Accounts of travelers in eastern Pennsylvania 200 or so years ago suggest that getting around back then in the Keystone State was anything but easy. Along with dealing with roads dotted with tree stumps, Anne Royall, among America's first female journalists and a writer of witty, opinionated best selling travel books, noted that on a two day journey on the River Road between Philadelphia and Easton in the fall of 1828, she encountered drunken coachmen, rains that stranded stagecoach wheels in glue-like mud (male passengers were required to aid in pushing them out of particular deep ruts) and at least one argumentative fellow traveler, a justice of the peace, who wielded pistols to get his point across.
Royall was not always happy with the service she found at local inns. There were undisciplined children and unhelpful landlords at Bethlehem's Sun Inn, overcharging at Mauch Chunk's (now Jim Thorpe's) Mansion House, ($3.62 for two nights "the highest bill I have ever paid in the United States") and a "dishonest, smoky, dirty" inn just outside of Allentown that she advised travelers to avoid.
But from her coach window Royall was impressed with the inns' colorful signs. "For taverns and tavern signs Pennsylvania exceeds all other states," noted the well-traveled writer. "Sometimes lions grinning at you, sometimes eagles that seemed ready to pick out your eyes, bears and Turks etc," were among the images she conjured up for her readers.
The Indian Rock Inn in Upper Black Eddy, founded in 1812, was almost certainly among the inns that fell under Royall's gaze in 1828. Towering under a picturesque cliff with the canal nearby, it calls up images of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Tales of the Wayside Inn.
If Royall could stop at the Indian Rock Inn today she would be comforted by its traditional look and more than pleased at how service has changed. Under the ownership of Tom and Beverly Schweder for the last 12 years, it offers excellent food, drink and lodging for travelers that would have been undreamed of 200 years ago.
With its big picture windows that face out on the Delaware, the inn's dining room sets a mellow mood while guests watch the picturesque river and countryside fade into the autumn night. Chef Val Roy Gerischer in the kitchen has been there almost as long as the Schweders. And although canal boats stopped coming a long time ago, there are some folks who rent horses from a nearby stable and arrive for dinner via the towpath.
Beverly, an Ohio native, came to New York in the 1990s. It was there she met and married Tom- a cabinet maker and woodworker. "He had other jobs but decided he wanted to work with his hands," she said. They began making day trips exploring the New Jersey side of the Delaware. Frenchtown gradually became their regular stopping place. "We really didn't set out to buy an inn but the idea grew on us and it just sort of happened," says Beverly. After being shown a number of places the couple selected the Indian Rock. While admitting that recent floods on the Delaware and the economic downturn have not always made things easy, they have attracted a steady clientele.
According to Tom Schweder, who has looked into its history, the Indian Rock Inn has borne that name for at least the past 80 years. Before then it has had a number of names, among them the Rising Sun, Merchant House, and the Narrowsville Hotel. Almost all of this information came from the family members of former innkeepers who gladly shared what they knew. The Schweders had long heard that the inn was founded in 1812 but it was not until this year that they had it confirmed by a document. It is a copy of the original liquor license to the building that was brought to them by the great, great, great grandson of the first innkeeper Jacob Krause. "It is handwritten and has the date November 28, 1812 on it," says Tom Schweder.
The River Road was already a well traveled highway used by Native Americans and since the 18th century by settlers. When the Delaware Canal was built in the 1820s it attracted even more travelers. It is interesting to recall that when Irish and Pennsylvania German work crews were applying pick and shovel to create it, the inn had already been there for almost 20 years.
At that time Easton was a major hub for stagecoach traffic. By 1828 ten stage lines were operating out of town to various parts of the country. Royall recalled the fierce competition between local inns. William "Chippy" White, the owner of the Hotel Easton, who also owned an interest in a stagecoach line, refused to allow it to drop off passengers at William Shouse Green Tree Hotel. In response Shouse created a stage coach line that did the same thing to White's guests.
Major change came in the 1850s. With the arrival of the railroad, traffic on both the Delaware Canal and River Road dropped dramatically. Now able to travel between Easton and Philadelphia and back on the same day on a train, few wanted to take a dusty stage coach. Reduced to a picturesque backwater, the inns that dotted the road dealt largely with a much smaller local clientele.
A revival began in the 1920s with the arrival of the automobile and the road improvements that they made necessary. Another factor was Prohibition. At a rural roadhouse country applejack was consumed in peace and relative isolation.
The country inns like the Indian Rock that have survived have largely done so by appealing to their history and good food. And the Schweders are currently planning a 200th birthday party for the Indian Rock on November 28, 2012 with items from a traditional menu of the time to honor it.
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