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What's in a name?

 
By Albert Paschall
President
The Greater Valley Forge Chamber of Commerce
 

  

The historic King Of Prussia Inn c. 1709
Headquarters of the Greater Valley Forge Chamber of Commerce

 
I don't want to count the number of times that I've been asked the question: "how did King Of Prussia get its name?" When Main Line author Lisa Scottoline made several references to the King Of Prussia Mall in her best selling novel "Final Appeal" the Chamber of Commerce office received more than 40 calls from all over the country asking if the name and the town were real and if so, how did we get it.
 
At the end of 1996 when we announced the campaign to relocate the King Of Prussia Inn there was a firestorm of public controversy over the name. Historical marker signs along the highway say that King Of Prussia was named for King Frederick the great for his support of Washington during the American Revolutionary War.
 
But that story makes no historical sense. When framed within the legends surrounding Frederick's personal demeanor and the fact that Generals DeKalb and Von Steuben's connection to Washington were Masonic. There was no reason why a poor tavern owner by the name of Jim Berry in the middle of a Quaker village called Reesville that was largely loyal to the British would name his tavern for a German king.
 
My grandfather told me how King Of Prussia got its name even though he died about 10 years before I was born. In 1939 my grandfather, G. Merrill Hanlon opened the Castle Cole/Musical Bar at 10 DeKalb Street in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Primarily he was a musician, swing music. Occasionally he could attract a big name performer to his night club but by 1941 the business wasn't doing well. Then came Pearl Harbor and the Philadelphia Navy Yard boomed with Sailors and Marines training for duty overseas.
 
Merrill figured out that his bar was outside the boundaries of the military shore patrols that routinely prowled the bars in center city Philadelphia. His bar was also a short walk from the Reading Train Line that ran from Philadelphia. He made up handbills offering anyone in military uniform a free drink at his bar on Friday and Saturday nights. He gave them out in front of the Navy Yard and the business took off.
 
In December 1777 DeKalb's aides numbered about 40 at Valley Forge. They were wealthy gentrists seeking peerage by participating in a war. In 1778 with Von Steuben's arrival the German contingent probably numbered about 100. Von Steuben's compliment had left Europe from Portugal and they were carrying Portuguese silver. In the frozen mud hole that was filled with sick men, there was no warm, dry place for the German soldiers at the Valley Forge.
 
Just a half mile away was Berry's Tavern with its own beer and 6 warm fireplaces. The clever tavern owner, Jimmy Berry, hung a sign outside in German, honoring their king to keep those wealthy soldier coming back until they left Valley Forge in June 1778. I often wonder if Berry offered anybody in military uniform a free beer at his bar?
 
Do we know that the Colonial Army visited the King Of Prussia Inn? The British thought that the Colonials were there. Parker's Spy Map of the Valley Forge Encampment and its redoubts is the first historical reference to Berry's Tavern. Parker was a local Tory sympathizer and his map is archived at the University of Michigan. The name stuck and was institutionalized when the US Postal Service made the King Of Prussia Inn, Reesville's first post office.
 
The historic King Of Prussia Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic places as the site where The Marquis DeLafayette became a member of General Washington’s Military Masonic Lodge and where Major Alexander Hamilton arranged for the exchange of prisoners with the British High Command on March 10, 1778, was relocated from Route 202 by the King Of Prussia Chamber Of Commerce @ Valley Forge in August 2000. The building was restored and re-opened in October 2003 as the Chamber’s headquarters, a community center and a planned museum.
 

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