A Look Back in History: Importance of Pennsylvania Dutch taverns and wayside inns Part II

At the annual Kutztown Folk Festival several years ago, Richard Shaner attempted to capture the romance of tavern life in Colonial times by replicating the 1741 Golden Plow Tavern with its half-timbered one-and-a-half story design, and with great success and enthusiasm.
At the annual Kutztown Folk Festival several years ago, Richard Shaner attempted to capture the romance of tavern life in Colonial times by replicating the 1741 Golden Plow Tavern with its half-timbered one-and-a-half story design, and with great success and enthusiasm. Submitted photo

With the agrarian excellence of the Germanic farmer and culinary expertise of their Dutch housewives, it is easy to understand why so many colonists, whatever the ethnicity, returned to their various homes acclaiming the fine hospitality of the Pennsylvania Dutch taverns.

Here in Kutztown, at the edge of town, Levan or Kemp’s hotel dating from 1740, was one of the taverns whose hospitality has been attested to on record by members of the Continental Congress who were guests of the inn, including President John Adams. Although the original founder of Kemp’s tavern was Daniel Levan, the tavern has been in the Kemp family ever since George Kemp acquired it in 1788. The Georgian interior of the Levan-Kemp’s hotel with its corner fireplaces, raised paneling, candle shelves, and dog-ear trimmed doorways is evidence of the simple grace of Dutch country taverns.

Other Colonial taverns differ in architecture from the Georgian refinement of Kemp’s at Kutztown to the quaint half-timbered style of the Golden Plow Tavern (1741) of York, Pennsylvania. On the festival grounds at Kutztown, they had attempted to capture some of the romance of such a half-timbered tavern with a one-and-a-half story replica of the “Old Plow Tavern” years ago and with success. The first level of this building represented the hewn-log structure typical of 18th Century log cabins, as does its counterpart in York, with the half-timbered style forming the second story. Half-timbered architecture, although very common in Europe, is rare in America.

The interior of the festival tavern was very rustic, featuring a bar for beverages, as well as saw-buck tables and chairs around a colonial fireplace. As one sipped their beverages, they noted an early assortment of antique bottles and merchandise on the back-bar. Germane to every tavern, was its livery stable, where “hostlers” provided for the needs of the traveler’s horse. But rarely did every tavern have enough room to stable the number of horses which came to call. Teamsters would often have to bed their horses in nearby meadows and would occasionally use a hobbling chain, a chain attached to two hoofs to prevent them from running away.

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Thus, the major taverns located at the more heavily traveled cross roads were converged upon by even larger numbers of Conestoga teamsters and country gents alike. However, teamsters were not likely to pay the price of a room at the inn, and there were no conflicts with the gentry for the better lodgings. In most instances, waggoners were very satisfied to sleep on the tavern floor, or if weather permitted, in the open air. Obviously, with such a large concourse of people convening in one place daily, various forms of recreation emerged some of which have survived to recent times, discussed shortly, and as in many cultures, the most boasted subject at a tavern was hunting and skilled marksmanship.

During the Colonial period it was quite common for the militia of a community to have a certain day or days to meet at the tavern site to practice at improving their skills. Inevitably, these sessions gave way to shooting matches, which were to test the skills of the best marksmen in a territory. Among the taverns of contemporary mid-1900s Dutchland, inn-keepers still held “shoots,” called according to the prize awarded such as ham shoot, turkey shoot, etc. As the shoot was perhaps just as much a game of chance as marksmanship, its popularity was probably due to the socialization it afforded the hunters. Mostly ham shoots are most popular among area gun clubs.