Date: April 19, 2001
Byline: Andrew Jarvis
Letter: Don't let rainwater ruin interior of Black HorseThe Black Horse Inn, whose owner is seeking a zoning change that would result in its demolition, has its original 18th and 19th century upstairs interiors largely in tact. This was the finding of a group of interested people who toured its interior April 9 with permission of the property developer, Hampton Real Estate Group, Inc.
In fact, the second and third floors of the inn, located on Bethlehem Pike, have hardly changed since the inn was built in 1744. This makes the interiors of the Black Horse Inn more authentic than the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, Va., which dates to the same era. The Raleigh Tavern, which I visited last month, is a beautiful and painstakingly researched restoration of the historic 18th century tavern. Yet it is a restoration - not the original construction, like the Black Horse is.
As an architect who loves old buildings, I was amazed to see no 19th or 20th century "improvements" on the third floor. There are no receptacles, lights switches or thermostats on the walls. There are no toilets or plumbing. No radiators or ducts. No one even added a closed. What you see today is what you would have seen 250 years ago.
And what a thrill it is to walk through the upstairs of the Black Horse and see the real thing. Everything looks pretty much the way it did the day the last traveler left - with a few decades of dirt and dust on the random width plank floorboards. Look closely and you can see the heads of the original cut iron nails. The stair treads are worn in the center by the gritty shoes of weary travelers, clambering up the winding steps. The hand-made wood doors, wood trim and plaster walls are all original. The very low ceilings and doors remind you that the 18th century citizens of Springfield Township were not tall people.
But the people hired by Abraham Wakerly to build the Black Horse Inn were good craftspeople. The stone foundations and exterior walls are thick, and the floor beams and roof rafters are solid. It was built to last a long time, and it has - so far.
The building is suffering from neglect. Water has entered a hole in the roof that has not been repaired. As the hole grows larger, more rainwater is getting inside and causing some of the original 1744 plaster to fall, and some of the interior wood to rot. This is a deplorable situation for such a rare, historic building that qualifies for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. All that's missing from the nomination form is the owner's signature.
So far, the damage is confined to one corner, and the roof is not hard to patch. But the rain must be kept out of the building to prevent further harm.
Please join me in asking the owner to temporarily patch the hole in the hoof. Let's not let more rainwater ruin the interiors of this original 18th century inn.
The Springfield Township Historical Society has formed a group to find solutions for preserving the Inn. There are many ways to help - you can call them at 215-233-4600 to find out more.
As Williamsburg, Va., shows us. A building can be restored to look like the original. But Flourtown, PA, already has an original - let's not lose it.