Date: April 22, 2001
Byline: Chris Lilienthal
Lost in SpringfieldA building is a terrible thing to waste ...
If you were an out-of-towner driving past the Black Horse Inn on Bethlehem Pike, it might catch your eye for its unique architecture and majestic oldness, but as you continued on, you probably wouldn't think much more of it. You probably wouldn't pull over, get out the camera and assemble the family in front of it to say cheese. After all, Flourtown isn't exactly Williamsburg, Va.
Chestnut Hill architect Andrew Jarvis, who was among the interested parties to take a tour of the Black Horse last week in conjunction with the ongoing township zoning hearings, might say otherwise. Comparing the inn to the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, which is a reconstruction of a colonial inn, Jarvis said: "The Black Horse is more authentic because it always existed in Flourtown."
I found myself recently in downtown Flourtown, not very far from the Black Horse, so I decided to pull over and take a closer look. Usually, I zip by the inn in my car, without more than a cursory glance at it. I have walked past the inn and tried to peer in the windows, but the view is nonexistent, as the windows are boarded up.
Standing in front of the inn, I looked at the cracking plaster, the chipping paint, and the dirty windows. An Emerson Quiet Kool jutted out above a weathered red door an anachronism of sorts for an inn that was originally constructed in the 18th century. Stepping back from the facade, I noticed an antennae on its roof, providing television reception for the ghosts that haunt the empty inn.
The inn reminded me of an old abandoned farm house that stood at the end of the street where I grew up. It was a remnant of a time when most of Eastern Montgomery County was farmland and open space. I remember as a child walking and driving past the old farm house and wondering who lived inside.
One day I asked my parents who lived in the old farm house, with no car parked out front and no lights in the windows. My mother told me of an elderly woman who had passed away some time before I was born. The house stood vacant and locked.
While I was in elementary school, a contingent of neighbors got up in arms because an energy company wanted to come in and knock the farm house down to put up another gas station. There were already two gas stations on that corner, across the street. I remember my parents' opposition to this prospect. I guess it was the beginnings of the NIMBY syndrome. Who wanted to live on a street that's main attraction was a gas station at its end?
I've heard residents of Bysher Avenue voice concerns about having a liquor store out their back door. I understand their concerns. But I also wonder why the Black Horse has to be knocked down; why the old farm house had to be knocked down. I suppose some would argue we needed another gas station on a corner with two already, and I suppose others would say we need a bigger CVS and liquor store.
But I keep remembering the words of T. Scott Kreilick, an architectural conservator and board member of the Springfield Historical Society, who also toured the inn with the interested parties.
Despite water damage from a hole in the roof and a number of broken windows, the interior of the inn has suffered only superficial damage, Kreilick said. "This inn was built to last. In my professional opinion, this inn can be restored in its entirety."
I will never fully understand why we, as human beings, need to consume more and more resources, without looking at what we have used and figuring out how we can make it last. I never saw the interior of that old farm house from my childhood, and I have not seen the interior of the Black Horse, but there must be something in there we could use.
This column appears biweekly in the Springfield Sun. Any comments or column ideas can be sent to Chris Lilienthal at Montgomery Newspapers, 290 Commerce Drive, Fort Washington, PA 19034, or by e-mail to this paper.