Date: July 14, 2005
Byline: Bonnie L. Cook
A historic inn is about to get a $1.5 million renovation
The Black Horse Inn, built in the 18th century, will be restored in a public-private effort.
The Black Horse Inn, a historic landmark where stagecoach riders once rested on their travels to and from Philadelphia, is undergoing a $1.5 million makeover.
Over the next three years, citizen groups and officials in Springfield Township, Montgomery County, will refurbish the inn, which sits in a shopping center along Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown.
The exterior will be restored to the way the 18th-century inn looked in the 1880s, its heyday, said Don Mitchell, president of the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike, which is spearheading the project.
The interior likely will be renovated into modern offices for nonprofit groups and space for a hospice's consignment shop, he said.
"The building definitely has the ability to be viable economically. What I see is some space being used as nonprofit and some for profit, so as not to be a burden on the taxpayer," he said.
Mitchell's group is teaming with the Springfield Township Historical Society and municipal officials to launch an ambitious fund-raising drive.
Don Berger, Springfield Township manager, said the township recently mailed 7,300 solicitation letters.
The letters were expected to arrive next week in the mailboxes of township property owners. The township owns the inn.
The public is being asked to contribute $150,000 of the project's cost. Corporations are being asked for $450,000, and $791,000 in grants would come from government agencies and private foundations, according to the letter.
The township had committed $109,000 from its capital reserve fund the first year to pay for cleanup of the building and securing it against the elements, Berger said.
"I don't know if that will change, but it might," Berger said, because of costly roof repairs expected later.
The push to restore the old inn came from the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike, whose volunteers did exterior painting and repair work on weekends, beginning in March. The historical society, which has nonprofit status, was expected to act as the project's financial arm, Mitchell said.
A township advisory committee was in charge of construction details.
The Black Horse was built in 1744, one of several watering holes with lodging along the pike that served lime workers, farmers and other laborers as they made their way from the Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia, and back.
The structure subsequently served as a tavern and eatery before becoming a vacant eyesore in recent years. It narrowly escaped demolition when the corner of Bethlehem Pike and Bysher Avenue was targeted for development in 2002.
In a series of negotiations, developer Joshua S. Petersohn, of Moreland Development in Rosemont, agreed to build a Walgreen's drugstore and super-sized liquor store around the Black Horse, instead of razing or moving it.
The development is now built and its stores operating.
The old tavern is unmarked, but friends member Ellen Manning said signs would be posted to identify it as soon as their design is approved by the township.
Berger said yesterday that the township has applied for the Black Horse to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We haven't heard anything back," he said.
The project will occur in two phases, Mitchell said. Exterior restoration including chimneys, the roof and windows should be completed by early next summer, along with stucco and paint.
Interior work will begin next summer, Mitchell said.