In the 1880’s and early 1890’s, the late James B. Morrison, one of North Wayne’s old-time residents, took a number of pictures of historic spots in Radnor township as well as in the vicinity immediately adjacent to it. For the August 15 issue of “Your Town and My Town”, four of these pictures were shown.
The originals of these pictures were lent to your columnist by F.G.Farrell, of the “Book and Yarn Shop”, Wayne, nephew by marriage of Mr. Morrison. For today’s column Mr. Farrell has lent two pictures of ancient taverns in the neighborhood.
According to Henry Graham Ashmead’s “History of Delaware County”, published in 1884, the first record of license to be granted in Newtown township was on the petition in 1727, of one Joseph Hawley, who for several years subsequent to that date operated “Hally’s” (Hawley’s) house. Among the later proprietors was John West, father of the famous American artist, Benjamin West, who in his later years became president of the Royal Academy in London. Although Benjamin West was born in 1738 in a house still standing in Swarthmore – then known as West Dale – he may well have lived at various times during his childhood in the old tavern pictured in today’s article. In August 28, 1744, his father, John West “having obtained license for keeping a public house of entertainment in the County of Chester for one year, which being now expired, your petitioner craves to be continued in the same station in the Township.” He remained in business there for four years, when Jonathan James leased the premises “where John West lately dwelled.”
The again, in 1755, John West became “mine host” at the inn, remaining there for three years in the second venture. The old tavern, which at various times was known by different names, according to ownership, became in 1823 the polling place for the electors of Newtown, Radnor and Marple townships, as well as part of Edgmont, according to the historian, Ashmead. Known as the Newtown Square Inn in the 1850’s, the old tavern had evidently assumed the name of the family made famous by the painter, Benjamin West, when the accompanying picture was taken some years later.
Much confusion has arisen of late years in regard to the name “Sorrel Horse Inn” and to its location. This is probably due to the fact that the original tavern of that name, after it had ceased to function as such, became a farmhouse. It was then that another tavern in the immediate neighborhood, but without its predecessor’s historic background, took over its name.
Amy Oakley, in her charming book, “Our Pennsylvania”, recently published, refers to the first old inn as “the hoary Sorrel Horse, at Ithan, which was built in 1768 and often sheltered Washington and Lafayette.” During a pleasant visit which your columnist made recently to “Woodstock”, Mr. and Mrs. Thornton Oakley’s Villanova home, Mrs. Oakley told the stories of these two taverns, well-known to her because of their proximity to the Ewing farm, her ancestral home. “Woodstock” is indeed the remodeled barn on this farm.
The original Sorrel Horse Inn, which later became Kirk’s farmhouse, was purchased in the later 1800’s by George H. McFadden “for his family home.” The house as it then stood, with a 1769 date stone on the original section and a 1772 one on the slightly later addition, was enlarged by Mr. McFadden’s son. This beautiful home has lately been sold by the son’s widow (Mrs. Alfred H. Geary) to Charles B. Grace, who has restored the old name “Sorrel Horse.” The house stands on the corner of Ithan and Conestoga (Old Lancaster) roads. On the bridge over a small stream east of the house is a tablet bearing this inscription:
“During the encampment at Valley Forge in the darkest days of the revolution, the nearby stone dwelling, then the Sorrel Horse Inn, with warm and patriotic welcome sheltered often as its guests Washington and Lafayette.”
Sorrel Horse Hill extends from Ithan avenue to where once stood the second Sorrel Horse Tavern. At that time the ground it occupied adjoined the farm of J. Hunter Ewing, Mrs. Oakley’s father. As time went on the tavern’s reputation became such that it lost its license. A Number of Radnor township’s older residents remember when the building still stood before it was finally torn down. Its appearance was quite different then from that of the neat edifice with its spacious first and second story porches shown in the illustration accompanying this column. Its approximate site is now occupied by the home of Mrs. George L. Justice.
(Mr. Farrell, to whom your columnist is much indebted for the use of these old pictures, is much interested in making new copies from Mr. Morrison’s old plates, of which he has an interesting variety.)