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Vicary House and Legends
Milestones Vol 16 No 1 Spring 1991

A clipping from the Pittsburg Dispatch, dated Feb. 19, 1899, tha thad been in the scrapbook of river captain Jacob Dippold's wife of Baden, Pa., was given to President Fred Dunlap recently. The clipping was a copy of the following story, written by Laura Withrow, about the Vicary House. It contains much that we are familiar with but also some lesser known information. It projects the ambience of the times so well that we present it here in its entirely. - Ed.


One of the Weirdest Histories of
Any in the Old Keystone


Hints of a Piratical Career That Are
Not at All Borne Out by


Strange Story of a Retired Seaman and the
Two Generations That Have Come
After Him.



Within the borders of the present borough of Freedom partly lies a property that has, perhaps, the most romantic and weird history of any holdings in the state.

The tale is one of woman's love and influence. That is the keynote which runs through it all. The woman changed but the motive, in musical parlance, remains the same.

The handsome old stone house in and around which have developed the incidents of the story about to be related, stands in the upper end of Freedom on a terrace commanding a magnificent view of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the River and the hills beyond. By its side and a little to its rear, the traveler will observe a picturesque group of Arbor Vitae trees. These form a circlet of green around the family vault, in which repose the bones of the ancestors of the present residents of the old house.


The trees hide this unique gray stone structure from the view of the passer-by. Hence, few, not residents of the Borough, are aware that both the "quick and the dead" are in such close proximity as permanent residents of this fine old property.


Now the scene changes. Another generation comes upon the stage. Of Captain Vicary's family, but one, a daughter, survived the years of youth. She became the wife of Dr. T. F. Robinson, the most prominent physician in this section of the Ohio Valley. Dr. Robinson was one of the '49ers. He was successful in his quest for gold and returned home with a trunk ladcn with the precious metal. Opening his trunk in the Monongahela House, Pittsburg, to show his treasure to a friend, he found he had been robbed. The theft had been committed on the packet boat while he was enroute from Cincinnati to Pittsburg, the trunk being carefully strapped again.

After this misfortune the Doctor settled down to the practice of medicine in his native valley and took to himself a wife, Miss Vicary, coming to live in the homestead.

The years sped on. Captain Vicary and his wife were laid away in the old Beaver graveyard. Two daughters came into the home; one, Mrs. Harvey, lives today. The other passed on in the early '60s.

The mother's heart was broken. She wanted her child to still be near her, even though death had come between. Thus was conceived the idea of budding a family vault on the lawn near by the house.


The remains were temporarily interred in the garden and the vault was constructed, the design being fumished by Dr. Robinson.

It is original and curious in the last degree, being beautiful and artistic as well. The front describes a semicircle.

The entire vault is covered with earth, thus forming an immense mound back of the ornamental front. The vault is built of massive stonework. Benches are at either side of the interior, an especially large one being in the rear end. This last was constructed for the Doctor himself, he being a very heavy man. Upon it all that remains of him now rests, while his wife and daughter are on either side. A spring lock, such as cut ginevrn off from the light of day, divides this abode of the dead from the living and makes the visitor to the interesting structure chary of trusting to its caprice.

Until the day of her death, Mrs. Robinson tended this spot with loving care. The great mound is a bed of myrtle and violets. Arbor Vitae trees form a perfect circle around the vault. An iron fence, the double gate being hung on stone pillars, incloses the front. The door bears the inscription "Robinson family vault." On the urn surmounting the whole are two beautiful figures. One is that of a kneeling woman, wringing her hands in sorrow for her dead. The other, in the guise of a woman, is an angel of light hovering over the sorrowing one with a message of comfort.


Again, the scene changes, the figures in this stage of action belonging to the third generation. Dr. Robirison and his wife clung with intensity to their one daughter. They did not wish her to marry. The Doctor passed away, but the mother's opinion of her daughter's celibracy remained unchanged.

Love finds a way, however. After Mrs. Robinson's death came the announcement of the daughter's marriage. She had been the wife of Tobias Hetche, a prominent citizen of the valley, for several years; but had kept the matter secret in deference to her mother's wishes on the subject. Mr. Hetche was related to some of Freedom's prosperous business men of today. For years he was the Pittsburg newspaper correspondent from his section, writing over the pen name of "Cousin Jed." He died a number of years ago, leaving one son, Vicary Hetche, whose name keeps in remembrance the sea captain. His widow is now the wife of James Harvey, one of the best known residents of the valley.

A streak of romance is characteristic of the women of this family. Mrs. Harvey's great-grandmothcr on her mother's side was married under unusual circumstances. When but a girl of 15 a mock marriage was arranged at a party, with her as the bride.


The young man, with an eye to business so planned, without the girl's knowledge, that the ceremony was legal. A few days afterward he called at her home and claimed his bride. She was surprised and angry, refusing to go with him. He was prosperous financially, and her parents approved of the union. The girl had to yield to the force of circumstances and go with her husband. It may be a satisfaction to the reader to know that this curious marriage was said to have turned out happily.

Another singular fact there was always a Mary in this family, from generation to generation. If one daughter died, the surviving sister was always Mary.

Farms have been built on the magnificent old Vicary estate and farms have been sold, thus narrowing the boundary line. Some 400 acres still remain, this property being very valuable.

Many of the original furnishings of the Vicary home are in possession of Mary Harvey. Prominent among these is the massive four-post bed which Captain Vicary and his wife got when they were married. It is of solid mahogany and is large enough to be used by a good-size family. It was curtained in white, artistically draped. The material was called "dimity" in those early days, although it was as heavy as the pique of to-day.


These curtains have long since fallen to pieces with age. The white Marseilles spread used on this bed still survives. It is as heavy as a body Brussels carpet, no attempt being made to use it on account of its great weight. Evidently this old bedstead and white curtains gave rise to the "bridal chamber" story.

Another object of interest is Mrs. Vicary's piano. It is of English make; the age is problematical. It is five feet long and has but five octaves. It gives forth a tone of considerable volume considering its years and condition. The interior is fast falling to pieces.

There are massive dining tables of solid mahogany, the legs being inlaid; a French clock of gold and white marble that is a marvel of beauty, and many other articles.

A fine oil painting of Captain Vicary is one of the treasures. Not the least interesting are his log books, these furnishing conclusive proof of the honorable nature of his business when on the sea. His last voyage was made in 1803, as captain of the ship Liberty, a trading vessel which sailed from Philadelphia to the East Indies.

"Hove to and received a pilot, 20 February, 1806 - 116 day." These were the last words written in the unfilled logbook.


The sword which the Captain wore was one of the family possessions. The two great events in his life on the sea were a mutiny among his men which he quelled, and a battle with Chinese pirates. A scar on his forehead was a visible remembrance of the last-named encounter.

Among the other interesting mementoes is a biographical dictionary of famous men presented to him at Manila by a friend. One of the prominent sketches was that of Cyrano de Bergerac, so lately resurrected from oblivion. Another look bears the autograph of Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, having been presented by him to Mrs. Vicary.

The Masonic regalia of the Captain would delight the heart of a Mason of to-day. A magnificent jewel presented in 1795 for his "zeal in Masonry" and a hand-painted apron of sheepskin trimmed with silver lace are not the least of these treasures.