Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Mount Pleasant Inn

Possibly the semi-original Mount Pleasant Inn, maybe
A few months ago I wrote a post about the Montgomery family, and in it promised some additional posts to come regarding them. Well, here's the first one. Towards the end of that original post there was mention made of a tavern situated on the western portion of the southeastern part of the original Montgomery tract. Operating under at least three different names and numerous owners and innkeepers, a tavern was in existence here for more than a century. From the 1770's until the 1880's, the establishment last known as the Mount Pleasant Inn housed, fed, and entertained weary travelers along what is now known as Old Wilmington Road.

As I had noted in the Montgomery post, although the inn was well-known to historians not much in-depth research had ever been done on it (to my knowledge), especially relating to its early history. I am now very happy to say that that is no longer the case. The subject of the Mount Pleasant Inn caught the attention of Walt Chiquoine, and he ran with it in a fantastic way. In fact, I'm going to do something that a writer normally wouldn't do, and tell you not to even bother reading the rest of this post. Instead, go directly here and download Walt's detailed account of the history of this MCH establishment. It's informative, well-written, and meticulously researched. Absolutely well worth your time.

But, for those who can't or choose not to check out Walt's article, I'll give you my own slightly abridged version of the story, which is honestly based mostly on Walt's work. If you'll recall from the original post, John Montgomery arrived in Mill Creek Hundred about 1730 with his three sons -- Alexander, Thomas, and Robert. He purchased a large tract of land surrounding the intersection of Brackenville and Old Wilmington Roads. The southwest portion of the tract first passed from John to son Alexander, then upon Alexander's death in 1746 it went to his son John. It was this John Montgomery who may have operated the first tavern on the site.

Montgomery lands in 1771, after John sold to
Robert Montgomery and John Johnson

As Walt notes, there is no direct documentary evidence of the presence of a tavern that early, but the circumstantial evidence is there. Around 1771 John Montgomery moved to North Carolina, and that year sold his property in MCH. 306 acres of it he sold to John Johnson. The remaining 35 acres, however, he sold to his Uncle Robert. Now, Robert Montgomery already owned several hundred acres of his own land, so the fact that he bought only this 35 acre lot from John seems to indicate that the tavern may have already been there. The only other possibility I can think of is that Robert had the plan of opening a tavern, and this lot gave him something he didn't have previously -- frontage on the main road. And not only frontage, but at a prime spot, too.

The 1777 Broom Map, showing a tavern at location "H"

The earliest direct evidence of a tavern here comes from two maps -- one American and one Hessian -- generated because of the British march through MCH on the way to the Battle of Brandywine in 1777. As seen above, a map drawn by Jacob Broom for George Washington shows a tavern (marked H) at the merging of two roads. The eastern (on this map, top) road is Old Wilmington Road. The western (bottom) road merging with it is what's now Loveville Road, which farther south becomes McKennans Church Road. In the 18th Century this road (on a slightly different path) eventually became today's Duncan Road and continued all the way to Newport. (The other road going down is more like the current McKennans, ending at Milltown, marked by the K.) This Colonial Highway is covered in detail in a previous post also written by Walt.

1777 Hessian map, showing the Harp and Crown

The relevant point of all this is that with the roads merging farther north then, the tavern property was at the split of the roads leading to Wilmington and Newport from Chester County -- the perfect place for an inn. While the Hessian map (shown above) is not quite as accurate, probably owing to the fact that it was done with second-hand information since British forces never made it this far east, it does have one additional detail -- the name. If you look closely at the top of the inset, you can just make out the name Harp and Crown. If this was indeed the tavern owned by Robert Montgomery, he gave it a decidedly Irish-sounding name.

It was around this same time that we get the first reference to the tavern from the Montgomerys themselves. Walt has all the details, but basically Robert's wife's 1778 will specifically mentions "the house where William Willson now keeps tavern". Willson was married to Martha, one of the Montgomery daughters.

After Robert, Sr.'s death, the tavern property ended up with Robert, Jr. in 1779. He sold it to his sister Jane in 1783, but she married and probably moved to Lancaster County the next year. Robert bought it back in 1794, and since a document of the time refers to him as a "tavern keeper" it's logical that he had stayed and run the business for his sister. Other licensing documents also list Robert as the operator of the inn during the late 1790's and early 1800's.

Here though is where we run into the tricky part of researching taverns (and to a large extent, mills) -- although the owner and operator were sometimes the same person, that was not necessarily always the case. There were professional tavern keepers who moved around from place to place running the establishments for the owners, who may or may not have lived on or near the premises. The idea that maybe Robert only owned, but did not operate on a day to day basis, the tavern would neatly help explain the transition to the next owner, William Herdman.

In 1809, Robert Montgomery fell behind on his mortgage and lost the property to a sheriff's sale. The tavern was purchased by Enoch Chandler of New Garden, PA, but quickly transferred to William Herdman. Herdman was a businessman from Newport who later became sheriff of New Castle County. He was, however, not a stranger to inn-keeping or to the Montgomerys. William's father John Herdman died in 1791, at which time he was described as being an innkeeper in MCH, although it's not stated exactly where. In 1795 John's widow Eleanor applied for a tavern license for an inn listed as being in Milltown.

We've found no other evidence of a tavern in Milltown, although it is possible. An alternate theory of Walt's is that John Herdman may have been operating the Montgomery tavern, and Eleanor was continuing the job after his passing. The direct connection between the families came in 1782, when Robert Montgomery, Jr. married Jane Herdman, John and Eleanor's daughter. Additionally, the 1800 Census shows the Widow Herdman listed directly before Robert Montgomery.

So when his brother-in-law's tavern came up for sale in 1809, William Herdman was very familiar with it. Unfortunately for all, and likely contributing to Robert Montgomery's financial problems, the glory days of  Montgomery's Tavern were quickly fading. Remember how the tavern was situated at the split of two major roads? Both parts of that were soon to change. First, between 1807 and 1815 the Newport and Gap Turnpike was constructed, moving the main north-south route through the area away from the tavern. And while Old Wilmington Road was not abandoned, it certainly surrendered much of its traffic to the new and better-maintained turnpike.

Then, a little while later, Loveville Road was rerouted into its current path, moving the split several hundred yards south of the tavern. Evidence for the old road path can be found in deeds for the tenant house shown on the map above. This house sat on what was originally a separate lot, purchased by William Herdman in 1815 from Joseph Ashton. Later tavern deeds place this house "in the triangle" and reference the "now vacated" Newport Road. And on a side note, Walt also found the original 1815 deed that created the lot for the Mt. Pleasant #34 School, which initially sat facing the old Newport Road.

During his ownership Herdman did not operate the tavern himself, but rather leased it to other innkeepers. In 1817, for example, he advertised for a new innkeeper, with the ad stating that Aaron Bracken was at the time the current keeper. It's not known how many different tenants ran the inn for William Herdman, but by 1831 he was ready to be done with it. He placed the ad seen below to sell the tavern, which by then was known as the Mount Pleasant Inn. The ad states that it was formerly called Montgomery's Tavern, so it was likely Herdman who gave it its new name. The Harp & Crown moniker was probably a Colonial Era name.

1830 Sale ad for the Mount Pleasant Inn
The also ad states that the sale will take place at the house of Jacob Craig, on the premises. Craig was likely the innkeeper at the time, and lived in the tenant house. The inn was sold in 1833 to William Addison, put purchased two years later from his estate by Jacob Craig. Craig would remain there until his death in 1844. Over the next 24 years, the Mount Pleasant Inn would go through 10 different owners, the last of whom was William Reese, who purchased it in 1868. Reese would remain on the property until his death in 1910, and under his ownership several changes would take place.

The tavern was still operating when Reese arrived in 1868, but it's anyone's guess as to how well. There probably wasn't much traffic down the old road by then, and Reese's place may have operated more as a tavern for locals, with an occasional traveler staying overnight. He's listed as a hotel keeper in the 1870 Census, but only as a farmer in 1880. Scharf says the inn operated until 1885, but William Reese may have been a part-time innkeeper at best for several years.

William Reese's c.1880 brick "addition"
It was probably during these years, around 1880, that Reese built the beautiful brick house that faces Old Wilmington Road. There is no doubt both from the construction and the basement that this is a newer section than the rear. Or at least, it was until recently. If you look again at the top of the page, you'll see a photo taken just prior to recent work done at the house. The white section measures 15' x 20' and is of a frame construction. This section was recently torn down and replaced by an almost identical structure.

Walt has more details, but the bottom line is that he believes (and I agree) that this was a structure built by William Herdman between 1816 and 1831, and was the "comfortable and convenient two-story house" mentioned in the 1831 ad. The "well of excellent water at the door" is even still there! The early date of 1816 is given due to the tax assessment of that year listing Herdman's property as containing an "old log dwelling house", which would have been the original Harp & Crown/Montgomery's Tavern.

The Mount Pleasant Inn (or either of its previous names) was never the largest of the taverns in the MCH area, but with a history dating back well into the 18th Century it was certainly one of the older establishments. And with the property still intact and its connection to the early and prominent Montgomerys, the tavern first known as the Harp & Crown has a story worth being heard. (And for the final time, you can access Walt's article here.)


  1. Scott and Walt...an excellent write-up on the Inn! Very obvious that a great deal of time was spent on the research and explaining all the facts in a very understandable way. Because my wife is a Montgomery descendant and we happen to live nearby, the story is especially interesting to us.

    1. Well, this is really all because of you. You got this all started a few months ago. And on that note, I did get in contact with the people you told me about and Walt and I went to see what they have. Very interesting. Not sure it's exactly what it appears to be. The folks weren't home when we visited (with their permission), but I'm hoping to meet up with them next week and sort it all out. I'll keep you ( and everyone eventually) updated.