clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Did Secret Room in William Penn Inn Hide Runaway Slaves?

The plans to demolish the William Penn Inn in Wynnewood have been put on hold for 90 days as new evidence has been presented that shows the 18th Century landmark may have been a "safe house" for runaway slaves in the early 1800's. Looking to demolish the inn in favor of five single-family homes, John Rayer, of site-developers Rayer Builders, maintains that restoring the building to historical standards may cost upwards of $2M. Sitting near other known safe houses, this case that the building has hidden rooms that may have helped shuttle slaves to safety is "news" to the team behind the development plans. According to Main Line Media News, "the delay is the maximum allowed under the township's Historic Preservation Ordinance for a Class 2 historic resource," which is the inn's current designation. Hearings to determine the fate of the property will take place in the coming months, but what kind of evidence did they find?

A resident of one of the apartments in the inn recently found a carefully crafted interior pulley system that operates a trap door found in the ceiling, which runs, according Philly.com, between the 2nd and 3rd floor. The space is apparently 4' by 8'. The inn was built in 1799 (and later named Pennsgrove) by do-everything John Price, and this idea of a secrete passageway lends more credence to his anti-slavery beliefs found in his diaries, which outline his efforts to help a runaway slave named John.

Price sounds like quite an interesting guy, which is backed-up by the guy's impressive background. Check out this resume, again from Main Line Media News:
A member of a founding Welsh Quaker family in Lower Merion, Price (1753-1828) was active in many ways in the community. He was a farmer, innkeeper, undertaker, militiaman, and carpenter and builder, and had helped to build the segment of the turnpike near the inn. He is also revered for the diaries he kept with dedication for nearly 40 years, 1,400 pages in all now preserved by the historical society, detailing life in America's early years as a nation. · Lower Merion's William Penn Inn may have been used as 'safe house' for runaway slaves; demolition delayed [Main Line Media News]
· In L. Merion, an inn's link to hiding slaves [Philly.com]