Tavern Built in 1757 Served Elizabethtown Until 1985 Fire

By Jean-Paul Benowitz

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) proclaimed Oct. 6 as German American Day to celebrate and honor the 300th anniversary of German immigrants to America. On Oct. 6, 1987, President Reagan signed into law the observance of German American Day. On Oct. 6, 1683, 13 German families from Krefeld, near the Rhine, landed in Philadelphia. These families subsequently founded Germantown, Pennsylvania, the first German settlement in the original 13 colonies. With this in mind, let us reflect on The Black Horse Tavern, the first public house in Elizabethtown, established for German settlers by the Redsecker family. In 1737 Peter (1707-1788) and Christiana (1709-1740s) Ricksecker emigrated from Berne, Switzerland, to Elizabethtown. They settled in the Milton Grove area and were among the founders of the Moravian Church dedicated on March 22, 1745. Peter?s son Johann George Ricksecker married Anna maria Andereck (1739-1769) who was from Alsace, France. Johann George Ricksecker, the first postmaster in Elizabethtown, is buried in the churchyard of Donegal Presbyterian Church where there is a large monument explaining how he was a first lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of Colonel Alexander L. Lowrey?s (1723-1805) regiment, and how this regiment fought at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. Johann George Ricksecker and his half-brother Jacob (1745-1806) operated the Aberdeen Mill. Arguably the oldest mill in Elizabethtown, Aberdeen Mill was built in 1774 on the Conewago Creek by Prussian Mennonite Ulrich Scheer. From this mill Scheer sent cornmeal to Lancaster, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. There was also a distillery for corn whiskey and rye or barley rum which was sent to Harrisburg, floated over the Susquehanna, and sent to the western frontier. There was also a saw mill and coppersmith shop for making the barrels to transport the whiskey and rum. From Aberdeen Mill the Ricksecker family became a primary supplier of feed to Washington?s troops at Valley Forge. Lieutenant Ricksecker?s son George (1765-1838) married Susanna Ream (1765-1851). The family name was changed by their neighbor, a schoolmaster named Terah Jones. Members of St. Peter?s Roman Catholic Church, Terah and Margaret Jones immigrated to Elizabethtown from Ireland in 1797. The Jones family rented a house from Johann George Redsecker on the east side of South Market Street. Jones was a second lieutenant in the War of 1812. George Redsecker was instrumental in the establishment of the first Reformed congregation in Elizabethtown. The Redsecker family was part of the establishment of the Reformed Church in Switzerland in 1519 by Huldrych Zwingli (1184-1531). The Swiss Protestant Reformation gradually became influenced by French speaking cities particularly with the reforms introduced by the French theologian John Calvin (1509-1564). The Redsecker family brought leadership to the Swiss reformed immigrants living in Elizabethtown who met in their homes for Bible study. The Swiss Reformed congregation in Elizabethtown was associated with the Dutch Reformed Church organized in 1628 in New Amsterdam, now New York City. The congregation was led in 1763 by the Swiss theologian Conrad Bucher. A captain who served in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Reverend Bucher was called to the ministry in Elizabethtown by ?representatives of the High Dutch Presbyterian Congregation.? In 1767 the Swiss family Peter and Magdalena Blaser deeded an acre of land on Maytown Road one mile southwest of Elizabethtown to establish Blaser?s Reformed Church. The ethnic composition of Elizabethtown changed with the arrival of thousands of German Palatine immigrants. German-speaking members of the Reformed Church transformed the local Swiss Reformed congregation. The Elizabethtown congregation became aligned with the German Reformed congregations in Germantown. By 1777 the Blaser congregation called the German Reverend John William Runkel. At the age of 15 Runkel emigrated from Germany to Lebanon County. Reverend Runkel was licensed to preach by the Reformed Church in 1777, when he began his ministry in Elizabethtown, and was ordained in 1778 before accepting a post in 1784 with the Reformed Church in Frederick, Md. The Blaser?s German Reformed Church would eventually become the current Christ Church United Church of Christ (1816, 1909). In 1815 Leonard Negley deeded land for the building of a church in Elizabethtown on South Market Street just south of the present church. George Redsecker was elected by the congregation to build the church. In 1816 George Redsecker placed an advertisement in the Lancaster newspaper the Intelligencer announcing the consecration of ?The Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown? which had been approved by the German Reformed synod including Reformed churches in Maytown, Manheim, and Lebanon. George and Susanna Redsecker?s Black Bear Tavern eventually became the social and political hub for German residents of Elizabethtown and for German cattle drovers and German pioneers heading west in their Conestoga wagons. In 1757 George and Susanna Redsecker built the Black Horse Tavern. This public house was a log cabin measuring 18 by 20 feet strategically located along the Paxtang-Conestoga Road. In 1805 the Lancaster, Elizabethtown, Middletown Turnpike was built right past the Black Horse Tavern. By 1811 the Philadelphia-Pittsburg Turnpike was opened. The Pennsylvania Canal was now accessible to Elizabethtown by the Conewago Creek and Falmouth Turnpike. By 1832 Pennsylvania had a network of 3,000 miles of highways. According to government records, George and Susanna Redsecker also owned a tavern called the Sign of the Globe on ?the southeast corner of the Diamond Square.? In 1757 George Redsecker was licensed to sell wine and rum to the general public, but no ?liquor of any kind to the Indians.? How did the Redseckers decide on the name of the tavern? The names of the taverns and public houses in Elizabethtown represented some emblem painted on a signboard such as Sign of the Bear Tavern, Washington House, The Phoenix, and Running Pump. Pennsylvania towns such as Blue Ball, Cross Anchor, Rising Sun, Bird-in?Hand, Broad Axe, King of Prussia, Red Lion, and White Horse were named by the prominent tavern in the community. Following this course, Elizabethtown should have been named for the Sign of the Bear Tavern (and other local public houses referencing bears in their name). Many apparently meaningless names on the ancient taverns were the work of English speaking sign painters who corrupted the original French settlers? names for locations. For example, the ?Pig and Carrot? was originally the ?Pique and Carreau,? the spade and diamond of playing cards. The sign for the ?Bell Savage? featured an American Indian alongside a large bell. Actually this was an English corruption of a popular French book character of the day; a beautiful woman found in the wilderness and called ?la Belle Sauvage.? According to members of the Redsecker family the original tavern sign featured a Black Horse on a red sign with the date 1797 and the initials ?J. R.? referring to Johann George Ricksecker and Jacob Ricksecker. Did the Redsecker family serve Pennsylvania German food at the German patronized Black Horse Tavern and English food at the British patronized Sign of the Globe Tavern on Diamond Square? Yes and no. They served the same ingredients in both taverns but presented in two different ways. In Elizabethtown, if you are served chicken pot pie and you are expecting to find chicken, vegetables, and sauce served in a miniaturized pie shell but rather you have been presented with chicken, gravy, and square noodles; here is the reason. In the 18th and 19th centuries Anglo-American hotel restaurants catered to produce vendors who came into Elizabethtown for weekly markets and served this dish in a miniature pie crust. Local farmers however, viewed the dish as a way to consume leftovers. Chicken was not something people ate every day, at least not in the 19th century. To Elizabethtown farmers of yesteryear pot pie served the practical function of making food use of old hens which stopped laying eggs or roosters whose time had come. The Pennsylvania Dutch replaced the mainstream American pie crust with German style egg noodles. In Pennsylfaanisch (Pennsylvania Dutch dialect) these noodle squares are called potpies (Botboi), a term derived from English. The noodle as the starch in the potpie is actually not part of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. The egg noodles were created in medieval England and brought to Elizabethtown by the British settlers and not the Germans; thus egg noodles are not Pennsylvania Dutch. What we know today as Pennsylvania Dutch chicken potpie is an American invention. In 1835, George and Susanna Ream Redsecker deeded the Black Horse Tavern to their son Jacob Redsecker (1800-1868) and his wife Harriett Martin (1808-1847). Jacob Redsecker was justice of the peace from 1835-1836 and 1840. In 1848-49, Jacob Redsecker was clerk of Elizabethtown Borough, which was incorporated in 1827. From 1836-1840, Jacob Redsecker was postmaster of Elizabethtown. In 1836 Postmaster Redsecker expanded the Black Horse Tavern to establish the local post office. Christopher Hoffman bought it from Jacob Redsecker in 1842 and sold it to George Boyer in 1854. In 1890, it was remodeled in the fashion of the late Victorian era (1837-1901). The exterior of the Black Horse Tavern was an excellent example of an 18th century type of wooden siding called Feigned Rustication. The exterior of the wooden building appeared as if it were made of stone. Rustication of wooden exteriors consists of three basic steps: First, the wood is cut, sanded, and prepared with beveled grooves making each plank appear as if it were a series of stone blocks; Second, the wood is painted with a thick coat of paint; Third, while the paint is still wet, sand is thrown onto the planks until no more sand will stick. The best example of rustication is George Washington?s Mount Vernon. In 1796, President Washington (1732-1799) commissioned his home to be rusticated. The Elizabethtown post office building was erected in 1931 near the site of the former Washington Hotel. For this reason, the lantern on the top of the post office is similar to the rusticated lantern on the top of Mount Vernon. Old photographs of Elizabethtown illustrate how several buildings on Market Street were rusticated. The only remaining example in Elizabethtown of a rusticated building is the Jacob N. Olweiler (1869-1964) store at 8 S. Market St., which is currently Knock Knock Boutique. In 1985 the Lancaster Preservation Trust (1966) published a survey of historically significant architecture in Lancaster County. The authors of the report entitled ?Our Present Past? noted the Black Horse Tavern ?had been extensively altered [by] aluminum siding cover[ing] distinguishing architectural characteristics.? In 1985, a fire damaged the Black Horse Hotel. The owners decided against repairing the historic landmark, which was razed to build a parking lot. When you walk along Market Street, there is now a part of our local history missing. We lost a part of the history of the German American experience. We lost one of the nation?s rare examples of feigned rustication architecture. We lost a significant location in the history of Elizabethtown and the Redsecker family. We lost an important part of the story of American history. We must all work together to preserve our past. We must all work together and stop tearing down Elizabethtown, both figuratively and literally. This column about historic structures in Elizabethtown is written by Jean-Paul Benowitz, a historian and Elizabethtown College?s director of student transition programs and prestigious scholarships and fellowships. It is illustrated by Shanise Marshall, a member of Elizabethtown College?s Class of 2015 who was a history major with a fine arts-art history and religious study minors.