Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: January 1991 Volume 29 Number 1, Pages 13–17


William Woys Weaver

Page 13

Roughwood, on the north side of Old Lancaster Road in Devon, stands out among the historic buildings of the area for three reasons. It was an important early tavern along the Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike from 1812 to about 1865; it represents the work of several significant Pennsylvania architects, including Addison Hutton and R. Brognard Okie; and it has been the private residence of a long line of individuals of state and national prominence. It was known throughout the first two-thirds of the 19th century as the Lamb Tavern, and took its present name "Roughwood" after it was purchased in 1868 by Albert Sidney Ashmead.

While the building has been remodeled several times over the years, it is believed that it was originally constructed as early as 1805, and perhaps as early as 1802. (In some local histories its construction date has been reported as 1783, but there appears to be no substantiation for this date.) On a map drawn in conjunction with a survey of the Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike by Robert Brooks, begun in 1806 [the original is in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania], there is a drawing showing "a log house on top of the hill" standing in the exact location of the stone wing of the present building.

It has also been suggested that the building may be, or may have replaced, one of the buildings referred to in a deed of 1802 [Chester County Deed Book W 2-45-103] by which Robert McClenachan and his wife Amelia sold a large property to a Samuel Goff.

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In the following year, Goff and his wife sold the property to a Daniel Crouse [Deed Book W 2-45-246], and again there is reference to buildings on it. Since in both the 1802 and 1803 papers there were two buildings, at opposite ends of the property, however, it is not clear in the deeds which one, if either, of the two casually mentioned buildings is the Lamb Tavern/Roughwood site. Accordingly, it appears that 1805 is the safest date to apply to the building.

It was licensed as the Lamb Tavern in 1812, and was the only tavern so far documented to have received its license by virtue of a gubernatorial order. The license was issued to George Rees, the owner of the property at that time, by Governor Simon Snyder, an unusual circumstance in Pennsylvania since tavern licensing was then primarily a jurisdiction of the county courts. (There is an interesting story here that has not yet been fully unraveled, but it appears that the governor owed Rees a political favor of some sort) In his lifetime Rees was extremely well known in this part of Pennsylvania, both for his colorful Revolutionary War service and because he later served as a controversial Sheriff of Philadelphia from 1829 to 1832. He was always involved in politics, and it seems to have been his major means of income, aside from investment properties like the Lamb. Even after he left office, Philadelphia directories consistently referred to him as "the late Sheriff".

Today Roughwood is the only surviving building from the town of Glassley. As the Lamb, it was the most important of the three taverns in the village, and thus was a focal point for such local activities as the militia muster and public auctions. The town of Glassley had been laid out as a speculative venture by the Philadelphia merchant Robert McClenachan, and grew into a loosely organized village with three taverns, a blacksmith shop, a cabinetmaker, a tobacconist, and a number of small log houses. Like the Spring House Tavern and the Stage Tavern, the Lamb and all of Glassley drew its livelihood from the turnpike trade. When the railroad came through in 1832, commerce was drawn away from the village, and that more or less marked its end. Only the Lamb was able to survive economically, and that was because it shifted its emphasis to boarding summer guests from Philadelphia. As a boarding house, the Lamb was ideal, as it was situated on one of the highest and breeziest locations along the railroad and turnpike.

The property has had several distinguished owners, in addition to George Rees, who drew the house into the state and national sphere of business, commerce, the military, and the arts. The four most prominent were Albert Sidney Ashmead, Peter W. Ziegler, Thomas Alexander Biddle, and Colonel Michael Dallet.

Between 1868 and 1872 the owner of the property was the land developer and Civil War hero Albert Sidney Ashmead. (It was he who gave the name "Roughwood" to the property.) . During the Civil War Ashmead had been Captain and AGM in the renowned 29th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. He participated in a number of Civil War events and battles, among them the march on Fredericksburg, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Battles of Wauhatchie, Lookout Mountain, Ringold, Resaca, and Kenesaw Mountain. He was also an uncle of the American poet Henry Van Dyke, who is believed to have spent summers at Roughwood during the years it was owned by Ashmead.

Page 15

In 1872 Ashmead sold the house to Peter W. Ziegler, who owned it until 1881. Ziegler was a book publisher in Philadelphia, specializing in Christian and moral literature. His publishing house was known for many years as Ziegler and McCurdy, and later as Peter W. Ziegler and Company.

In 1881 Thomas Alexander Biddle purchased Roughwood as a summer home. Biddle was the founder of Thomas A. Biddle and Company, Bankers, a firm still in existence today and nationally respected. He was the son of Thomas Biddle, at one time president of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, and a cousin of Nicholas Biddle of Andalusia.

Colonel Michael Dallet, the owner of the Red D Steamship Line between New York, Philadelphia, and South America, owned Roughwood from 1887 until 1907. The house remained in the possession of his descendants until 1941.

Over the years, the work of several architects and builders has shaped the character of Roughwood, gradually transforming it from a tavern to a residence.

The architect Addison Hutton is connected circumstantially with renovation work on the house between 1868 and 1872, but only a nearby serpentine and frame barn attributed to him now survives. The builders involved in the 1887 and 1893 Queen Anne renovations are now unknown.

It was R. Brognard Okie, now gaining national recognition as an important Colonial Revival architect, however, who left the most lasting impression on the house as it stands today. In terms of his career, Roughwood was a significant experimental project in which he tried out, between 1928 and 1930, new ideas and designs. His use of 14- and 28-foot modules to create unusual exterior and interior proportions was something he evidently used only at Roughwood. In spite of his reputation for massive reworkings of older structures, Okie was relatively light-handed in his approach to Roughwood. Archival data, structural evidence, and archaeological fragments made it entirely possible to reconstruct the tavern as it appeared and as it was furnished in its heyday, between 1825 and 1845, as a first class establishment.

As viewed from the south, or Old Lancaster Road, side, Roughwood is a two story, six-bay structure arranged in three wings. The exterior of the house is broken by 52 windows, ten of which are in gabled dormers rebuilt during the 1928 renovation, and five of which are small casement windows created in 1928. Most of the windows contain antique glass, either original to the house or installed during subsequent renovations; one pane, in a second floor room of the dining wing, is dated 1847. There are five door openings, a cellar entrance, and three stone chimneys servicing six fireplaces. There are also the remains of two additional brick chimney stacks in the cellar, one under the pantry and the other on the south gable end of the dining room wing.

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Each wing is covered with a gable roof, built in a complex interlocking fashion so that it is possible, by way of window-size hatches, to pass from one wing to the other in the attic space directly beneath the roof. The attic space below this is finished off into nine rooms, inter-connected by hallways.

A simple Ionic cornice of the late Federalist Period design is carried around the entire house. Parts of the cornice are original, dating from the period 1819 to 1822, and parts of it are copied. (During the Queen Anne renovation of 1877 large oversized block medallions were attached to the cornice all around the house, but these were removed in 1928. It is still possible to see outlines where they were installed.)

The walls of the house have been painted a deep yellow, to match the color scheme of the 1840s. All the sashes and casement windows are painted dark green to match the original color scheme, while all the trimwork has been painted white. The shutters have also been painted white and the louvered exterior blinds on the second floor dark green to follow the original colors of the tavern period.

The interior of the house is divided into 28 rooms, not counting walk-in closets (small rooms in themselves), halls, and stairwells. White oak random width planks dating from the 1928 renovation are found throughout the first floor of the house, while original tulip poplar or hemlock random width planks, some repaired several times, are found throughout the rest of the house. A molded walnut chair railing is extant throughout all the rooms except the kitchen, service areas, and the attic quarters on the third floor.

The principal and oldest wing of the house is the eastern most or stone wing, built about 1819 of local green serpentine ashlar over the foundations of the earlier (c 1805) two-story log structure. Logs salvaged in 1810 from the demolished 1722 Baptist Church of the Great Valley were used as structural timbers in this section of the house, and are extant today. The interior space of this wing is divided into four parlors, two on the first floor and two on the second, situated to the right of a broad hall referred to as the "entry" in old inventories of the house.(This room arrangement also agrees with newspaper descriptions of the house in 1823 and 1830.) The staircase in the hall is finished in mahogany, and is arranged in four flights, rising to the attic level. All of the old doors in this wing are mahogany or, on the second floor, painted to resemble mahogany.

This stone wing originally served as the "best quarters" for the old Lamb Tavern, between 1812 and 1866, and the fine gouge-work mantelpieces in the parlors reflect an attempt at fashion. This is also carried through in high-style door and window architraves that resemble those at "Solitude", John Penn's villa now on the grounds of the Philadelphia Zoo.

The windows in this wing are tall (the ceilings are roughly 14 feet high) with double-hung sashes, each with 12 lights. The first floor sashes have holes for wrought iron sash pegs, an early security device, and all the window surrounds on the first and second floors have paneled soffits and splayed reveals with recesses for fold-away shutters.

Page 17

The original wine cellar for the tavern was situated under the north parlor (in the room now housing the heating system). The wine cellar is still serviced by an entrance with ramps for raising and lowering barrels.

The dining room or "bar room" wing of the house was added in 1821-22 and is timber frame, covered with lath and plaster. It was originally divided into two parlors on the first floor and two on the second, the first floor parlors being the old bar room, mentioned in an 1865 inventory, and a second dining room for the tavern. The original hanging liquor cupboard for the bar is still extant. (By 1928 the second dining room had been obliterated by pantry alterations, so Okie enlarged the front room and organized it into a formal dining room. The pantry was also redesigned by Okie, who installed numerous glass and wooden cupboards. A twisting set of service stairs, dating from the 1860s, connects the attic servants' quarters with the pantry.)

The second floor is now occupied by a large sitting room and hall. Much of the millwork appears to date from the 1870s or later.

The windows in this wing are mostly six over six.

The kitchen wing is a two-story frame section now covered with beaded cypress clapboards. It was described as unfinished ("roughcast") in an 1822 newspaper report.

After 1866, when the house ceased to serve as a tavern, various service rooms were added to this wing and it gradually changed in outward appearance as well as interior arrangement. In 1928 Okie made a plan of this wing before renovation work began; it shows a jumble of rooms with walls at odd angles. Okie rearranged the spaces into a tavern kitchen, a laundry, and a servants' dining room, all oriented around the old tavern hearth.

Above the kitchen Okie created a master bedroom, with a corner fireplace and a suite of bath and dressing rooms. (One of the dressing rooms now doubles as a library and study.)

All the sash windows in this wing were salvaged from other parts of the house or from demolished dependencies. The number of lights varies from one window to the next, but most of them are nine over nine or six over six.

(Okie also suggested a two-story gallery porch, of the sort seen on many old Pennsylvania taverns, for the northwest section of this wing, but for reasons now unclear this part of the renovation was never completed.)

*Adapted from the application to have Roughwood placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


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