American County Histories

Inns of the Early U.S.

The inns of the early U.S. are a far cry from the comfortable hotels we can stay in today.  Here is a description of one of them, taken from the History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, as found in the Accessible Archives database:

 

CHAPTER XXX.INNS, TAVERNS, ORDINARIES, COFFEE-HOUSES, AND HOTELS.
H0000110 HISTORY OF PHILADELPHIA. 1609 – 1884. J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott. L.H. EVERTS & CO, 1884, p. 980.

IN olden times, such a thing as the modern hotel, with its fashionably-dressed and all-important clerk its vast smoking-room, carpeted parlors, gilt mouldings, and other luxurious appointments, was unknown. The modest inn accommodated “man and beast,” and the jolly landlord welcomed the wearied traveler,— and fleeced him, too, when the occasion offered,— and an active, bright-eyed barmaid waited on him, and provided those simple comforts,— a pipe a pair of slippers, a glass of hot punch or a tankard of foaming ale, and a cosy corner near the tap-room fire. If the cloth was coarse it was generally white and clean, at least in respectable establishments, and the plain deal table groaned under the weight of viands which, if they presented no great variety, were well cooked and wholesome. Our fathers were great eaters and stout drinkers, and there was no need of a French menu and wines with high-sounding names to whet their appetites; roast beef, a leg of mutton, ham and cabbage, a fat fowl, were the solid dishes laid before them; ale, port or Madeira wine, and a glass of Jamaica rum and hot water to top off, left them in a pretty good condition to find sleep on the clean bed,—sometimes a hard one,— prepared for them in the small room, whose bare floors, whitewashed walls, and plain curtains, did not invite dreams of palatial splendors.

The tavern, though it accommodated guests with bed and board, had more of the character of a drinking-house. The inn was rural in its origin, the tavern originated in the city, and was frequented not merely by topers and revelers, but by quiet citizens, bachelors having no fireside of their own, and men of family who went there to meet neighbors and discuss business or the news, while enjoying a quiet glass and pipe. The ordinary was an eating-house, something between the restaurant and the boardinghouse of our day. Coffee-houses, so called, which dispensed intoxicating drinks as well as the fragrant decoction of the Arabian bean, made their appearance later; they were but taverns in an aristocratic disguise.

 

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