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HISTORIC SHIP INN
In 1794 when the Lancaster turnpike was built, it was one of the marvels of the century. Almost the sole avenue of transport between Philadelphia and the west it was soon peopled with stage coaches, wagons and drivers. To meet the needs of these travelers, public houses sprung up every few miles and among the earlierst of these was the Ship Inn. The modern "Ship" which serves today's wayfarer with food, "a cup of cheer" and a night's lodging if desired is in the original building built by John Bowen in 1796. For this building he petioned to the Chester County Court in that year "for license to keep a public house of entertainment".
To the knowing traveler of an early day, the Ship was known as a Tavern. There were three classes of public houses. The drover's stand was little more than a camp where the drovers herded their animals for an overnight rest. The wagon stand catered to the hardy drivers of the big Pitt teams-broad wheeled wagons drawn by six horses-which were the freight trains of 1800. The Tavern attracted the stage coach traveler and was the aristocrat of the turnpike. Both the Good Intent and Opposition stage coach lines stopped at the "Ship" regularly, their four dapple grays prancing into the side yard while the host hastened to greet the passengers.
The modern "Ship" takes its name from the old signboard which used to swing in front of the original tavern. All public houses of that day had signboards with pictures on them. This was necessary because many of the travelers could not read. Quite a few were Pennsylvania Dutch who couldn't understand English letters. But all could recognize pictures and the "sign of the Ship" was a popular stopping place.
Some interesting facts about travel of the early nineteenth century are contained in the archives of the Chester County Historical Society. The journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, for instance, took six days by stage coach, and cost the passenger $20 for fare. He was allowed 14 lbs. of baggage, and paid 12.5 cents for each extra pound. His meals and lodging during the journey were extra and cost him about $7 for the trip. The "Ship" had a peculiar rate for meals. Stage passengers paid a flat 31.25 cents. Local patrons secured the same meal for 25 cents. Since the Ship was a regulary meeting place for the Lafayette Rangers-a soldier company which was part of the 143rd Regiment Pennsylvania Militia-and, later, for the Hickory Club which millitantly supported Andrew Jackson, the host probably knew what he was doing when he set two rates for the same meal.
Today, the old stagecoach yard is a parking lot. The rooms which served the wayfarers now beckon to today's traveler to a comfortable dining experience. The cup of cheer-the magnet which has always drawn people together of every era-remains an attraction at today's "Ship", as well as the good food served in a pleasant atmosphere.
- Barstool knocked over
- Face in mirror
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