Friday, April 24, 2009

COG - Historic King of Prussia Inn

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is: Local History! As genealogists, we are used to tracing our ancestors and the history of the places they lived. But not all of us live where our ancestors did - do we take the time to see the history all around us? Use some of your investigative skills to research the house, street, or town/city where YOU live. Write about an interesting person, place, or event of local history. The deadline for submissions is May 1st. This edition of the COG will be hosted by Donna at What's Past is Prologue ( Thanks Donna!

I live in Southeastern Pennsylvania. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, it has gently rolling hills, wide valleys, lots of rivers and creeks, and tons of history (at least by American standards). Those of us that live here probably take it for granted; around every corner is another 18th century farmhouse, former tavern, or barn, much of it linked to battles of the American Revolution.

The focus of this blog entry will be the King of Prussia Inn. The major road cutting through the area where I live is Route 202. In the town of King of Prussia, Rt. 202 intersects with several other major roads. During my childhood, we often drove past this particular building. It always caught my attention because it was literally in the middle of a 4-lane highway, they had built the north and south lanes around it, so it was a neglected little island in the midst of traffic, asphalt and mall, with a high fence around it.

Reeseville was originally the name of the town in the area where King of Prussia, PA is now. The town was about a day's journey from Philadelphia in the 18th century, and there are still a lot of former taverns standing alongside older roads in the area.

I didn't find the records for myself, but some believe the inn was first built as a private dwelling in 1719 by the Rees family (namesakes for Reeseville). By 1769 it was licensed as a tavern, and a map dated 1777 refers to the inn “Berry’s,” which was the name of the general manager at that time. However, by 1850 the postal service began recognizing the surrounding town’s name as “King of Prussia.”

Of course it's said that George Washington slept here, where didn't he sleep? However, it is pretty likely that he did, because Valley Forge is just a mile or two away. George is supposed to have stayed at the inn on Thanksgiving Day in 1777.

It's not definite how the King of Prussia Inn got its' name. It's likely the area around it started being called King of Prussia due to the presence of the inn itself. Some think that it was named in honor of the actual King of Prussia, Frederick II, but the reasons why vary and there's no real proof one way or the other.

Several years ago, the plans to widen Route 202 caused many to worry that the historic inn would be demolished. Thankfully, it was decided to move the inn rather than demolish it. In 2000 the inn was moved a short way away. In 2002 it was opened to the public, and now houses the King of Prussia Chamber of Commerce at Valley Forge.

I still think of the house every time I drive over where it used to be!

For those of you interested in architecture and pictures:

1. Artist's rendering of what original inn would have looked like:

2. Photograph from the Library of Congress, taken between 1860-1870. The person taking this picture is standing facing south, on what will be 3 lanes of Route 202 south in 140 years. The original part is the door to the left. The door to the right is in an addition.

3. This photo was taken in 1870, and is also from the Library of Congress; southbound 202 is again under our feet, heading to the right (this might be a good time to mention that in Pennsylvania, north and south mean little. Southbound Route 202 in this area actually heads due west for many miles.):

4. 80 years later, it's now 1960. From the same perspective, looking south. The island has appeared, and the inn lives there for 40 more years:

5. 1960 again, looking the other direction, northbound route 202, finally!!!

6. And last but not least, here's how it looks today, safe over on Gulph Road (too be honest, I kind of miss the whitewash):

LOC link


  1. Leah,

    Cool! I'm from Philly, so I'm naturally interested in King of Prussia too. I always thought it was a rather odd name for a town.


  2. I always used to wonder about that place when I passed it, now I know! Thanks for the info. I haven't been up that way in quite a while, didn't even know it'd been moved. The only thing missing is a pic from the 90's, when there's a ton of traffic and the mall in the background. ;-)

  3. Leah,
    I enjoyed this! It's great to have all those old
    photos available to see how the Inn and the area
    changed over the years.


  4. Hi Donna, Black Rose and Bill,
    thanks for your interest! Those pics from the Library of Congress are just a treasure trove!

  5. Fascinating account of the inn. I have always wondered where the name King of Prussia came from. I love the look of the old stone walls. Too bad it isn't a restaurant or B&B. I love to stay in old accomodations when I travel.