Parker's Ford Historic District
The Parker's Ford [†] complex consists of a tavern, stable building & three houses built during the Mid-18th Century. These early buildings stand on both sides of the early river trail which caught traffic from the ford and from the west bank of the Schuylkill River. They are now set apart from the modern thoroughfare, being bypassed by a newer rerouting of PA Route 724. They are remarkably well-preserved and in relatively unchanged condition.
The tavern was built in 1766 by Edward Parker. A five bay structure with the main entrance in the center bay and a small porch, wooden joists are evidence of an original porch, hood or bonnet of even smaller proportions. The structure was built of native red sandstone, rough cut blocks which are used on the front with a water course just above the cellar windows. From the decorative stone arches over the cellar windows and their half in-ground placement, it is obvious that floods and road resurfacing has changed the ground level over the years. A good box cornice finishes the gable roof and shows clear evidence of a full return intended across the gable ends. The building is two stories high with chimney at each end.
The early history of Pennsylvania is, in many respects, the story of people on the move. Parker's Ford is a significant part of the story. The complex of buildings at Parker's Ford is a fine example of a colonial inn and the community it served. Located on what was once the "Great Road" from Philadelphia to Reading, the tavern offers an insight into the social and commercial dependencies that developed between the complex and travelers. Like other taverns that dotted the few major roads in colonial Pennsylvania, the inn provided an important hospice for weary travelers and became a center of commerce, entertainment, and community. Parker's Ford gained additional prominence in September, 1777, when George Washington and his continental army crossed the Schuylkill River at the complex. Because it was able to adapt to the canal but not the railroad, Parker's Mill also provides valuable observations of the development of transportation systems in Pennsylvania throughout the nineteenth century.
Settled in the early eighteenth century, Parker's Ford was the site of a grist and saw mill by 1720. Located on a much-used path from Philadelphia into the western back-country and with easy access to the Schuylkill River, Parker's Ford was a welcomed resting place for travelers during the mid-18th century. In 1776 a tavern was constructed at the Ford which solidified the location's importance to travel in Pennsylvania. As with other roadside oases on colonial thoroughfares, Parker's Ford became a place of entertainment, trade, and shelter for all who used it. By the time of the American Revolution, the complex was a busy hostelry on the "Great Road" from Philadelphia to Reading and the west.
In September 1777, General Washington and his men, on their "race for the fords," crossed the Schuylkill at Parker's Ford. Though it was one of the more shallow fords on the river, heavy rainfall delayed the crossing. While he waited for the river to recede, Washington used the Parker's Ford tavern as his temporary headquarters.
After the Revolution the complex remained an integral part of the transportation system in the state. The tavern continued to serve travelers and provide commerce for local residents. In 1824 the Schuylkill River Canal made Parker's Ford part of a regional system of waterways that supplied Philadelphia with coal from the northern counties. The canal insured the vitality of the complex for over fifty years. Also, a blacksmith shop that was then in the complex was contracted by the Schuylkill Navigation Company to repair its flatboats. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, the complex remained an active center of transportation.
Unfortunately, the source of Parker Ford's prominence – transportation – was also the source of its demise. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the complex was bypassed by the Pennsylvania Railroad. As the railroad flourished and canal trade slackened, the Parker's Ford complex was doomed to disuse and decay. Fortunately, the complex refused to die. Though forgotten for decades, it continues to offer a rare glimpse at an essential ingredient, the tavern complex, in the development of transportation systems in Pennsylvania.
&dagger' Adapted from the original nomination document for Parker's Ford, National Register of Historic Places, 1982, National Park Service, Washington, D.C..
Old Schuylkill Road