A TREE GROWS IN DARBY
On April 25, 2003 (Arbor Day)
a buttonwood tree (aka
sycamore or plain tree) was
planted and dedicated on the
site of the old Buttonwood
Hotel at 9th and Main in Darby
Borough. The tree was
donated by the Darby Creek
Valley Association in
commemoration of the 150th
Anniversary of Darby Borough.
Here is a history of the
Buttonwood Hotel from
Ashmead's "History of
Delaware County."
The Buttonwood. - Aug. 28, 1739, George Wood, of Darby, applied for license, and in his petition
stated that he had "laboured for some years under almost continued Indisposition of Body, and
thereby rendered incapable of taking the necessary care of his plantation, and having a large family
to maintain," asked leave of the court to keep tavern in the house belonging to Benjamin Lobb,
which application met with the favorable opinion of the justices. In 1750, Wood having died, his
widow, Hannah, applied for and received the license, and for twelve years carried on the business,
being succeeded in 1769 by Henry Hayes. In 1773, Sarah Pearson kept the house, and 1776 Isaac
Serrill, who appears to have been the owner of the premises, received license for the ancient inn,
and for the first time the name "Mariner's Compass" appears, indicating that the story of the old
Buttonwood is now being narrated. There being no record for 1777, I cannot state who was the
landlord of the inn during the fall of that year, when the retreating American army, fresh from the
defeat at Brandywine, fled through the village, but in 1778 Henry Hays became "mine host" of the
Mariner's Compass, and continued as such until 1786, when Isaac Serrill once more became its
landlord. It was during his time that Gen. Washington was entertained at dinner there, and it is
related that when he attempted to enter the house "he found the doorway so low or himself so tall
that he was forced to stoop." It was on this occasion, so tradition says, that Washington was
presented with a superb white charger as a testimonial of the high regard in which he was held by
a number of his admirers residing in Darby and its vicinity. I can find no record of this presentation
to Washington and doubt it, although I have seen it so stated in newspaper articles on several
occasions. In 1790, after the formation of Delaware County, Samuel Ash had license at the old inn,
and continued there until 1820, when, having become a very aged man, he was succeeded as
landlord by Stephen Howe. The latter changed the title of the tavern to that of "The Drove," by which
name it was known until 1833, when Samuel R. Lamplugh became the manager of the inn, and
again the old sign in a measure was restored so far as the name "Compass" was concerned, the
word "Mariner's" being omitted. In the year when Lamplugh obtained license L. Kittenger ran a line
of stages between Darby and Philadelphia, which left the Cross-Keys on Fourth Street in the latter
city daily at 9 o'clock A.M. and 5 P.M., while the schedule time of departure from Lamplugh's tavern
was 7 1/2 A.M. and 5 P.M. In December of the same year, J. Tomlinson having purchased the line
from Kittenger, placed on the route a large omnibus, the "William Penn," which, when it first
rumbled into Darby drawn by four black horses, awakened the then quiet village to an unusual
degree of excitement. In 1836 William Russell had license for the house, and the ancient and noted
inn took again its time-honored title in full. In 1837, after Tomlinson sold his stage route to John
Smith, Cameron & Keogh started an opposition line of omnibuses between Philadelphia and
Darby, making their headquarters at Russell's house. The rivalry between the two inns and stage
lines continued, and the enterprise apparently not proving remunerative to Cameron & Keogh,
the latter disposed of their business to Evan S. Russell, a son of the tavern-keeper, who continued
the stages as the "Express Line of Omnibuses," while to add to the attraction at his house, William
Russell ran in addition "a safe and easy carriage and two horses from his house in Darby." In 1844
William Russell was succeeded by William Russell, Jr., and he, in turn, in 1849 by Evan E. Russell,
a brother of the preceding host. Although I do not find previous to this time the inn styled the
Buttonwood from the records, I distinctly remember that about 1846 it was popularly known by that
name. The old tree from which the inn was called, which stood before the door and had become so
decayed on one side that the cavity was built in and supported by brick-work, is among my earliest
recollections of Darby. It is related that Thomas Leiper, who used to stop his horses at the inn,
always had his carriage to stand some distance off, declaring the old buttonwood would fall some
day and he did not propose to be under it when it fell. In 1855 James H. Malin became landlord of
the inn, which he dubbed anew as the "Girard Hotel." The sign hung on a frame on Main Street, and
it was not until 1866, in Malin's petition for that year, that the house was called "The Buttonwood
Hotel." In 1871 Malin was succeeded by James H. Lloyd. In 1879 the old tavern was taken down
and the present hotel erected on its site. The Buttonwood is now kept by Thomas H. Boyd.
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