Sorrell Horse Tavern, George Washington & Lafayette, Unicorn Inn

A Radnor township inn that is still remembered by some of the older residents of this section is the Sorrel Horse Tavern, which once stood on the left-hand side of Conestoga road, just to the east of Sproul road. Built some years earlier, it was first licensed about 1756, and was stilL in operation as the only tavern in the township in 1884, when it was owned and run by heirs of Philip Kirk. When it was torn down some years later, George H. McFadden built his handsome home near the site of the old inn, incorporatlng in its building some of the material from the inn. By calling his place “Sorrel Horse Lodge”, he has even retained the old name in his residence.

Back in the early days of the Sorrel Horse Inn, Conestoga road and the Lancaster turnpike were identical in this section, near Ithan. George Sachse in his book, “Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Highway”, lists the Sorrel Horse as the 14th stop for travelers after crossing the Market Street bridge over the Schuylkill on their journey westward. ln John Faris’ “Old Roads out of Philadelphia”, the latter writes:

“Several miles farther along the old Lancaster road, near the corner of Ithan road, is another inn of the early days, where Washington stopped more than once. This is Sorrel Horse, now occupied as a residence by George H. McFadden. On a bridge over a small stream east of the house is a tablet bearing this message:

‘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.’ ”

Later on in the same chapter, Mr. Faris quotes from a letter written from the Sorrel Horse in 1787, of the roads in this section. This letter says, “In all the times and, seasons I have traveled this road I never found it so bad as at present. From Jesse George’s Hill to this place I could not once get into a trot, but could not compare it to anything but being chin deep in Hasty pudding and obliged to trudge thru it. The Hills, it’s true, are not so slushy but are worn into lopsided ruts so as to be scarcely passable.”

This condition was very much remedied for the traveler, however, only a few years later, when the Lancaster Highway became the first stone turnpike in the country in the mlddle 1790’s.

The next stop to the westwardfor travelers in the early days was orlginally called the ”Signe of the Plow.” Later names were the “Plow and the Harrow” and the “John Wilkes.” Henry Graham Ashmead’s “History of Pennsylvania” tells of many unsuccessful attempts to obtain a license for this tavern, beginning with Michael Atkinson’s in 1732. The latter stated that he “hath rented the house of David Evans, of Radnor, where Evans kept a public house for several years.”

After Atkinson’s petition was refused, one Morgan Hugh, in August, 1734, initiated another petition on which there were 39 signatures, among them those of Frances and Anthony Wayne. He too was refused the first time, but returned later on in the same year with another petition on whlch there were 55 signatures, and “the justice at last yielded to his im- portunity.”

Landlords of this tavem followed each other in quick succession, among them David Evans himself, who stated in his petition that he “liveth at a small place formerly called the Signe of the Plow, which hath been a Publick howse many years”; that he “has wife and children” and wants to sell “Beer and Sider.”

By 1782, one Paul Shannadon informed the court that the title of the old hostelry was then the “John Wilkes”, but formerly it was known as the “Plow and the Harrow.” In 1786 Mary Ring “received license for the ancient stand, after which it no longer appears as a tavern.” For some years this old inn, located only about a mile from the “Sorrel Horse”. must indeed have been much sought after.

The Spread Eagle Inn, which stood just to the west of the present Spread Eagle building, has been described at length in this column about three years ago. Listed by Sachse as the 17th tavern along the turnpike, it is described by him as a few rods above the fourteenth milestone…”

This was a stage stand of the first order and renowned for its cleanliness and good cheer. It was a post tavern and relay station kept for many years by the Slter family. It lay just between the famous old Lamb Tavern described in last week’s column and the almost equally well known “Unicorn Tavern.” It stood just a short distance below the fourteenth milestone “where both the old road and the turnpike cover the same ground”, according to Mr. Sachse.

In discussing their proximity the same author contrasts the two by saying, “At the beginning of the Revolutionary period Spread Eagle was known as the gathering place of the patriots of the vicinity, while Miles’ old tavern, a short distance below, which had been re-christened ‘The Unicorn’ and kept by a local Irishman, was patronized by the citizens who were either Tories or Loyalists.” So strong was the feeling between these two elements that it even expressed itself in fist fights, according to some of the tales of those times.

This old Unicorn Inn, which once stood right in the confines of Wayne, was built by one James Miles, who in 1747 presented his petition that “he has lately built a house on Conestoga (Lancaster) road… and desires that he may have license for a public-house there.”

Some 20 odd years later, after there had been a succession of proprietors for this Inn, Samuel Johnson obtained a license for the ”Unicorn, that ancient and noted tavern.” By 1805, the name had been changed to “The Farmers Inn.” Still later, in 1818, it was designated as the “Commodore Decatur Inn.” A year later its time honored name, “The Unicorn,” was restored, only to be superseded by still another one, the “Black Bear”!

In the 1700’s and 1800’s the Unicorn was as much a part of our community as the famous old Spread Eagle itself. It remained in operation until 1872 when, on St. Valentine’s night, according to the old records, this famous hostelry was completely destroyed by fire. In the heyday of the life of these three well-known taverns, the Unicorn, the Spread Eagle and the Lamb, the yards of all three, in spite of their close proximlty, were filled to their utmost capacity with wagons, stages and teams.

(to be continued)