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Sumneytown Hotel - Another Era Ends
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2021-05-04

Part II 

The Sumneytown Hotel, one of the oldest, continuously operating businesses in Montgomery County, was owned and operated by Burke family since 1967.

 

            We said our farewells, had our last meal, and our last look at the Sumneytown Hotel under the 54-year ownership of the Burke family.

            Last week's look at the beginnings of the historic business left us looking for

The Burkes, back, left to right, Jack, Jamison, and John.  Front,

left, Sybille Burke and 30-year-employee Michelle Crilley.

a bit more and there is plenty to cover. We'll touch on just a little more.

            For instance, on the night of December 18, 1835, five young men forced their way into the hotel.  They were doing survey work for a proposed railroad.  They were Herman Haupt, Ormes Keith, John Naglee Jr., John Nevins, and Joseph Oglesby Jr.  According to reports, a fight broke out between local resident George Willauer and Nevins.  During the scuffle, Willauer was stabbed and died soon afterward.  The five strangers were arrested and charged with murder. 

            At the time, the hotel was owned by David Hartranft.  Noted Montgomery County attorney (and future U. S. Congressman) John Sterigere was one of the six-member defense team.  They contended that Willauer attacked Nevins with a knife, and that while defending himself, Nevins turned the blade on Willauer.  The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

            The hotel was destroyed by a fire in the early 1880s and rebuilt around 

The Monk – A painting displayed for years in the dining

room was a gift to Sybille's Grandfather, Robert Bock, from

one of his art students in payment for art lessons in Vienna,

Austria.  The painting was damaged in WWII when an

artillery shell passed through it.  It was repaired and

eventually became a fixture at the Sumneytown Hotel.

1883. The owner at the time was Samuel R. Barndt.  It may seem quaint by today's standards, but an interesting appliance in the hotel at that time was a dumbwaiter that was used to transport food from the basement kitchen to the first floor tavern and dining area.  The manually powered device was in place until a first floor kitchen was added in the 1940s. 

            The Sumneytown Band was formed in 1906, and, during its short span of existence, it was reported to have held rehearsals in the dining room of the hotel to the delight of customers.

            In a column titled "Dining in Ambiance….of America's Past", a Philadelphia Inquirer food writer had this to say about the Sumneytown Hotel: "Historic doesn't always mean pricey.  Visitors to this old-fashioned country hotel find what a friend and fan calls an unspoiled, no-frills country setting with an oak bar that has been in place since 1873 and friendly owners who are the hotel's bartender and cook. Over that past half-decade, the owners have kept the tavern's place in history.  From Ed Jabs back in the 1940s, to the mid 1950s with Sue and Stanley Schoelkopf, into the late 60s with Russ and Queenie Weidner, and into the 70s with John Burke, the inn at the Sumneytown crossroads has pleased many palates."

You could sit at the same ornate oak bar that patrons have rested their elbows on for over

a century.  Your mind could wander into the beautiful oil landscape scenes that John S.

Burke had painted on the mirrors behind the bar in 1969.

            Jack Burke and his family continued the local tavern tradition.  In 1980, he took over the business his father had run since 1969.  The history of the establishment was hanging on the walls in the bar area and dining room in the form of old photographs and newspaper clippings.  Treasures that evoke images of the establishment's storied past.

            In the tavern, you could sit at the same ornate oak bar that patrons have rested their elbows on for over a century.  Your mind could wander into the beautiful oil landscape scenes that John had painted on the mirrors behind the bar in 1969.  The images prompted comments about the exact location of the scene.

            According to Jack, his father paid Pottstown area artists Bucky Walters and Neddie Noll $200 each to paint the scenes.  Jack also told me that the impressive and colorful works are strictly images from the artist's mind and not from a local setting.

            Over the years, a variety of visitors from different points in the world stopped in for a good meal and conversation, including a group of New York firefighters after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks; a film crew from England, Scotland, Australia, and Egypt filming a documentary; and Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame defenseman Joe Watson (a personal friend of son John.)

            In the last moments of conversation before the doors closed, I learned that John S. Burke ran an insurance business in the Quakertown area.  Son Jack worked in the business as well. One day in 1967 John announced to the family: "By the way, I bought a hotel today."  Queenie and Russ Weidner, who the Burkes described as "great people", were in the process of selling the hotel when John walked in and paid $1,000 down to seal the deal as the new owner.

            It was the beginning of nearly 54 years of Burke history at the establishment.  Sibylle, Jack's wife, was only 19 at the time of the purchase, and was able to hold her 21st birthday party there.

            Jack and Sibylle raised daughter Lisa and sons John and Carl in Sumneytown.  John entered the business with his parents in 1987.  The Sumneytown Hotel would eventually be worked by four-generations of the Burke family.  John S. Burke, son Jack and wife Sibylle, grandson John, and great-grandson Jamison.   

            When asked about his favorite memories of the Sumneytown Hotel, Jack said "all of the people."  He added, somberly, "Some of them are gone, now I'm the oldest guy."

            Sibylle's memories included "friends and family, sitting on the porch, and great times and great employees; some like family."  She had much appreciation for the employees over the years including the Gagliano, Knepps, and Danaskos families.

            She gave a special shoutout to "Michelle, Kathy, and Marie" who have been with them for 30 years.  She gave a special mention to Alex who has been with them since he was 14-years-old, first as a dishwasher and now, at 26, a cook.

            To all of the Burkes, best wishes and thanks for the memories.

            To Jack and Sibylle, have a wonderful retirement.


 

 

 

 

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