Toll houses, tolls charged Rosemont Hill, “Toast to the Tavern”

Quite frequently, after a column in this series has appeared in print, additional information that might have been used in connection with it comes the way of your columnist. So it was with the recent brief story on toll gates, which appeared in the column of December 5 in connection with the description of the painted highway markers on Lancaster Pike.

Following the publication of this particular column, Herbert S. Casey, of Wayne, former president of the Radnor Historical Society, lent the writer several books of historical interest, among them one entitled “Overbrook Farms”, by Tello J. d’Apery, M.D. In it is a picture of a toll gate at the intersection of City Line and Lancaster Pike, which Mr. Casey tells us was the first one on the Pike as it left the City limits.

It is particularly interesting to him because it was just across the road from the old Casey homestead, a large frame house which stood near the site occupied in recent years by the Green Hills Farm Hotel property, and where Mr. Casey spent his boyhood.

Important as was the location of this toll house, since it was just on the boundary between Philadelphia and the suburbs, it was merely a little square box of a structure. Mr. Tobin kept the toll house for some years, and Mr. Casey recalls the amazement of all the neighbors that somehow the Tobins fitted their family of ten children into such a house.

The next toll house to the west on the Pike, according to Mr. Casey, was one located at the northeast corner of Church road and Lancaster Pike, where an automobile repair show is now in operation. Still another was at Bowman avenue and the Pike . . . “a little sentry box” run by one John McGinley, which was not kept open at all times. And still another was in Rosemont, where County Line crosses the Pike near the new diner, at the foot of the long Rosemont hill.

Two local toll gates, mentioned in this column under date of December 5, were the small cottage, once located at the northwest corner of Lancaster avenue and Chamounix road, in St. Davids, and the little white stone house, still standing, just to the west of the Spread Eagle Apartments, on Lancaster Pike in Strafford.

Mr. Casey recalls the manner in which boys of various ages went “roaring” past these Lancaster Pike toll gates on their bicycles in order to avoid the payment of the large sum of one penny toll! John T. Faris, in “Old Roads Out of Philadelphia”, another book lent the writer by Mr. Casey, lists the rates posted at a toll gate at a bridge built over Ridley Creek in post-Revolutionary days:

Coach, light waggon, or other pleasure carriage, with four wheels and four horses: 25c
Ditto, two horses: 15c
Chair, sulky, etc.: 10c
Sleigh, with two horses: 6c
Man and horse: 2c
Waggon with four horses: 12c
Wagon, with two horses: 8c
Cart and horses: 4c
For every additional horse to carriage of pleasure: 4c
Do to carriage in burden: 2c

“But perhaps it was a good thing, after all”, Mr. Faris goes on to say, “to have these charges at the small stream; they prepared one for the larger charge at such a ferry as that over the Susquehanna, 63 miles from Philadelphia. There the charges ranged from $2 per “Coach, etc. with four horses” to 25 cents for an empty wagon and 50 cents for a cart and two horses.” . . . No wonder an early traveller carefully records the number of streams of all sizes crossed while making a journey.

However toll bridges and ferries were but two of the places where the traveller had to spend his money, For, at every tavern, there had to be a blacksmith shop. Since rough roads made for many repairs to vehicles en route, many times there was a waiting line for the services of these blacksmiths. The traveller who planned to make a long journey in his own conveyance usually had it thoroughly overhauled even before setting out on the road.

A third book, now temporarily in my possession through the courtesy of Mr. Casey, is a thick and beautifully illustrated volume, “Early American Inns and Taverns”, by Elise Lathrop. In the chapter on Pennsylvania Inns she writes, “Pennsylvania, undoubtedly, during Colonial days and later, had more inns than any other state, and of these many still used as hotels survive . . . certain typical features make even those that have been somewhat altered quite easy to recognize . . . more than in any other part of the country, the old Pennsylvania inns recall those of England, with their quaint names and signboards, and almost all of the old English names have been repeated here . . .” A propose of these names, Miss Lathrop quotes a quaint old toast as follows:

“Here is to the Sorrel Horse that kicked the Unicorn, that made the Eagle fly; that scared the Lamb from under the Stage, for drinking the Spring House dry; that drove the Blue Ball under the Black Bear, and chased General Jackson all the way to Paoli.”

The Blue Ball, at Daylesford, which is mentioned in this toast, is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Paul M. Warner, for many years residents of Wayne. The history of this tavern was given at some length in this column last Spring. One detail which was omitted concerned a heifer which was owned by Prissy Robinson, one-time owner of the old inn, who, according to Miss Lathrop, “quarreled with the railroad by greasing the tracks until they were glad to settle”.

Another nearby inn described by Miss Lathrop is the King of Prussia, so popular for its well cooked meals until recently, when the new turnpike has necessitated its closing. Miss Lathrop writes of its venerable signboard, supposedly painted by Gilbert Stuart, showing the King of Prussia “somewhat marred by wind and weather, astride a horse, decidedly wooden as to legs”. The author’s description of the building as it was up until a few years ago, brings back nostalgic memories to former diners there.

“The original two rooms on the right as one enters”, she writes, “have old fireplaces across adjoining corners, as have the rooms above . . . on the left downstairs the rear room is the old kitchen, with an enormous fireplace in which two persons may sit comfortably in chairs. The old crane is still in place, as it the old oven, and up the wall of the chimney is a small niche for keeping food warm. In front of the kitchen is the old bar. From the kitchen, a steep narrow flight of stairs testifies to its age, and one may admire massive old beams, and some of the old doors and hinges.”

And no story of old inns in Pennsylvania would be complete without mention of the Spread Eagle Inn, which has been so fully described in these columns that there is little to add from Miss Lathrop’s book. And last, but not least, is the famous old sorrel Horse Inn, once located on Sprout road, of which your columnist wants to write at a future date.