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Up in the rafters of this book-room is a small ladder which was originally made and used about sixty years when one of the early members of the Croasdale family wanted on occasion to make a quiet exit to sleeping quarters upstairs without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)

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)

The Book “Our Pennsylvania”, part 2 – Old St. David’s Church, Wayne Family, old inns, Longwood and its gardens

A charming sketch of “Old St. David’s at Radnor”, where Amy Oakley’s grandmother came so faithfully with “her little brood” each Sunday, illustrates the chapter on “The Main Line and Valley Forge” in the Oakley’s book of “Our Pennsylvania”.

Few, if any, among the readers of this column have failed to visit this historic spot. To many it is a pilgrimage frequently made. Most famous of the many graves in the churchyard that surrounds the little stone edifice on three sides, is that of Mad Anthony Wayne, for whom our community is named. His “madness”, comments Mrs. Oakley, “consisted of fearlessness”. Standing but a few miles from St. David’s Church is “Waynesborough”, where Anthony Wayne was born in 1745. Begun by his grandfather in 1724, and added to in 1765, the original house is still occupied by a descendant of the Wayne famly.

Another old church in our immediate vicinity of which Mrs. Oakley writes and of which her husband has made a delightful sketch, is Radnor Friends’ Meeting House, “dominant above Ithan Creek” on Conestoga road at Ithan. Dating form 1718, this house of worship was used as quarters for officers during the Revolutionary War as well as for a soldiers’ hospital with food and fuel supplied by Radnor Friends. Since 1939 the structure has housed the Radnor United Monthly Meeting.

As the Oakleys traverse this general vicinity they recall the old grist mills once so abundant in the neighborhood. One still in operation is the Great Valley Mill established in 1710 on North Valley road in Paoli. On the estate connected with it are the famous rock gardens known to many of us as the property of Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Colley. Other rapidly vanishing landmarks of the Main Line are the taverns which “once punctuated every mile of the coach road to Lancaster.” The Old Buch at Haverford, while still in good repair, is no longer an inn, nor is the General Warren at Malvern. The “hoary Sorrel Horse”, at Ithan, built in 1768, Mrs. Oakley recalls to our memories as an historic hostelry which often sheltered Washington and Lafayette. It is now a private house. The General Wayne Inn, which adjoins Merion Friends’ Meeting, still fulfills its original purpose.

Several pages of “Our Pennsylvania” are devoted to Valley Forge Park, site of the winter encampment of General George Washington and the Continental Army in 1777-1778. Even more familiar to most of our readers than the winter scene at Valley Forge is that of the blooming of dogwood there, which, according to tradition should begin on the tenth of May. It was from Valley Forge stock that the first pink dogwood was developed, according to Mrs. Oakley, “the white being a wide-spread native of the hills of Pennsylvania”. As all of us who have ever attempted a pilgrimage by automobile to Valley Forge in May recall, it is then that “cars from every state converge to see the glory of the hills bathed in clouds of pink and white”.

From the chapter on “The Main Line and Valley Forge”, the Oakleys pass on to one entitled “Vignettes of Chester County”. An exquisite full length sketch of the Mill at Chadds Ford with Howard Pyle in the foreground prefaces this chapter which is headed by a smaller sketch of the oldest house in Downingtown. This is a log cabin, said to date from about 1710, though many believe, Mrs. Oakley tells us, that “from its expert construction . . . it may have been erected still earlier by the Swedes, who introduced the log house with mortised corners into this continent”. Downingtown takes its name from an old grist mill, dating from 1739, owned by one Thomas Downing, a Quaker.

West Chester, linked with East Downington “by a road through rural pasture where contented Holsteins chew their cud in meadows beside the Brandywine”, is next on the Oakley itinerary. Originally a little village known as Turks Head, its well known tavern, West Chester “has been the seat of Chester County since 1786. It was two years later that it changed its original name to its later one, adopting the name of West Chester, since it was “west of Chester”. Among its present points of interest, Mrs. Oakley enumerates State Teachers College, Westtown School and Cheyney State Teachers College, founded by Quakers as an institution for colored youth.

On the east bank of the Brandywine is the Village of Chadds Ford, named for John Chad (original spelling), who established a ferry there in 1737. The original Chad homestead is the subject of a well known painting by a Chadds Ford native, Andrew Wyeth, son of N. C. Wyeth, the late distinguished illustrator and mural painter.

Among the illustrations for this chapter on Chester County is one of the quaint old octagonal school house at Birmingham Meeting, near Chadds Ford. This school building dates back to 1753. Like Kennett Meeting House, Birmingham Meeting was in the historic battle area. Nearby Kennett Square is a flourishing present day community known as the largest mushroom-growing area in the United States.

A description of Longwood concludes this Chester County chapter. According to Mrs. Oakley “it rivals Verailles as to gardens and fountains, while the conservatory in its vast extent and the glory of its floral contents seems unbelievable–the ultimate creation of a conjurer’s wand”. An interesting historical note in connection with Longwood is that the original land was conveyed by William Penn to George Pierce whose son built the house occupied by the present owner, though now doubled in size by the addition of a twin mansion. According to our historian, the “long wood”, from which the early Quakers took the name, has largely disappeared, but many of the rare trees date back to plantings made in 1800 by the Pierces.

Our own historic Delaware County comes next on the Oakley itinerary before they leave this general vicinity for more distant parts of “Our Pennsylvania”.

(To be Continued)

Wayne’s First Baptist Church, part 3 – Spread Eagle Inn, Siter Family

The William Siter whose conversion to the strict precepts of the Baptist faith from his former more wordly ways of thinking, and who was in a large measure responsible for the founding of the Radnor Baptist Church, belonged to a family whose name has appeared more often that any other in the early history of Radnor Township as it has been sketched in this column. In 1791 his grandfather, Adam Siter, ran the first small Spread Eagle Inn on the old Lancaster Turnpike. Later two other Siters, John and Edward, were in turn associated with the second and much large Spread Eagle Inn. The beautiful Siter farm covered much of what is now South Wayne. Part of the land around Martin’s Dam was once owned by this same family.

Mrs. Emily Siter Wellcome tells us that the family was one of the early Welsh settlers to whom William Penn gave a grant of land in what was later to become Radnor township. The original part of the house where she now lives at 415 West Wayne avenue with her daughter, Rosita Wellcome and her brother, George Siter, was probably built in the late 1600’s. Like the other Welsh houses of that period, of which there are a number still remaining in the township, the Siter house was built of stone, with two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs. The thicknesses of the old stone wall of Mrs. Wellcome’s living room gave evidence of the age of the house.

Somewhat puzzling to us at first was the present outside appearance of the house, stince it so closely resembles certain of the Wayne Estate houses. The explanation seems to lie in the fact that it was remodeled in 1890 by Mrs. William Siter, Mrs. Wellcome’s mother. it was at this time that large numbers of Wayne Estate houses were in the process of construction, and it seems quite possible that Mrs. Siter patterned her home after one of the popular type of that era. At the same time that she enlarged the little four room stone home, built by Welsh ancestors, she also built the house just to the west of her that is now occupied by William M. Zimmermann, Jr., and his family, and which for many years was occupied by the late Eber Siter and his family.

According to the old volume of “Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Chester and Delaware Counties”, lent to us by Mrs. Wellcome, Adam Siter, that first early proprietor of the little old Spread Eagle Inn had several children, among them William, who married Mary Taylor. There were six children born to this union. David, the eldest, “kept store for some time at the Old Eagle house on Lancaster turnpike”, in a section that was known for some time as “Sitersville”, even on the post office records. “John married and settled in Radnor township near the village, of Ithan, where he followed farming” according to the old genealogical records.

“Adam and William, the twin brothers (born December 8, 1798) received, under their father’s will, a tract of land containing 192 acres where South Wayne now stands, and here they conducted farming.” After Adam married, he sold his interest to William, who continued the cultivation of the farm and the old Siter saw and grist mill, which stood upon the property. William married Emily Worthington, a daughter of Eber Worthington, of West Chester. The twin brother, Adam, married Margaret Brooke, while one sister, Anna, became the wife of Enoch Davis and the other, Elizabeth, married John Yocum.

Joseph M. Fronefield, Jr., in writing of the Wayne of the 1880’s, when he came to this community and established his small drug store in what was then known as Wayne Lyceum Hall, now the newly remodeled Colonial Building, told of what he could see from the door of his shop:

“I could look out the drugstore door (it had now window on the pike) and see cattle grazing in the meadow where the business block, fire house and school houses now stand. This was part of what was known as the Siter farm. Its buildings stood on Conestoga road, about where the residence of F. A. Canizares now stands. The old Siter homestead burned in later years when owned and occupied by R. H. Johnson. The spring house was near the rear of what is now the Wayne Apartment House at the corner of West Wayne and Bloomingdale avenues.”

(Note: The old Siter household to which this refers was one the site of the present Herman Lengel house, 250 Conestoga road. The former F. A. Canizares house is at 240 Conestoga road.)

The William Siter who owned so much of what is now South Wayne was the same William Siter who, with is wife, the former Emily Worthington, was the leading spirit in the founding of the Radnor Baptist Church. Their son, another William Siter, married Sarah Martin, daughter of Richard and Hannah Moore Martin, both of English birth. Sarah Martin is the Miss Sallie Martin referred to in a number of articles in this column as the teacher of the Wayne Lyceum School and also as one of the editors of the “Weekly Gazette”, that early Wayne paper published in 1871-72. When the Wayne Lyceum Hall was dedicated on October 24, 1871, Miss Martin was one of the speakers on the program. Two of the children of these William Siters, George Siter and Emily Siter Wellcome, are among the four living trustees of the old Baptist Church who negotiated its present sale.

Seventy-nine persons signed the petition presented at a special meeting of the Great Valley Church on February 6, 1941, for letters of dismissal “for the purpose of constituting a Church at Radnor Hall, which on motion was granted,” to quote the exact wording of church records, now over 100 years old. Written in ink, these records and signatures are still so clearly legible that there can be doubt about only one or two of the signatures. They are names of families who had much to do with Radnor township in its early days. Descendents of some of them are still living here.

The “written request” was signed by George Joseph, Samuel, Sarah, Elizabeth, Alice and Susanna Lewis; Christian, Margaret, Sarah Jane, Mary Ann and Elizabeth Miller; William, Louisa, John, George, Mary Hughes, Elizabeth, Peter and Zimmermann Supplee; Mahlon, John, Elizabeth, Elijah, John, Jr. and Hannah Wilds; William, Lucy, Emily, Mary Ann, Sarah and Adam Siter; Charles and Sarah Ann Stout; Thomas and Ann Petty; Jacob, Eliza and Mary Huzzard; Samuel, George, Ann, Mary, and George, Jr., Bittle; Merriam, Hannah and Joseph Hunter; Mary Ann and Sarah Bowman; Jane and Mary Ann Smallwood; Samuel and Emma Crew; John and Elizabeth Aikens; George and Hannah Phillips; Margaret and Abraham Richardson; Jacob Wismer, Jacob Taylor, Ann Hampton, James Carr, Jr., Elizabeth Meredith, Mary Ann McKnight, Mary Marion Loveat, George Murry, Samuel Hanson, Nancy Davis, Mary Rulong, Isaac Millenn, Benjamin Snively, Theodosia Riddle.

(To be continued)

Strafford’s Wentworth family & mansion – Martha Wentworth Suffren


Probably no one is better qualified to discuss Strafford of an earlier day than the delightful little gray haired lady now almost ninety-two years old, with whom the writer had the pleasure of talking one afternoon last week. As the train outside beat against the window panes in an almost torrential downpour we sat in her quiet living room as Martha Wentworth Suffren told of a childhood spent in the old Wentworth mansion still standing on the hill on the right of Homestead road as one turns to the left from Old Eagle School road.

Built in 1856 by the White family of Philadelphia, this spacious home, with its ceilings constructed 13 1/2 feet high for coolness and ventilation, was bought in 1857 by Mrs. Suffren’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Langdon Wentworth, who were living at the time in an old inn in Paoli, kept by one John Evans. Since the Whites could not, in the end, finance the large home which they had undertaken to build, it was sold to Mr. Wentworth under “mechanics liens.” The latter, in looking for a home for his family, was touring the country roads in this vicinity when the large sign advertising the place for sale attracted his attention.

Here he and Mrs. Wentworth raised their three daughters. In addition to Mrs. Suffren, the daughters are Mrs. Foote, now residing in Garden City, New York, and Mrs. Charles Ruschenberger, who died a few years ago. The latter was a charter member of the Saturday Club and prominent for many years as a member of other community groups. The Wentworth place, with its spacious home surrounded by its 130 acres, gave its name to Strafford Station, formerly called Eagle Station. Although a little reluctant to give his consent to the use of the name, Mr. Wentworth finally did so since the Pennsylvania Railroad was anxious for a word of two syllables which could be clearly called out by conductors!

Martha Wentworth Suffren recalls a quiet childhood when “the seasons were her clock.” There was strawberry time, raspberry time, peach time, apple time, chestnut time. The latter she remembers especially because it was then that “the children had to ge up early to beat the turkeys.” As the latter started from the barn they described a complete circle of these trees that brought them back to the barn again at sundown. As the bushes and trees blossomed and fruited, the small girl picked the ripened fruit as she made her quiet rounds of her father’s farm. In winter she attended a school frun by Miss Anna Markley and Miss Anna Matlack. The school moved from time to time to various locations “which made it exciting,” according to Mrs. Suffren! She finished her education by extensive reading, of which she was naturally fond.

In 1880, Martha Wentworth marries Charles C. Suffren and moved away from Strafford, not to return until 1920, when she occupied the home on Homestead road which she and her husband had built in 1909. Here she has lived ever since, just a short distance from the house in which she was born in 1858. It is now the home of E. Brooke Matlack.

Of the old Spread Eagle Inn, of which we have written recently in this column, Mrs. Suffren recalls that the last owner before Mr. George W. Childs was a Mr. Crumley. When it was occupied as an Indian School as described in last week’s column, this school was run by mary McHenry Coxe, wife of Belangee Coxe. Its purpose was to teach good housekeeping methods which Indian girls might impart to other members of their tribes upon their return home. Before the old Inn was destroyed for stone for the new houses and roads that Mr. Childs was building in Wayne in the late eighties and early nineties, it was occupied by workmen from the Wayne Estate building operation.

The present Spread Eagle Mansion, which takes its name from the old Inn, was built some years before the destruction of the latter. It has had many occupants, of whom the writer hopes to learn more and to tell about in this column. Mrs. Suffren remembers particularly the John B. Thayers, who bought the place in about the middle sixties. There were six children in the family, among them John B. Thayer, Jr., a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad who lost his life in the sinking of the White Star liner “Titanic,” at that time the largest ship afloat, when it went down in 1912 after a collision with an iceberg.

The small white house to the West of the Spread Eagle Mansion which is now occupied as a Beauty Salon was once a toll house, Mrs. Suffren tells us. A that time a room that just touched the Lancaster Pike was the vantage point from which tolls of three cents per vehicle was collected by the woman in charge as she lifted the long bar that extended across the road in order to let such vehicles pass – a procedure rather difficult to imagine in this era of the fast moving motor vehicles.

An interesting correction on the story of the big oak still standing in Strafford to the north of Lancaster Pike and described in a recent column as a “lookout tree” has come to me from L. E. Davis, of Weadley road, in Strafford. This lookout tree, according to Mr. Davis, was a giant chestnut over six feet in diameter and about seventy-five feet high. This “Signal Tree,” of which Mr. Davis still has a piece, was taken down when Sigmund’s drug store at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Old Eagle School road was built. The next signal tree was just at the top of the hill north of the Doyle Nurseries. The interesting story of these historical trees was told to Mr. Davis by his grandfather, who died in 1906 at the age of 88. The latter’s son, still living at the age of 85, can also remember these trees.

When the big chestnut on the Pike was taken down to make room for the building of the drug store, it was rescued from burning by Mr. Barr, of Phoenixville, who still has much of it stored in his barn. Out of parts of it he made boot jacks which were sent to the museums of a number of large American colleges.

(The original “Ship Tavern” near Downingtown which is picture in this week’s column is the one described in a recent column as the predecessor of an Inn of the same name, now standing on the highway a mile east of Exton. A group of American soldiers put the “Patriot’s curse” on this original Inn by shooting thirteen holes through the sign in front of the Inn. The curse was apparently potent, as the Inn soon went out of business. The old sign now swings in front of the second Ship Inn. This picture has been used as aprt of a series of places of historical interest. Major Frank Ankenbrand, of Valley Forge Military Academy, has been instrumental in obtaining the picture for use in this column.)

(To be continued)

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.

Old Inns, part 4 – Spread Eagle

After the Lancaster stone turnpike was completed in 1794, the increase of travel along it necessitated the erection of many inns in addition to the early ones such as the Spread Eagle at Strafford. Eventually they averaged about one to the mile, especially as the distance from Philadelphia increased, and there was greater need for meals and overnight accommodations. Space does not permit an enumeration of all of them in this column, although several seemingly accurate lists are still in existence. One more, however, should certainly be added to those we described in last week’s column, since it is a nearby one which is still standing and in good condition, a charming reminder of an era long past. Still known today as the Ship Inn, it is situated on the Lincoln Highway, one mile east of Exton, catering now to the automobile tourist, as in olden days it catered to the stage coach passenger.

This old Inn as it now stands was built in 1796 by one John Bowen, who brought the signboard from an even older Inn which flourished on the Kings’ Highway west of Downingtown in Revolutionary days. The first Inn was operated by a Tory, as were many others of that time. To quote from the interesting little brochure issued by the present proprietor of the Ship Inn, “Several days after the battle of the Brandywine a company of American soldiers stopped at the Inn for refreshment, but the old Tory flew into a rage and ordered them away. To punish him, the soldiers put the ‘Patriots’ curse’ on the Inn by firing thirteen bullets through its sign. The curse was apparently potent, for the original Ship Inn was soon out o*********** f business.” This signboard was later taken to the new location of the “Ship Inn”, where for many years it swung and creaked in its yoke by the roadside.
Quaint assessment records of the year 1794, now in possession of the Chester County Historical Society, list:
1 large ditto (Stone Building not finished) $600.00
1 stone stable, not finished 80.00
1 log barn 40.00
1 stone spring house 50.00
1 frame necessary 1.00
1 cart house on posts (Buckwheat straw roof) .05

From these figures it is not difficult to estimate the modest cost of the Ship Inn which remains to this day such a charming landmark on the old highway.

This tale of the old signboard, into which the soldiers shot thirteen holes, calls to mind stories of two others Inns in the close vicinity of the Spread Eagle. They were told to me by Miss Lecian Von Bernuth, who is well versed in the history of Strafford, where she makes her home. It seems that in Revolutionary days there was another Inn almost opposite the Spread Eagle. Some English soldiers were quartered at the former, while at the latter there were a few from the American army. At various times they are said to have made forays into each other’s premises, sometimes even meeting in the middle of the road for a skirmish.

The little old stone house standing even to this day just to the west of the present Spread Eagle Mansion was once a roadhouse where men from the American forces were stationed. The big oak still standing in the field back of this building is said to have been a lookout towards Valley Forge. Up until a comparatively short time ago the old bar was still in the small building as was the trap door that on occasion plunged undesirable patrons into the basement!

Some of these nearby taverns took the overflow which could not be accommodated in the more desirable quarters of the Spread Eagle. Doubtless, too, they served for the more ribald element whose presence at the Inn was not welcomed. As the reader looks at the lovely Spread Eagle Tavern as pictured in last week’s column it is interesting to reconstruct scenes within and without as described in J. F. Sachse’s book, from which we have quoted liberally already. Mr. Sachse says:

“Within the tavern all would be life and animation. On warm, fair nights the porch as well as the piazza above was illuminated by large reflecting lamps, where on such occasions congregated the ladies and gentlemen who were stopping there either permanently or merely temporarily to while away the time and watch the life and bustle on the road in front of the Inn, as well as in the yard beyond; the shouts and activity of the hostlers and stablemen at the arrival or departure of the mail or post coach, the rapidity with which the horses were unhitched, or replaced by fresh relays after the passengers had refreshed themselves, the numbers of travelers on horseback or in private conveyance, the occasional toot of a stage horn or ringing of the hostlers bell. All tended to form a continuous change of scene.”

As the Inn guests looked over the rail of the cool, shaded second floor porch they might see long lines of Conestoga wagons going either to the East or the West. These wagons were usually drawn by “five stout horses, each horse having on its collar a set of bells consisting of different tones, which made very singular music as the team trudged along at about the rate of four miles an hour” or there might be companies of emigrants traveling together for mutual assistance towards the new West, there to found homes of their own. Large herds of cattle or flocks of geese also added to the panorama.

In 1823 there were eleven principal lines of “Land Stages” running daily East and West on the turnpike past the Spread Eagle. Among them were the quaint names of “Harrisburg Coachee”, “Lancaster Coachee”, “Lancaster Accommodation”, “Harrisburg Stage”, “Lancaster and Pittsburgh Mail” and others. The fare for way passengers was usually six cents a mile. Through fare from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh was $18.50 each way, meals and lodgings extra.

The “Coachee” here mentioned is described as a carriage peculiar to America, with the body rather longer than that of a coach, but of much the same shape. In the front “it was left open down to the bottom, and the driver sat on a bench under the roof of the carriage. There were two seats in it for passengers, who sat with their faces towards the horses. The roof was supported by posts at the corners, on each side of the doors, above the panels; it was open and to guard against bad weather there were curtains made to let down from the roof and fasten to buttons placed for the purpose on the outside. There was also a leather curtain to hang occasionally, between the driver and the passengers. The Coachee had doors at the side, since the panels and body were generally finely finished and varnished”.

All of this picturesque type of travel that continued by night as well as by day, with the attendant hustle and bustle at the wayside inns, reached its height in the late 1820’s. For it was then that the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was completed by the Canal Commission. Although many of the more spacious inns such as the Spread Eagle continued in existence for some years afterwards, the necessity for them decreased in ration to the lessening of traffic on the turnpike. Some, however, remained open as summer boarding houses as the Spread Eagle did for a number of years. When the picture reproduced in last week’s Suburban was taken in 1886 by Mr. Sachse, he wrote that “the old inn, though in good repair, is closed and without an occupant, and looms up on the roadside like a dark and sombre relic of the past, with nothing to remind the present generation of its departed glories.”

(To be continued)

(Information on the date of the building of the present Spread Eagle Mansion, as well as names of various owners and any other interesting data will be welcomed by Mrs. Patterson who, to date, has been able to find little of its history. Mrs. Patterson’s address is Windermere Court, Wayne, her telephone is Wayne 4569.)

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)

Old Inns, part 2 – Spread Eagle Tavern

As we told you in last week’s column, the second Spread Eagle Tavern, built on the site of the first quaint small structure, was completed only a year or two after the Lancaster turnpike was finished, the first stone turnpike to be constructed in the United States. The tavern immediately sprang into great popularity, since its furnishings and cuisine were perhaps unsurpassed in the entire State of Pennsylvania. During the summer and fall of 1798, when yellow fever raged in Philadelphia, the inn was crowded with members of the Government, as well as attaches of the accredited representatives of the foreign powers in Philadelphia.

As early as 1730 and thereabouts small settlements began to spring up around roadside taverns, since it was there that elections were held, and much of the entertainment of the community centered. These villages were often known by the tavern sign until they were large enough to have a name of their own. So it was with the neighborhood of the Spread Eagle as a hamlet of some size grew up around it. In addition to the usual blacksmith and wheelwright shops, livery stables, barns and other outbuildings attendant to an inn of the first rank, there was a village cobbler and tailor.

For many years the large “Eagle” store on the opposite side of the turnpike did a flourishing trade. Soon a post office was located in the little hamlet which became known on all local maps of the day as “Sitersville.” In 1795, Martin Slough started to run a four-horse stage between Philadelphia and Lancaster which proved so popular that a number of other stage coach lines were soon in operation.

Because of its distance from the city, the Spread Eagle became the stopping place of not only the mail and post, but also for meals and relays, as it was the first station west and the last relay station eastward on the turnpike. Stages usually left Philadelphia at four or five o’clock in the morning and stopped for breakfast at this well known hostelry. In 1807, stage passengers were charged 31 1/2 cents per meal, while others were charged 25 cents. The reason given for this discrimination was “that being obliged to prepare victuals for a certain number of passengers by the stage, whether they came or not, it frequently caused a considerable loss of time, and often a waste of victuals, whereas in the other case they knew to a certainty what they ahd to prepare.”

At this period it cost twenty dollars to travel by the stage from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, with an extra charge to twelve and a half cents for every pound of luggage beyond fourteen pounds. Meals and lodgings for the 297 mile trip cost in the neighborhood of seven dollars. It took about six days to complete the journey. By wagon it took twenty days or more, with five dollars per cwt. for both persons and property charges. Other expenses along the way amounted to about twelve dollars.

As to liquid refreshment dispensed over the bar and drunk by hardy “wagoners” and travelers in those early days, it consisted mostly of whiskey, brandy, rum and porter. There was also “cyder,” plain, royal or wine; apple and peach brandy and cherry bounce. A bowl of good punch was always in order among the better class of stage travelers.

John Siter, during whose ownership the new tavern was built, was succeeded by Edward Siter. Later James Watson took over for a period of two years. Since he was not successful in the venture, ownership reverted back again to Edward Siter, who remained in charge of the inn until the year 1817. During his temporary retirement from the Spread Eagle, Edward Siter conducted a grocery store in Market Street in Philadelphia, as witnessed by the following notice in the “Federalist” of December 8, 1812.

“Edward Siter
Late of the Spread Eagle on the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike road, takes the liberty of informing his friends and the public in general that he has taken that large store on South East corner of Market and Eighth Sts., Number 226, in Philadelphia, where he is now opening a good assortment of groceries, wholesale and retail on the most reasonable terms, where country produce will be bought or stored and sold on commission with punctuality.

He believes himself from his former conduct in business to obtain a share of publick patronage.”

From 1817 to 1823, David WIlson, Jr., was “mine host” at the Spread Eagle. From 1823-1825, Zenas Wells kept the Inn. In a short time during this period the original signboard representing the American eagle was changed by a local artist who, as told in last week’s column, added another neck and head to “our glorious bird of freedom.” Perhaps this change was due to some ripple of political excitement rife at that time. Be that as it may, the new signboard caused so much merriment that in 1825 it took on its old form again. Neighbors and wagoners could not see the utility of the first change, and in derision nick-named it the “Split Crow.” For a time the tavern was even referred to by that name. After it was again Americanized in 1825, it was repainted many times as the changing seasons took their toll of fresh paint. Finally, when the usefulness of the old building as a tavern passed away, the eagle which had for so many years stood as the sign post on one of the finest taverns on the Lancaster Turnpike was finally effaced by the action of the elements.

(To be continued)

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