Old Inns, part 2 – Spread Eagle Tavern

As we told you in last week’s column, the second Spread Eagle Tavern, built on the site of the first quaint small structure, was completed only a year or two after the Lancaster turnpike was finished, the first stone turnpike to be constructed in the United States. The tavern immediately sprang into great popularity, since its furnishings and cuisine were perhaps unsurpassed in the entire State of Pennsylvania. During the summer and fall of 1798, when yellow fever raged in Philadelphia, the inn was crowded with members of the Government, as well as attaches of the accredited representatives of the foreign powers in Philadelphia.

As early as 1730 and thereabouts small settlements began to spring up around roadside taverns, since it was there that elections were held, and much of the entertainment of the community centered. These villages were often known by the tavern sign until they were large enough to have a name of their own. So it was with the neighborhood of the Spread Eagle as a hamlet of some size grew up around it. In addition to the usual blacksmith and wheelwright shops, livery stables, barns and other outbuildings attendant to an inn of the first rank, there was a village cobbler and tailor.

For many years the large “Eagle” store on the opposite side of the turnpike did a flourishing trade. Soon a post office was located in the little hamlet which became known on all local maps of the day as “Sitersville.” In 1795, Martin Slough started to run a four-horse stage between Philadelphia and Lancaster which proved so popular that a number of other stage coach lines were soon in operation.

Because of its distance from the city, the Spread Eagle became the stopping place of not only the mail and post, but also for meals and relays, as it was the first station west and the last relay station eastward on the turnpike. Stages usually left Philadelphia at four or five o’clock in the morning and stopped for breakfast at this well known hostelry. In 1807, stage passengers were charged 31 1/2 cents per meal, while others were charged 25 cents. The reason given for this discrimination was “that being obliged to prepare victuals for a certain number of passengers by the stage, whether they came or not, it frequently caused a considerable loss of time, and often a waste of victuals, whereas in the other case they knew to a certainty what they ahd to prepare.”

At this period it cost twenty dollars to travel by the stage from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, with an extra charge to twelve and a half cents for every pound of luggage beyond fourteen pounds. Meals and lodgings for the 297 mile trip cost in the neighborhood of seven dollars. It took about six days to complete the journey. By wagon it took twenty days or more, with five dollars per cwt. for both persons and property charges. Other expenses along the way amounted to about twelve dollars.

As to liquid refreshment dispensed over the bar and drunk by hardy “wagoners” and travelers in those early days, it consisted mostly of whiskey, brandy, rum and porter. There was also “cyder,” plain, royal or wine; apple and peach brandy and cherry bounce. A bowl of good punch was always in order among the better class of stage travelers.

John Siter, during whose ownership the new tavern was built, was succeeded by Edward Siter. Later James Watson took over for a period of two years. Since he was not successful in the venture, ownership reverted back again to Edward Siter, who remained in charge of the inn until the year 1817. During his temporary retirement from the Spread Eagle, Edward Siter conducted a grocery store in Market Street in Philadelphia, as witnessed by the following notice in the “Federalist” of December 8, 1812.

“Edward Siter
Late of the Spread Eagle on the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike road, takes the liberty of informing his friends and the public in general that he has taken that large store on South East corner of Market and Eighth Sts., Number 226, in Philadelphia, where he is now opening a good assortment of groceries, wholesale and retail on the most reasonable terms, where country produce will be bought or stored and sold on commission with punctuality.

He believes himself from his former conduct in business to obtain a share of publick patronage.”

From 1817 to 1823, David WIlson, Jr., was “mine host” at the Spread Eagle. From 1823-1825, Zenas Wells kept the Inn. In a short time during this period the original signboard representing the American eagle was changed by a local artist who, as told in last week’s column, added another neck and head to “our glorious bird of freedom.” Perhaps this change was due to some ripple of political excitement rife at that time. Be that as it may, the new signboard caused so much merriment that in 1825 it took on its old form again. Neighbors and wagoners could not see the utility of the first change, and in derision nick-named it the “Split Crow.” For a time the tavern was even referred to by that name. After it was again Americanized in 1825, it was repainted many times as the changing seasons took their toll of fresh paint. Finally, when the usefulness of the old building as a tavern passed away, the eagle which had for so many years stood as the sign post on one of the finest taverns on the Lancaster Turnpike was finally effaced by the action of the elements.

(To be continued)

For her information the writer is indebted to the book, “Early Philadelphia – Its People, Life and Progress,” by H. M. Lippincott and J. B. Lippincott, and to “Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Roadside,” by J. F. Sachse.

Old Inns, part 1

As we stand at the busy intersection of North Wayne avenue and Lancaster avenue waiting for the red light to stop the stream of automobile traffic and permit us to go on our way North or South, how many of us realize that the highway we are about to cross was the first stone turnpike not only in Pennsylvania, but in this entire country as well? Replacing the old conestoga or King’s Road, which connected Philadelphia with Lancaster, the chief inland city of Penn’s Colony, the Lancaster turnpike was started in 1792 and finished in 1794 at an expense of $465,000, which was financed by a private company. Extending the 62 miles between Philadelphia and Lancaster, it became the pattern for all subsequent hard roads in the country. Along these 62 miles there were originally nine toll bars, beginning two miles west of the Schuylkill. Many of the travellers who passed along the old turnpike were Germans. To them these toll stops were known as “Schlagbaume”.

Far different and more picturesque was the scene on the old turnpike in the late 1700’s from what it is in 1950, when the honking of horns, the grinding of tires and the screech of brakes mark the passing of automobiles of all sizes, makes and descriptions for all of the twenty-four hours of the day and the night. The Conestoga Wagon with its broad wheels rolled along its leisurely way a hundred and fifty years ago, along with the slow-plodding six-horse team with tinkling yoke bells; the Troy Coach, swinging upon its leather springs and drawn by four prancing horses; the stage-wagon and the mail coach; the farm wagon, or “dearborn”, with the farmer going to and from the city market. Interspersed with these vehicles of a by-gone day were the large droves of cattle being driven from the green pastures of Chester County and of Lancaster Country to the seaboard. This was the traffic that once made its way through the countryside that was later to become Radnor, Wayne, Strafford and their neighboring suburbs, both to the East and the West.

For these travellers, making their slow and ofttimes weary way along the solid stone turnpike, the most important institutions were the wayside inns. Indeed, it has been said that these inns ranked in importance next to the church and the school house in our commonwealth in provincial days. J. F. Sachse, in his book, “The Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Roadside”, a beautifully illustrated and valuable record of this section of the country published in the early 1900’s, states that “the highest development of the wayside inns was reached when the Lancaster turnpike became the chief highway and the model roadbed in the United States.”

As all outstanding and typical example of these roadhouses of the better class, Mr. Sachse describes the Spread Eagle in the extreme northwestern part of Radnor Township. Built only a year or two after the completion of the stone turnpike that was to be the earliest link of the first great National highway to the West, this was first called the “Spread Eagle Tavern”, and was known far and wide to travellers from both continents. The lovely old three-story stone building with porch and piazza extending along the entire front, stood slightly to the West of the present building now known as Spread Eagle and occupied by the A. L. Diament Company, Interior Decorators, on the first floor and by apartments above. A few foundations stones still mark the old site just at a point where the Highway makes a slight curve.

This building, with its date stone of the year 1796, high up in its gable, supplemented a small, crude stone house used as “a place of entertainment” even before the days of the turnpike when the road that passed it was only a dirt one connecting Philadelphia and Lancaster. A reproduction from a quaint old engraving in Mr. Sachse’s book shows this as a one story structure with a sign board swinging from its standard in front of the Tavern. This “Spread Eagle” was still a crude reproduction of America’s glorious bird of freedom before some artist at a later date added another neck and head harking back to the nondescript birds used in ancient heraldry. The engraving shows a stage coach drawn by four horses about to pull away from the small tavern along a narrow lane bordered by a forest of tall trees on one side and by a cornfield on the other.

This early Spread Eagle Inn was run by one Adam Ransower as early as 1769. In his petition of August 28, 1770, to have his license renewed, he says “Your Honors hath been pleased for these several years past to grant me your recommendations to the Governor for a license to keep a public house of entertainment . . .” Among the signatures on this petition is that of Anthony Wayne. In 1771, the following advertisement appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper:

To be Sold

On Thursday, the 26th of December instant, A Valuable message, plantation and tract of land, situate in Radnor Township, Chester County, adjoining the Lancaster road, containing near 100 acres of good land, about 16 miles from Philadelphia; about 70 acres are cleared and the remainder exceedingly well timbered; about 17 acres of very good watered meadow, and an excellent orchard that bears plentifully every year; the dwelling house is a large well furnished stone building, and a well accustomed tavern, known by the name of the “Spread Eagle”, and is well accommodated with a barn, stables, sheds, gardens, and a pump of good water near the door, with trough to water creatures. Any person inclining to purchase may come and view the premises before the day of sale, at which time the conditions of the sale will be made known by Adam Ramsower. (Penna. Gazette, Dec. 19, 1771)

As a result of this advertisement, or perhaps of similar ones, the tavern was sold to Jacob Hinkel, a tanner of Lancaster County, who was recommended to the Judges of the Peace of the Chester County by a group of his friends as one who, while living in Lancaster County “acted the part of a true and honest member of the civil government.” Daniel Hinkel apparently became a co-owner at a slightly later date. These two operated the inn until 1778, and perhaps later. From 1787 until 1791, Alexander Clay was in charge. He was succeeded by Adam Siter, who was followed by John Siter.

During the Revolutionary period the old Inn was known as the gathering place of the patriots of the neighborhood, while “Miles” Tavern, a short distance away, was patronized by those who were either Tories or Loyalists. Mr. Sachse states that during the alternate occupations of this section of the country by the American and English forces in 1777-78, “the house became somewhat of a landmark, several reports and letters in reference to the military situation being dated at, or mentioning the “Spread Eagle” tavern. During the encampment of the American army at Valley Forge, the inn for a time was used as an outpost, where the large chestnut tree on the West side of the Valley Road, about fifty feet North of the present turnpike, was utilized as a signal station, or outlook for that picket; this tree still standing (18-66) may easily be recognized on the road leading to the present railroad station; it also marks the boundary between Delaware and Chester counties.”

(To be continued)

More Wayne baseball / Kelly’s Dam (Natatorium)

The last two articles in this series have been devoted to baseball in the Main Line League, and particularly as it was played by the Wayne team in its early days. Then, in the first part of the twenties, local interest lagged and Wayne withdrew from the League. It was not until 1946 that Wayne rejoined, this time under the managership of Tommy Arena, for many years a catcher for the Wayne I. A. C. team. At the close of the season Wayne was in fifth place in the league.

The next season, that of 1947, Wayne took the title after a most exciting series of games. With “Mickey” Gavin as manager, Wayne, in an 11-team league, won the western-half title, going on from there to gain the championship in a thrilling seven game series with Drexel Hill. A general riot marked the fifth game in this final play-off series when Ray Edelman bowled over Larry Aigeldinger, Drexel Hill shortstop, while sliding into second base. The riot was eventually quieted down, and Wayne not only won that game, but eventually took the series.

Although Wayne was not the final victor in the 1948 series, the team did get into the playoffs, defeating Narberth in the semi-finals, only to be defeated by Manoa in the final game of the seven game series. According to my informant, “Johnny Byrne starred on the mound in two of the games for Wayne. In the sixth game Wayne was losing 10-0 going into the last inning. They scored nine runs and left the bases loaded before the final out was made in the ninth inning.”

Last season Wayne beat their arch-rival, Narberth, in the seven-game final series, thus winning the championship. “In the fourth and fifth games”, to quote again one more versed in baseball ligno than this writer, “the locals lost by lop-sided scores, but in the final two games received great pitching from Jim Covello and Jim Morrissey.”

Paying tribute to some of the men who have brought the name of Wayne to the fore in the local baseball world since it rejoined the Main Line League, there is Mickey Gavin, under whose guidance our team has won two championships and has played in the finals the third year. During his term he has sent several players to the minor leagues, some of whom are still playing. Among them are George Brown and Norm Swigler of the 1947 team; Pete Caniglia, outfielder, and Andy Schultz, a fine young left-hander of 1948; Vince DiMagistris, who returned to Wayne in 1949; Ed Skladany, Temple University star of the ‘48 team and John Maiden and Walt Lownes, of the 1949 team.

Attendance at these games was probably at its best in 1947, when over 1000 fans were drawn to each of the first two Sunday games against Narberth. Television may be in part the cause of smaller attendance since then. Be that as it may, Manoa and Ardmore have withdrawn since the close of the ‘49 season, which was such a successful season for Wayne.
Just a year ago this month when this column was but a few weeks old, the writer devoted the major part of one article in the series to the story of Kelly’s Dam, a body of water down in the hollow near the railroad tracks in the general vicinity of what is now Willow avenue. In its beginnings it was just a good old “swimmin’ hole”. Then an interested group took over by renting the rights to Kelly’s Dam and installing equipment and building dressing rooms. A high wooden fence made for privacy for the swimmers. Wayne was one of the first localities in this section to have such an outdoor swimming pool.

Since first writing of Kelly’s Dam, some interesting additional data in regard to it has come the way of this writer. It was in May, 1895 that a charter was applied for by the Wayne Natatorium Association. The incorporators were John P. Wood, president; Richards H. Johnson, vice-president; Christopher Fallon, Esq., secretary and Julius A. Bailey, treasurer. Also among the incorporators were T. Stewart Wood, Herman Wendell and Frederick H. Treat. A charter was granted on June 10, 1895, by Acting Judge William B. Waddell. Kelley’s Lake was then little more than a muddy pond, ranging in depth from about eight inches to eight feet. Its water supply was from the creek which ran from Leaming’s Wood through North Wayne. The R. H. Johnson Company was awarded the contract for excavating and constructing a pool about 500 feet long with an average width of about 100 feet. A fine clubhouse was built, the first floor being used as a ladies’ dressing room and the second floor as living quarters for the manager. A men’s dressing room was built midway of the pool.

At the formal opening of the pool in July, 1895, a large crowd of amateur swimmers, representing the Philadelphia Swimming Association, the New York Athletic Club, the University of Pennsylvania and a number of other organizations was present. It was indeed a gala occasion! The first swimming instructor was Charles Holryd, a Yorkshireman “with an accent so thick one could cut it”. He was later succeeded by George Kistler, who at that time was the champion mile swimmer of the world. After leaving Wayne he became swimming instructor at Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, and for many years coached Red and Blue championship teams.

Under the excellent training of these two men not only the youngsters but many of the oldsters of Wayne were taught to swim. In the winter the pool was used for skating, with many a carnival held under the bright lights with which the enclosure was illuminated.

For a number of years the Natatorium was a great success. Then the bicycling craze reached its height, and attendance dwindled while former patrons of the pool took off on long “hike” trips. Then at about the turn of the century a general drought made it necessary for the Wayne Water Works Company – a local concern, to sink a number of artesian wells to augment its supply. This dried up several large springs along the creek which fed the pool.

And so after several years of struggling against adverse conditions, Kelley’s Dam was sold, and on its site were built the houses on the South side of Willow avenue.

Great Main Line baseball players – from the Main Line League

In writing of young baseball players who obtained their start in the Main Line League in its early days, the late A. A. H. Canizares, from whose articles I quoted in last week’s column, tells first of Jimmy Dykes, who attained fame with the Athletics and the White Sox. “Round and oratorical,” as the sports writer described him, Dykes played first with Frank Zeiss’ Oakmont (or it might have been the Delmar) team, and afterwards with Jack Seashotz’ Ardmore team. And Jack Lapp, one of the best catchers Connie Mack ever had, obtained his early training with the Pirates of Berwyn. His successor on the latter team, “Help-Me-Lord” Duffy Lehman, was afterwards a ground-keeper at Shibeshire for many years.

Lehman, maskman on the Berwyn team, Mr. Canizares described as “a wizard behind the plate and as a batsman.” Since he was terribly afflicted with St. Vitus dance, both his teammates and the spectators wondered how he could catch or bat. His secret was that he held his breath as the pitch was made which “Stopped his shaking nerves and left him as steady as the ordinary player.” Mr. Canizares considered Lehman one of the best catchers who ever played along the Main Line, a player, indeed, who would have gone far had it not been for his affliction.

Other great outfielders in the Main Line League in addition to Leo Murphy, of Wayne, whose prowess was mentioned in last week’s column, were “Big Ed” cording to our scribe, “hit like Lou Joe Evans, of the Wayne team, and Joe Cullinan who played with Ardmore. “Big Ed” once went through one entire season without dropping a fly ball and could, according to our scribe, hit like Lou Gehrig or Joe Di Maggio.” Joe Evans could wait until the ball was hit, and then, “with the grace of an antelope would gallop across the field and snag the old spheroid.” Joe Cullinan “could hit ‘em a mile, and had an arm of steel and rarely missed one in the outer garden.” And one of the hardest hitters in the Main Line League was Joe Dorsaneo of Wayne, who “didn’t hit the ball so far, but when he smashed one to an infielder, it nearly took off an arm or leg.”

Continuing his amusing reminiscences, Mr. Canizares wrote of a small riot in Strafford one hot summer afternoon when a game between two bitter rivals, the Ardmore team and the Strafford team, was on. The score was tied when the decision of the umpire on a close play at the plate precipitated a riot. In those days, Jack Pechin, “Mayor of Strafford,” was chief rooter for his home town team, while the woman publisher and editor of an Ardmore newspaper led the cheers for Ardmore. Mr. Pechin was about six feet tall and weighed about 275 pounds while the lady in question was a featherweight about five feet in stature. Nevertheless she hit him vigorously over the head with her parasol until further hostilities were stopped by Constable George Morris!

Still another incident involves a Labor Day morning game in Narberth, in 1913, when Wayne was all set to win the Main Line League pennant. The game was scheduled for ten o’clock. But when that time arrived Wayne’s twirler, “Big Ed” Smith was not on hand and Manager Charles Sullivan had only eight other eligible players with him! But when the umpire was about to forfeit the game to the Boroughites, Ed arrived, a large “shiner” on his left eye. Since the game must go on, Manager Sullivan sent the big pitcher onto the mound after a severe tongue lashing. Due to this reprimand, or otherwise, “Ed twirled the game of his life, whiffing 22 of the Narberth sluggers and allowing them but three puny singles.” Writing some twenty-five years after that game, Mr. Canizares stated that that strike-out record still stood in league circles. It was equaled, however, by Herbie Pennock, afterwards famous Yankee star, who “twirling for Cedarcroft Academy, shut out St. Luke’s School, fanning 22.”

And in conclusion, one last, and amusing word, about the so-called amateur standing of players in the Main Line League. There was for instance, according to our scribe, the case of Charlie Coryell, former University of Pennsylvania star, sometimes with the Wayne team, sometimes with the Narberth one. At this particular time he was third sacker for the latter, known as the “Boroughites,” led by “Flick” Stites. The latter found a way to evade the amateur rule. “He simply bought a checker from Charlie every Saturday,” writes Mr. Canizares, ‘paying’ therefore a ten dollar bill – which is some price for a checker in any man’s language.” And may this present writer add it would still be “some price” even in these days of the high cost of living!