Date: October 1, 2008
Byline: Joe Barron
Springfield celebrates past, looks to future
Heritage Day celebrates Black Horse restoration
Everyone agreed the place looked great.
The Springfield Township residents and officials who turned out for the Heritage Day celebrations on Bethlehem Pike Sunday marveled at the change the old Black Horse Inn has undergone.
Just a few years ago, the Black Horse, crumbling and empty, was in danger of being torn down or moved to make way for a small shopping center.
Today, the inn stands in front of that shopping center, and, with the aid of more than $1 million in state and federal grants, individual contributions, and cash advanced by Springfield Township, the inn displays a new roof, new windows and shutters, a new porch, and a new stucco finish.
"It looks better today than it has for 100 years," declared Ed Zwicker, president of the Springfield Township Historical Society, who, standing beneath the porch roof during a downpour, spoke to the crowd about the history of taverns along Bethlehem Pike.
The inn will ultimately serve as the historic anchor of Bethlehem Pike, which will itself be reborn as a safer and more pedestrian-friendly throughway, township Commissioner Doug Heller said.
"It's our duty to make sure that the inn remains for our children and our children's children as an historic, venerable anchor," he said.
Marc Perry, who served as a Democratic township commissioner in those years and is now running for state Senate, remembered the crowds and the debates in the township meeting room.
"Could you imagine when we were sitting at those meetings until midnight that it would turn out like this?" Perry said. "It shows what can happen with community spirit."
Heritage Day, a joint brainchild of the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike and the Springfield Township Historical Society, marked both the end of Phase I of the Black Horse's restoration — the exterior work — and the beginning of fundraising for Phase II, the renovation of the interior, which consists of the basement and three stories.
No money was collected, and none will be until a fundraising consultant retained by the township issues a feasibility study, Heller said. During the planning of the event, however, Heller said organizers hoped the turnout would show potential contributors the depth of community support for the project.
"When I think of what this block could have looked like, I think we got very lucky," said Rob Ryan of Flourtown, one of the earliest advocates for the preservation of the inn.
Rain late in the afternoon forced the cancellation of a planned parade, but the student bands from Springfield Township Middle School and High School performed beneath the porch roof, and awards were presented to students from each school for their historical essays.
Visitors were allowed to wander through the unfinished rooms on the first floor of the inn, where they saw exhibits on the history of the pike and listened to Carolinn Skyler play the armonica, a more efficient, practical arrangement of musical glasses invented by that efficient and practical statesman, Benjamin Franklin.
In keeping with the Colonial theme of the afternoon, Skyler performed mostly 18th century music by such composers as Pachelbel and J.S. Bach, but when asked, she agreed to play a bit of Gershwin.
Historical atmosphere was also provided by Carl Closs, a George Washington impersonator and expert; Joe Becton, who portrayed Samuel Burns, a conductor on the Underground Railroad; and Noah Lewis, who appeared as Ned Hector, a free black Continental artilleryman and teamster
Hector was a hero of the Battle of Brandywine, and Hector Street in Conshohocken is named for him, Lewis said.