Thursday, January 28, 2016

Saving Local History and the 18thc Covered Wagon Inn

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Isabella reporting,

I live in Chester County, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. Independence Hall, Carpenters' Hall, and the Liberty Bell are forty or so miles to the east, and Valley Forge National Park is the proverbial stone's throw away.

Although the county is a region almost embarrassingly rich in 18thc. history, there aren't as many surviving buildings as you might think. Part of this is the nature of that past - most of 18thc. Chester County was farmland - plus the usual hazards to old structures of fire and strong weather, but the largest threat has always been progress. Just as that 17thc. developer William Penn looked at the colonial wilderness and envisioned his famous "Green Countrie Townes" replacing forests, so his later counterparts were - and are - every bit as eager to wipe out yesterday for the sake of a more profitable present.

The photograph, above, shows the Covered Wagon Inn in Strafford, PA, built around 1780 as a way station for travelers and commercial traffic on the busy road between Philadelphia and Lancaster. Beyond that, it's not famous. It doesn't have landmark status. It's not even a particularly striking example of vernacular architecture, and besides, the interiors were gutted long ago to convert it into a modern restaurant (it's currently the showroom for a furniture maker.) But the Inn is a tangible link to a long-gone Chester County, and a vivid reminder that, however fast we're whizzing along Route 30 today, we're only about seven generations removed from the 18thc. Pennsylvanians who stopped here for a meal and to water their horses.

It's also a reminder that may soon be gone. The Covered Wagon Inn has the misfortune to sit on a valuable corner lot, and there are plans to replace it with a CVS drug store. Although the lot is large enough to work around the Inn, the CVS representatives are adamant: they want that corner so the new store can have a drive-thru window. They can't see an imaginative way to incorporate the old Inn into their plans. Their architect promises to honor the memory of the old inn by incorporating a stone wall into the store's design.

That's not enough. Surprisingly, local preservation laws to save the Inn don't exist. But people who care about local history are trying to persuade the town supervisors, the real estate company holding the property, and CVS to change their plans and save the Inn. No one expects a historically accurate restoration or recreation, but rather a historically sensitive plan to preserve and incorporate the Inn into a modern commercial use for the corner. You can read more about the efforts here. You can follow the Inn on Facebook here, and you can sign the Change petition here. I'd appreciate it if you do.

But more importantly, I hope you'll take a long look at the links to the past in your own neighborhood. So many need your help, and perseverance and creative thinking are the only ways to keep the past as part of the present, and the future. Because once that old house, or shop, or tavern, or mill, or bridge, or whatever it may be, is gone, it's gone forever.

UPDATE, 5/20/16: The Covered Wagon Inn looks like it has had a reprieve - read more here.

Above: The Covered Wagon Inn, photograph via Google street view.


Hels said...

What did the Covered Wagon Inn in Strafford do? Was it coaching inn where travellers could stop overnight, en route to their final destination? If so, why would someone want to destroy a (rare) historical, architectural treasure?

Rob & Bonny Wise said...

I already signed the petition, posted on FB and 10 people have too because I shared! This is a wonderful building that should not be torn down for a CVS drugstore!

Pattye said...

Thank you for your support and discussion about saving the Covered Wagon Inn!
For further background on the proposed land development plan which includes the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn, please visit Community Matters, As president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and someone who cares about our community's history, I left the Planning Commission meeting last week, knowing that I needed to do something to help save this landmark building. History Matters!

Liz said...

The building is reminiscent of the historic limestone buildings in my own community on the north shore of Lake Ontario. I have the good fortune to live in a heritage-designated neighbourhood with over 500 historic structures, one of which is my own house. Our small city was at one time the capital of Upper Canada, as well as the site of the British fortifications (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) and naval shipyards during the War of 1812. For photos, I hope you'll visit my own website, at to see some of the romance of an earlier time. Love your blog, and check in several times a week.

Vintage Maison said...

My goodness! How could anyone even consider bulldozing a beautiful old building like that! I used to live in Lancashire in UK, and it reminds me of the old buildings there again, such as pubs and inns. Lancashire is in the north of UK, next to Cheshire and thence Chester - just a thought!

Scunge said...

There are too many CVS stores now,they need to find a better place and leave that building alone. I am a former resident of Chester County,I spent my teen years in Unionville,I'm already upset that Unionville is now part of Kennett Square,I hope someday to bring my husband to Pennsylvania to see where I spent some of my growing up,but I don't want to say well see that CVS that is where the old Inn was,and see that development that used to be a small farm with the best spring water. My High School already looks nothing like it did when I went there,I know change is inevitable but as has been said we really need to save our past as well. The stone that the Inn is made of is that wonderful Pennsylvania stone that can't be found anywhere else,what happens to that if they tear the building down?

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