Once Upon a Tavern

By David G. Young

Published August-September 2012



When America was young and hardy pioneers began drifting westward to establish new homesteads, they were soon followed by equally adventurous entrepreneurs. Among their establishments were local taverns, which came to play a central role in the daily life of many communities. Besides providing food and lodging for weary travelers, taverns also served as informal town halls, public meeting spaces, post offices, marketplaces and headquarters for local militia. In colonial times, and beyond, taverns were a vital part of community life in America.

A Reflection of Early American Culture 

A new project underway at Hampton’s Depreciation Lands Museum will soon bring to life the feel and function of the type of colonial-era tavern that followed settlers into Western Pennsylvania. The “Tavern Project” will be the single largest capital improvement undertaken by the museum to date.

“Our most successful events have always involved food,” explained Dan Connolly, the museum’s board president. “Financially speaking, food service also helps to generate income for the museum, so our ability to provide better quality food service is one key for the museum’s future success.”

But there were other considerations behind the museum’s decision to launch the tavern project. For starters, the existing onsite kitchen – located in a cinder-block building called the “annex” – was small and wasn’t up to building code standards. In addition, the museum overall lacked restroom facilities that complied with the requirements of the “Americans with Disabilities Act.” By expanding and upgrading the kitchen and restroom facilities in the cinder block annex building, the museum could meet building code requirements, and also serve more patrons and host more visiting groups.

In addition, one of the museum’s more popular draws is its annual “Tavern Nights” event. Held in the summer, “Talley Cavey Tavern Night at the Museum” invites revelers for dinner, libations and 18th-century entertainment. By transforming the annex into a true tavern, this event would no doubt become even more popular.

But since it’s inception in 1973 the Depreciation Lands Museum has steadily developed a base of devoted fans and loyal patrons, despite the odd-sounding moniker.

What’s In a Name?

The term “Depreciation Lands” dates to the Revolutionary War and re­fers to Continental Congress’s strug­gle to pay its army. At the beginning of the war the soldier’s pay was backed by gold, which made it valid legal ten­der. But as the conflict progressed and Congress ran out of money, it be­gan paying the soldiers with “scrip,” a type of paper money that was little more than a promise to pay the bearer in gold…someday. However, Con­gress’s money troubles never ceased and as the war progressed the scrip became worthless. The term we use to describe the declining value of money, to this day, is “depreciation.”

Following the Revolution, the Com­monwealth of Pennsylvania decided to take some action to reward the soldiers for their loyal service. They bought a tract of land from the Iroquois Indi­ans in 1784 and used the acreage to pay off the by-then worthless scrip. Soldiers were issued “Depreciation Certificates,” which could be used as money to pay for this land. The value of each man’s certificate depended on his time and length of service, and his rank. The auctions were open to the public as well, so if a soldier didn’t want to buy land with his certificate he could sell it for gold. Thus, the moni­ker “Depreciation Lands.”

A Piece of American History

Created by Hampton Township in 1973, the museum seeks to preserve and interpret the early years of European settlement in the Depreciation Lands. In 1783, the state of Pennsylvania set aside 720,000 acres of land in Western Pennsylvania to compensate its Revolutionary War soldiers for their services, since the dollar had depreciated drastically during the war. Known as the Depreciation Lands, the area included all of the North Hills of Pittsburgh, and further, to a line 4 1/2 miles north of the present city of Butler, thereby, also encompassing parts of Butler, Beaver, Lawrence and Armstrong counties.

The museum's peaceful wooded grounds transport the visitor into an earlier time, with costumed demonstrators every Sunday afternoon during the season, April - November. The site includes the Pine Creek Covenanter Church, built in 1837, and the associated cemetery, the Armstrong log house, built in 1803, an herb garden, a replica school, circa 1885, working blacksmith shop, wagon house, which houses a Conestoga wagon and displays, and a meeting building.


Dedicated volunteers and staff offer a variety of family-oriented activities throughout the year. Be sure to check the weekly hours and the calendar of special events. There are special group activities for school, scout, and adult groups.

The Depreciation Lands Museum occupies about five acres of land in Hampton Township, with several authentic structures on site, including:

  • A former church, complete with cemetery.
  • An authentic log cabin -- fashioned after how pioneers lived.
  • A replica off a mid-1800s one-room school house.
  • A blacksmith ship similar to one of pioneer days.
  • A wagon house -- housing a Conestoga wagon along with tools.
  • An annex building from which programs are conducted.
  • An herb/dye garden is also on the property.

Funding the New Project

To launch the project the tavern project the museum board went to the Hampton Community Association to request funding. The HCA provided the museum with two $5,000 grants to get the project started, with an expected completion date of December 1, 2012. Although the grants won’t cover the entire anticipated $50,000 cost of building the Tavern, the museum hopes to draw funds from other sources to help defray expenses.

For example, the recently expanded museum gift shop, “Talley Cavey Mercantile,” is styled after a frontier trading post and offers a wide variety of colonial-era merchandise, including toys and clothing, locally handcrafted pottery, books, quilts and home decor. Located in the "Barn," the mercantile is open every Sunday from May through October, and during special events at the museum. The Barn also hosts a “gun shop” and a “blacksmith shop,” which can craft custom ironwork such as forged hooks and toasting forks. Custom items can also be crafted upon request.

But the total cost of the upgrades to the kitchen and restroom facilities will exceed museum income and grant monies received thus far. For that reason the museum is looking for charitable contributions in the forms of money, goods, equipment or services. Several museum board members, including Kent Maier, Ed Tutino, John Carroll and John Wagner have provided construction services directly to the project. A list of the needed kitchen equipment and materials can be reviewed in the sidebar.


The first phase of the project, currently underway, involves remodeling the Tavern’s kitchen and restroom facilities. Next spring the museum plans to build an 18th-century style fireplace in the tavern’s main dining room, to add an authentic atmosphere to the venue. The final phase of the project, to begin later next year, calls for adding log siding to the exterior of the facility to create a true colonial feeling.

To defray some costs the museum is also conducting a fundraiser with the help of renowned local painter John Buxton. Participants will have a chance to win a 32-by-20-inch giclee canvas print of Buxton’s newest painting, called Washington at The Point – 1753, framed in burled wood and signed by the artist. The painting is one in a series of paintings chronicling the journey of George Washington and Christopher Gist from the Point in Pittsburgh to Fort Le Boeuf. Tickets may be purchased for $5 each; the drawing will be held November 22, 2013, on the 260th anniversary of the actual event. The winner need not be present. For more information visit www.DepreciationLandsMuseum.org or call 412-486-0563. Tickets can also be purchased at the Hampton Township Police Department from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

With the completion of the remodeled Tavern, Hampton’s Depreciation Lands Museum will be able to host more events, rent the facilities to local groups for meetings and expand the museum’s schedule of events. This will mean that the Depreciation Lands Museum will become an even better slice of living history right in our midst.

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