Herald Standard: By Frances Borsodi Zajac
"There's much to be proud of.’’
Joan Whetsell, a lifelong resident of Addison said glowingly of the community of about 200 people located in the mountains adjacent to Fayette County and along the nation’s first federal highway. “You have a lot of architecture that has been preserved. Whether older buildings or modern, citizens take a lot of pride in their property.’’
The Somerset County town incorporated as a borough in 1814 as the National Road came into prominence, taking pioneers West and transporting goods back and forth. Peter Augustine, who laid out the town, originally named it Petersburg after himself. But the name was changed in 1831 after federal Judge Alexander Addison, whose district included all western Pennsylvania and upheld the law during the Whiskey Rebellion.
Many of Addison’s buildings were constructed during the 19th century and are still used today as homes, businesses or museums.
That’s apparent in a drive through this charming community, which Mayor Sam Collins commented, is “well known for being a peaceful, quiet town.’’
Travelers are enticed to pull off Route 40 with a sign that notes “Visit Historic Addison’’ and lists its many attractions.
They include the Old Petersburg Tollhouse where people of yesteryear paid a fee to travel the National Road that ran from Cumberland, Md., to Vandalia, Ill. The tollhouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and operated by Great Crossings Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“It’s the best-kept secret in Somerset County,’’ said Shirley Hager, DAR treasurer. “A lot of people don’t realize the historic value of the tollhouse.’’
In fact, Addison has one of only two tollhouses remaining on the National Road in Pennsylvania as well taverns converted into homes, such as the former Gabriel Abrams Tavern owned by Dwayne Welling, a community leader who served 28 years on the borough council and water authority.
Welling moved to Addison in 1987 after first purchasing his home in 1961 and using it as a weekend retreat because the family liked to boat in the area. When Welling decided to retire, the family left Connellsville for Addison.
“It’s a great little town to come to: historic and close to recreation like Nemacolin Woodlands, Seven Springs, Ohiopyle, Deep Creek, Rails to Trails, boating,’’ Welling rattled off a list of local sites.
Other historic buildings include Petersburg-Addison Museum, which contains historic artifacts, including rooms devoted to World War II and toys.
Federal troops camped in Addison as they traveled to Washington, Pa., during their mission to stop the Whiskey Rebellion.
“Whiskey Rebellion troops came here in 1794. Settlers here couldn’t afford to take grain over the mountain so they made whiskey,’’ said Whetsell, also president of the Old Petersburg-Addison Historical Society. Six thousand federal troops stayed at the farm of Peter Augustine, a distiller who put up a Liberty Pole and was fined for it, on their way back and forth to Washington, Pa., to quash the rebellion by farmers in Western Pennsylvania who refused to pay a tax on distilled spirits. “They ate at his table. They trampled his fences. The Augustine family still has a bill, which the government owes — $500.’’
Frederick Augustine History House is a museum that features artifacts from 19th-century Addison merchants, including Moses Ross, who operated a general store; Samantha Jane Nicklow, who sold hats; and Henry Rishebarger, a cabinet maker who also made coffins. The building is adjacent to the one-room Humbertson Schoolhouse where classes are held every year during the National Road Festival, one of two Addison festivals that receive a lot of attention from the outside world.
The National Road Festival is celebrated each May across 90 miles in Pennsylvania. In Addison, the festival is a four-day event — this year on May 19-22 — that includes tours of historic structures, 1860s baseball, a play that features local history, car show, a community worship service and food.
The National Chainsaw Carving Festival, held this year June 16-18, in the Addison Community Park by the Confluence Lions Club, attracts chainsaw carvers from across the United States and raises funds for the Somerset County Blind Association. Welling said the Lions offered to take over park maintenance and also donate a carving from the festival each year that is put on permanent display at the park — the 2015 carving was a Sasquatch.
Those who gave their all to the country are honored in the park with a military honor roll while the community remembers the graves of those who served in wars since the American Revolution at Addison Cemetery, which also holds a Civil War Grand Army of the Republic cannon that was brought here in the late 19th or early 20th century by train and then taken to the cemetery on a sled, Whetsell said.
The town’s two churches are also located along Main Street: St. John’s Lutheran and Addison United Methodist. Each offers ministries for the area, including a monthly community dinner called The Neighborhood Table hosted by Addison United Methodist.
“It gives people a chance to get together other than church on Sunday,’’ Whetsell said.
The Methodist church until recently held the town’s only voting precinct but Somerset County Election Bureau said that has been moved to the Addison Volunteer Fire Department where Addison Township also votes. The bureau reports there are 122 registered voters in the borough: 66 Republicans, 41 Democrats, 11 no affiliation/no party and four Independents. Whetsell noted the fire department also hosts a number of community events each year.
Youths in Addison attend school at Turkeyfoot Valley Area School District, located about seven miles away near Confluence. The complex contains about 400 students in two schools. This year’s graduating class has about 30 students.
In addition to Whetsell Lumber where the mayor works, there are a variety of businesses in Addison, including two fairly new that were incorporated into historic structures.
David and Kitty Stemac moved to Addison in June 2000, expecting to stay a year as he had business in the district. He grew up in Chicago while she was raised on the California coast. The couple purchased an 1870s private residence, built an addition in 2005 and opened Hartzell House Bed and Breakfast in 2006.
David Stemac said they receive guests from around the world — 90 percent who come to see nearly Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses in Fayette County: Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob.
Stemac said of Addison, “It’s a nice, quiet community — a beautiful area with a lot of history and a lot of outdoor recreation.’’
Carrie Merschat, a native of Lemont Furnace, Fayette County, moved to Addison with her husband, Al, 10 years ago.
The couple own The Addison Place LLC that operates the Schoolhouse Gym and Studio, which opened in 2014. Operating in a renovated 101-year-old, two-room schoolhouse, the building includes a gym, tanning beds and offers classes in fitness and Tae Kwon Do that attracts many youths.
Carrie Merschat said of Addison, “It’s beautiful, quiet. I love the landscape. I love the history. I’m quiet and keep to myself but having the gym, I’ve met a lot of people and it’s been a great experience. I love being part of the community.
Officials note Addison has a few homeowners who use their property as vacation homes — some coming as far away as Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
They would like to see more young people take on leadership roles in the community.
“Younger ones aren’t involved with the town yet. Hopefully, they will be when they’re older. I wasn’t involved with the town either when I moved here,’’ said Collins, who relocated in 1976.
Welling, who noted he is also a transplant, appreciates the town for the history, the quiet and the community feeling.
“If I have my druthers, I’d druther stay here,’’ he said.