2010-06-17 / Local & State

17th Century Inn Up For Sale In Philly Suburbs


BRISTOL, Pa. (AP) – Local lore has it that Continental Army soldiers shot down the sign on the King George II Inn amid the Revolutionary War, prompting its owners to quickly change the name to the Fountain House.

The inn survived the war for Independence but the beleaguered U.S. economy has done what time and anti-monarch fervor could not: threatened its status as one of the oldest continuously operating inns in the U.S.

Opened in 1681 as the Ferry House by Samuel Clift, who also founded the town, the 16-unit inn is up for sale with an asking price of nearly $1.4 million.

“If they were to close and never open, we’d be losing a great spot of history there,’’ said Bristol historian Harold Mitchener. The inn, according to historians, provided a warm supper and comfortable bed for several icons of American history, including George Washington and John Adams.

Owners John and Geri Caparrelli, who bought the property in 2004, said late last month that the restaurant was closing and the 329-year-old inn was on the block, victims of a business downturn during the past three years.

“For almost two years, we have been trying to refinance the Inn,’’ the Caparrellis said in a statement. “We have approached several local banks as well as financial institutions outside the area with no success.’’

The inn, which has had about two dozen owners and operators, opened in a different building on the same property and moved to the current structure when it was completed in 1765. It sits at the center of this gritty Philadelphia suburb, on the banks of the Delaware River, about 20 miles south of where Washington made his famed Christmas Day crossing in 1776.

The old story of soldiers shooting down the King George II sign? It’s likely true, Mitchener said, given that the inn sat on a welltraveled corridor from Philadelphia, up to Trenton, N.J., and onward to New York.

“Americans did not want to see that name ‘King George,’’’ he said.

Residents hope the landmark, which has also gone by the name Ye Olde Delaware House, can keep the streak going.

There are still about 20 people who reside in rooms at the four-story, 22,000- square-foot inn, even though the restaurant has closed. The doors are locked and “For Sale’’ signs hang on the red and white building, which has expansive views of the Delaware River.

Inside, the inn is filled with antique clocks, intricately carved wood tables, old paintings and ornate furniture. Some rooms still have gas fireplaces, too. The wooden bar dates back to the 18th century.

Don Carrow, 49, lives in one of the rooms and had worked as a dishwasher and janitor at the restaurant. Business started slowing down in 2007, he said, and eventually there were often just a few tables filled some nights.

“It got slow and kept getting slower,’’ Carrow said.

The Caparrellis closed the restaurant on the night of May 23, and publicly announced the building was for sale the next day.

Sandra Farry, the real estate broker selling the building, said the property comes with everything inside – gas fireplaces, tables, chairs and antiques. So far, she has had two offers. The building is priced to sell, she said, and she’s optimistic about more offers.

The building could remain an inn, or a new owner could turn it into something else – a move that would end the inn’s long run.

Michele McVay, vice president of the Haddon Heights, N.J.-based Professional Association of Innkeepers International, said there are about 16,000 inns in the United States. While the organization doesn’t track which inn is the oldest, she said there are very few that have been running continuously since the 17th century.

At least one other inn, however, does stake a claim to being the oldest: Rooms are available at the family run Seaside Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, which says it’s been in continuous operation since 1667.

Oldest or not, Bristol residents hope the King George II can keep going.

Ann Mignoni Mundy, a co-owner of a 63-year-old family jewelry business in Bristol, said her mother-inlaw ran the inn from 1959 to 1974, when it was the Delaware House.

The inn survived several fires over the years, Mundy said. Her husband lived there before they got married in 1969 and she fondly recalled having many a family Christmas there.

“To see the ‘For Sale’ sign up there is really strange,’’ she said. “You don’t think of a 300-year-old business not being there.’’

Another local restaurant owner said the building – with its beautiful view of the Delaware River and its historic significance – should prove irresistible to someone.

“I’m sure somebody will buy it immediately and give it what it needs,’’ said Dawn Kelch, 54, owner of the Kelch House, a five-year-old restaurant across the street. “It’s such an important place that it won’t be empty for long.’’

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