Rose Tree Tavern opens doors as tourism offices

Reenactors mingle with other guests at the dedication of the Rose Tree Tavern in Upper Providence Township. The grandson of a former operator was among those on hand.
Reenactors mingle with other guests at the dedication of the Rose Tree Tavern in Upper Providence Township. The grandson of a former operator was among those on hand. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 27, 2011

Lloyd Bankson Roach, 66, was just a boy when his grandmother told him about her connection with the Rose Tree Tavern.

Widowed at 41 with six children, Alice Bankson Roach left the Brookline section of Delaware County and moved into the tavern with her brood. There she operated a teahouse for ladies from 1922 to 1926.

"They had tea and muffins, that sort of thing," Roach said. "At the time, there was no safety net [for widows]. She had to do something to support the kids."

A broadcaster from Birmingham Township, Chester County, Roach was moved enough by family history to attend Thursday as the handsome fieldstone building in Upper Providence Township was dedicated.

After a renovation project that took seven years and $1.9 million, it now becomes home to Delaware County's Brandywine Conference and Visitors Bureau.

County officials, colonial reenactors, and the public gathered in the summerlike heat to bear witness to the transformation.

"You could almost say this tavern has come full circle as a place for hospitality in Delaware County," County Council President Jack Whelan said.

Long before Alice Roach served tea, the tavern was acting as a "publick house," offering food, lodging in three upstairs rooms, and alcoholic beverages to those who came by horse or stagecoach.

In 1739, owner David Calvert collected 72 signatures on a petition to serve "wine, brandy, rum, beery, syder and other strong liquor" in the first-floor taproom. The process was the equivalent of today's PLCB application. Calvert's references and reputation were checked so thoroughly that it took him three tries to secure the license, according to historic records.

Early names included the Three Thuns, for the three barrels that were the tavern's 1770 trademark; the Red Lion in 1802; and finally the Rose Tree Tavern in 1805.

But to consider the tavern as just a drinking establishment would be a mistake, said Maury Hutelmyer of Springfield, a teacher and historic reenactor; the tavern played an important role as a gathering place for locals.

They met to hear the news, Hutelmyer said. "There was information [shared] on farming and blacksmithing and woodworking. It was hard to get the political news when most of us lived on farms.

"It was a gathering place in the fight for independence from Britain," he said. "It was a place to secure people's votes, and to hear what people had to say."

Over the years, the building became a hotel, a meeting place for the temperance cause, and headquarters of the Rose Tree Fox Hunting Club, records indicate.

Like many old taverns, though, it fell into disuse and disrepair. Then, 13 years ago, the Brandywine Conference and Visitors Bureau expressed interest in moving there from Chadds Ford if the building could be "historically preserved with a practical twist," Whelan said.

After a historical and archaeological study, the project emerged. Money to fund it came from the 3 percent tax on local hotel rooms.

The building, at Providence and Rose Tree Roads, will be a place for travelers to pause and learn about the county's attractions.

Tourist bureau workers become "the new, modern innkeepers," Whelan said. "This is really a historic day in the life of the Rose Tree Tavern."


Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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