Broad Axe Tavern: Over three centuries of history



The Broad Axe Tavern/Inn/Hotel dates back to 1681 (according to Whitpain Township records) and is older than Whitpain Township itself. The Township was founded in 1701. During this time period, on the Northwest corner of Skippack and Butler Pikes stood a General Store and a Post Office. On the Northeastern corner was a wheelwright shop and on the Southeastern corner was a blacksmith shop. The original stone building of the Broad Axe Tavern was located, where it still stands today, over 328 years later.

Did you know that if you were to travel down Butler Pike, Ambler's main road, in the 1800's, you would have had to pay a toll? It's true! From 1853 to 1890, a period of 47 years, Butler Pike was a toll road with not one, but two toll gates. There was a tollhouse at the corner of Skippack and Butler Pikes.

It has been speculated that the name for this tavern refers to the large axes used in clearing the local forests around the turn of the 17th century. However, there is another story of a woman named Hatchet who sold beer, candy and refreshments from her home along the eastern corner of Butler Pike. Her place was known as Hatchets. When the tavern opened up across the street, not to be outdone, the man named it the Broad Axe. The original sign for the Broad Axe Tavern had a square, a compass and broad axe pictured on it.

The hotel itself dates back to 1792 but the tavern remains as the oldest in Montgomery County since 1681 and is the 2nd oldest in the United States.

The Broad Axe Tavern changed hands thirteen times between 1784 and 1975. Some of the owners are below, see if you can help fill in the blanks:

1681-1757 - ?
1757-1770 – Nathaniel Davis
1770-1775 – Jonathon Davis (Nathaniel’ son)
1775-1796 – John Ashmead (was willed the tavern by Jonathon Davis)
1796- ? - Catherine Rex (John Ashmeads sister)
? – 1829 - John Rex (son of Catherine Rex)

The only organized group known to have been affiliated with the Broad Axe Tavern is the Washington Benevolent Society of Whitpain. The Washington Benevolent Society was a grass-roots political club set up around 1800’s by the Federalist Party in the U.S. They helped pioneer electioneering techniques in a democracy. Into the Age of Jackson, an oration on Washington's birthday, February 22, was commonly delivered before the Washington Benevolent Societies in various states, and sometimes it would be printed.

The Washington Benevolent Society of Whitpain was organized in the Broad Axe Tavern on February 12, 1841. They dispensed charity in the amount of $43,000.00 for financial relief to pay funeral expenses for those families who could not afford the cost.

Legend of Rachel. It’s been said that a ghost named Rachel has haunted the Broad Axe Tavern over all these years. Stories are told that Rachel was the daughter of one of the owners. She and her family lived on a farm behind the Broad Axe Tavern. A group of guys left the Broad Axe one night after one too many drinks and were taunting her. Fleeing from the inebriated men, she ran into the bathroom of the tavern and she was never seen again. She is said to be most active when there is any sort of construction going on at the Tavern. There are stories of people being pushed down flights of stairs, being knocked over with a tray full of food when nothing was around them. Sightings of Rachel in the 3rd floor windows have been heard from people sitting at the lights on Butler Pike and Skippack Pikes. The bathroom on the first floor is still the same location where Rachel fled to years ago. Make sure when you are in there, you say hello to Rachel!

In 2001, The Broad Axe Tavern had a fire which closed its doors until it was brought back to life by the Broad Axe Partners, Inc. They are a team of four entrepreneurs who had a desire to bring back a great historical site and a piece of history that laid dormant in Whitpain Township for close to 8 years.