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Source: Philadelphia Business Journal
Date: March 25, 2002
Byline: Peter Van Allen Staff Writer

Black Horse Inn will live on, but it may get moved a bit

FLOURTOWN — One of the region's historic taverns may have been saved — to a point.

The Black Horse Inn, which dates to 1744 and was a key stop on the Bethlehem Pike, will be left intact thanks to the efforts of preservationists who fought to keep the site from being torn down and turned into a retail complex with a CVS and state liquor store.

But those same preservationalists concede now they may not have gone far enough to stop the development.

As it stands, the site could still become home to the CVS pharmacy and a state store — and the Black Horse Inn would be moved to the back of the three-acre property.

Developer Mark Mendelson, principal at Hampton Real Estate Associates in Allentown, bought the property for $1.1 million. His first proposal, to get variances to tear down the Black Horse and build a retail complex, was met with opposition by residents — 3,500 of whom signed a petition urging Springfield Township to reject a proposal for zoning variances.

The township did, indeed, reject the proposal. But it reached an agreement with Mendelson that would allow the developer to pay to move the Black Horse to the rear of the property. He would build the drugstore and liquor superstore, but sign over the deed for the inn, which the township would then renovate and have for township use.

That's where the Black Horse Inn's proponents say they may not have gone far enough, said Scott Kreilick, who heads the Black Horse Committee for the Springfield Township Historical Society.

Friends of the inn fear that a move could damage or even destroy the 258-year-old Black Horse. At best, a move would take the Black Horse Inn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, out of its historical context right next to Bethlehem Pike.

If moved, "the Black Horse Inn would face the loading dock of a liquor store," said Kreilick.

In other words, he said, any move might save the inn but would forsake its storied history.

For more than two centuries, the inn was the first stage-stop out of Philadelphia, 12 miles from Independence Hall. During the Revolution, George Washington's army passed the inn on its way to the Battle of Germantown.

There's no evidence Washington ever slept, ate or even drank there, Kreilick said.

But many others have. On a Web site devoted to saving the Black Horse, dozens of people have written in — recalling fond memories of wedding receptions, nights of drinking and, in one instance, meeting a future wife at the Black Horse.

The Black Horse is one of a handful of remaining Colonial-era inns that dot the landscape in southeastern Pennsylvania. Others have also faced a perilous future. An even older inn, the King of Prussia Inn (1704), was situated in the median of Route 202 near the King of Prussia Mall until it was moved a year ago. The General Wayne Inn (1719) in Narberth was recently saved. But many others in the area have been torn down in recent years — including six alone in Flourtown, where Black Horse is located, said Kreilick.

Part of the problem with saving the inn is the sheer cost. Kreilick said the cost of renovating the building, which has been vacant for 15 years, could be as much as $1 million. But he argues that the inn is structurally sound, built with thick masonry walls and heavy timber. Original plaster work and hardware are still intact.

Kreilick said the Springfield Township Historical Society is now seeking a resolution that would not involve moving the historic inn.

Mendelson could not be reached for comment. But the Plymouth Meeting architecture firm he hired, Macallister Group PC, said it is going ahead with plans for the Black Horse's move and the development of the retail buildings, calling the project the Black Horse Village Retail Shopping. Its design calls for a complex of free-standing buildings keeping in character with the design of the Black Horse.

"The proposed Black Horse Village captures the character and charm of an old Pennsylvania farm, complete with a brick manor house, simulated stable, blacksmith and barn images throughout," its Web site says.

There may be one other possibility. Williams J. Agate, president and CEO of Alliance Realty and developer of the Starbucks site across the pike from the Black Horse, has, Kreilick said, made an offer on the Black Horse. Agate's plan would call for relocating nearby Keystone Hospice into the Black Horse and expanding the building in the rear.

In effect, it would save the Black Horse by giving it a modern use, without moving it from its Bethlehem Pike location.

"Moving should be the last possible option," said Kreilick. "There are other ways to preserve it."