Saving the Red Rose

posted Thu, Nov 25, 2010

By CHRIS BARBER, Special to the Daily Local News

PENN — Tracy Culgan has lived in Chester County for 24 years, and in that time has become a fan of the historic old Red Rose Inn on Old Baltimore Pike at Route 796. She remembers going there for nice meals and special events years ago and is distressed to see it now falling into disrepair and abandonment.

Persuaded by her desire to prevent the building from falling victim to a wrecker's ball, Culgan is leading a crusade to build a movement of supporters who want to save the place.

To that end, she is hosting a meeting for all who support her at Perkins restaurant on Route 41 in Avondale on Dec. 4 at 9:30 a.m. She said the meeting will be short, and her goal is to brainstorm ideas for the preservation of the Red Rose.

Just this past weekend, she and some friends raked leaves around the inn, hoping in part to prevent anyone from being tempted to set the place afire.

But she said she wants more than just preventing the inn from coming down. She wants to get it placed on the National Register of Historic Places and brought back to being either a bed-and-breakfast or an elegant restaurant. She is also interested in forming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose goal it is to restore the inn.

"Ever since I saw that "closed" sign go up in 2008, I've been concerned, but I didn't do anything. Now, I've got to do something about that," she said.

According to historical records, the Red Rose Inn dates back to

the days of William Penn in 1731. From its earliest years, it was traditional for the renters of the building to pay their lease of one red rose annually to William Penn or one of his descendents on the weekend after Labor Day.

One local historian said George Washington had a horse stable nearby where he would stop on his way up from Virginia to Philadelphia to get a fresh mount.

But those ceremonies have ceased, the horses don't ride by on their way to Philadelphia, and development is encroaching the land around it.

In her effort to get the restoration word out, Culgan has started a Facebook page entitled "Save the Red Rose Inn." She said it's had more than 2,000 hits and has been receiving positive feedback. "Most people say, 'Please save it,'" Culgan said.

Penn Township supervisors' Chairman Curtis Mason said some people believe the township is opposed to preserving the inn, but the opposite is true. "The township will cooperate with anyone who wants to save the Red Rose Inn," he said, adding that it's probably one of the most historic buildings in Pennsylvania.

The fact is the township supervisors have gone to some lengths to pursue its restoration including seeking to put it on the Historic Register. The trouble is, Mason said, it has been altered so many times, it does not qualify. In addition, he pointed out that the original and historic part of the building is the small shack-like area on the western side.

The grand, country manor-appearing structure was added more recently, even though it conveys the mood of a historic old dwelling.

Mason also cited the significant debt associated with the inn and the hesitancy any buyer would have in jumping into a restaurant venture. He said if the building were to land on the Historic Register, anyone with any aspirations of redesigning would have severe limitations.

"It goes down to numbers. There's no money. We've had people look at it. In order to make money they have to put 20 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag. … It used to be families would (work a restaurant), but now the kids don't want to," he said.

He said he would like to see the building have the sides lopped off and the facade preserved. Then build a modern addition on the back that would meet codes for cooking and hosting guests. If that were to take place, people would enter with the feeling of an old inn, but would enjoy the modern amenities they are seeking in fine dining.

Still, he has his concerns. "The failure of restaurants is high. Banks don't want to touch them," he said.

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