along the Portage Railroad. Tradition holds that a historic shaft to the seam exists in the vicinity of the hemlock grove just north of the mansion. The shaft, being a safety hazard, was filled in by former owner, Byron Roberts. A map of 1897 does indeed show a "shaft to Lemon Seam" in that approximate location. [44] That same map also points out an "Old Opening, Elev. 2288.2," along the outcropping of the Lemon Seam 200 feet due south of the engine house. Besides these two sites there is also a land slump about 40 feet south of the south corner of the barn. Was this a coal shaft, a land cave-in due to undermining, or an air shaft? It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. The point is that there is abundant evidence of coal workings in the vicinity of the Lemon House. Their nature, age, and relationship to the Lemon story will have to await the opportunity of further investigation. Certainly any prospective archeology should consider them. For the present, however, tradition and documentary indications, slim as they are, suggest the shaft near the hemlock grove as the original Lemon Mine. Certainly its location at the level across from the house made it convenient for loading.

Local information describes the mine as a pit shaft operation -- the coal hauled 40 feet to the surface. The shaft, it is asserted, was stone lined with a lifting rig suspended over the opening. Local people say the checkerboard technique was employed in mining the coal. This was a method of leaving columns of coal in a pattern much the same as the squares of one color of a checker board. This provided excellent support for the surface. [45]

Stone Quarry

The quarry has been described as a rocky outcropping running along the north side of the railroad. It does not have the appearance of a pit quarry. As the railroad construction proceeded, stone was cut out, fashioned into ties, and imbedded in the ground. Some of the blocks are still scattered about the site. No documentary evidence concerning the quarry was located.

Government Shops

The Canal Commissioners contracted for government-owned structures along the track to provide necessary services to the railroad. At the head of plane no. 6, a lot of 51 perches was secured and elsewhere on the Lemon property, parallel to the track, several shops were erected. These were the rigger's shop, carpenter's shop, and smithy. Their location is unknown but might be discovered by archeological investigation.

Miscellaneous Buildings

Several historic maps done between 1830 and 1867 indicate from two to four structures in the vicinity of the Lemon House. [46] Blair County tax assessment records demonstrate that Lemon rented lots and several "houses" to various tenants. [47] One of the early paintings (Illustration No. 7), shows a log cabin, left center, and the structure already mentioned between the Mansion and the engine. The use of these structures can only be guessed at. The Storm painting (Illustration No. 5) also reveals a building, left center, between the engine house and the Lemon House.

Historian Earl J. Heydinger, suggests the presence of several other structures in the vicinity of the east end of the summit level. He proposes the finding of a downslope pit and weight well just east of the engine house. Also located in the vicinity were the water well and wooden piping contracted to supply the railroad engines. Heydinger also mentions the existence of an 1851 wooden cistern and 1850 switch and turnaround. There remains the possibility of an engineer's residence located on the site. [48]

Water Pipeline

In 1836 many of the new boilers installed in the engine houses proved defective because of the corrosive effects of the underground water which probably contained coal sulphur. [49] To correct this problem, Samuel Lemon contracted in 1837 to lay two-inch bored pipes from a run "south of his Mansion House to the engine house. [50]

Preliminary Archeological Survey

An introductory archeological study was undertaken in mid-1967 of the areas proposed for inclusion in Allegheny Portage National Historic Site. [51] At the time, the investigator was unable to view the vicinity of the Lemon House. [52] He did, however, refer to the collapsed entrance of a coal mine downgrade toward the present route 22 and suggested that the shaft runs into the "Lemon Vein." [53] While this mine may run in the Lemon seam, caution should be taken not to confuse this mine with the vertical shaft north of the Lemon House.

According to the survey, the location of the engine house "is not immediately apparent" and "can only be inferred from the grade and alignment of the railroad." [54] The presence of the land slump near the barn and in the middle of the trace suggests the location of the foundation and pit of either the engine house or the downslope propelling sheaves. As already stated, the barn's foundation might be a remnant of the engine house, or subsidiary structure.

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Last Updated: 03-Nov-2009