Public Houses

This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook

If some early Pennsylvania colonists had had their way, taverns, also known as "ordinaries," would not have been part of Philadelphia's landscape. Taverns in England had a reputation of being hotbeds of corruption, public drunkenness, and political chicanery. Taverns were constructed in Philadelphia even before William Penn arrived in the city, though Penn was determined to license tavern owners, control prices, and insist on a certain degree of propriety.

While taverns in cities and towns became the social and political gathering places for local citizens, other taverns, often nothing more than log cabins or farmhouses, were built along roads for travelers. To the traveler, the tavern represented a hot meal and a place to rest at night during the six or seven days it took a horse and rider to travel between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. A change of horses, a blacksmith, and a wheelwright might also be available for the travelers' Conestoga wagons and carriages. There were about sixty taverns between Lancaster and Philadelphia by 1840, and each was a place at which rural citizens could catch up on the news of the growing nation.

The dinner meal, consisting generally of two courses, might include beef, game, fish, poultry, puddings, fruit pies, breads, jellies, and pickled foods, such as red beet eggs. Coffee, tea, liquor, soup, and even ice cream were available at the bar at all times. After the main courses, the tablecloth was often removed, and fruit, cheese, and wine were offered. Travelers of lesser means could expect a more modest menu at rural taverns.

At the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster County, visitors can explore the Landis Valley House Hotel (1855-56), a two-story country hotel where local residents and travelers ate their meals and visited the barroom, and the Tavern Building, constructed in 1940 and furnished and interpreted as an early-nineteenth-century tavern. The eating area and kitchen of the tavern feature tableware and cooking equipment, including toasters, waffle irons, cast-iron pots, wrought-iron ladles, strainers, skimmers, rolling pins, wooden bowls, redware plates, and stoneware jugs. These items are used in demonstrations showcasing nineteenth-century cooking methods, unique sensory visits to the past.


Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, Lancaster, PA
Step into the largest museum of early Pennsylvania German life in the country.

Washington Crossing Historic Park, Washington Crossing, PA
See where Washington's army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night, 1776.

For Further Reading

pa-trail-of-history-cookbook-sm.gif Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook
Edited by Kyle R. Weaver, Diane B. Reed, and Fred Lauver
Forward by William Woys Weaver

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
landis-valley-toh.gif Landis Valley Museum: Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide
by Elizabeth Johnson

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
washington-crossing-toh.gif Washington Crossing Historic Park: Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide
by John Bradley

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Public Houses