Folks driving through Strafford have probably passed the Old Covered Wagon Inn building – as we know it – and wondered what it was. We pass it and see it as home and as a living manifestation of the American Dream.
When our parents opened the Covered Wagon in the 1950’s they had nothing but determination and a belief that their hard work would be rewarded. Their commitment to living their dream paid off. For decades the Old Covered Wagon Inn was the center of civic and social life in Wayne. The hottest big bands of the day, stars like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, stopped by to play there. Saturday days were for wedding receptions, nights were for dancing to Orr Marino and the Mainliners; weeknights were for Rotary & Lions Club meetings, Ward Marston on the piano, flambéed entrees & Caesar salad prepared table side in the colonial rooms. The Junior League held their Tinsel Ball there every year, St Raphaela Retreat house held an annual first flower of spring luncheon fashion show in the terrace, Villanova’s Blue Key society held fund raisers and Villanova boosters launched their campaign to reinstate football (they won!) at “the Wagon.” On any given day, at lunch or dinner, you would see the who’s who of Strafford, Wayne and Devon. Small business owners, whether it was Rod & Charlie Park from the hardware store, Bill Braxton, Joe Flagler (Flagler’s Citgo), Mr.& Mrs. Pugh, Mr. & Mrs. Rossi (Anro, Inc.), Russ Morgan (Main Line Printing), Mr. Eadah (Eadah’s Rugs & Ernest’s dad), The Taylors from Taylor Gifts, Sam Katz (Wayne Jewelers), Mr. Cappelli the Tailor, Mr. Fox & Mr. Roach BEFORE they became Fox & Roach, “the regulars,” all part of the history of that wonderful building.
The days when such community institutions existed may have passed, but the value of a building that reminds us of what it means to be a community has certainly not. And you can see that meaning in the memories and stories people posted online in response to the news that a developer is looking to tear the building down.
What’s more, there is real economic value in a building with the architectural surprises of the Old Covered Wagon Inn. Many of those treasures have been covered up over the years but all it takes is one visionary entrepreneur to figure out how to embrace the uniqueness of the building and its meaning as a community institution while giving it a 21st century twist.
A CVS can be built – or rebuilt – anywhere. A drive thru may be convenient but it certainly does not make our community special.
Once you tear down a historic building that meant so much to so many for so long, you do lose a piece of what makes a community special. We lose a piece of what makes Strafford, Strafford. And then what’s to distinguish us from every other town in Pennsylvania, or the United States, for that matter?
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