Stories of Guernsey county by Wm. Wolfe Page 630-631-632
The name at the head of this story will be familiar to some of Cambridge’s older citizens and will call to mind the town’s best known hostler of the “horse-and-buggy days.” Fairview used to know him in the “stage-coach days.” He bowed to Henry Clay on a number of occasions when the old statesman stepped from his carriage at the Bradshaw Tavern; and he likewise paid his respects to William McKinley and other men of distinction, when they were guests at the Morton House.
Horses His Hobby.—Peter Simpson was a negro whose early home was in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. The National Road, which was extended through Guernsey county in 1828, was completed from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1818. In boyhood Peter’s love of horses drew him to the stagecoach stations where the teams were changed. He became acquainted with the drivers, some of whom permitted him to ride with them across the mountains. He afterwards drove some himself, and in his old age he never tired of telling about his perilous adventures on the old Cumberland Road.
Peter was a brother of Edith Simpson Lucas, widely known as “Aunt Edie, the Fortune Teller,” who, with her husband, came to Fairview, Guernsey county, very early in the last century. A few years after their settling there Peter followed them and became the hostler at the Bradshaw tavern which stood at the east end of the town and was a division point for some of the stage lines. He had fresh teams ready for the drivers when they arrived; he assisted the wagoners in caring for their horses; he directed the drovers in penning their stock for the night.
Peter became one of the best known characters along the National Road. His kindly care of horses was noticeable to the guests at the tavern. Many a weary traveler was cheered by his characteristic good humor and permanent smile. Nothing pleased Peter more than a tavern full of guests, a wagon-lot full of wagons, and a barn full of horses.
Employed by Joseph Morton.—In the 1860’s Bradshaw, who had kept the tavern since the days of Zane’s Trace, sold it to Joseph Morton. Peter remained as hostler. Then the railroad came through Guernsey county and the National Road began to decline. One by one the stagecoach lines went out of business until finally all were gone. The wagoners saw their great loads of tobacco, wool and other farm products carried by rail, and they quit, too. There were fewer and fewer guests at the tavern, fewer horses in the barn, and Peter grieved. Morton sold the tavern which was torn away for the dwelling that now stand on the site. HE moved to a farm in Oxford township, and Peter went along to take care of the horses.
In 1873 Joseph Morton purchased what was then the leading hotel in Cambridge, and came here to operate it. Known now as the Carnes building and used for office purposes, it stands on West Eighth street, opposite the court house. On the corner occupied by the present Central National Bank Building was the Cook hotel. Back of it and fronting on west Eighth street was the hotel barn. The Cook Hotel was closed and the barn sold to N. B. Long who, in 1869, removed the barn and erected a hotel on its site. Until Joseph Morton took charge David Jenkins managed it for Mr. Long. During the former’s long proprietorship it was known as the Morton House. In the rear was a large barn in which were kept the hotel horses and horses of guests. Her Peter again reigned in supreme happiness.
A Familiar Figure.—For the next twenty years or more Peter Simpson was a familiar figure around the Morton House. When he was not sleeping, he always wore a felt or derby hat, and he resented any request to remove it. Unless reference was made to his hat, a subject concerning which he was touchy, he seldom became angry. When he became drunk, which was often in his old age, he would endeavor not to annoy others. Although he swore considerably, nobody took him seriously, as it was more from habit than feeling.
Peter never married. He loved horses and he loved children. A group of the latter he often had about him, entertaining them with stories of the old days on the Cumberland Toad at Brownsville, or at Bradshaw’s tavern. Ever courteous, honest and loyal, old Peter had many friends, some of whom were prominent in political live. For half a century he was hostler at the Bradshaw tavern and the Morton House, during which time he became known to hundreds of travelers.
Peter could neither read nor write. He didn’t know his age. Edith, his sister, was born in 1785 and lived to be ninety. Peter was as old, or older, when he died about fifty years ago.