by Tianna G. Hansen
In a fun twist on the slogan, “well-behaved women seldom make history,” M. Diane McCormick brings her new book “Well-Behaved Taverns Seldom Make History: Pennsylvania Pubs Where Rabble-Rousers and Rum Runners Stirred up Revolutions,” highlighting 12 misbehaving taverns that made their mark on history.
M. Diane McCormick takes a self-driven pub crawl through time, exploring Pennsylvania taverns and giving a highlight to heroes and scoundrels alike from the American Revolution, Whiskey Rebellion, Prohibition and more.
“Pennsylvania makes revolutions, and Pennsylvania has pubs,” said Diane. “That’s not a coincidence. Gather people with gripes in a public space, add booze, and the flame torch is lit.”
From Bucks County, the book highlights two historic taverns with plenty of secrets to share.
*McCoole’s at the Historic Red Lion Inn (Quakertown)
McCoole’s was revived from the rundown Red Lion Inn, purchased by its current owner who owned a building across the street and hoped to upkeep the unique “gateway” into Quakertown.
Diane gives a brief history behind taverns, beginning with the distaste of early Quaker settlers.
“Taverns attracted a disreputable crowd, and taverns sold liquor,” Diane writes.
This led to the mid-18th century push for abstinence.
Walter McCoole (a Quaker) opened the tavern in 1740s Quakertown against protests from the community.
McCoole’s has a vibrant history from the Fries Rebellion (late 1700s), a rumored stop in the Underground Railroad and a place where Ulysses S. Grant stopped on his way to Philadelphia.
Notable figures who frequented the Red Lion Inn include Eric Knight, the writer who met his end on a World War II spy mission, and his trusty companion Toots the collie, Lassie’s real-life inspiration.
A spot in the Inn had rotted floorboards from where Toots would sit at her owner’s feet and eat raw steak, since renovated by the present owner who told Diane had she known, she would have kept the boards and put a fence up with a sign: “Lassie Ate Here.”
Today, the owner has redone much of the features while keeping its historical atmosphere intact.
A renowned presence in the community, the old tavern features local artwork.
“From the lion mural on the exterior wall guarding the parking lot to the artwork hanging on the walls, McCoole’s at the Historic Red Lion Inn projects the Bucks County arts vibe.”
To learn more about McCoole’s at the Historic Red Lion Inn, check it out at 4 S. Main Street, Quakertown, or go online to www.mccoolesredlioninn.com.
*The Black Bass Hotel (Lumberville)
While the sleepy town of Lumberville is nicknamed ‘Slumberville,’ the Black Bass Hotel’s chapter is subtitled, “Life and much death on the canal.”
Diane explores the spirited history of this hotel adjacent to the Delaware Canal, “where rowdy Irish canal diggers, mistreated by contractors and snubbed by townspeople, lived, fought, and died – and were autopsied.”
These 18th-century canal workers died so frequently (by the dozens), the Black Bass had to be “commandeered” as a morgue, Diane writes.
She states that today you can “enjoy a meal” at the table where autopsies occurred and includes a picture of the current owner Grant Ross standing with the table – long and narrow enough to fit a body.
Other tables in the tavern once held treadle sewing machines (once a huge slice of the Philadelphia economy).
Those aren’t the only pieces of history that give this tavern a spot in memory.
This rabble-rousing inn made history when a legendary past owner Herbie Ward faced off against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in court to keep his inn from sliding into the canal.
One canal digger murdered 18th-century owner Hans in cold blood at the end barstool of what is today the Canal Pub.
The Black Bass won an infamous title when the owner slammed the door in George Washington’s face and the hotel became notorious.
Today’s proprietor Grant is a Scottish man who believes many taverns began life as brothels, fulfilling the loneliness of fur trappers who frequented the area.
Like the Red Lion, this establishment has since undergone full-bodied restoration, keeping touches of its vast history intact with an atmosphere of “rustic elegance.”
Today, there are nine stylish suites – many of which overlook the river – each with a unique taste.
To explore the Black Bass for yourself, venture out to see this spot of legend at 3774 River Road, Lumberville or check out the hotel online at www.blackbasshotel.com.
Throughout this riveting read, M. Diane McCormick explores the nooks and crannies of life left behind while historic buildings remain resilient.
A Harrisburg-based freelance journalist and writer, Diane uncovers historical marvels that today’s patrons won’t find on the back of the modern menu.
This is a look at past misdeeds and secrets about your local taverns dating back to an age where revolutions ran rampant.
Join Diane on her pub crawl and explore the history behind these public spaces that have left a long-lived imprint.