New connection, new insights to California, PA UGRR site

California has been the focus of a lot of folklore much of it never confirmed~ Ron Paglia

In January I received on email from a gentleman, Ron Paglia, who was researching an individual from my family, namely my great-aunt Dee Dee (Mary Margaret Chester) and her connection to the Stone House Players.

Miss Chester was in to the dramatics and created a group called the Stone House Players. Mr. Paglia was researching an individual (Sally Cairns) who was part of the group. He was made aware of my connection and me to Miss Chester through the California Area Historical Society. (I had visited there several times.) They gave him my email address as well as my blog/research address on the Underground Railroad in the area.

After conversing via email, we spoke on January 20th. I was able to give him several reference points regarding his research, but since I was only 10 years old when Dee Dee died, I suggested he speak with my older sister, Diane. She lived at the Latta Stone house with our great-aunt and even attended elementary school for a few years in Roscoe, PA.

Shutterly House - Front and side

After we spoke, Mr. Paglia sent me his recollections on the Shutterly house at 800 Park Street in California, PA and its connection to the Underground Railroad. His recollections are as follows:

I believe you said you talked to a woman there during your visit in this area in 2009. James “Moe” Giovanardi lived there and he and I graduated from California Community High School in 1957. His sister, Janet Giovanardi, graduated in 1955. I’m not sure of whatever happened to Moe, although I do recall that the folks who organized our traditional class reunions lost track of him over the years. I did find references to a Joseph and Christina Giovanardi owning the home and living there in the 1970s and 1980s, but I did not know them.

As I mentioned on the home, I was in the home on several occasions, because Moe and I were friends. And I recall going into the basement of the home and seeing a section boarded up. The story was that the opening behind the boards led to a tunnel that was part of the Underground Railroad and led to a spot near the Monongahela River in West Brownsville (Washington County), just across the river from Brownsville (Fayette County). The story making the rounds in those years also alluded to the tunnel passing under a Boy Scout campsite just outside of California on property that now houses the Center In The Woods senior center and The Oaks independent housing complex just off Route 88 between California and Blainesburg.

As Boy Scouts, we often held meetings and outings there and even camped overnight at times. There were stories about “ghosts … in the ground below us” as we sat around a campfire at night. The legend also indicated that the slaves who used the tunnel “wound up in Brownsville” and made their way to other homes that were part of the Underground Railroad there. One of those homes supposedly was located just off-Broadway (street or avenue), which led to Route 40. I do recall that Moe Giovanardi had relatives who lived there (perhaps a cousin) and that we went there a few times. Moe was one of the few guys in California who had a car and he often asked me if I wanted to go for a ride.

Despite all of the stories surrounding the Giovanardi home being part of the Underground Railroad, I have never seen any documentation of that, nor have I ever talked to anyone in California who could verify it.

Other buildings in California as you no doubt know also were linked to the Underground Railroad, but like other towns in the Mon Valley, California has been the focus of a lot of folklore much of it never confirmed, etc. Similar stories have evolved in Fayette City and Monongahela (Bethel AME Church).

Just like the Latta Stone House being connected to the Underground Railroad, many folklore just don’t pan out to be the truth. However, who are we, in the 21st century to say that perhaps the occupants of these homes didn’t direct, loan horses, or give water and or food to a fugitive slave or two?

Ron Paglia has over 54 years experience in the newspaper, public relations and freelance professions.


UGRR site in Roscoe, PA

The Monongahela Valley Area
Underground Railroad sites

Latta Stone House -1 Star*

The Latta Stone House circa 1900

Located on Mt. Tabor Road, in a city originally called Lucyville, the Latta Stone House is what started me on this journey.  The Stockdale family built this house in 1805. Legend had it that Allen Stockdale built it, but my genealogical research has Allen born in 1802.¹ I am not sure which Stockdale built it, but I have documents proving my great great grandfather O.D Latta purchased the house and land in 1869. It stayed in our family until 1980, after my grandfather died and his estate settled.

Professor Mainwaring’s site analysis describes it as a poorly documented Underground Railroad site with the only reference in an article by Mary Herron in The Washington Observer,² October 29, 1937. Herron’s article describes what I heard as a child growing up and visiting my relatives.  My Aunt Dee Dee’s (Mary Margaret Chester) bedroom was upstairs in the southwest corner of the house. Her closet, the only bedroom with a full-length closet, contained a false ceiling that led the only way into the attic. As a child, my brother and sisters were told how this house was part of the Underground Railroad. We were then lifted up into the attic to see where the slaves hid. I remember how it was pitch black up there. A fugitive slave could hide in plain sight.

Latta Stone House in the winter circa 1960s

Who actually lived in the house during the 1850s? Were they were pro- or anti-slavery? Throughout my research I have been unable to determine who legally owned or lived in the house from 1830 – 1863.  I know Allen Stockdale died in 1845, but I’m not sure he lived there. This also brings up the notion that all of this could have been a myth.

But if it was a myth, why? Was it to make the house more saleable? Was it to elevate the social status of the occupants? All I have is family lore, no documented facts. But it wasn’t a hotel with a registry. Records were not kept on who passed through the area needing help. The only tie I can draw is that area Quakers helped fugitive slaves. Thomas Stockdale, Allen’s father, was a Quaker but was banished from the local meeting group shortly after his arrival to the area in the late 1700s.

Latta Stone House circa 1977 from Mt. Tabor Rd.

I also wonder why Professor Mainwaring gives the Latta Stone House only one star and the Shutterly House three stars. Could it be that the Latta Stone House is situated in an area where no other reported Underground Railroad activity was made? The Shutterly House was a few blocks from the Job Johnson Hotel, a documented site, so was it elevated in plausibility? I think the Latta Stone House as an Underground Railroad site is possible being so close (four blocks) to the Monongahela River, but couldn’t you say that about other houses in the area…?

*1 North Star: Probability of site being a stop is low. Evidence is very slim and not very good. Local oral traditions may be the only source.

¹Department of Commerce. Census of Population and Housing, 1810. (Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census, 1810.)

²Mary Herron, “Latta Stone House Is Most Perfect Virginia Type Mansion In The Area, ” (The Washington Observer, October 29, 1937.)

Finding dead relatives

I am enjoying researching my family tree. After spending several weeks on I decided to try their free 14 day trial on November 21st. This opened up many more sources such as marriage records, census records, draft records, tax assessment records and more records I never knew about! Although I am no closer to knowing who owned the Stone house during the first half of the 19th century, I am finding fascinating information about some members of my family.

First, my grandfather, Louis Fiedler’s draft registration card from 1917-1918 shows he was a student at Notre Dame. Just down the road from me! I called my oldest sister Diane to ask if she had known or heard that Grandpap attended college. (She was the oldest grandchild and spent many more years with the Fiedler side of the family.) She was very surprised to learn that fact. On November 24th I sent an email to the admissions at Notre Dame asking if they could verify his information. I haven’t heard anything, yet.

Secondly, I found that many of my relatives lived well into their 70s and 80s. I had the notion that people in the 1700s and 1800s only lived into their 60s; that living past mid 60s was more the exception than the norm. Not in my family. (Although I am not sure of what the life span my relatives’ siblings were.)

Lastly, using has allowed me another avenue to connect with others that are researching relatives that could be related to me. I am able to review their trees and compare my information as well as add spouses and siblings from their trees. In evaluating some of their information, I sent messages to several members that sometimes dates couldn’t be correct – the ancestor died before being born. I hope others will be able to shed light on some of my ancestors.

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blog connection across the country – from PA to WA

Recently, a connection was made through this blog. Jan Slater made a comment regarding my research (as to whether the Stone house was part of the Underground Railroad.) We conversed a bit through email when it was decided it would be better to communicate over the phone.

Jan lives in Puget Sound, WA and is doing research on her family from Greene County, PA. This county was part of Washington County until just before the turn of the century (1796). We spent almost two hours talking about our respective researches. She has been at her genealogy for almost 30 years whereas I am only a few months into it.

While talking with Jan, I quickly realized what a novice I was in tracing my family. She has pointed me to resources I would have never thought about…Google books for one. I described to her my family tree (of sorts) and within minutes she was emailing me an article about my great-great-great grandfather William Latta from Google books.

We spoke today and she gave me more insights as to how to research from my desk. Jan suggested I check with LDS Library (Latter Day Saints).  She explained that when researching information from the state of Washington, LDS was able to get microfilms of deeds from Washington County, PA. (I bet they are copies.) The information is sent to a Family Center. Briefly checking the internet I found two Family Centers of LDS in my area – one in Mishawaka and one in South Bend. I will call them to see what exactly is the procedure for getting help with locating records of the family member owning the Stone House in the mid 1800s.

Another source she suggested was Boy, did I spend a lot of time there. After just a couple of days, I was able to trace my family back to JOSEPH ALLEN, the person in the late 1700s that was warranted the area where the Stone house sits. Doing the family tree was quite interesting. In just a few days I have 120 people in my tree.

Today, Jan suggested I “tap” into She suggested I join their Washington County (PA) genealogy group. Once a member (no membership fees), I can post questions on their bulletin and message boards as well as review previous postings.  I know someone has researched my family on the Latta side using I received a reply to an earlier post in this blog and was in contact with the Latta genealogy newsletter editor. He emailed me the latest copy. I returned the favor by sending them a photo of the Stone house from the 1800s.

Lots to do! My time is now limited as I started a new job last Monday. Oh how I wished I knew about these resources when I was off.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Law professor reviews deed for clues to ownership

Today I met with law professor Tracey Anderson at Indiana University South Bend to discuss the deed I had regarding the Latta Stone house.

We discussed the known facts –

  • The land where the Stone house sits was originally granted to Joseph Allen was 354 acres and was described as “Allen’s Delight”
  • 200 acres of this land was sold to Thomas Stockdale – brother to the supposed builder (Allen Stockdale) of the Stone house. Assumption: Since the Stone house was built in 1805, the land that it sits upon was part of the land sale. (Info from Early Landowners of Pennsylvania: Atlas of Township Warrantee Maps fo Washington County, PA ISBN # 1558564209)
  • There is mention in an 1937 article from The Washington Observer that the builder of the Stone house… “put everything he had into the great stone house in Roscoe, and lost his house and lands several years later in a sheriff’s sale.”

Question: When was this sheriff sale and who bought the property? Did the Allen family regain the possession of the land and now the house?

  • The deed dated March 6, 1941 shows where Ollie Jane Latta Chester (my great grandmother, daughter of  OD Latta and Mary M Allen Latta) receives property through the last will and testament of OD Latta “dated June 3, 1886 recorded in Will Book 12, page 241.” It goes on to describe the tracts of land but the one centering around the Stone house is described as “The twelve room stone dwelling, one acre ground, more or less and frame garage, on the County road, as assessed to the estate of Mary M Latta, deceased. Note: Mary M Latta is Mary M Allen Latta.
  • A map of the area was created for a publication celebrating the country’s bicentennial showing OD Latta had 60 acres. (Calwell’s Illustrated Combination Centennial Atlas of Washington County. Published by J.A. Caldwell, condition 1876, Library of Congress 76-40594 reprint)

Professor Anderson thinks I should pursue the sheriff’s sale path. That would show, if it can be found, the ownership and then future owners could be traced. If I spent time on tracing family members, that could take several hours and lead to nowhere regarding the ownership during the Underground Railroad years.

The downside to the sheriff sale is that it is unknown when the sale took place. However, the article states that it was several years, (not decades) that the house and land was lost. I will contract with the Washington County Historical Society to research the sheriff’s sale as well as the purchase of the land to the Stockdales and see what happens.

Published in: on October 13, 2009 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Navigating through legal documents

Finding out who owned the Latta Stone House during the Underground Railroad period is proving to be quite difficult. While meeting with Professor Smith 10-6-09 we created a timeline of known facts.

Timeline 1784 – 1876
The survey of the land where the Stone house sits was done in 1784 and warranted to Joseph Allen in 1785. The house was built in 1805 by a Stockdale, either Allen or Thomas. My great great grandfather Ostrander D. Latta was born in 1838 and is shown owning 60 acres of property on a map in 1876. (O.D. Latta dies in 1886 and bequeaths the property to my great grandmother Ollie Jane Latta Chester.)

I have a deed showing where Ollie Jane receives the property from her father in his will. His will is dated June 3rd, 1886. He dies one day later.  The question is where and when did O.D. Latta get the property as well as who sold the property to him. It is that owner, the one who sold the property to the Latta family that should have involved the Stone house with the underground railroad.

Researcher in Washington, PA
I spoke with Janet from the Washington PA Historical Society to contract with someone to do this research. For $20 per hour of research I could save time, money in addition to wear and tear on my car. This researcher knows how to find things my husband and I missed. (We saw many individuals researching titles for mortgage companies while we were there. They knew where to look and if stumped how to take another approach – where and how else they could find information.) Janet is sending me a contract and suggested a 2 hour contract. Any monies left unused will be refunded.

Civil Proceedings and Tax Records
Since there is information that the builder Allen (?) Stockdale lost the house in a sheriff’s sale, civil proceedings or a prothonotary search – e.g. liens, judgments  – might shed some light on the ownership. Janet also mentioned reviewing tax records to help in the search.

IUSB Law Professor
I also made a contact to a law Professor at Indiana University at South Bend. I left a voice message as well as sent an email requesting a 15 minute meeting with Professor Knowles to see if she could shed some directional light with the deed I have. Hopefully she will help or can suggest someone who can.

Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

1876 Centennial Map

The following map, found in a book created for the centennial celebration, shows where the Latta Stone house is located. It shows that O.D. Latta, my great, great grandfather, had 60 acres and where the house is located.

Allen Township map circa 1876

Allen Township map circa 1876

Here is a closeup of where the Latta Stone House is located.

Close up of OD Latta property

Close up of OD Latta property

Maps from Calwell’s Illustrated Combination Centennial Atlas of Washington County. Published by J.A. Caldwell, condition 1876, Library of Congress 76-40594 reprint

Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Latta Stone House land was originally owned by Joseph Allen

At the LeMoyne House, home to the Washington County Historical Society,  the librarian, Janet, was able to show us maps of the original warrant for the property the Stone House sits. The warrant was issued 8-31-1784, the survey was done 12-15-1784 with the patent issued 8-29-1785 to Joseph Allen. (See information on September 27th entry – 1916 article)

Janet explained to Bob and me that, “Pennsylvania belonged to the Indians (now referred to as Native American) and after the 1780s was able to issue parcels of land.” Because we had the name of the person who was issued the patent from an article from the Roscoe Ledger – January 28, 1916 – we were able to spot the land where the Latta Stone House would be built.


Close up of land where the Stone house would be built

Close up of land where the Stone house would be built

Update: According to Janet, the librarian at the Washinton County Historical Society there are two answers as to which tribe owned the land prior to the Penn Trust purchase. In an email she writes, “The short answer is The Six Nations – Iriquios.  The event was the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.

She also writes, “The long answer is that is was much more complicated because settlers were moving in this area without a treaty, and both Virginia and Pennsylvania laid claim to the territory until 1780.  Also, there were more tribes using this area than the Six Nations, so some historians claim they had no right to sell the lands to the Penns in 1768.”¹

¹ Email correspondence, 11/15/11.

Images from W. F. Horn, ed., The Horn Papers: Early Western Movement on the Monongahela and Upper Ohio, 1765-1795, 3 vols. New York, NY: Hagstrom Co., 1945.

Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

1916 article from the Roscoe Ledger describes lineage on the Stone House

Another article I found at the California Area Historical Society was from the Roscoe Ledger dated 1/28/1916. It gave information about the history of the house.

The Latta Stone House was built by Allen Stockdale. In it were born the great great grandchildren of Joseph Allen who was originally granted the tract of land by William Penn. It looks like Mary Allen (my great great great grandmother) married William Latta and thus carrying the Latta name on the house.

Published in: on September 27, 2009 at 9:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Latta Historical Society in South Carolina

My sister and her husband were driving back to Virginia from Florida when she called to tell me they just past a sign for a city in South Carolina called Latta. There was also a sign for a historical society there.

Were these Lattas descendants of my family? Was this one way slaves heard about western PA as a way to travel on their way to Canada and freedom?

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment