I gave you a full month to catch up on my blog! You’re welcome.
This is my first post about the “Secrets of the Mon.” You can read here about the “Taj Mahal on the Mon.”
“Taj Mahal on the Mon” is my name for Nemacolin Castle (aka Bowman’s Castle) in Brownsville, here in Western Pennsylvania.
See, Nemacolin Castle sits on a bluff above the Monogahela River (known by locals as “the Mon”).
(My dad graduated from nearby Cal U – California University of Pennsylvania. Cal U also sits on the Mon. Dad refers to his alma mater as “Harvard on the Mon.”)
About 40 miles or so downstream from Cal U and Brownsville, the Mon joins the Allegheny River. This confluence forms the Ohio River at downtown Pittsburgh. (The Ohio flows into the Mississippi River.)
Now, a very long time ago, tremendous earthen mounds dotted the banks of the Mon, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers.
From where did these come? If somebody built these, then who?
Archeologists maintain that indigenous people built these hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But how?
One theory claims that humans significantly larger than ourselves – those known in lore as the “Tall People” – built these mounds.
Some storytellers insist that aliens from another planet built the mounds.
What is the truth behind these mounds?
Did these mounds bring special energy – special power – to the Mon?
In the 1700’s, British settlers spoke of the Mon and Allegheny’s confluence as the “Forks of the Ohio.” In the 1750’s, Britain and France quarreled over the Forks. They both wanted access to the Ohio River. The French and Indian War started. George Washington served in a British army under General Edward Braddock. Braddock marched up from Virginia and Maryland in an attempt to seize the Forks in 1755. The French and their Native American allies ambushed Braddock. Braddock’s army suffered heavy losses in this defeat. Braddock himself died during the retreat. Washington witnessed all of this. In 1758, Washington served in a different British army under General John Forbes. This time, Forbes seized the Forks for Britain. The British built Fort Pitt at this confluence that formed the Ohio River. The site of Fort Pitt became Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
I bring this all up right now just to point out the Mon’s importance to local history and folklore.
Now, as I blogged above, Brownsville sits on the Mon. The town includes the spot that European settlers called “the Redstone Creek River Crossing.”
The river crossing sat on Nemacolin’s Path. This path emerged from a series of trails used by Native Americans to travel through the region.
White settlers named the path after the Shawnee chief Nemacolin.
General Braddock’s army actually marched on part of Nemacolin’s Path on their way to the Forks of the Ohio in 1755.
Then, as I just blogged, General Forbes reached the Forks (present-day downtown Pittsburgh) in 1758.
In 1759, British Colonel James Burd built a fort on the earthen mound overlooking the Redstone Creek River Crossing at the Mon. This became Fort Burd.
Then the British won the French and Indian War.
After this, the white colonial settlers fought against the Iroquois Confederacy during the American Revolution.
Around the end of this war with the Iroquois, Thomas Brown purchased much of the land surrounding the Redstone Creek River Crossing.
Brown sold part of this land to Jacob Bowman.
Jacob Bowman built his trading post and tavern out of material taken from the old Fort Burd.
Remember, the British built old Fort Burt on a very old earthen mound. A mound that some claim to be an indigenous burial mound. A mound that others claim was built by an ancient tribe of giant people. A mound that still others claim was built by visitors from outer space. Then the Bowman family used part of Fort Burd to build the family home. How much ancient history – how much ancient power – did the Bowman family import from this mound into their home?
Now, here’s how Jacob Bowman’s trading post and tavern became the architectural “wonder” that we now call Nemacolin Castle:
Jacob Bowman built a room above his trading post. Bowman and his wife lived in this room. They added more room as their family grew.
The home morphed from a trading post to a colonial home.
Jacob’s son Nelson inherited the home in the 1840’s.
Nelson Bowman added the east wing and the brick tower.
Thus, the 1789 trading post grew into a 22 room Victorian mansion. A Victorian mansion with a tower. A castle.
During this time, the Bowman family saw births, marriages, and deaths. Lore claims that this home functioned as a stop on the underground railroad. The family’s tragedies and the land’s bloody history figure in ghost stories here.
Three generations of the Bowman family lived in the castle until the Brownsville Historical Society acquired it in the 1960’s.
The castle’s official website refers to it as Nemacolin Castle but also states “also known as Bowman’s Castle.” The website confirms that “Nemacolin” is in reference to Nemacolin’s Trail.
I toured the castle with my sister E.R. in October 2011. We joined a special “ghost tour.” As the name implies, our guide dressed in nineteenth century period clothing and told us ghost stories about the castle.
I felt uneasy during the “ghost tour.” But not because I saw any ghosts. I felt uneasy because the house is such a hodgepodge of architectural styles.
As E.R. and I waited for our tour to start, we ran into our Aunt L. and our cousins R. and J. Our cousins explained that they toured the castle every year for Halloween. One of my cousins revealed that she once felt something grab her ankle as she stood on a stairway inside the castle.
Did you ever tour Nemacolin Castle? Did you see any ghosts?