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Sumneytown Hotel – Another Era Ends
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2021-04-26

Part 1

 

            All good things must come to an end, and this writer is sad to see the Burke family's ownership of the Sumneytown Hotel come to a close this Saturday, May. 1.

Originally called the Red Lion Inn, the Sumneytown Hotel is

one of the oldest, continuing businesses in the Upper Perkio-

men Valley area.  Records show that Isaac Sumney, who

operated the inn, was given his first tavern license for in 1762.

            While congratulations and best wishes to Sibylle and Jack Burke are truly in order, it was a great run for their customers at one of Montgomery County's oldest business establishments.

            This special two-part feature takes a look at some of the 259 year history of the hotel, and the nearly 54 years that the Burke name was associated with it.

            Much of the history comes from an article that appeared in the Town and Country in 2001. 

            The Sumneytown Hotel, one of the oldest, continuing businesses in the Upper Perkiomen Valley area, sits at the intersection of the Maxatawny and Macungie roads in Sumneytown.  That doesn't sound familiar to you?  How about the place where the Spring House-Sumneytown Turnpike meets the

In the 1880's the hotel was damaged by fire and was later

razed.  A new three-story building was erected in the space.

This 1930's era photo shows that you could even fill up your

car from two Atlantic gas pumps in the parking lot, along

Sumneytown Pike.

Geryville-Sumneytown Turnpike?  Still don't know where we're at?  That's because we know the intersection today as the spot where Geryville Pike meets Route 63 (Sumneytown Pike) in the village of Sumneytown.

            For nearly 260 years at that location, the Sumneytown Hotel has been a place for locals, visitors, and travelers passing through the area to take a welcome respite.  It was, and still is, a popular gathering place for folks to get together and enjoy pleasant company and good food.

According to Beans' 1884 History of Montgomery County, Isaac Sumney opened the "first tavern in the village."  Records show that Sumney was given his first tavern license in 1762.  Another was issued to him on July 16, 1765 to keep a tavern in Marlborough Township.  The fee for the 1765 legal document was one pound, 16

Over the years, the hotel became a popular stopping place. 

It was a regular stopover for teamsters who drove horse and

mule teams hauling powder and linseed oil from the many

mills along the Swamp (Unami) Creek.

shillings.  The 1983 publication Montgomery County – The Second Hundred Years reports that the hotel was built in 1762. 

            It should be noted that in Montgomery County Pa. – A History, written by Clifton Hunsicker in 1923, there is a contradiction to the claim of who was first.  Of Marlborough Township, and the village today known as Sumneytown, he wrote that "this is a very ancient settlement for this county; history mentions it and speaks of Dorn's Inn as located at the forks of the road.  Dorn later conducted a regular hotel and the large stone building was standing not many years ago."  In a separate chapter of his 1884 publication, Bean wrote that Dorn's inn was located in Sumneytown as early as 1758, but was somewhat vague on the exact location though many believe it was the same tavern that became Sumney's a few years later. 

            In September 1773, Isaac Sumney was approved as a suitable person to keep a Public House in Marlborough Township.  His inn became a usual stopping place.  Persons passing through on the stagecoach made acquaintances very quickly with the cordial Sumney.  Apparently, the hotel was used to house a variety of personalities.  Teamsters, who drove horse and mule teams hauling powder and linseed oil from the many mills along the Swamp (Unami) Creek, made this a regular stopover on their trips. 

            There are many reports of Native American and other western frontier officials stopping off at the local inn.  Apparently, it was even used to house a prisoner.

            Deputy Sheriff Daniel Kreider reported to a Philadelphia newspaper that on the evening of March 26, 1773, a female prisoner escaped from a second story room in which she was locked in Isaac Sumney's Inn in Marlborough Township.  Back then, the hotel sported a roof covering a first floor porch, but it still took quite a bit of daring for the woman to jump to her freedom.  The article makes no mention of whether or not she was re-captured. 

            Isaac Sumney took out his last license for the inn in 1774, however it is widely believed that he ran the tavern until about 1778.  That is the year documents show David Johnson purchased some of Sumney's property and became an innkeeper in the township.  Like the escaped prisoner mentioned earlier, the walls of this establishment hold many stories within them.  Next week we'll take a look at an 1835 barroom scuffle that ended in death for a local resident.  We'll also find out when Jack's father, John S. Burke, purchased the business and say our farewells to Sybille and Jack.


 

 

 

 

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