ACCOMAC INN HISTORY
Written by H. Douglas Campbell Jr.
June 9, 1997
It was the year 1722. There were hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin hardwood forest unbroken by civilization or settlement. Lancaster County, on the east bank of the Susquehanna River was organizationally and developmentally still considered part of Chester County, PA; and would be so for another 10 years. Native American Indians still resided in the area and had free domain and access over the whole region. There were Indian villages on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, just north of the Codorus Creek, about 3 miles from the Accomac location. On the east bank of the Susquehanna River was another Indian settlement at what is now Columbia, Lancaster County. This entire region was virtually untouched by European settlement.
It was during this year of 1722 that Accomac Inn had its first beginnings on March 28, when a 200-acre tract of land called “The Partner’s Adventure” was first surveyed under authority of the Maryland proprietors for Philip Syng and Thomas Brown. Ten years later on December 9, 1732, a Patent was granted by Maryland for these 200 acres to these same two gentlemen.
This land was part of the ongoing controversy between the Maryland and Pennsylvania authorities for lands west of the Susquehanna River. The Maryland proprietors claimed the territory as far north as the 40th parallel (about where the Codorus Creek enters the Susquehanna River). The Pennsylvania authorities claimed land as far south as the 39th parallel (which would have included Baltimore City). Adding to the controversy, the Pennsylvania authorities operated under a self-imposed restriction of not granting lands for settlement until after they had been secured by treaty from the Native American Indians. The Maryland authorities held no such restrictions.
The grant to Syng and Brown is the farthest northern grant by Maryland in what would eventually become Pennsylvania territory. But there was yet another controversy surrounding this property. Shortly after Syng and Brown had this land surveyed in 1722, Governor William Keith of Pennsylvania, without proper authority and the claims of the Native American Indians not having been extinguished, authorized a survey of 2000 acres of land on the west bank of the Susquehanna River beginning on Kreutz Creek, just south of Wrightsville, then west 3 1/4 miles, northwest some 2.81 miles to the run that bisects “The Partners’ Adventure”, thence down to the River, and continuing to the place of beginning. Having heard that there was copper ore in this region, he took the opportunity to have this tract surveyed a week before he met with the American Indians to suggest a solution to their complaints about unauthorized and abusive settlers west of the River. Fortunately, this 2000-acre mine tract was never officially recognized and all but disappeared from mention in historic accounts of the area.
It wasn’t until 1736 that the last Indian claims to lands west of the Susquehanna River were extinguished by treaty, and Pennsylvania officials immediately began to grant warrants for these western lands. In the meantime, abuse and outrage reigned in the area around what is now Wrightsville between supporters of territorial claims of both Pennsylvania and Maryland. These incursions by Maryland were not looked on favorably, as various supporters of one colony or the other strove to influence the issue, both by argument and by gun. Eventually, both colonial governments appealed to the Royal Court in London; and in the Royal Order of 1738, it was determined that a definitive demarcation line should be established between Maryland and Pennsylvania and that lands granted on the (eventual) territory of the other colony should be given official status by the eventual colony in which they were found to lie. This line surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon was completed in 1763 and was named after them. Fortunately, Syng and Brown were able to continue their ownership even though their land was now part of Pennsylvania.
In any endeavor, there can only be one “first”. The tract of land on which Accomac Inn was built has the unique distinction of being the one and only first official land grant on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, and one of the first to be granted an official patent.
On November 20, 1759, Philip Syng, Jr. sold his land to James Anderson for 100 pounds lawful money of Pennsylvania. James Anderson owned all of the land contiguous to this tract, so it is no surprise that he would see this additional property as having some value. He was first granted his original patent to land on June 1, 1739, by John, Thomas and Richard Penn. Prior to this official recording, he operated a ferry from the east shore of the Susquehanna River (now Marietta, Lancaster County) probably beginning about the year 1730. In fact, this point on the Susquehanna River seems to have been a crossing place for European settlers as early as 1725. There are records that show in the spring of 1775, Presbyterian clergymen of Donegal, Lancaster County, crossed at Accomac to visit settlers along the Conewago Creek on the west side of the Susquehanna.
There is not much known about James Anderson, but it is worthy of note that it is believed that the great chief William Anderson of Anderson, Indiana, born circa 1761, was the son of James Anderson and a Delaware Indian women who resided prior to the Revolutionary War, below Harrisburg on the Susquehanna River. Chief Anderson was quite well known in Indiana and became chief of the Delaware “Turkey” group in the early 1800 hundreds. He stood about 6 feet tall and was described as a plain, majestic-looking man. Chief Anderson was actively involved in the negotiations with the US Government who was trying to purchase all of the Indian land east of the Mississippi River. The following is a direct quotation of Chief Anderson as reported by the Baptist minister Isaac McCoy.
“A little more than a year ago the United States agent advised us to adopt the habits of civilized life. At that time his word was very good; accordingly many of us procured cattle and hogs etc. Scarcely had we commenced this course, when we were asked to cede our lands to the white people. Something of this has been done; the white people now claim our country, and desire that we should leave it- and now we know not what to do. I think the men who made the bargain with us have done wrong, and that they had not been authorized to purchase our country; and I hope the transaction will not be approved by Congress.”
On November 17, 1742, Anderson’s Ferry received its official charter. Richard Peters, Secretary of the Province of Pennsylvania, in writing to the proprietaries under the above date says “James Anderson’s petition for a ferry was presented to Mr. Thomas Penn, and he gave me verbal orders to make out the patent”, On June 18, 1771, 29 years later, James Anderson, Sr., conveyed “Anderson’s Ferry” and 35 acres on the west side of the Susquehanna River to James Anderson, Jr., “Innkeeper” for 200 pounds. Although the actual date of construction of Accomac Inn is not known, records show that by 1775, Anderson’s Ferry Inn had been built; and by 1800, the Anderson’s Ferry Inn had petitioned and secured a Tavern license from the York County Courts”. The Inn probably was the original colonial farm home and ferry house.
In Lancaster County, the road to Anderson’s Ferry was the main travel artery from the New England States, New York through Reading and Manheim, across the river into York. John Gibson in his History of York County, Pennsylvania, records that at the August Quarter Session of the York County Court, 1748, a joint petition with many signers of the “townships of Hallam and Donegal, was presented to the court at Lancaster for a road from Anderson’s Ferry to join the road from John Wright’s Ferry to York”. The road was surveyed by April 1749, by order of the York Court, and approved for use by 1750. This early road is the “Accomac Road” as it runs from the Susquehanna River southwest to the junction in Hellam with the old “1739 Road” to Monacacy, westward. It was August 19, 1749, when York County was formally established by an act of the General Assembly.
During the years (September 30, 1777, to June 28, 1778) while the Continental Congress occupied York, (“Yorktown”), many distinguished American Revolutionaries crossed at this point and undoubtedly enjoyed a pause or rest at the “Inn”. Two letters from Marquis de Lafayette serve as evidence. The first was written on February 3, 1778, from “Anderson Ferry at three o’clock in a great hurry” to the honorable Henry Laurens (President of Continental Congress). And, the second letter dated from that same date, February 3, 1778, after spending several days conferring with Congress in York, took this route to Valley Forge, for he again writes to Henry Laurens that he “crossed the Susquehanna at Anderson’s Ferry” — from which point he dated his letter — and that the “river was full of ice”.
It was in 1777 and 1778 that Richard Keyes who owned a ferry two miles above Anderson’s Ferry later known as Vinegar’s Ferry, rented Anderson’s Ferry and kept the Anderson Ferry tavern. He was the likely host for Lafayette during Lafayette’s stay.
And, there is further evidence of important traffic at Accomac. John Gibson wrote in his History of York County Pennsylvania that “General Gates, after his success at Saratoga in the capture of General Burgoyne, and his army, crossed the river at this ferry while on his way to Congress then in session at York. He remained overnight with Colonel Alexander Lowry, who lived on the Lancaster County side of the river. Many of the congressmen, and others who had business with Congress, also crossed at the Ferry.”
Thus, the Inn at Anderson’s Ferry began its long history of entertaining many distinguished guests. In the many years that followed, Accomac Inn was to have a long list of new owners and flourish as a popular stopover for travelers.
The Susquehanna River was the reason for the very existence of Accomac, and there was considerable traffic both across the river as well as east and west. Many different types of river transportation were used on the Susquehanna through those early years, and poled or rowed “flat bottom” boats were used to ferry passengers, cargo, and animals from one side to the other until the early 1800s, when John Elgar, a machinist working for the Webb, Davis & Gardner Foundry, built the first iron steamboat in America which he called the “Codorus”, and launched it at Accomac, then called “Keesey’s Ferry”, on November 14, 1825. The steamboat had a keel 60 feet long, a 9-foot beam, a hull depth of 3 feet, and a draft of 6 inches. “The Codorus’ 10-horsepower steam engine was mounted in a 3-foot by 10-foot space in the center of the boat. An upright cylinder enclosed the furnace and boiler, which operated at 100 pounds of steam pressure to the square inch. Two side paddle wheels could propel the craft through calm water at 7 mph.” This was the first metal-hulled steam vessel built in the United States, and Accomac was the site of its first launching.
Following this period in Accomac’s history, the Inn was managed by Jacob Glatz, who purchased the Inn in the late 1840s. Little is known of Dr. Glatz’s ownership; but we do know that on August 25, 1863, Dr. Glatz advertised in the “York Gazette” that
“This old Ferry – one of the oldest and safest crossings on the Susquehanna River – is now in charge of the undersigned, who has refitted the old and built new boats, which will enable him to do ferrying with safety and dispatch.”
That same year, the Civil War was in full conflagration; and Accomac was not isolated from the conflict. A grave by the roadside near Accomac bears testimony to its participation. The identity of the Confederate soldier who died in June of 1863, a few days before the battle of Gettysburg, is unknown; but there are two theories as to how he died. One is that he became sick and died near the site of his grave and was buried by neighbors. The other is that he was part of a Confederate scouting party searching for a suitable ford to Lancaster County to be used if the Union Army burned the Wrightsville Bridge. It is thought that he was caught in a storm on the Susquehanna River, drowned, and was buried by a friend. In either case, Accomac was not immune to those turbulent times.
In 1864, the war was still being fought, mostly in the South. The battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Virginia were taking place; and this was the year that Atlanta, Georgia was burned by Sherman. For Accomac, the year meant a new owner. On July 5, 1864, the Accomac property was purchased by John Coyle. It was during John Coyle’s ownership that another tragic event took place at the Inn. Early in the morning of May 30, 1882, Emily Myers, a hired girl, was in the barn milking cows when 29-year-old Johnny Coyle, John Coyle’s son, entered the barn to once again ask Emily for her hand in marriage. Emily had rejected Johnny’s advances many times before and asked Johnny to please let her be. Johnny was not a bright boy; but although he had a quick temper, he was considered a considerate and gentile fellow. His attentions were spurned by Emily; and in a fit of frustration, he drew a pistol and shot Emily dead some fifty feet north of the Inn. Johnny’s trial caused quite a stir at the time. There was little sympathy for Johnny in spite of his stated affliction of a “weak mind”. After a ten-day search for Johnny, who had run to the hills, he was found and brought for arraignment on October 19, where on advice of his attorney pleaded “not guilty” to this onerous crime. Johnny’s trial was front-page news, with reports of witnesses called, rebuttals and statements by attorneys. It was to no one’s surprise that the verdict was “guilty of murder in the first degree”. Feelings ran high in the community against Johnny Coyle for his seemingly cold-blooded murder of Emily. So when Johnny appealed this verdict to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1882, the case was ordered retried. His attorneys asked for a change of venue to Gettysburg, Adams County. The courtroom was crowded on March 5, 1883, when the jury, after three hours of deliberation, returned its verdict of “guilty of murder in the first degree”. In spite of repeated attempts to appeal the decision, Johnny was hanged in Gettysburg; and his mother claimed the body and transported it by wagon from the Gettysburg jail to York to the Inn, where he lies buried about 50 feet south of the Inn in a grave marked with a stone marker. This murder and its two trials were sensational events at the time, spanning a period of two years from 1882 to 1883.
Exactly when Coyle’s Ferry became known as Accomac Inn, no one seems to know. It does appear that the name was adopted sometime around 1875 during the Coyle period. The original spelling is also in question, with one spelling as “Acaumauke”. Mr. M. L. Heisey in his booklet “Indian Names of Local Interest with their Origin and Meaning” reports that “Accomac signifies “on the other side”, “the other side land”, or “across the water”; a Nanticoke name. It is known that the Nanticoke Indian tribe, originally from southeastern Delaware and the Eastern shore of Maryland, established a village on the Susquehanna River as early as 1747, and from there the main body gradually moved up the river, finally settling in Canada. The first two definitions of the name would apply to Accomac of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, “on the other side” of Chesapeake Bay, while the last would apply to our local Accomac, “across the water” from the present site of Marietta, Pa”.
Following the Coyle ownership, the Inn was purchased by James Duffy on June 18, 1889; and we know that by 1892, 4 years later, the Inn was operated by Amos Grove of Marietta, Pa. We also know that Amos had several successful seasons at Accomac.
A flyer circulated by Mr. Grove announced the opening of the summer season at Accomac on Monday, June 6, 1892.
“The popularity of which is attested to by the registration of nearly 1200 guests the second season.” “One of the attractions will be a steam ferry boat” which will be used for excursions to Chickies and Chestnut Falls. A flat boat will be used to convey teams across the river, towed by the steamboat. If you want to spend a day, week or monthly, you will find this the place to which to go. Accommodations good; charges $1 per day; children under 12 years, half price. Picnic and dancing parties will find the charges reasonable. Ample shelter in case of rain. There is a dancing pavilion on the grounds 80 feet long. Persons visiting the resort will be kindly treated and every attention given. Ample stabling for horses. Chicken and waffle suppers a specialty. For further information, address the proprietor, Amos Grove.”
This flyer is where I found first mention of the famous “chicken and waffles” which was to become the signature dish for Accomac Inn for the next 60 years.
The beginning of the next century was to mark a turning point in the life of Accomac. Henry Ford formed the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and introduced his Model T at a cost of $850. By 1909 his Company was turning out 19,000 automobiles a year. Accomac Inn would no longer be just a stopover for travelers. Now it was possible for the family to drive to a place like Accomac Inn and drive home the same day. This singular event would mark the beginning of the restaurant business, as we know it today. For most sites, the sale of meals would become more important than the sale of rooms; and this would certainly be true for Accomac.
In the spring of 1915, Norman T. Pickle took possession of the Accomac Inn, following ownerships by Duffy, Waller, and Gitt. The Inn was reported to be in a “run-down” condition. Norman Pickle was responsible for reviving Accomac to its former state, keeping the atmosphere of early times but modernizing where necessary to provide up-to-date comforts for his guests. Mr. Pickle, an unassuming but genuinely friendly man, endeared himself to all his patrons; and the Inn prospered magnificently for 36 years under Norman Pickle’s stewardship.
The Inn under Norman Pickle was known for its antique pieces–buffet and old clock, large wooden doors with iron hinges, and much, much more.
On the night of May 16, 1935, tragedy struck when fire swept through the Inn from the porch of the Accomac facing the Susquehanna River, destroying the building and its antique furnishings and fixtures. The “York Dispatch” in an article dated May 17, 1935, reported the following story.
“OCCUPANTS FLEE FROM HOTEL ACCOMAC BLAZE”
“The Accomac hotel along the Susquehanna River, north of Wrightsville, was destroyed by fire shortly before midnight last night at a loss estimated at about $15,000. Norman T. Pickle, the proprietor, Lester Goodling, Theodore Caracher and Norman Smith, who were asleep in the structure when the blaze was discovered, were aroused by a neighbor and escaped with only the clothes on their backs. The fire, believed to have been caused by a short circuit in an electric light line, started on the porch of the tavern”.
This was a time of great sadness for Accomac and its many friends. But Norman Pickle, equal to the challenge, immediately laid plans for the reconstruction of Accomac Inn. Reconstruction began using original stone from the building and with new stone from the old Witmer Bridge in Lancaster County; and on September 21, 1935, Accomac again reopened for business reconstructed to the old dimensions of the former Inn ready to continue its tradition of fine food and service for another 16 years under Mr. Pickle’s ownership.
A brochure from the period states that a
“New three story stone inn risen from the ashes of Ye Old Accomac Inn, destroyed by fire May 16, 1935. Modern in every respect, the new inn is constructed from stone taken from the ruins of the old one. It is open throughout the entire year. A large porch and “sunset” terrace prove added attractions for guests to enjoy the colorful sunsets along with the beauties and cool breezes of this natural cove”
“Attractive, comfortable, modern lodgings and fresh, wholesome home-cooked Southern Pennsylvania food efficiently served, offer a lure to all those, both urban and rural, who seek recreation amid the beauties of Pennsylvania’s mountains and streams. The Inn is equipped to render service for dinner parties and banquets, as well as service to home groups and individuals desiring separate meals or refreshments. Reservations can be made by phoning Wrightsville, Penn., 9012R4, or by addressing the proprietor, Norman T. Pickle, Hellam R.D. 1, York Co., Penn.”
For one year following Norman T. Pickle’s death in 1951, the Inn was operated by the late owner’s estate and James Sterrett Caracher of Marietta, Pa.
Mr. and Mrs. Morton Nauss purchased the Accomac Inn from Mr. Caracher on June 9, 1952, and continued to operate it as an eating establishment. Mr. Nauss, formally employed by the Marie Antoinette Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., expanded the menu to include seafood and roasts, as well as the well-known “chicken and waffles”.
Mr. and Mrs. Nauss sold the property to Vance and Vivian Lehman, who operated the Inn for 11 years as a “fisherman’s bar”, until purchased by the current owner, H. Douglas Campbell Jr. on May 4, 1971.