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Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Yarnalls and Their Tavern

The Yarnall Tavern, circa 1895
We've featured several taverns and inns in previous posts, either directly or indirectly, such as the Riseing Son and the Stanton Hotel in Stanton, the Brackenville Inn, Polly Drummond's tavern, and even the resort hotel at Brandywine Springs. This time we'll look at one that could be called a predecessor of Brandywine Springs. One that we unfortunately don't have a whole lot of information on, partially because its tenure of operation was not all that long. And in the next post we'll also note another inn that we know even less about, and that may have been a successor to the original tavern. This first inn was known as the Conestoga Wagon, but is more commonly referred to as the Yarnall Tavern.

As you probably could guess, the Yarnall Tavern was owned and operated by the Yarnall family, and any discussion of the establishment cannot be separated from a discussion of the family that ran it. The Yarnalls' story in America began with Philip Yarnall (1664-1734), who in 1683 emigrated from Worcestershire, England to the new colony of Pennsylvania. He and wife Dorothy had 10 children, the seventh of whom was Nathan Yarnall 1707/8-1780. Nathan Yarnall lived and died in Edgemont Township, Chester (now Delaware) County, PA, but several of his children would later move south to Delaware.

One of these children, his first by his first wife (of three), was Ephraim. Ephraim Yarnall (1733-1793) was born in PA and married Dorothy Yarnall, who I believe was his cousin. More importantly for our story, in 1761 Ephraim purchased 147 acres of land in Mill Creek Hundred from Jeremiah Wollaston. The property sat on the north side of what is today Faulkland Road, and was more or less bisected by Newport Gap Pike. It can be seen in the picture below, which is courtesy of Walt Chiquoine. (In fact, pretty much all of the property information here has come from the fine work he's done in tracking it all down.) Dorothy died in 1766, and later that year Ephraim remarried to Sarah Houlton (or Holton).

The land on which Ephraim and Sarah were living was originally warranted to Bryan McDonald, Sr. in parts, in 1689 and 1703. After passing to Bryan, Jr., Wollaston sold it to Yarnall in 1761. (The northern part was sold in 1757 to George Robinson, and later became the site of the Henry Clark Woolen Mill.) An old, possibly 18th Century, house still stands on the property, and may have been constructed by either Wollaston or Yarnall. The exact dating of it is as of yet incomplete.

The next real estate move by Ephraim Yarnall is the one that directly pertains to the story of the Conestoga Wagon. In 1783 he purchased 256 acres from Archibald Gardner, land that sat on the southern edge of his original property. This new acquisition contained all of what is now Brandywine Springs Park, and even extended as far west as the border of the Delcastle Recreation Area. Yarnall would turn around and immediately sell the western portion of the land, but he held on to the 250 acres centered around the intersection of Newport Gap Pike and Faulkland Road.

Now that we have the background of the Yarnall family, we can move to the tavern itself. Very little seems to have been written about it, and most of what is relates to the end of it, and the sale of the property that became Brandywine Springs. Pretty much most of what is said of the establishment boils down to, "It was a Colonial Era tavern run by Holton Yarnall, and catering to the teamsters traveling with their wagons along the road that would become the Newport and Gap Turnpike." I have no doubt that the parts about the clientele and the proprietor are correct, but the "Colonial Era" phrase I continuously see, I believe, is misleading if not outright incorrect.

Nowhere (yet) have I ever found a construction or opening date for the Yarnall Tavern. The tavern stood on the east side of Newport Gap Pike, just below Faulkland Road, on ground that's now part of the park. There is a flat, level area still evident, and ground penetrating radar results (done about 20 years ago by the Friends of Brandywine Springs) confirmed the location. The tavern can be seen in the photo at the top of the post. But as we've seen, Ephraim Yarnall didn't buy that property until 1783. To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence that any of the previous owners of the land ever operated a tavern or inn. For that matter, there's no mention of Ephraim Yarnall being anything but a farmer.

The man normally given as the owner of the Conestoga Wagon was Holton Yarnall, the fifth child (and third son) of Ephraim and Sarah. Holton was born in 1774, so it's fairly unlikely that he was running a tavern in the Colonial Era. I think that phrase has just been passed along because he was known to be the owner by the early 1800's, and historians didn't know how long he'd been running it or how old he was. The term was probably used just to mean "old", but I think it implies that it was older than it really was. If Holton Yarnall was the innkeeper, then the Yarnall Tavern probably didn't open before the mid-1790's. One possibility is that Holton and/or his mother Sarah started keeping the tavern shortly after Ephraim's death in 1793. Holton would have been 19, and maybe they were setting him up for a career, since his older brother Nathan seems to have inherited the home farm.

The age of the actual tavern structure, though, is another matter. Like with most other points here, there's not much in the way of concrete evidence. Even if the tavern wasn't opened until circa 1793, the house may have been older. After Bryan McDonald, Sr.'s death about 1707, at least five other people owned the property on which the tavern stood, before Ephraim's 1783 purchase. As far as I know there are no better photos of the house than the one here, and the tavern was torn down in the early 1900's. The best image of the tavern is actually the painting seen below, of the Brandywine Springs Hotel. The Yarnall Tavern can be seen in the foreground, along the road. I think it's very possible that Holton Yarnall inherited the stone house along with his portion of his father's land, and decided to take advantage of its location right on a heavily traveled road.

This takes us up to the early 1800's and the "heyday" of the Conestoga Wagon tavern, such as it was. In the next post we'll take a look at the end of the Yarnall Tavern, and at another inn about which even less is known. Yes, that's possible.


  1. Scott, Just to confirm, Ephraim's 1st wife Dorothy was his 1st cousin. She was the daughter of Ephraim's uncle Philip Yarnall and Mary Hoopes. According to the Chester MM Minutes, Ephraim and Dorothy were married by a Priest at Christ Church on 3 JUN 1858. Donna