Blue Ball Inn layout, Owners: Bernhard Vauleer, Prissy Robinson, Croasdale, Wagner families, skeletons unearthed, ghosts

Back of the present large front room of the old Blue Ball Inn in Daylesford which has recently been purchased by the Paul Warner family of Wayne, is the original Inn kitchen. Just as the life of the tavern in the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s centered in this room, so has family life centered there for the past fifty-odd years for the John Croasdale family and so will it center in the future years for the Warner family. For when the Croasdales acquired the Inn in 1894 the old kitchen was made into a “book room”. It is now undoubtedly the most interesting place in the old house.

This book room is down one step from “the commons room”, as the long front room, created by throwing into one the old taproom and the parlor, is called. The beaten earth floor of the first old kitchen has long since been covered by a wooden one. Three sides of the room, except where doors and windows interpose, are taken up by book shelves that go from floor to raftered ceiling. The south side is given over almost entirely to the wide deep fireplace, so large that one can literally “sit in the chimney corner”. Blackened by the smoke of two centuries, the huge fireplace still has in it the old hand-forged crane, and the “lazy boy” on which many kinds of food were baked. The oven which was originally there has since been bricked up, however.

Directly opposite each other in this room are two doors level with the ground outside. It is a matter of tradition that when this room was the kitchen for the old Inn the backlog for the cooking fire was dragged in at one door by a horse which was driven out the opposite door after the log had been rolled to the fireplace.

As the Warners sit around a blazing fire of a cold winter’s night with the light from their reading lamps making shadows in the corners of the room, it will be easy to imagine very different scenes of a century and a half ago. Then drivers of packhorse trains and Conestoga Wagons gathered around other blazing fires as they paused to eat and later to sleep during the tedious treks along the old Conestoga road.

Up in the rafters of this book-room is a small ladder which was originally made and used about sixty years when one of the early members of the Croasdale family wanted on occasion to make a quiet exit to sleeping quarters upstairs without disturbing guests in the front room. At that time there was a trap door in the floor of the room over the “book room” which was reached by means of this ladder. The main stairway, however, is a narrow boxed-in one leading from the living room. So worn are the trades from the footsteps of many generations that soon they will have to be replaced, interesting though they now are.

The narrow upstairs hallway leads into the front bedroom still as it was originally except for the door which leads onto the second floor porch, which was a later addition to the house. The charm of the room lies in its many windows and its original fireplace. Back of this is a tiny bedroom, while over the old kitchen is a larger room which will be used as a study when the Warners move in. Back of this is the “secret room” of the old house which is reached by a narrow and very inconspicuous passage way at the end of which is a door with a trick latch. One must learn the secret of this latch–and afterwards remember it–in order to enter this room at all. The reason for its one time secrecy is not clear nowadays. It is a plain little room once heated by a Franklin stove which has now gone its way. On the third floor are three bedrooms.

And since no story of an odd house is really complete without its ghost, so must the Blue Ball Inn have its ghost, perhaps even more than one! In the early 1800’s many sinister stories centered around it, all having to do with one Prissy Robinson, granddaughter of Bernhard Vauleer, one of the early owners of the Inn. According to these tales, peddlers who often carried goodly sums of money with them frequently stopped at the Inn to spend the night. Before the great fireplace in the old kitchen Prissy would serve them steaming suppers along with a glass of hot rum. When these same peddlers went up to the room over the kitchen they would find a keg of whiskey and a pannikin beside the bed. After partaking freely of the whiskey they would be in a sleep too deep to be roused by the stealthy figure that would creep in the door. A quick sharp blow – and another limp figure would be dragged down the narrow stairs, to be hidden until a shallow grave could be dug in the beaten earth floor of the kitchen or in the orchard!

Still another tale concerns a woman guest at the Blue Ball who recklessly displayed a large quantity of money at supper in the old kitchen. Next morning her body was found hanging from the wall that still encloses the boxed stairway. her death was called suicide. However, so many doubted the truth of this that the suspicions of the entire countryside were aroused. And as a consequence many would no longer venture into the Blue Ball Inn after dark!

After Prissy Robinson’s death in 1860 less credence was put in these harrowing stories. Many who know her regarded her as a sharp tongued old scold who probably did no one any actual harm. And then after the Croasdales bought the Blue Ball all the harrowing stories were revived. For in making excavations for certain improvements six human skeletons were found under the cellar floor. “These human structures were complete”, according to an article in the Philadelphia “North American”, although some showed broken bones or cleft skulls . . . It is certainly an interesting question how many persons were done away with at the Inn during the years from 1809 to 1860.”

At any rate, so the story goes, the ghost of Prissy Robinson, once roused from her long sleep by the workmen’s picks scraping the skeletons of those she had buried, was seen flitting around the house and grounds. Strange sounds have been heard and bureau drawers have been seen to open of their own volition–or so it is said. At any rate Prissy is supposedly looking in these drawers for clean garments to replace her own blood-stained ones!

But in the words of Joseph L. Copeland, a Paoli reporter writing the story of the Blue Ball Inn for “House Beautiful” in May, 1929, this columnist would say, “In spite, or possibly because of its ghost, it is a friendly old house sitting there by the roadside in the sun. In front of its door America has passed in historic procession–pack horse trains, oxcarts, Conestoga wagons, pushing always into the West, within its low-heeled rooms have paused those men of whom the poet sang:–

‘Conquering, holding, daring,
venturing as we go to the urn-
known ways,
Pioneers! O Pioneers'”

Blue Ball Tavern and Inn history


Among the many record books that have come temporarily to the keeping of this writer, none is more fascinating than the one in which the Croasdale family purchased from Richard Graham and Clara F., his wife, in September 1894, the old Blue Ball Inn.

Now almost 58 years later its possession has passed from Mrs. Croasdale to Mr. and Mrs. Paul McCurdy Warner, of Wayne who are remodeling and renovating the old house without making any more structural changes than the Croasdales had already made, thus preserving the charm of the really lovely old house which stands at the intersection of Old Lancaster road and Russell road in Daylesford.

The Brief of Title to the property which is the first item in the old record book except for two early pictures of the house, shows that “a tract of land in Chester County containing 212 acres” was deeded to Owen Roberts “by WIlliam Penn, proprietor and governor of Pennsylvania” by patent dated July 28, 1714.

This copy of the record of ownership as it changes with the years is complete in every line through tot he deed of September 28, 1894, transferring the property from the Grahams to John P. Croasdale. To this old record will soon be added a copy of the transfer of the one time Blue Ball Inn and approximately two acres of ground to Mr. and Mrs. Warner.

Following this listing of ownership in the old record book is a quaintly illustrated article clipped from Harper’s Magazine of April, 1880, entitled “Some Pennsylvania Nooks”. Among the historic places described in it are the Anthony Wayne Homestead, Washington’s Headquarters, Old St. David’s Church, Paoli Monument, Blue Ball Inn and Spread Eagle Inn. The latter are among the most famous of all the old hostelries that once dotted the Lancaster Turnpike. Other data which the Croasdales have collected in their book include excerpts from “The Making of Pennsylvania” written by Sydney George Fisher in 1898 in addition to liberal quotations from various articles by Julius F. Sachse devoted in whole or in part to “Ye Blue Ball” in Tredyffrin Township.

The “North American” of January 4, 1902, ran a special feature article on the “Six Skeletons of Long Ago” that had just then been unearthed in the cellars of the Blue Ball. “House Beautiful” in May, 1929, featured a copiously illustrated story of the Croasdale home as it looked both on the inside and from the outside at that time. And as short a time ago as March 12, 1939, “The Philadelphia Inquirer” had many “posed” pictures in its rotogravure section portraying the sinister events that supposedly took place in the old inn during the ownership of Prissy Robinson, daughter of the Bernhard Vauleer who acquired the tract of land and the first small Blue Ball Tavern in 1759.

Naturally there is some diversity in the details of a story so often told and retold. For one thing there is a margin of ten years or more in the matter of the exact date on which the second inn was built, a larger and more pretentious stone house than the first small one. Both were on the 200 and more acres deeded by William Penn to the first owner of the land. But the second one was considerably to the north of the first one, and directly on the stone turnpike which was completed in 1794. The Warners themselves have apparent evidence of the fact that the second Blue Ball Inn which will soon become their home was built in about the year 1790, thus making the house more than 160 years old.

Whatever its exact age, it is undoubtedly a charming house, surrounded as it is by two well shaded acres and the gardens which the Croasdales have planted with such loving care during their almost sixty years of ownership. At this season of the year daffodils are showing their golden heads on every side. Pale primroses are coming into modest bloom as are many of the spring wild flowers. The peonies which will bloom so much later have been undisturbed for all of sixty years. And there are lily gardens, too, and a swimming pool, not very long or wide, but five feet deep. And a frog and lily pond. There are old paths among the flower gardens and these flower gardens are hemmed in by hedges, beyond which is the long view to the Great Valley. Altogether a charming spot to be made much more so by a season or two of care.

In front of the house which is at the present intersection of Old Lancaster road and Russell road stands the original hitching post bent with time and use, its iron ring still firmly imbedded in the wood. Beside it is the “mounting block” which has now sunk to the level of the ground. The house itself is made of old Pennsylvania trap stone, three stories high, though originally it was but two. The main entrance faces the road. The present door will soon be replaced by the more interesting original one with its nice old hardware, found in the stable by Mahlon Rossiter who is in charge of remodeling the house. The original fan light of the doorway is still in place.

On the left side of the house is a wide pleasant porch, probably added to the stone house, not too many years after it was built. Within the past 50 years or so a second story has been added to the porch which, while not architecturally quite in harmony with the house still adds its note of charm and summer comfort. Back of the porch is a trick door, with an intriguing secret wooden lock, which leads to a comparatively unimportant spot, the woodshed.

The front door leads into a large living room which was originally two smaller rooms which accounts for the fact that there are two fireplaces in the present room. All told there are five fireplaces on the first and second floors of the house, all of them with the original mantels. The floors are also the original wooden ones. Leading into the living room from the porch, on the side is a Dutch door, the lower part with its cross “to keep out witches . . . also small animals and urchins.”

The present kitchen was added onto the east side of the house possibly seventy-five to a hundred years ago, with its doorway leading into the large front room. In it is a charming corner cupboard as old as the room itself. For convenience of living this kitchen will of course be modernized to some extent by the Warners without changing its contours.

(To be continued)