Saturday, April 14, 2018

Early Philadelphia Inns and Taverns: Part 1

Foreword:  In 1908 the Robert Smith Brewery commissioned Philadelphia painter and illustrator James Moore Preston to provide it with a series of works depicting pre-Revolutionary taverns and inns in or near the “City of Brotherly Love” to promote its brand of beer.  Although  he has been considered a member of the Ashcan Group and exhibited in the famous 1913 Armory Show, Preston was an artist who could work in many modes.  Thus he created color lithographs that memorialized the founding of the Smith Brewery in 1774 and eleven early Philadelphia “watering holes.”  I find the pictures striking and believe they deserve preservation through this blog, along with some inkling of the histories of each tavern and inn.  Some of that information was provided by the Smith lithos — and that will be quoted.  Other material and illustrations are the result of my own research.

The first illustration here is of the original brewery in Philadelphia, owned by a man named Joseph Potts and later by Henry Pepper.  In 1845 he sold out to  Robert Smith who had come to America in 1837 from England after having served an apprenticeship with the Bass Brewery there.  He died at 86 in 1893 and the business was reorganized as the Robert Smith Ale Brewing Co., owned by Schmidt’s Brewery of Philadelphia.  Shown here as it looked about 1908, this was the brewing entity that commissioned the artworks.

The London Coffee House was built in 1702, at Front and Market Streets, and remained intact until it was torn down in 1883.  Given that Preston was drawing its a quarter century later, how did he know what it looked like?  The answer lies in earlier contemporary lithographs that the artist clearly drew on to create his version.  The one shown here served as a model, right down to the four horse carriage at right.  The caption tells us:  “London Coffee House was…the center of pre-Revolutionary life in Philadelphia…where cargoes were bought and sold, slaves and good were auctioned, and the news of the day discussed.”

Amazingly, the Penny Pot House derived its name from the fact that a customer could buy a container holding about a pint of beer at the tavern for a single cent. Considered the second oldest tavern in the Philadelphia area, it was a landmark that stood near the docks on the Delaware River.  A Maryland guest was shocked by the seditionary talk he heard there:The Delegates rage windily against the King’s Blessed Majesty, which shall stand as firm as the House that was founded on the Rock.”  Preston’s recreation of the Penny Pot may been taken in part from a 1700 lithograph shown here.  Note that he has put the landing point closer to the water than the earlier version.

Completed about 1770, City Tavern was in Walnut Street above Second. The Continental Congress met there in 1774, two years before the Revolution. “It was early an important place, and after the Revolution succeeded the London Coffee House as the central place of Philadelphia.”  During succeeding years the establishment underwent several name changes until the building was demolished in 1852.  My assumption is that Preston relied on a old lithograph to guide him.  In recent years the City Tavern has been reconstructed at the original site. It is said to be historically accurate.  Shown here, however, the building looks quite different than the brewery drawing.

Indian Queen was a hotel noted for the importance of its residents.  It was the home of Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution, and lodging for both George Washington and John Adams.  “Jefferson had his study in the south front room of the second story, from which arose the erroneous tradition that in this room he drafted the Declaration of Independence.”  Preston’s depiction echoes a contemporary print of the Indian Queen but features a different sign over the door.

Opened as the Washington Tavern about 1790 at Sixth and Jayne Streets, the name was changed to the Falstaff Inn in 1830.  Owned by William Warren, an actor and former theater manager, he renamed it to commemorate his own stage portrayal of Falstaff.  Not only that, he had himself painted as Shakespeare’s fat rogue on the sign that can be seen at the second floor corner. The accompanying motto reads:  “Shall I not take mine ease at my inn?”  Over the years the hotel deteriorated into little more than a flop house, as shown here, and eventually was torn down.

This completes the first installment of our remembrance of Philadelphia inns and taverns as provided through the colorful and well-drawn lithographs by James  Moore Preston and commissioned by the Robert Smith brewery.  They help bring to life the early history of our country and the establishments where important business was done.

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