The Spread Eagle Inn

From time to time various members of the Siter family, of which there are still descendants in Wayne, were associated with the Old Spread Eagle Inn. It was in 1825 that Edward W. Siter became owner of that famous tavern, and remained its landlord until 1836 when Stephen Horne, who had been associated with the place for some time, leased the Inn.

Two years before this a most exciting incident occurred in the vicinity of Siterville, as the small settlement around the Inn had come to be called. The excitement was caused by the descent of James Mill’s balloon, which had started from Philadelphia at half past five in the afternoon and some two house later had descended in a field near the Inn.

The aeronaut’s description of the incident is as follows:

“Warned by the increasing obscurity of the world below, I began to descend and at six o’clock and 20 minutes reached the earth in a fine green field, near the Spread Eagle Inn on the Lancaster Turnpike, 16 miles from Philadelphia. As I descended very slowly, two young gentlemen and Dr. M., of Philadelphia, came ot my assistance, and laying hold of the car in which I remained, towed me about a quarter mile to the tavern, where I alighted, balloon and passenger safe and sound.

“Before discharging the gas, several ladies got successively into the car and were let up as far as the anchor rope would permit. The gas was let out and the balloon folded. In doing this a cricket was unfortunately included, and having to cut his way out he made the only break in the balloon which occurred on this expedition.

“Mr. Horne, of the Spread Eagle, treated me with great kindness, and Dr. M. politely offered me a conveyance to the city, which I reached at one o’clock in the morning.”

A far cry indeed to the days, only some hundred years or so later, when the whirr of one airplane or many as they go over Strafford scarcely causes any one to even look up in the sky!

As we stated in last week’s column, the decline of the Spread Eagle Inn as a popular hostelry began with the completion of the old Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, and as time went on it had practically no patronage except that which was local.

However, there was a short period during the Winter when some of the old gaiety was renewed in sleighing parties of young people. Musicians were on hand for the dancers who arrived by the sleighload for open house, which was held all night upon occasion. However, by the latter part of the 1870’s these parties became a thing of the past.

As it became less and less of a good investment, the ownership of the Spread Eagle changed hands many times before coming into the possessin of George W. Childs, of Philadelphia, who is said to have bought it to prevent anyone from obtaining a license for the sale of liquor so near is large building operation at nearby Wayne. This was probably in the very early eighties.

Soon after acquiring possession of the property, Mr. Childs gave its use to the Lincoln Institute of Philadelphia as a summer home for the large number of Indian girls who were being trained and educated by the institution.

Since the managers of the school feared the effect of the hot city on their Indian children they were glad to accept Mr. Childs’ offer. Although no rent was charged, it is said it cost the school more than a thousand dollars to make the hostelry habitable and suited to their use. Soon, almost a hundred girls were established in their new home in what proved a highly successful venture.

One of the most interesting events of the Indian girls’ sojourn at the old tavern was an entertainment given on the evening of September 24, 1884, at Wayne Hall. According to Mr. Saehse’s description, as given in his book to which we have made frequent reference, the program “consisted of a series of twenty-two tableaux, illustrative of Longfellow’s beautiful powem of Hiawatha.

“The Reverend Joseph L. Miller, chaplain of the institution, read the portion of the poem descriptive of the scenes as presented by the dusky children. There were ten characters represented on the tableaux.

“All the scenes passed off successfully, and were well applauded by the large audience present. Among the most vivid pictures were ‘The Indian House’, Hiawatha’s ‘infancy’ with an Indian Lullaby and ‘Lover’s Advent’. The ‘Wedding Feast’, with its songs and dances, was the crowning feature of the evening. In this scene the stage was filled with the girls and boys of the Institute, all in striking costumes brilliant in color and beads, feathers, tassels, fringes and other trinkets. A wedding song was sung, then came the dance, after which a chorus of over thirty Indians sang a hymn in the Dakota language.” (Wayne Hall is the big building still standing at the northeast corner of the Pike and North Wayne avenue.)

Public religious services were also held every Sunday in Wayne Hall by the Institution, when “the choir” music and the responses, according to the ritual of the Protestant Episcopal Church, were entirely rendered by the Indian girls.

“As they walked along the stone turnpike, to and from the services, it seemed a far cry from the days when their ancestors roamed this same countryside as they willed among trails of their own making. Visitors at the school included several traveling Indian bands, among them one led by the famous ‘Sitting Bull’, with his band all resplendent in scarlet blankets, leggings and feathers; with faces and hands daubed and streaked with vermillion and chrome yellow”. They must have been a picturesque lot as they sat around the feast prepared for them by the Indian girls. And all of this was happening in Wayne a little more than sixty years ago!

Later the Lincoln Institute purchased ten acres of woodland on South Valley hill, about a mile and half northeast of the old Inn, after several attempts to buy the latter from Mr. Childs. Three large buildings, used as a permanent former school, were knows as “Po-Ne-Mah.”

Eventually the old Spread Eagle Tavern was demolished by Mr. Childs, the stones being used in the construction of the Wayne Estate houses, if this writer’s information is correct.

According to Elise Lathrop, writing in “Early American Inns and Taverns”, the larger home now known as “Spread Eagle Mansion”, was built somewhere between 1836 and 1846 as a private residence. The building somewhat back of and to the East of the large mansion may have originally been the old stables or some part of them, in Miss Lathrop’s opinion, which she has not been able to verify, however.

(To be Continued)

Any information in regard to the present buildings on the Spread Eagle property will be gratefully received by Mrs. Patterson.