About the Historic Ship Inn
In 1794 when Lancaster Turnpike was built, it was one of the marvels of the century. Almost the sole avenue of transport between Philadelphia and the west, it was soon peopled with stagecoaches, wagons and drivers. To meet the needs of these travelers, public houses sprang up every few miles
and among the earliest of these was the Ship Inn.
The modern “Ship”, which serves today’s wayfarer with food and a “cup of cheer” is in the original building built by John Bowen in 1796. For this building he petitioned to the Chester County Court in that year “for license to keep a public house of entertainment”.
Both the Good Intent and Opposition stagecoach lies stopped at the “Ship “regularly for their four dapple-grays prancing into the side yard while the host hastened to greet the passengers.
To the experienced traveler of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ship was known as a “tavern”, the best of the three classes of public houses. The “Drover’s Stand” was little more than a camp where the drovers herded their animals for an overnight rest. The “Wagon Stand” catered to the hearty drivers of the big Pitt teams-broad wheeled wagons drawn by six horses-which were the freight trains of 1800. But the tavern attracted the stagecoach traveler and was the aristocrat of the turnpike.
The Ship Inn’s name has never changed. Originally, the Inn bore a sign with a picture of a ship for the benefit of the many travelers who could not read. Quite a few were Pennsylvania Dutch who couldn’t understand English words. But all could recognize pictures and the “sign of the Ship” was a popular stopping place.
Some interesting facts about travel of the early nineteenth century are contained in the archives of the Chester County Historical Society. The journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, for instance, took six days by stagecoach, and cost the passenger $20 for fare. He was allowed 14lbs. of baggage and paid 12 ½ cents for each extra pound. His meals and lodging during the journey were extra and cost him about $7 for the trip. The “Ship” had a peculiar rate for meals. Stage passengers paid a flat 31 ¼ cents. Local patrons secured the same meal for 25 cents. Since the “Ship” was a regular meeting place for the Lafayette Rangers-a soldier company that was part of the 143rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Militia-and later for the Hickory Club, which militantly support Andrew Jackson. The host probably knew what he was doing when he set two rates for the same meal.
Today the side yard, which in past years moored the stagecoaches and Pitt teams, is a large parking lot for diners’ automobiles. And the salons that cheered weary wayfarers now invite patrons to enjoy a relaxing lunch or dinner of fine food accompanies by warm hospitality. The cup of cheer is still available but the variety of spirits has vastly increased for the pleasure of the Ship Inn’s guests. Travelers and diners are still beckoned by the sign of the Ship, located at the original site, in Exton, one mile east of the intersection of Lancaster Pike (Route 30-also known as the Lincoln Highway) and Route 100.