Traveling Lancaster Turnpike in 1770’s, J. F. Sachser book “The Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Highway”, local inns

For travelers making their slow and ofttimes weary way from Philadelphia to Lancaster in the 1700’s, the most important factor of their journey was the wayside inn which gave them shelter for the night as well as refreshment during the day. By 1794 the Lancaster turnpike, the first stone turnpike not only in the state of Pennsylvania, but in the entire country, was completed. Extending the 62 miles between Philadelphia and Lancaster, it became the pattern for all subsequent hard roads in the United States. It was then that “the highest development of the wayside inns was reached”, according to J. F. Sachse in his book, “The Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Highway”.

Even before the time when there were any inns at all along the highway, travelers secured shelter and food at private houses where “it was the custom of those who resided near the highways, after supper and the religious exercises of the evening, to make a large fire in the hall, and to set out a table with refreshments for such travelers as might have occasion to pass during the night”, according to an early historian writing in 1738. The first inns that sprang up along the highway were small crude buildings, often scattered at some distance from one another. But after the stone turnpike was completed in 1794, the increase of travel along it necessitated the erection of many hostelries in addition to these first early ones, until eventually they averaged about one to the mile. This was especially true as the distance from Philadelphia increased, and there was greater need for meals and overnight accommodations. These later ones were usually larger and of better construction than the earlier small crude structures.

One of the earliest of these small inns was that originally known as the “Halfway House”, according to an article written in 1886 for the West Chester “Village Record”. This “primitive stone house, roughly built of the stone found on the surface of the ground”, was in Tredyffrin township, on the borders of Easttown, about a mile west of eh village of Berwyn, just south of the railroad, where the turnpike crosses underneath the iron highway . . . in a slight ravine or valley formed by a spur of the valley hill.” It was located on the south side of the narrow road which “was then the only means of reaching the outlying settlements towards Conestoga.” And it was called Halfway House, not only because it was “about equidistant from the Schuylkill (Coultas) ferry and Downings Mill (near Downingtown)”, but also because “it occupied the same position on the road connecting the two Welsh congregations of the Church of England, viz.: St. David’s (Radnor) and St. Peter’s (Great Valley)”.

The exact date of the building of this small stone structure is not known beyond the conjecture that it was in the first quarter of the 18th century. In 1735, when it came into the possession of one Robert Richardson, it became known as the “Blue Ball”, under which name the original house as well as its successor, built somewhat to the north of it, attained the status of a celebrity that lasts down to the present day. For a short period of time in the middle years of the Eighteenth century the name was changed to “King of Prussia” by Conrad Young, a new landlord who was a German. However, according to the author, the “traveling public and residents do not seem to have approved of the change on the signboard, so the inn continued to be known as the “Ball”.

Old records show that from time to time tavern licenses were issued to succeeding owners of the Blue Ball. Then in 1794 the completion of the new stone turnpike cut the old hostelry almost completely off from its patrons. Also the erection of more comfortable inns situated directly on the new turnpike made serious inroads on the business of the Blue Ball. But in spite of this, old records show that a John Werkizu obtained licenses for the years 1797-99.

And then in the first years of the new century a larger tavern, still operating as the Blue Ball, was erected directly on the turnpike and somewhat to the north of the first tavern. However, it was still on part of the same two hundred and more acres of land which in 1714 had been granted by William Penn, “proprietor and governor of Pennsylvania” to Owen Roberts. This house when first built had two stories. Later it was partially destroyed by fire, and when rebuilt the third floor with its semi-circular windows were added. And because of the ill repute of one Priscilla Robinson, a descendant of the builder of this second Blue Ball Inn, there are, according to Mr. Sachse “many gruesome and ghostly tales told in connection with this house, probably more than about all other inns on the turnpike put together”. These are stories of murders and a hanging, of limp bodies dropped down through a trap door, of shallow graves hastily dug under the kitchen floor and in the orchard . . . and then of the ghost of a woman who, when death had claimed her after her life of evil, still continued to walk through the old inn.”

But all this somehow seemed far away and unlikely on a spring afternoon last week when this writer wandered through the lovely old gardens of the one time Blue Ball Inn and explored the 150 year old house with Mrs. Paul McCurdy Warner, who with her husband has recently acquired this property.

For seventeen years the Warners have lived in Wayne, first on Conestoga road, later on Midland avenue where they have resided for the past 12 years. Mr. Warner, who has been with the Philadelphia “Inquirer” for 27 years, is now its editorial director. Both are much interested in community affairs. Mrs. Warner has been active in the work of the Neighborhood League for some years, serving now as chairman of the Family Service Division. She has also interested herself in the Radnor Township Memorial Library, of which she was president for several years. She takes an active part, too, in the operation of the Delaware County Branch of the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Warner have always wanted to buy a really old house, and do it over themselves. Their opportunity came recently with the purchase of the one time Blue Ball Inn from Mrs. John P. Croasdale, whose husband purchased it in 1894 from Mr. and Mrs. Richard Graham. When the Warners move in May as they hope to do, the quaint old house will be in livable condition after builders and painters have done their work. But there will still be months, perhaps even years ahead for them to do for themselves the many things that make a house a home.

(To be continued)