Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 14
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April, 1966 Volume 14 Number 1, Pages 5–11
General Warren Inn
Since 1945 marked the 200th anniversary of the opening of the General Warren Inn it was very proper that the ninth annual dinner of the Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club should be held there that year, now twenty-one years ago.
For over a century this ancient hostelry was one of the best known landmarks on the Lancaster roadside, and it is with these first hundred years that we are concerned tonight.
It was first opened as a public house in the fourth decade of the 18th century. The signboard then bore the image and name of Admiral Vernon, the celebrated British naval officer, Sir Edward Vernon who was the hero of Porto Bello, and the idol of England. This was soon changed to the Admiral Warren, for Admiral Peter Warren who was so successful in his struggles against the French fleet in 1747. After the Revolution and in turnpike days, it was known as the "Warren", the British Admiral giving place on the signboard to the patriot general who died for his country on Bunker Hill.
It was to become a tavern stand, or stage house of the first class, and numbers among its guests presidents, judges, foreign potentates, and the most distinguished travelers from home and abroad.
It is safe to assume that George Aston built the first primitive structure in the year 1743-4. George Aston, a resident of East Whiteland was a prominent member of St. Peter's congregation in the Valley. After the building of the church, he was chosen as vestryman and was alloted pew #4. He married a daughter of Owen Thomas, also of East Whiteland.
The application for the tavern license was made as soon as the house was ready for occupancy and it was granted in 1745.
It became from the start the stopping place for the churchmen and missionaries who journeyed along the road.
The change on the signboard from Vernon to Warren probably took place in 1748 when Aston rented the Inn to a Daniel Goldsmith. For some unknown reason the new host was refused a license, so George Aston again took charge.
When the French and Indian troubles broke out in 1753, George Aston was among the first men in the county to form a company for the defense of the province, so now the house became a rendezvous for the Military as well as the Church party in this section of the county.
In most of the local Military documents we find "George Ashton's" noted as a landmark and stopping place. Aston seems to have kept our old wayside inn during these troubled times until 1760, when he was succeeded as host by one Peter Valleau. Three years later Aston sold the place to Lynford Lardner of Philadelphia, a brother-in-law of Richard Penn, and the agent of the Penn family in America.
Valleau continued as host until 1767, although nothing is known of interest during his incumbency. He was succeeded by Caleb Parry, who deserves more than a passing notice. Caleb was the son of David Parry of Tredyffrin, and the grandson of James Parry who donated the ground on which the Great Valley Presbyterian Church was built. Parry was host for 3 or 4 years when he resigned in favor of Isaac Webb, who held forth from 1771 to 73 and was succeeded in 1774 by a Samuel Johnson.
In this year the owner Lynford Lardner, died, and on Nov. 2, 1776, the Admiral Warren plantation was conveyed to the Hon. John Penn of Philadelphia. After the transfer to the new owner, Samuel Johnson was succeeded by Peter Mather, a man of strong Tory proclivities.
Local tradition tells us that the Warren became the gathering place for the Tories. Notable among the visitors was the talented, but unfortunate Major Andre. This Club is perhaps more familiar with the true story of the Paoli Massacre than any other group, so I won't go into that here.
After the British had left the vicinity (following the Paoli Massacre) Mather, the innkeeper, was publicly charged by his neighbors as being responsible for the massacre, also of having guided the British. Both of these accusations he strongly denied.
However the place was now shunned and avoided by most of the local residents and patronized only by chance travelers, so it is to be supposed that the Inn was not a financial success at this point.
About the close of the Revolutionary War, there was considerable excitement throughout the county in reference to the proposed removal of the county seat from Chester to a more central part of the county. There were three points suggested, all being public houses; viz: "Downings", the "Turk's Head," and the "Admiral Warren", with the chances in favor of the latter, on account of its position in the Great Valley and being within easy reach from all points in the county.
But the fact that the property was once owned by one of the Penn family, together with the state of the popular feeling toward anything which savoured of the British regime, precluded the acceptance of the locality on any condition.
The ownership of the old roadside Inn now passed into the possession of the Fahnestock family, in whose hands it was to remain for half a century, and to reach a renown and popularity second to none of the 60 odd hostelries on the road between the city and Lancaster.
Casper Fahnestock who acquired the property March 31, 1736, was a member of the German Mystic Community at Ephrata, The Seventh Day Adventists or Sieben Tagen. To acquire the property Casper made the trip in company with two others, on foot, clad in the rough habit of the order, with staff in hand, carrying a pair of saddle bags. It was from these bags that he took the 2000 pounds of lawful money of Pennsylvania, in specie of gold and silver, to pay for the Warren Tavern plantation of 337 acres.
The new owner had no sooner taken charge than the tavern became the stopping place for all of the Lancaster county Germans, Mennonite, Dunker, Amish, Lutheran, Reformist, and Moravian travelers.
Casper was ably assisted in running the inn by the members of his family. His wife, Maria and her mother, Elizabeth Gleim, took charge of the kitchen; the oldest son Charles presided over the bar; Daniel, who was a cripple, and his brother Dietrich, worked in the house and yard, while the two other children Esther and Catharine, with Charles' wife Susan, attended to the wants of house, table, and guests.
The Fahnestooks were all consistent Sabbatarians and in addition observed several other Mosaic laws, such as eschewing the use of pork, the use of meat and milk at the same meal, etc. So it was from these peculiarities that the impression arose that the family was of the Jewish faith.
Six months after the family was domiciled in the old tavern Casper's Mother-in-law died. She was buried on the plantation in a small clearing on the northern slope of South Valley Hill about a quarter of a mile from the tavern. According to the custom of the Sabbatarians of that day: due north and south with prayer and song, the ceremonies being conducted by the revered prior of the Ephrata Community. This spot was in the course of time surrounded by a low stone wall, and became the burial ground of the Fahnestock family for a number of years.
At this period of history the German element had increased to such an extent in the state that the wagoners and travelers were so largely German that no public house could succeed unless someone in charge was conversant with the German tongue. As there was no question about the nationality of the Fahnestocks, their only difficulty was to provide for the large numbers who sought their hospitality.
At this same time, there was great agitation to have a new stone highway or turnpike built, to take the place of the old road.
Casper, to be up to the times and foreseeing the large increase in travel on the building of the turnpike, set about to prepare materials for a new house on a larger scale. This new house was built so as to face on the north side of the turnpike. However the new tavern was ready long before the turnpike was a complete success, for the projectors of the enterprise met with many trials and tribulations.
With the completion of the turnpike there came a demand for increased mail facilities. A post office was established in Downingtown, April 1, 1798, and official Announcement was made that there would be three mails per week between Philadelphia, Downingtown and Lancaster.
Soon stage lines were started to all points and, as may be expected, our old tavern was a regular stop. The account of the running of the first mail stage from Philadelphia to Pittsburg on July 4, 1804, makes interesting reading. Suffice it to say it was two o'clock in the afternoon as the stage dashed down the Valley Hill, and as they passed thru the toll gate at the twentieth milestone, the guard blew six sharp blasts on his bugle; this was to signal to the Warren how many guests there would be for dinner.
By this time the house was under the management of Charles Fahnestook as in 1789 old Casper, then in his 77th year, was forced by old age to relinquish the house to his eldest son who was 36.
Charles, who was naturally a temperance man, had the courage when the house was at the height of popularity to close the bar on Sunday. He was the first innkeeper to refuse liquor on the Sabbath.
In 1800, blacksmith shops were built on the turnpike, hence the designation to this spot as the "Warren Shops" by many local residents today.
Long sheds were also built together with a large stable on the south side of the road. Both of these facilities were to expedite the running of the stage line, as the Warren was a relay station. In the stable there were always 24 head for regular relays, beside a number of extra horses in case of accident. The stable was torn down about 1888.
Old Casper died August 17th, 1808, at the ripe old age of 84 years and is buried on the hillside with his wife and other members of the family.
On December 7, 1820, a post office was established at the Inn with Charles Fahnestock as the first postmaster. It was known for many years as the Warren Tavern postoffice. In September 1831, during the height of the traveling season the tavern was discovered to be on fire. It was first discovered over the kitchen, but it is supposed to have been caused by a defective flue or chimney. The whole structure was soon destroyed.
A curious anecdote in connection with the fire was long current. As soon as the fire was discovered, Charles called on his helpers to carry down the old German chest which had belonged to his father. It was so heavy that it took five men to carry it. The innkeeper had it carried across the road. He then sat on it and calmly watched the destruction of his valuable property. His action at the time caused much comment but no explanation was given. As you may have guessed, the old chest was his bank, filled with coin of gold and silver. So the house was at once rebuilt and enjoyed an even greater patronage.
Here is another story. All travelers knew that a good substantial meal awaited them at the Warren, and by the regular travelers Phillis the colored cook was as well known as the Fahnestocks. She had no superior, if any equal, the whole length of the turnpike. However she had one peculiarity, this was, when there was a special party, Phillis was apt to ask for a glass of whiskey, for herself, for each guest in the party! When the party was small the result was good, but when the party was large, you may picture the disastrous effects yourselves.
And now we must examine the shadows falling on the picture. In April, 1834, the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway was open for travel, and the Warren began to feel the effects of the new improvement. The stage coaches were withdrawn east of Columbia.
As Charles Fahnestock was well advanced in years and disgusted with the existing state of affairs, he turned the inn over to his son William.
William, who had become a strict Presbyterian and staunch member of the Great Valley Church, was very active in all church matters and for some years was "precentor" and led the singing. This was much against the advice of his old "Uncle Andrew", who predicted dire happenings, unless he returned to the faith of his forebears.
William had presided over the Inn for three years when his father Charles was gathered to his people and was consigned to the family plot by the Rev. William Latta. It is said that this was the last interment in the little burying ground. William now had full sway, and, as he was a strong temperance man, he at once stopped the sale of liquor. For six days of the week the sign board read "Warren Temperance Hotel" and at sundown on Saturday the sign was changed until Monday to read "Nothing sold on the Sabbath".
The new departure did not meet with favor and the house rapidly declined. The new host in his zeal for temperance eventually went so far as to cut down the large apple orchard which was in the opposite field, so as to prevent the apples being used for cider.
Various attempts were made to keep going, but it seemed that the glory of the house had departed, so in 1838, William Fahnestock divided the tract and sold it to various parties, together with the tavern and adjacent fields. While the Warren functioned no more under the rule of the Fahnestocks, the Inn has continued to serve the public, off and on, under a succession of owners these past hundred years and more.
In closing, shall we recall the lines of Longfellow:
As ancient is this hostelry
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