Old Inns, part 3 – Old Spread Eagle Inn


In the April 21 and April 28 issues of The Suburban this column described the first Spread Eagle Inn on the Lancaster Highway, which was “kept as a house of entertainment by one Adam Ramsower as early as 1769”. This quaint little building which J. F. Sachse, in his book, “Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Turnpike”, speaks of as “a small rude stone house” was replaced in 1796 by the large three-story stone building with porch and piazza extending along the entire front, which is shown in the picture accompanying this article. Built a year or so after the completion of the first stone turnpike in the United States, this lovely old inn 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.

Among the early owners of the Spread Eagle were Adam Siter and John Siter. The new tavern was built during the ownership of the latter, who was succeeded by Edward Siter. During the late years of the eighteenth century, the little hamlet which grew up around the Inn was known as Sitersville on all the local maps. Even a post office was located here, the importance of which is shown by old records of the United States postal department for the years ending March 31, 1827. These records show that there was a larger amount of postage collection there than at any other tavern post office on the turnpike east of Downingtown, viz: $60.25. During the same period the collections at “The Paoli” were but $6.54!

Other members of this same Siter family later became extensive landowners of Wayne. William Siter, the grandfather of Mrs. Emily Siter Welcome and George M. Siter, who now live on West Wayne avenue, owned what is at present the Mill Dam property, in addition to many other acres in that general vicinity. The family had much to do with the First Baptist Church which with the old cemetery with its quaint markers still stands as a reminder of days long past.

Before the time when inns like the Spread Eagle became frequent along the highway, travelers secured entertainment at private houses. An early historian, John Galt, writing in 1738, tells us that in the houses of the principal families in the county, “unlimited hospitality formed a part of their regular economy . . . 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 refreshment for such travellers as might have occasion to pass during the night. And when the families assembled in the morning they seldom found their tables had been unvisited.” Inns as they became more and more the order of the day were havens for the weary sojourner in need of rest and refreshment whether “he were farmer, drover, teamster or traveller upon business or pleasure bent”. These taverns became important landmarks in both social and political history, growing, according to Mr. Sachse, “in the course of years from the lowly log tavern, to the stately stone turnpike inn of later years, in which important social functions were held”. In some instances they were also polling places and provided assembly rooms for Masonic Lodges and similar organizations as well as for mass meetings and political rallies.

“Meals at these inns such as the Spread and the Warren presided over by the Pennsylvania-German matron” to quote Mr. Sachse again, “were entirely different from the fare set out in the houses kept by other nationalities. When in the other wayside inns, even of the better sort, regular fare consisted of fried ham, corned beef and cabbage, mutton and beef stews, mush and molasses, bread, half rye and corn meal, with occasional rump steak and cold meats and tea . . . in these Pennsylvania-German inns we had such dishes as “Kalbskpf” (mock turtle) soup redolent with the odor of Madeirs; ‘Sauerbraten’, a favorite dish of the Fatherland; ‘Schmor braten’ (beef a la mode); ‘Spanferkel’ (sucking pig stuffed and roasted); ‘Kalbsbraten’ (roast veal filled); ‘Hammelsbraten’ (roast mutton); ‘Kuttleflech’ (soused tripe spiced); ‘Hinkel pie’ (chicken pot pie); ‘Apfellose’ (apple dumpling); ‘Bratwurst’ (sausage); applecake, coffee cake with its coating of butter, sugar and cinnamon, and many other dishes unknown to their English competitors”.

Sharply defined lines were drawn between the various classes of wayside taverns. Those of the better class, such as the Spread Eagle were known as “Stage stands” when stage coach passengers stopped for meals and sometimes for the night. Here also relays were changed. “Wagon stands”, those taverns patronized by wagoners and teamsters were next in the scale. Often their sleeping quarters were on the floor of the barroom or barn on bags of hay. “Drove stands” made up another class where special accommodations were to be had by the drovers for their cattle, which were here watered, fed or pastured. The lowest class of all was the “tap house” the chief income of which came from the sale of bad spirits or whiskey.

Distances between places were computed from inn to inn, as shown by some of the old provincial almanacs which have still been preserved. Since but few of the teamsters or wagoners could read, the signboards which swung and creaked in their yokes were all figurative. Some were even painted by artists of note. The reason for the figurative feature was two-fold; first, they were more ornate, and second, they could be understood better by travellers of different nationalities. Many of the signs were of a homely character, such as “The Hat”, “The Boar”, “The Lion”, and “The Cat”. The drove stands usually had signs pertinent to their class of patrons, such as “The Bull’s Head”, and “The Ram’s Head”, while tap houses were known by such designations as “The Jolly Irishman” and “The Fiddler”. The best class of stage stands had such names as “The King of Prussia”, “General Paoli” and “Spread Eagle”, to name but a few in this vicinity. Sometimes political changes caused changes of names. One of the most noted taverns on the Lancaster turnpike, the “Admiral Warren”, after the Revolution, had the coat on the figure on its signboard changed from red to blue, and henceforth it was known as “The General Warren” in honor of the hero of Bunker Hill.

Among the many old taverns along the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, in addition to our own “Spread Eagle”, few are better known to the present generation than the “Red Lion”, still a familiar landmark in Ardmore. Also in Lower Merion were “The Black Horse Tavern” just over city line, about one mile east of the old Friends Merion Meeting house and “The Seven Stars”, kept for many years by the Kugler family. The Buck Tavern was between Haverford and Bryn Mawr, a stage stand of the first order and renowned for its good cheer. In Radnor Township there was “The Plough” and “The Sorrel Horse”, the latter still remembered by many in the community. “The Spring House” was just east of Reeseville, now Berwyn, while a nearby Inn was known as “The Drove Tavern”. “The Paoli” was among the most celebrated stage stands. Destroyed by fire in the 1860’s it had been the polling place for several townships and the chief post office for the district.

(To be continued)

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