Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 5
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: 1942 Volume 5 Number 2, Pages 26–36
The old Lancaster or Conestoga Road (continued from Vol. III, no. 1)
Through Delaware County to the Gulph Road in Tredyffrin
A notable instance of an early Colonial building, standing by the side both of the Old Lancaster Road and the Lancaster Turnpike, is that of the Buck Tavern in Haverford Township, just within the line of what is now Delaware County. The tablet placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution on the western end of what is now a modern apartment house states that it was built by Thomas Penn in 1730, and that -
"Here Washington and his staff halted and spent the night of the 14th of September 1777 and a portion of the 15th. While here Washington wrote to the Continental Congress for supplies."
By reference to the "Itinerary of General Washington from June 15, 1775, to December 23, 1783, By William S. Baker", which appeared in The Pennsylvania Magazine, Vol. XIV, page 267, there will be found:
"MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15.
'Three o'clock, P.M. We are moving up this road (the old Lancaster Road) to get between the enemy and Swedes Ford, and to prevent them from turning our right flank.'--Washington to the President of Congress.
The Buck Tavern, about nine miles northwest of Philadelphia, on the old Lancaster Road, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, a well known hostelry of its day, is still standing, but occupied as a private house. The army advanced the same day thirteen miles farther up the road to a point near the junction of the Swedes' Ford road, northwest of the Warren Tavern, in Chester County, and encamped between that point and the White Horse Tavern, Washington making his head-quarters at the residence of Joseph Malin."
In the record of the survey of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road by Robert Brooke, begun November 3, 1806, which is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, it is stated:
"The Old Lancaster Road, from where it leaves the T. road at the Buck, down to Lenhoffs Lane is in very bad order & entirely out of use at present-"
And he adds "Jonathan Miller's Tavern sign of the Buck is in Delaware County." The reference to the part of the road which was out of repair was doubtless the part passing at that time to the east of the tavern. This old course was vacated in 1858, by proceedings in the Delaware County Court. By turning west on the Lincoln Highway for several hundred yards, which puts the tavern to the left, and making a turn south, the old road is picked up a little further on at the southern end of the vacated portion. Further along it merges for a short distance with County Line Road and, bearing in Radnor Township, its earlier name of Conestoga, continues toward Garrett Hill and Radnor Meeting.
On the plan submitted to the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania by John Sellers and Wm. Swaffer in 1767, to be seen at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the first inn west of the Buck is the Rose and Crown which appears to have been at or in the neighborhood of Garrett Hill, formerly known as Garrettville. This old plan shows the route from Philadelphia to Lancaster in a straight line. Paralleling this air line route, so far as its bends and curves permit, is a plan of the old road with the locations of a number of the inns and other important points of the day indicated.
Radnor Methodist Meeting, organized in 1780, so says its sign, is a beauty spot of Garrett Hill. The first building is said to have been erected in 1784. It was rebuilt in 1833 and further changes were made in recent years. It was from here in 1896 that the late Dr. Alden W. Quimby came to Berwyn, where, for 26 years until his death, he was to enrich the community in his chosen and other fields and its people in every walk of life. That the Churchyard of this ancient meeting house should be the final resting place of this courageous clergyman, gentleman, and historian is most fitting.
The important stopping points along the road are shown on an old publication issued probably between 1750 and 1760, now to be seen at The Library Company of Philadelphia, Ridgway Library. As applied to the road to Lancaster, it shows:
"An Account of the DISTANCES from The City of Philadelphia, Of all the Places of Note within the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsylvania, NOTE. The distances are not to be understood in a right Line, but as the Road is laid out from one Place to another; for Instance, From Shippensbourg to Rays-Town measures Sixty-One Miles along the Road; whereas the nearest Distance of these Places is but Fifty Miles."
Road from Philadelphia Court-House to ---
Page 5 Road from Philadelphia to Rays-Town
More of history and of life than appears in this itinerary, will be found in "A Summer Jaunt in 1773", Vol. X, Page 205, of The Pennsylvania Magazine; journal of a tour from Philadelphia, by way of Bethlehem, Reading, and Ephrata to Lancaster and return over the Old Lancaster Road. Barring a shortage of bed sheets at "Douglass'", an inn west of the line between Chester end Lancaster Counties, it is apparent that conditions on their northern route to Lancaster were much rougher than those occurring along the Old Lancaster Road.
Beginning here for reasons of space alone, at the end of the first leg of the "Jaunt" -
"about 5 o'clock this afternoon arrived at Lancaster, put up at Slough's, a very good House victuals well dressed, wine good. Lancaster stands upon rising ground, the streets are regular and pritty wide, intersecting each other at right angles, there are some pritty good Buildings here and the Town may contain about Seven Hundred Houses.
Wednesday 25. Left Lancaster about 3 o'clock afternoon, fine pleasant Day, in good spirits, but alas! a sad accident had like to have turned our mirth into mourning for W.... driving careless, and being happily engaged with the Lady he had the pleasure of riding with, end not mindful enough of his charge, drove full against a large stump which stood in the way, by
which the Chair was overturned and the Lady thrown out to a Considerable distance, but happily receiv'd no hurt, this evening about 8 o'clock arriv'd at Douglass' where supped and rested all night, the Supper pretty tollerable, beds indifferent, being short of Sheets for the Beds -- the Woman was good enough to let W.... have a table-cloth in lieu of one.
Thursday 26. About 7 o'clock left Douglass'--hitherto we had been favd since our first Setting out with pleasant Weather, but this Morning threatened us with the reverse it being hazy. About ten o'clock arrived at the Ship, where we breakfasted, which was good, the People obliging and the House clean and decent; at eleven o'clock set out, about one o'clock we stop'd at the Admiral Warren where Mr. Mitchell was taken so ill as obliged him to go to Bed, having something of an Ague, with much reluctance, we left him & Mrs. Mitchell there, and proceeded on to Stradelberger's during which time it rained very heavy upon us which was the more disagreeable as the Ladys were much exposed thereto, neither of the Chairs having tops. Soon after our arrival at Stradelberger's we were agreeably surprised by the arrival of Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell, he having got a little better, about 4 o'clock left Stradelberger's and were all the way to town in a very heavy rain, but happily the Ladies good constitutions prevented any bad effects following their being so much wet, about 8 o'clock we arrived at Mr. Mitchell's to the great joy of all concerned, after having escaped many perils by Land and by Water such as are already recited in this true and faithful Journal -- and being absent from our Families & kindred so long a time as twelve days, end further this Journalist saith not. Number of miles travelled 210.--"
Reference to the survey of 1741, shows land about three-quarters of a mile east of Radnor Meeting as owned by Samuel Harry. He, a "yeoman", sold in 1762 to his oldest son, Aubrey, who was doubtless the successful petitioner for a tavern license under the name of Awbrey Harry, in 1757, and whose place was filled in 1765 by Michael Stadelman. In 1776 the latter bought a tract of 100 acres from Aubrey Harry. This tract was on both sides of the road and had on it a stone house. The property passed from the Stadelman family by deed in 1811 from Michael Stadelman's daughter, Elizabeth Paul, to Isaac Leedom of Chester County, At his death it passed to the Kirk family by whom it was held until comparatively recent years.
The marker fitted into the wall of the bridge over the small stream indicates the greatly enlarged handsome stone house as the Sorrel Horse Tavern. It stands a short distance west of the 13th mile stone which is still standing. Formerly the road ran closer to the house than now, The Sellers and Swaffer plan shows the "Horse and Groom" at what would seem the site of this tavern. From "Horse and Groom" to "Sorrel Horse" the transition would be slight. In Christopher Marshall's Rememberance it is noted that Cornwallis' troops on a foray came as far out the Lancaster Road as the Sorrel Horse Tavern near the 13th milestone.
In the absence of information as to the innkeeper named Stradelberger, surmise that "W" and his friends were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell at the Sorrel Horse, may not be amiss. Too much is due him for his "true and faithful journal", to be unduly critical if, after his dampening experiences, beginning with that of the stump, he set down the name of "Stradelberger" instead of Stadelman. Probably his mind was still "happily engaged with the Lady he had the pleasure of driving with, and not mindful enough of his charge".
Half a mile westward, also on the north side of the road, there stood formerly an older stone tavern, known before 1734 as the Sign of the Plough. The tavern license records at West Chester show Morgan Hugh here at that time and that he followed David Evans. William Penn had granted 300 acres in the neighborhood to John Evans whose will, devising his property "Pinifinion" to members of his family, was proved at Philadelphia in 1707. Later, the sheriff of Chester County conveyed to David Reese, an innholder, after whom James Barry kept the tavern.
Thereafter, down to the sale to Charles B. Quigley in 1888 of 21 acres as "The Sorrel Horse Tavern property", under which name it had become known, owners were Joseph Norris, Paul Sheradon, Richard Miles,from shortly before the Revolution to 1794, William Lawrence, who had bought it during this last period at a sale for the Norris Estate, James Elliott, another innkeeper who bought from Richard Miles and whose heirs sold to Thomas Taylor in 1814, William Thomas, in whose deed the building is described as a stone house, John Mullin, Philip Kirk in 1841 and other members of the Kirk family.
This is the tavern shown by the survey of 1741. It stood until recent years a full quarter of a mile east of Radnor Meeting and just east of Mill Creek Road. In Ashmead's History of Delaware County, it is suggested that the date is as early as 1730, but no proof as to the exact site at that time has appeared. Paul Sharraddan, in his petition for license in 1782, refers to the inn as having been kept for 50 years past at the Sign of the Plow and Harrow but now of John Wilks.
Radnor Friends' Meeting, at the intersection of the Radnor and Chester Road and the Newtown Road, with the Old Lancaster Road in old Radnorville, is said to have been established in 1718. Margaret Jarman, relict of John, with his only son and three daughters, conveyed an acre of the adjacent ground to William Thomas, Samuel Harry, Michael Thomas, Samuel Morgan, and David Pugh, Junior, in 1735, "Together with the Houses Edifices" etc. for the use and benefit "of the poor of the people called Quakers" in Radnor Township. This fine old building and the handsome house which was once the Sorrel Horse appear safe for the future.
The old road northward from Radnor Meeting leads by the way of what was formerly known as Morgan's Corner, now Radnor Station, over King of Prussia Road to Gulph Road and by it to Valley Forge. An outpost was maintained in the vicinity during the encampment at Valley Forge, to warn of the approach of the British and to prevent supplies passing over the Old Lancaster Road to the British in Philadelphia. Originally the Radnor and Chester Road came across the hills to Radnor Meeting instead of along the creek as now. It was a main supply route from Chester to the encampment. It may now be followed as a lane to properties between the Meeting house end Derby Creek. Useful information of the activities of the opposing armies through this whole region will be found in an article by Mr. Franklin L. Burns, "New Light on the Encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge", which appeared in the third issue of Volume II of this magazine.
Two miles and a quarter westward from Radnor Friends' Meeting and a quarter of a mile south of Strafford Station on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the old road was tapped by a way of convenience leading from the Chester Valley, at a very early date, later to become the well known Eagle School Road. This early date is indicated by the Chester County Road Records in 1720, showing laying out of the road from Valley Friends' Meeting, north of the Swedesford Road,
"to the Great Road near the widow Samuel", between which points, the petitioners stated, "we hitherto had a good road and much in use this i4 (sic) years without interruption", but "this Road now is like to be stop-d".
A strong stream flowing to the south from springs rising on the southern slope of the South Valley Hill and forming head waters of Darby Creek so common in this region, crosses the course of the Old Lancaster Road a short distance west of the junction of the two roads. The site was ideal for an early inn and there is good reason to think that it was availed of.
On an early plan of the turnpike to be seen at The Chester County Historical Society, and which fortunately shows also, parts of the Old Lancaster Road, the sites of three early inns are plainly indicated. Taking them in order of location from the east, we have at the intersection of the old road and the turnpike, on the west side of the former and south side of the latter road, the Unicorn Tavern. Two hundred yards or so to the west and on the opposite side of the turnpike, there stood within comparatively recent years the inn known first as the Eagle and later widely known as the Spread Eagle. While about the same distance further westward, beyond the stream which, if the marking is accurate, would put it in Tredyffrin Township in the present Chester County, the name "Miles's" appears, apparently indicating an inn, whether licensed or otherwise.
It is stated in Ashmead's History of Delaware County that it is reasonable to suppose that the tavern originally kept by James Miles was that known for many years as the Unicorn at the junction of the old road and the turnpike. Dr. Sachse, in his book on the Wayside Inns on the Old Lancaster Roadside between Philadelphia and Lancaster, states that James Miles built the Unicorn in 1747 and that this was the location. Also, that it was kept by a member of the Miles family, and was patronized by Tories during the Revolution. Unfortunately, the source of Dr. Sachse's information does not appear.
That James Miles came upon the scene at this early date is, however, beyond question. His petition for recommendation for license to be heard in February, 1746/47, appears at West Chester, but does not give the name of his inn. In it he gives his former residence as Uwchlan and states that he had lately built a house in the upper part of Radnor, near Tredyffrin, on the Conestoga Road. He further alleges:
"There being no public house for any to refresh themselves from Charlestown until they come into the Conestoga Road in the upper part of Radnor where your petitioner lives which is at least Six Miles."
In an application in 1748, he puts it that the distance was 3 miles from any house of entertainment. Miles was followed in 1754 by Samson Davis who came to live in the same "House of entertainment," and Thomas Tucker succeeded Davis in 1756, without giving the name, if any, of the inn.
These old tavern license papers have recently come to the Chester County Historical Society. The old volunteer indexing is most helpful but is incomplete for present purposes. When it is brought into proper form, much that is now hidden will be brought to light.
The land where the Unicorn stood in later years does not appear to have been owned by James Miles and that the original location was as far from the natural water supply as the published statements indicate, may well be doubted. This is especially so in view of the proceedings to open the road to the tavern after the opening of the turnpike. An article on James Miles and his descendants which appeared in Volume 37 of the Pennsylvania Magazine, in which it is stated that Evan Miles is reputed to have been landlord of the Unicorn in Tredyffrin, also suggests a different location.
Whatever the exact location, the Miles Tavern was on the distance tables at a very early date. It appears also on the Nicholas Scull map of 1759 and that of William Scull of 1775, but the scale of both maps is too small to permit determination of the exact site. Governor Pownall in his journal of 1751, to be seen at the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and more fully referred to later, mentions an inn as the Unicorn but, since he places it at the Plough, an obvious error as appears from the context, it is no help.
The large tract between the old road end the township line was owned at a very early date by David Pugh and came later to Jonathan Pugh whose license at the sign of the Unicorn, owned by him formerly but kept by others, was allowed in 1760, Samuel Pugh, son of Jonathan, received the license in 1766 and in 1784, he, as Captain Samuel Pugh, sold to Robert Kennedy the large tract with the inn thereon known as the Sign of the Unicorn of which Kennedy was then in possession. The property, containing about 88 acres, was sold by his heirs to Joseph Aikins of Radnor, an innkeeper, in 1834. Edward Gallagher bought it in 1867, but not as an inn, and a few years later the old house was burned to the ground. According to Mr. John Gallagher, who has occupied the property for many years, the present house was built on the old foundations.
It seems that the opening of the turnpike not only left the Unicorn in a somewhat isolated position but that the portion of the old road ascending the hill to the north went out of use. In 1796 there was a petition to the Chester County Court requesting the opening of a road from the intersection of the Gulph Road and Lancaster Road in a direct course as near as may be to the Sign of the Unicorn in Delaware County, in which inhabitants of that county are said to propose petitioning the Court for a jury to lay said road through "to compleat the object of petitioning". The course recommended by the viewers seems to have followed the general course of the present and, probably, the earlier road, to the south side of the turnpike. From this point the last course was to be South 52 1/2 degrees East 34 perches on land of Adam Siter to the County line. On a review, this last course was considered to be a hardship to Siter and the road was ended at the south side of the turnpike. Unfortunately, the record, if any, of the petition by the "inhabitants of Delaware" has not been found.
If at the time of the petition the old inn was at what is now the site of the Gallagher house and therefore but a few feet from the turnpike, there would have been no occasion to propose a petition to build a quarter of a mile of road to get to it. Obviously, it seems, the inn was further west and was an early casualty of the turnpike.
Robert Brooke, whose sketch accompanying his survey of 1806 is reproduced on the next page, does not mention either Miles's Tavern or the Unicorn, but he does mention Robert Kennedy's Inn, the Sign of the Farmer, as being between the old road and the turnpike. It would seem that it was where the Gallagher house is and that the old road passed between it and the barn instead of joining the turnpike east of the house, as now. In an unfinished sentence, he said also, with apparent reference to the old road, between the turnpike and the Gulph Road:
"The Old Lancaster Road is in bad order and at present entirely out of use from where it leaves the T. road above the Spread Eagle up to where"--.
Mr. Ashmead's History supplies additional information regarding the old inn, evidently taken from the tavern license records at Media. From his investigations, it appears that Robert Kennedy continued as Landlord of the Unicorn until 1801 when his place was taken by Thomas Mason who, in his license application in 1805, gave the name of the inn as the "Farmers". John Righter is said to have made the license application the next year and to have stated that the Unicorn has been licensed ever since the first settlement of the country. In 1807, Robert Kennedy as owner, modified this statement by stating that the Unicorn had been licensed these 60 years. In 1818 the inn is said to have been known as the Commodore Decatur Inn but to have been restored to the name of Unicorn in 1819. In 1823 it is said to have been the Black Bear but that later again became the Unicorn.
It would seem that of the local taverns, the survey party preferred the Spread Eagle, for by reference to Brooke's expense account, it will be found that his bill there on November 6th was $2.83, with 87¢ extra for a "snack", and that on the 8th when it rained, the only rainy day between the beginning of the trip on October 30th and its end on November 19th, they paid $5.63. No payments appear for the 7th. For seats to Philadelphia in the Lancaster stage, the charge was $16.--. For 15 days' assistance, James Davey and William Strickland were each paid $15.--, while Salmon Veats received $7.-- for the same period. Brooke, himself, charged $4.-- a day and $100.-- for his draft of the survey.
Fortunately, a history of the Spread Eagle Tavern was written by Dr. Sachse, a photograph in whose book shows an old stone building on the rear of the inn. In the plan made in 1767 by Sellers and Swaffer, to which reference has been made, it is the only inn shown between Radnor Friends' Meeting and the Ball at Daylesford. The ground upon which the inn was erected was bought by Adam Ramsower from members of the Samuel family. Later, the inn, which Ramsower conducted as early as 1765, came into possession of members of the Siter family whose name was given to the thriving village which grew up around it and the older buildings. The second or enlarged inn is said to have shown the date 1796 in its date stone. Brooke gives the dimensions as 80' x 33'. One of the stone barns, now a house, still stands south of the Highway.
In addition to Dr. Sachse's interesting article, much can be learned about the neighborhood from The History of the Old Eagle School by the late Henry Pleasants, Esq., which is of special importance here as including an account of the old sentinel chestnut tree which stood in living condition some years into the present century, on the east side of Eagle School Road a short distance north of the turnpike.
In the words of the surveyor, Brooke, on proceeding westward from Sitersville. Passing Miles' house, Miles' hollow and a mile stake in Miles' field (Predecessor of the 14th mile stone on the turnpike) - the old road, west of the county line and creek and bearing more to the north, begins the gradual ascent of the South Valley Hill. To the south, shortly after the road passes under the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, is a large stone house now the residence of Dr. Rosato, but well known in early days of the railroad as the Eagle Hotel and combined Eagle Station. This hotel was conducted by Mifflin Lewis largely as a high class summer boarding house. Just as the coming of the turnpike destroyed the great importance of the Old Lancaster Road and the advent of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad destroyed that of the turnpike, so the great increase in railroad traffic must have destroyed the business of the Eagle Hotel.
The 17th mile stone is to be seen a short distance further on. It is of green stone in its natural condition forming a pleasing contrast to the painted stones in Delaware and Montgomery Counties. Comparison with the 15th and 16th mile stones indicate the stone to be of the same general type but the face of the portion near the top where the numeral 17 must have been has been broken away. Curiously enough, the only important markings which appear decipherable are the characters "P 16", evidently the effort of some volunteer to indicate the distance to Philadelphia, and wrongly, at that. This stone had remained virtually unknown to the general public until within the past year when attention to it was called by a nearby resident. On the request of The Pennsylvania Society of the Colonial Dames of America and the Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club, the Pennsylvania State Highway Department reset the stone in the ground and cleared away the growth of greenbriars which obscured the stone from view and hindered access to it.
But a short distance now along the old road, and Upper Gulph Road is reached, point of beginning of the reopened road to the county line, to which reference has been made, and of the ending of this account.
(To Be Continued)
Page last updated: 2012-03-30 at 14:24 EST