What’s in a Name … Miles Tavern, Black Bear Inn, Irish Tavern, Commodore Decatur, Conestoga Waggon Tavern, etc. The Covered Wagon Inn from the 1700’s: Update Part II

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In describing the importance of the Covered Wagon Inn, Laura Hutton comments on the Save the Covered Wagon Inn Facebook page, “… This historic building adds to the character of this township, it demonstrates a continuity to our past and pride that our past is also part of our future.” Laura, your words could not be truer and only amplified by the historical findings of historian and author Margaret DePiano of Devon.

Since reading about the proposed CVS land development project which includes the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn, Margaret DePiano has been pouring over the early history of the building. She has identified early owners, their relationships with historic events and compared multiple sources for documentation. Her research about the historic building (Covered Wagon Inn), its 18th century owners and the ties to the Revolutionary War era are fascinating.

Margaret is continuing her research on the early days of the Covered Wagon Inn but I wanted to share some of her findings on Community Matters.  Thank you Margaret; your research underscores and adds to the importance of saving this building.

For those who would like to add their signature to the growing list of names on the Save the Covered Wagon Inn petition, please click here and you be taken to it directly.

The Miles Tavern   circa 1747 – 1784   (Covered Wagon Inn)

Around 1720, when the Old Eagle School Road was carved out to intersect Lancaster Avenue (then Conestoga Road) the new road meandered through fields and pastures of our early farms. Those farms had many out buildings and one out building in particular is a part of the Old Covered Wagon Inn. The out building referenced here is situated within the middle part of today’s structure showing the outside chimney facing Lancaster Avenue. This out building existed on a farm that most likely dates back before 1700.

Many land records, tavern licenses, etc. before 1800 may not exist or incredibly hard to locate. According to an old circa 1776 map the particular location of this out building identified as the Miles Tavern was actually very close to the Chester and Philadelphia County border.  Delaware County was not founded until 1789 and it was years later before its border could be identified on area maps. Many tavern proprietors or landowners close to this Philadelphia County border identified Philadelphia as a source of origin for their establishments. These early taverns often served as posts for military recruiting as well as for military signaling.  The proprietors and their families of the many taverns along the old Conestoga Road were prominent individuals.

The Miles Tavern (The Old Covered Wagon Inn) was established around 1747 according to historical writings found within our local historical societies’ records. This tavern’s proprietor James Miles married Hannah Pugh and was a very active participant in the founding of The Baptist Church in the Great Valley. The Miles Tavern was ideally situated as a military post in the early days. It was located on the Conestoga wagon route with a direct access to Philadelphia as well as with Old Eagle School Road, which provided a short traveling distance to Valley Forge. Many unnamed Patriots are buried at the Old Eagle School Cemetery.

A possible historical association to the old Miles Tavern, which was located adjacent to or within the Philadelphia County borders that may be most impressive, was the then-Captain Samuel Nicholas who was the first commissioned officer by the Second Continental Congress on November 28, 1775 to lead a battalion of Continental Marines. Surmised by historian Edwin Simmons, Nicholas used the “Conestoga Waggon” tavern as a recruiting post however; the standing legend in the United States Marine Corps places its first recruiting post at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. This historical reference to an old “Conestoga Waggon” recruiting post at, near or within the Philadelphia borders may place the Covered Wagon in a position that quite possibly played a role in forming the Continental Navy in 1775. Today’s Old Covered Wagon Inn with a different spelling of “Wagon” may have taken its name from the early “Conestoga Waggon” tavern.

To add to the historical intrigue of the old Miles Tavern, Samuel Miles, son of James and Hannah, enjoyed a very prominent career in the military as well as in other careers that followed—A few historical snippets include: enlisted in Isaac Wayne’s Company, a part of Pennsylvania’s militia during the French and Indian War; organized a militia company of his own early in the American Revolution; entered politics and was elected to the House of Assembly in 1772 and was an advocate for American independence early on; George Washington’s dependence on Miles to secure boat transport for Washington’s army as it made it’s way south from New York to Yorktown in 1781; continued his role in history as a businessman when in 1783 he negotiated with financier Robert Morris to help underwrite the voyage of The Empress of China, the first American vessel to visit China’s mainland; cofounder of Centre Furness in State College with John Patton in 1791; was made Judge of the Appeals Court and served as an alderman and mayor of Philadelphia from 1790-1791—and there’s so much more!

Many taverns along the old Conestoga Road changed names frequently and at times, some taverns were acknowledged as having a shortened version of a name, given a nickname or no official name at all. Historical writings indicate that from 1747-1832 the Miles Tavern changed it name many times such as: John Miles Tavern; The Black Bear Inn; The Irish Tavern; The Unicorn (different location as the later Unicorn Tavern at Conestoga and Lancaster); The Commodore Decatur—named after Stephan Decatur Sr. and Jr. (Navy); and at times, no name.

Writings indicate that Jonathan Pugh with his son Captain Samuel Pugh were proprietors of the “older” portion of the tavern with James Miles’ son Richard owning the “newer” part until 1784. Around that time, the tavern was renamed The Unicorn. This reference about an “old” and “new” lends one to believe that the tavern had been enlarged before 1784. There was also an indication that from 1778-1784 Robert Kennedy rented The Unicorn—which was formerly named the Miles Tavern.  Records indicate that Robert Kennedy purchased the establishment in 1784. There’s so much more “early” history associated with The Old Covered Wagon Inn that we as a community cannot let this awesome piece of history slip away.

                      By Margaret DePiano, author of the DEVON book

 

References: The Continental Era in History of the United States Marine Corps on Wikipedia; Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society Quarterly, The Village of Spread Eagle by Herb Fry, The Old Lancaster or Conestoga Road by Boyle Irwin and Howard S. Okie; The Radnor Historical Society Bulletin Vol. III Fall, 1977 #7; Samuel Miles, Stephen Decatur Sr. & Jr. on Wikipedia; ExplorePAhistory.com  Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road; Circa 1776-1777 Map – http://www.mapofus.org/_maps/atlas/1776-PA.html; Haverford Township Historical Society, The Lancaster Road and Turnpike

6 Comments

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  1. Believe that the Marine Corp should be contacted as your information suggest a tie with their history. The Marine Corp has powerful connections and if they would show interest in saving the Inn they could bring considerable weight to the campaign. If you wish please let me know and I can contact them.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thank you for this suggestion and offer of help with the Marine Corp. Yes, could you please contact them. If they need further information, I can be contacted at 610.644.6759 or via email tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Margaret DePiano Reply:

    To add to the strong “military” connection with the Miles Tavern it has been documented in various writings that there once stood a tall Sentinel tree (or possibly a walnut tree) at the corner of Old Eagle School Road and Lancaster. This tree then-situated across Old Eagle School Road from the the Miles Tavern (Covered Wagon) has been described as a signaling perch. This tree’s close proximity to Valley Forge made it an ideal location to transmit military signals. When the tree was eventually cut down it has been noted the trunk measured some 25′ in diameter.

    Other writings indicate that children attending the Old Eagle School a short distance away could see soldiers marching past their schoolhouse during the Revolution.

    [Reply]

  2. While I live across the country in Santa Cruz California, I find the possible destruction of this fine and historically significant building completely repugnant. Yes I was just in the area for the 50th high-school reunion of Conestoga (1965) and yes I once worked in this building when it was a fine dinning establishment. Be smart locals… and fight with conviction to preserve what makes Devon and the Main Line so very special. I also worked at the Devon Horse show….would you have that torn down too? I do not think so.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks George. Your comment continues to amplify the memories associated with our community’s historic buildings. As we are now learning Covered Wagon Inn has an impressive history back to the 1700s. Glad that you made it back for your 50th high school reunion at Conestoga! I guess your class was one of the first to graduate from the ‘new’ high school building.

    [Reply]

  3. Research has led me to connect James Miles and his wife Hannah (Pugh) ancestry to the following families–many local in original: Pugh, Evans, Davis or Davies or David, Edwards, Green, McKean to name a few. Ancestry records seem to indicate that James Miles’ father was Richard Miles married to Sarah (Evans) who was one of the first settlers in this area. Ancestry records indicate that Richard Miles came to America from Wales to settle in this area around 1685.

    Research from the University of Penn Archives and Records Center indicates Samuel Miles (son of James and Hannah) as trustee of the University of the State of Pennsylvania in 1786 and of the college in 1789. When the College of Philadelphia joined in 1791 Samuel Miles’ was elected and continued as trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. Samuel’s daughter Hannah married trustee Joseph Borden McKean.

    [Reply]

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