Perkiomen Bridge Hotel Assessment
ASSESSMENT OF HISTORIC STRUCTURE
PERKIOMEN BRIDGE HOTEL
Main Street and Route 29, Collegeville, PA
June 24, 2021
The historic Perkiomen Bridge Hotel is a significant landmark for the borough of Collegeville and the Perkiomen Valley region and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Previous historical research indicates that a public inn has been operating at this location since the first decade of the 18th century. Physical evidence shows that the present structure has extant sections of 18th century construction that include the main block, and a small “kitchen” structure. There are extensive subsequent mid-19th to mid-20th century additions to the structure and extensive modification of all interior space.
A site visit was made on June 24, 2021 accompanied by Catherine Kernen and officers of Collegeville Police Dept. Time and accessibility was limited allowing for only a walk-through of the building from first floor to attic, the basement was not accessible. Concentration was made on viewing only the most historic (circa 18th to mid-19th century) sections. A comprehensive evaluation of the structure was completed by Clio Group, Inc. of Philadelphia, PA in 1984 for the nomination form for National Register of Historic Places Inventory. The observations made here are intended to update and be a supplement to the findings identified on the nomination form.
The three most historic sections are the main block, and the two adjoining sections attached to the north facing gable. The following observations were made for each of these three sections:
The main block
The main block is a six-bay, three ½ stories, stucco over stone construction with double flue inboard chimneys at each gable end. A double veranda spans the facade and continues with a ground level portion wrapping around the south facing gable wall. A center entry hall leads directly to a staircase, although greatly modified, it is likely the placement of original stairs. The interior has been extensively modified although there are still remnants of early features including:
- A few second floor double hung, six over six windows appear to be early although most windows have replaced sashes.
- Window jambs on first floor are paneled and slightly splayed, likely original features.
- Exterior shutters exist and appear to be mid-19th century era, although some appear smaller than the windows and may not be original to the building.
- Some subtle Greek Revival styling is present in interior wood trim.
- A few cut nails, circa 1790-1820 were visible.
- The vertical height of the window fenestration and over all height of the building suggest a Federal period construction era.
- Chimneys at each end are double flue H-chimneys (although the south wall chimney has been rebuilt from below roof line).
- The exterior of the gable on the north end wall is visible from the loft of the adjoining section. It shows cut stone with mortar joints, clear evidence that the building received its stucco layer at a later time.
Overall the vertical appearance of the facade, the splayed window jambs, and double chimneys are all indicative of a Federal period era of construction (circa 1790 to 1820). This concurs with the NR nomination form that places the main block construction to circa 1798 when the stone arch bridge was erected.
Section adjoining north gable
This section is a two-bay, two ½ story stucco over stone construction. Evidence of the exposed stone with mortar joints on the gable of the main block clearly indicates that this section was added to the main structure at a later time. Extensive damage to the floor made it difficult to look closely at construction details, although some exposed floor joists were clearly product of later milling indicating a possible construction date of after the first quarter of 19th century.
Far north section
This is a two-bay, one ½ story stucco over stone construction with a massive chimney stack on the north gable wall. This section has been identified in some previous research as being the oldest section. The size of the chimney indicates that it once accommodated a large open-hearth cooking fireplace and there is remnant of an extant brick bake oven. The hearth and surrounding brick firebox have been rebuilt reducing the size of the open hearth and partially blocking the original opening to the bake oven. The sheet metal door to the oven is of mid-19th century era and likely a replacement. If the early lintel is extant it has been encased, and a more recent mantle shelf has been added. An iron lug pole is in place on the right side, but the remaining flue area is enclosed with a later metal draft cover. A closet space adjacent to the hearth has early beaded wall panels.
Another small stone masonry addition is attached to the north gable wall of this section and encloses the exterior portion of the brick bake oven. There is evidence inside this structure that four squared beams, since removed, had spanned the structure at eave level directly over the bake oven. Black soot on the interior whitewash and later hanging poles with nails all indicate that this was used as a smoke chamber for smoking meats, utilizing the smoke from the fireplace and bake oven.
The overall footprint of this section with hearth and oven gives all indication that this was a detached dependency to a main structure and likely functioned as a kitchen, often termed a summer kitchen or out-kitchen. Previous research identifies this section as the earliest part of the inn and it likely predates the circa 1798 main block. However this section is only one room with loft space above and would have been too small to have been utilized as a public inn. That however raises the question of there having been another structure on site, built and operated as an inn by Edward Lane circa 1701-1706, that may have been demolished to make room for the extant circa 1798 building. Examination of the basement may shed some more light on this assumption.
Much more research and a more thorough architectural investigation of the site is warranted. There are further additions to the rear that are clearly mid 20th century construction that include a restaurant kitchen, employee and public access areas, and an enclosed veranda for dining and bar service. Photographs dating to the early 20th century show that the rear of the hotel did have a large open veranda and dining pavilion. There are stone pillars beneath the now enclosed dining veranda that are likely the supports for that earlier porch. However all construction above these supports appears to be later 20th century indicating that the earlier porch was totally removed. These more modern rear sections appeared to be most compromised by neglect, such as the roof of the kitchen that is partially collapsed.
There is no question that this hotel deserves its National Register status and it is truly an historic landmark feature of the community and region. It had functioned for three centuries as a public inn, and although undergoing many eras of alterations still retains it’s early characteristics. The hotel is of great historical importance to the community and every effort to preserve it should be made. The unfortunate state it is in now is from total neglect and vandalism that has occurred within just the last decade. The good news is that the most historic sections of the building are the ones least compromised by neglect and still thoroughly within the realm of being renovated. There are many avenues for adaptive reuse of the building even if it is not re-purposed as a public inn. The following suggestions should be considered to retain the historical value of the structure:
- Preserve the three most historic sections of the building, as outlined in this report. The mid-20th century additions to the rear, the modern kitchen and enclosed veranda, can be demolished without impacting the historical integrity of the rest of the building.
- Preserve the exterior historic features of the facade as well as side and rear elevations. This is essential to retaining the hotel’s status on the National Register of Historic Places. There are many photographs dating as far back as mid-19th century that give evidence that the front elevation of the hotel has not changed dramatically over time. The important features to retain are the double veranda, the chimneys, original or early windows and shutters, and replace modern windows with appropriate six over six replacement sashes.
- Retain the early piers that supported the late 19th to 20th century open verandas on the rear of the building and consider replacement of a similar veranda.
- The interior has been heavily altered, but if the more recent modifications are stripped away it will certainly reveal more historical features such as original floors, wood trim, placement of early stairways and fireplaces. Extant features such as the paneled window jambs and Greek Revival trim should be retained.
- Involve an architectural historian to help identify early architectural features as work progresses.
- Use early photographs to guide the restoration of the exterior.
- Preserve the open-hearth fireplace, bake oven and smoke chamber. The modern brick surrounding the fireplace can be removed to restore the size of the original hearth and bake oven opening even if they are not restored for use.
This report has been made to provided guidance and assistance to the Borough of Collegeville in the effort to preserve this important historic resource. It is not intended to be used in place of an Historic Structure Report or structural engineer’s report. The observations made in this report will augment the much more extensive findings that are in the National Register of Historic Places nomination.
Dianne M. Cram
Collections Committee Chair
Technical Assistance Coordinator
Chester County Historic Preservation Network
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484-683-5995 – cell
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