1858: The Astor House Hotel on the old East -West Highway
The Astor House was located at 707 and 713 W. Main Street.
The Astor House Hotel was Smethport’s giant, posh Greek Revival style hotel. Travelers on the early East-West Highway (today U.S. Route 6) enjoyed fine dining & elegant accommodations.It's classic Greek Revival design was the work of famed Smethport architect Solemon Sartwell.Sartwell also designed and constructed the now somewhat redesigned Methodist Church as well as J.C. Hamlin Mansion which still stands, restored, at 904 W. Main Street. Built in 1831 theAstor House was an immense 108 feet long & featured a ballroom in the back section.The Astor Housewas destroyed by fire on March 28, 1868. The Astor House was located at 707 and 713 W. Main Street.
Go to the painted
panorama of 1858
See an 1858 Ad for the store located inside the Astor House Hotel
Pennsylvania’s East-West Road:
The Northern Tier’s First Highway
The construction of the East-West Road across Pennsylvania’s northern-most counties was the single most important historical event that opened up the region for settlement.
The Democrat of March 1, 1923 carried this article:The headline reads, “North Tier Road Historic Highway.” The article then writes, “The movement spreading so rapidly throughout the state, and especially through the North Tier to have the Primary Highway connecting the county seats of the Northern Tier improved as soon as possible, is given additional impetus by the discovery that this highway follows the original survey authorized in 1806, and
adopted by the assembly in 1809, says the Galeton-Leader Dispatch.
The Federal government has designated this route as the “Great East-West Highway,” and now we find that the original road, and the first road laid out across the Northern Tier was known as the “East-West Road.”
This information comes from Robert R. Lewis of Coudersport, who has been selected as a vice-president of the “East-West highway Association,” (this association was mobilized to push the state into improving what was to soon be U.S. Route 6, also known later as the Roosevelt Highway, and the Grand Army of the republic Highway) and who is actively engaged working for the early construction and improvement of this highway.”
The letter from Mr. Lewis follows:“The organization to advance an East and West Highway through the Northern Tier ofPennsylvania recalls that this is an old historic highway of Pennsylvania and one that wasknown many years ago as the East and West road. In 1806 (Statutes at large of Pennsylvania, Volume 18)page 471, or Smith’s law, page 391), an act was passed providing for the appointment of Commissioners to explore and mark a road from
appoint where the Cochocton and Great Bend Turnpike passes through the Moosic Mountains in a westerly direction to the west line of the state.
This road by the terms of the Act, was to pass through Wellsboro, by the Great Meadows (Ansonia), and Pine Creek, to Coudersport thence to Smethport and Warren. The Commissioners appointed to make a survey of the road reported to the Governor.” That report was approved by and Act of Assembly in 1808. Smethport’s Main Street became the route of that road, which eventually became the important United States Route 6 following its designation as the East-West Road.
Originally of dirt construction, the town paved this busy street with brick in 1908, then with concrete in 1948. Smethport celebrated that event with a huge “Street Opening Ceremony” on Saturday September 11, 1948. The event was highlighted by Assemblyman Albert Johnson whose daughter, Karen, cut the ribbon opening the street for traffic to once again flow over The Roosevelt Highway as was then called Route 6. Smethport’s own C.W. Lillibridge, retired Supervisor of McKean County Schools, provided the key-note address. That address appeared in the Sept. 16, 1948 McKean County Democrat According to Lillibridge, “In August of 1807 Francis King, agent and surveyor for the Keating Land Company whose headquarters were then in Ceres, Pa., came to the forks of Potato Creek for the purpose of plotting and surveying the town lots and streets of the newly designated county seat of McKean. After building a rude camp, he and his helpers proceeded with this task which took thirty-five days. Thus, the meets and bounds and the general direction of Main Street and the road project which today is being dedicated were established 141 years ago.”
Surveys were then made the following April of 1808 to plan the location of a state road through the town. Lillibridge address pointed out that, “In 1808 the Legislature of Pennsylvania authorized the East and West road which extended from the Delaware River through the county seat towns of the Northern Tier Counties to the city of Erie. From the days of its early construction to the present this highway has been one of the chief trunk lines of the county as well as northern Pennsylvania. With the exception of the Port Allegany- Smethport and the Marshburg-Kinzua sections of this highway, it follows closely the lines of the original survey. Entering McKean County at Burtville, it ran parallel to the Allegheny River to the Canoe place were the river was crossed.”
The July 6, 1934 McKean County
Democrat printed several articles in honor of Smethport’s Old
Home Week Celebration. The article’s headline reads, “History
of Smethport Had Vital Effect On Entire Section Of State.” The article
notes that, “In 1809 Benjamin B. Cooper petitioned congress to establish
a port at Smethport so that “ships” from Instanter might receive
and discharge cargoes. He bought 20 acres of land on Nunundah Creek and
made propositions to men to erect wharves.”
“As late as1840 the Allegheny River and Potato Creek were considered navigable for steamships as far as Farmers Valley, six miles below Smethport. The War Department still lists Potato Creek as a navigable stream, but the dream of Smethport as a “port of entry” never materialized-although it was a busy point in early lumbering days when log rafts were taken down the river every spring.” (McKean County Democrat, July 26, 1934)
The McKean County Democrat of Feb. 12, 1942 notes that, “Cooper and Joseph McIlvaine laid out the streets of Instanter in 1817,” using the layout of Washington D.C. as their model. Instanter was a large development on their lands in Sergeant Township. The settlement was near the present community of Clermont. This settlement helped to fuel Smethport’s growth and sent much traffic to the East-West Road.
Smethport’s first home, constructed in 1811 by Colonel Arnold Hunter, was built beside the East-West Road as it entered the east end of Smethport. The house was located at the intersection of present day Main and East Streets. For years the intersection was known as McCoy Corners, named for one of Smethport’s earliest pioneers, Dr, McCoy, who had his home and office at that location.
An article in the May 26, 1932 McKean County Democrat notes that in 1826 Orlo J. Hamlin found “that there were not more than a dozen houses surrounding the brick courthouse.” If Smethport was ever to achieve its dream of being a thriving community, it desperately needed a system of roads to connect it to other important communities in Pennsylvania and near-by New York State.
That began to materialize when, “Joel Sartwell, Hiram Pane and Jonathon Marsh were commissioned to lay out the East-West Road in McKean County.” The year was 1828. The road connected the county seats of Warren and McKean County by way of Keating, Lafayette and Corydon Townships, a distance of 40 miles through the center of each county.
The 1828 McKean County map shows the location of the road marked in red as it crossed the plateau from Port Allegany to Smethport. The map is from the Pennsylvania State Archives.
Mrs. Anna Gates of Mount Alton read a paper about the highway at a meeting of the Pamona Grange in 1928. The October 25, 1928 McKean County Miner describes her report. Gates notes that, “some claim the original purpose was to bind the inhabitants in loyalty, by means of communication, to the street of Pennsylvania, as the Connecticut Company was extending for this land at that time. Many of the pioneer settlers were from the New England states. It was really a continuation of the Great East to West Road laid out in 1816-1819 running from Kinzua on the Allegheny through the center of the counties, Coudersport and on to Wellsborough.”
Old topographic maps show this original route in several locations. The route traveled through Coudersport and entered Roulette. Lyman wrote about the road as the “dug-out road” in his book about the History of Roulette that he produced for that community’s centennial in the mid 1960’s. The term was used in his grand father’s journal, his grand father being one of the original settlers in that area of Potter County.
A “dug-out” road was a big-deal in those days when roads were not much more that old Indian paths through the woods. From Roulette, the highway paralleled the Allegheny River along where the old Route 6 was located prior to reconstruction in the late 1960’s, and entered Port Allegany along
Main Street. There the road turned west onto Mill Street, crossed the Allegheny River, and then climbed up the steep hillside onto the vast plateau between Smethport and Port Allegany that the old-timers called the “Big Level.”
Lillibridge describes the road just after it crossed the Allegheny River at Port Allegany. “The road then steeply ascended the mountain directly west of that village to the highest elevation and thence directly westward to the Potato Creek Valley and Smethport. Here the descent was made into the valley by way of the ridge separating Fay and Riley (currently spelled Reilly) Hollows, passing closely to the site of the Ralph Burdick cottage.”
Ralph Burdick’s cottage, owned later by the Angell family and now owned by Bill Lake, is located in a clearing on the highest altitude of Prospect Hill.
Residents of Smethport growing up in the 1960’s were able to see this cottage, referred to as “Angell’s Camp, high on the hill aligned almost due-east when looking east on West Main Street.
An article from the Aug. 13, 1938, McKean County Democrat reports that, “R.E. Burdick is constructing a rustic pool below his cottage on Prospect Hill, highest peak in this section of the country overlooking Smethport. The pool is fed by a spring of crystal-clear water which was used by pioneer farmers on the hill.” Water for man and beast was crucial for highway travel, especially after such a steep climb from either town. Many Smethport residents have visited the spot over the years to view Smethport nestled in the valley below. Woods surrounding the camp have grown high, and the view of town
is now blocked. According to Bill Lake, the East-West Road serves as the northern boundary of his cottage property. The old road currently is used as a snow mobile trail down the hill toward Smethport. The Burdick cottage was originally located on the top of Bush Hill and was owned by the McCandless family. It was moved to Prospect Hill in 1936.
The road from the parking area at the game lands toward Port Allegany can still be
walked. It is narrow, barely passable in some spots, rutted with jeep trails in other spots,
but is still discernable as an ancient road through the forest. The road from the parking
area toward Smethport becomes difficult to detect at this point. It swerves across the
Prospect Hill road toward the Fire Tower, passes just to the south of the tower, then
begins the decline to the Potato Creek Valley as it travels north of the Lake cottage and
down the gentle slopes to East Smethport.
I am uncertain where Fay Hollow is located, but suspect that it is where Gifford Hollow
is today. In the 1950’s the Fay family had a farm at the head of the hollow where they
sold brown eggs.
The map below shows the East-West Road marked in yellow. The original survey for the
map dates to 1932.
Orlo J. Hamlin, one of Smethport’s earliest pioneers, writes about his 1826 migration to
Smethport over the East-West Road in his journal, part of which was reproduced in 2003
for Smethport’s Sesquicentennial book, Timeless Home.
“At the Canoe Place (now Port Allegany) we fell in with Moses Hana who regularly
carried the mail from Smethport to Jersey Shore once in two weeks. We came over the
hill, or rather mountain, I should call it, one of the most gloomy, lonesome and
disagreeable roads I have ever traveled; all woods, the trees large and numerous, and the
road being quite narrow shut out the site of the sun,-if it had shone in December, which it
rarely does at our latitude and climate,-forming over us a complete canopy of dark,
gloomy evergreens. The road was rocky in places, and stony nearly all, with innumerable
roots of trees interlaced in the bed of the road for the horses to get over as best they
could, at the risk of breaking a leg at every step, mud often knee deep, and the more wet
or swampy places ornamented for crossing with an execrable corduroy or pole bridge.
We slowly groped our way for nine long and seemingly endless miles to the foot of the
hill east of Smethport; then for near half a mile we found another of those most
intolerable of all bridges, made of logs and poles. Then crossing Potato or Nunundah
Creek, arrived at the Red Tavern, kept by the widow Williard in Smethport. Mrs. Williard
was not a widow, but as her husband had lately gone to the south, and left her to take care
of herself and child, she became landlady and kept up the tavern as a means of support.”
Orlo then describes his fist night in Smethport at the Red Tavern.
“It being long after dark when we arrived the barroom was pretty well filled with men,
who just then had nothing else to do. After supper we rejoined the men in the barroom
who were quite civil and neighborly, one of them who seemed a leading man among
them, after inquiring whence we came and what we came for and learning of our
proposed settling as a lawyer, asked me what spelling books were in use now. I felt my
dignity as a lawyer put to the test, and was rather mortified that I should be asked such an
undignified question, and replied under the infliction of a little mortified pride, that it was
so long since I had been in the elementary school that I hardly knew what spellers were
now in use, but I believed “Dillworths’s” were going out and “Webster’s” coming into
use. Had he asked me some grave questions of law, I should have felt much more
elevated, at least in my own estimation.
On retiring for the night I passed a small dining-room, which adjoined the kitchen, from
that to my bedroom which was adjoining the barroom. It so happened that a married man
and woman were then occupying a room immediately back of the dining-room, and at
about ten o’clock at night the woman was in her accouchement, and I was kept awake by
neighboring women passing through the dining- room to the sick woman’s room every
few minutes, back and forth to the kitchen. In the barroom the men kept up a continual
cross-fire of conversation with an occasional outburst of laughter. So to me sleep was
impossible. About twelve I heard apparently the sound of one person, then another falling
on the barroom floor, accompanied by the sound of laughter. This I inferred resulted from
one man pushing another off his chair and landing him on the floor. This to me is
intolerable nuisance was kept up until early morning, when the denizens of the barroom
I rose in the morning feverish, nervous and excitable, fully determined to return to
Towanda and take my chance there, rather than to settle in so outlandish a place as
Smethport; but destiny had ordained it otherwise.”
Mrs. Gates tells about another interesting event at the “Red Tavern” held on July 4, 1828
during a celebration in honor of the opening of the East-West Road. It involved a joke
played on Mrs. Williard. The Oct. 25, 1928 Miner reported:
“Good music was necessary and as the best fiddler in county was a guest of the sheriff.
Just then an understanding was had with the sheriff that the fiddler would be present. The
ball was in the tavern of David Young. Mrs. Williard who ran the “Red Tavern” was
indignant because her hotel had been slighted. She threatened the sheriff if he furnished
the orchestra. The sheriff placed a dummy in the jail to replace the fiddler. Mrs. Williard
peeked through the key hole at the jail but was fooled by the dummy. The committee was
careful that she did not attend the dance. The ball was a success.”
According to Lillibridge, “Smethport, as the county seat, was naturally the center from
which road building activities radiated. The village was connected with Ceres by way of
Eldred and Farmers Valley where early settlements had been made. Likewise, a road lead
southward to Gallup’s Corners in Norwich Township. Another was constructed in a
southwesterly direction to Instanter (Clermont) the second oldest settlement to be made in
After noting several other roads radiating out of Smethport, Lillibridge remarks, “We
must consider Smethport itself as the most important of these early pioneer highway
junctions and for this reason: one of the greatest hardships that faced the early settlers
was the lack of communication with friends and business associates left behind in the
more thickly settled areas of the state. Thus we read that mails were sent regularly from
Philadelphia to Ceres by way of Williamsport, but it was only when a chance traveler
happened to be coming through that the mails were delivered from Williamsport to the
far-away settlement of Ceres.”
Early settlers endured great hardships because of the poor conditions of the dirt roads that
emanated from the community. Lillibridge reports that, “there were the snows of winter,
the dust of summer and still worse the mud of spring and fall. Farmers and townspeople
alike dreaded the time of the annual break-up when streets and country roads were well
nigh impassible. The beautiful street now being officially opened and dedicated must
have been at certain times of the year a veritable quagmire. The large logs removed by
the contractor at considerable depth below the surface below the old brick pavement are
evidences of the vain attempt of early settlers and roadbuilders to make the streets of the
village more passable in the time of rains and mud. However, a sparse population, lack of
local, county and state funds made these attempts fruitless for a century or more. Those
who lived before the days of improved highways literally ate dust for a part of the year
and then waded through mud halfway to their horses’ knees for another part of the year.”
Lillibridge goes on to say, “Forty years ago Smethport remedied this situation locally by
constructing a fine brick pavement along its Main Street. Then eight years later in 1916,
the citizen of the county, quite largely under the leadership of civic-minded residents of
Smethport, voted a bond issue of $750,000 for road building purposes, thereby placing
the county as the first in the state to earmark upon a county-wide project of this kind.
Since that time the state has contributed generously for roads and at the same time taken
over the maintenance of practically all of the highways in the county. How extensive and
beneficial those projects have been is evident in every borough and township in the
county. Just how beneficial is evidenced by these simple statements. Forty years ago
there were few schoolhouses in the entire county on improved roads. Children walked to
school through snow and mud. Now there is not a single school building in the county on
a dirt road. Efficient transportation are available for practically all citizens of the county
no matter where they may dwell.
The photo below shows workman paving Main Street with brick in 1908.
McKean County Historical Society Archives
He adds, “The end is not yet. More and better highways are constantly being built.”
Lillibridge then adds inspiration to his address. “The old brick pavement has been torn up
and removed. In its place there is now a finer, stronger highway better designed to meet
the increasingly difficult traffic conditions of modern times. Along the old Main Street
there have taken place the usual and uneventful, but necessary, daily avocations of typical
American community. If one had the time, the inclination and the data to tabulate these
events and the men and women who took part in them since this street was first paved
forty years ago, the list would be astounding as well as ennobling.”
In Smethport, the East-West Road became “Main Street” and traveled westward through
The photo below shows the East-West Road looking west from the 700 block of West
Main Street circa 1865. The foreground building, known as the Astor House, played a
key role in Smethport’s early development and served as an inn, general store, tavern,
and community gathering area for townsfolk and travelers on the East-West Road. Note
the terrible condition of the muddy road.
McKean County Historical Society Archives
The road climbed up Ormsby Hill west of town. The present location of Pennsylvania
Route 59 is located over the old East West Road up to the base of Ormsby Hill. Here, the
old road deviated from the present highway in several spots as it snaked its way up
Ormsby Hill. It is visible in several places to the right of the modern highway. It is dug
into the slope of the hill and is barely wide enough for a wagon to pass across with out
falling over the side of the road. Mid-way up Ormsby Hill, the old road turns sharply up
the hill and parallels the headwaters of Blacksmith Brook, then makes a sharp turn west
over the brook and enters Ormsby on what is today the Woodard Road. It then crossed
the “Y” at Ormsby and travels along the present Route 59 once again.
In the 1926 topographic map of the Bradford quadrangle showing the East-West Road
crossing the Plateau toward Marshburg, it shows Route 59 as running from Ormsby,
Cyclone, Gifford on today’s PA 646, then onto PA 770 through Minard Run and into
Degolia on the present day PA 770, then south for a short distance on U.S. 219 to Custer
City and then onto PA 770 once again to Marshburg. Old Route 59 then joins today’s
location of Route 59 at Marshburg, which is also the old location of the East-West Road.
Note how an old wagon road to Bradford branched off the East-West Road at Ormsby. It
is not known when this branch was constructed. This writer suspects it was after the oil
boom and the Bradford, Bordell and Kinzua Railroad built its 3 foot narrow gauge line
across the Big Level and into Smethport in 1880, since the wagon road paralleled the
railroad pretty much from Davis to Ormsby.
On September 14, 1922, the McKean Democrat reported that the reconstruction of the
road between Smethport and Ormsby was completed. “The highway has been newly
graded and completely resurfaced and ditched. The huge rocks which lay in the roadway
and made it apparently hopelessly, perpetually rough, have all been blasted out and
broken up, the lose stone being used to fill up big depressions in the roadway. The road is
now level as a floor.” At the time of the construction, the East-West Road served as the
wagon road up Ormsby Hill.
Lillibridge stated that, “From Smethport the road passed through what are now known as
Ormsby, Mt. Alton, Lafayette Corners, and Marshburg, and then directly westward and
down into the Kinzua Valley by following the ridge separating Chapel Fork from Sugar
Much of the route to Kinzua was widened and resurfaced in 1964 in response to a
projected increase in traffic that would use the highway to visit the Kinzua Dam, which
was under construction at the time. From Marshburg to Kinzua, Route 59 was rebuilt on
an entire new location. This new highway merged with the East-West route in some
spots, and wiggled across it or paralleled to it at other spots. The present day Klondike
Road is built on the East-West grade, as is the current road to Kinzua Heights.
The old highway descended the hill on the ridge atop Sugar Run and entered Kinzua from
the north, then traveled through the village and hugged the south bank of the Allegheny
River as it gained elevation and made the sharp turn at Devil’s Elbow, then proceeded
along the river to arrive in Warren. The modern Route 59 follows that same course,
except for a change in the route at Devils Elbow.
The map below outlines the East-West Road across the western edge of McKean County
and into Warren County at Kinzua.
The surface of the old road across the plateau between Marshburg and Kinzua is in very
good shape. The area is part of the National Forest and I suspect that the forest service
has maintained the old road in such a good condition.
Lillibridge ended his 1948 address with these words:
“In conclusion it can be said the roads of long ago were primitive, but so were the times
in which the roads were built. The days of pick and shovel corduroy and ox-team roads
are past. An increasing population with greater financial resources combined with an
effective cooperation of local, county and state authorities have given us a highway
system of which we can be proud. What of the future?
Highways are only a means to an end, and that end should be a finer and better cultural
and industrial development of the people served by the roads. In the pioneer days our
communications of necessity were self-contained. Each one, however small, must solve
its own problems of civic, industrial and recreational nature. This called for close
cooperation of citizen with citizen all along the line. The very highways of which we are
so proud tend to make travel so easy and enjoyable that many communities that many
communities lack that cohesion and cooperation of years ago. Are we not thereby losing
something vital and necessary to healthful American life? Our roads are built and taken
care of by the state. However, there are areas of activities in Church, school, recreation
and industry where initiative and local cooperation must come from within the small
community itself. The County and the state cannot do everything for us without our
losing something essential that even the best of highways cannot compensate.”
Smethport’s early settlers desperately needed a highway to bring the outside world to
their pioneer town for the same reasons noted by Lillibridge. Local townsfolk like Joel
Sartwell, Hiram Pane and Jonathon Marsh, who laid out the original plan of the East-
West Road through Smethport, played an important role in the areas development in
1828. Local townsfolk continued to take an active role in the future of their town when
numerous citizens mobilized in the early 1920’s to push for the improvement and paving
of the Roosevelt Highway across the region and the entire state. Other townsfolk
continued the tradition as Smethport replaced its brick Main Street with concrete in 1948
in a town-wide celebration. The tradition lives on today as numerous new citizens work
to promote the same highway as did Hiram Paine and his friends after Smethport was
chosen fas Pennsylvania’s First Route 6 Heritage Community.
This paper is copyrighted ©2007 by Les Jordan Jr.
Astor House was built in 1831. It was 180 ft. across the front with a
store room in the center and a dwelling house on each side. The
west end was occupied by its owner, John Holmes Thomas, until about 1850 or
52. In 1843 A.N.
Taylor formed a partnership with his father, and commenced business in the
old Astor building. He then removed to his farm. Then it was occupied
by Dr. M. A. Sprague, then it was leased as a hotel, then leased to Henry William's,
who occupied it until it burned. The east end was kept as a hotel by David
R. Bennett until 1848, then it was turned over to James Miller, who passed it
over to William Haskill in late May/early June of 1859.
Ad for the Holmes and Richmond Store
November 13th, 1858 ad in the McKean County Democrat
Important to the Public!
Return to 1858