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The President's Host

Updated: May 7, 2020

On 4 March 1793, George Washington's second inauguration was held in Philadelphia. At the time, it was the largest city in the country with approximately 50,000 residents. In August of that year, a yellow fever epidemic broke out, causing panic and many citizens to flee the city. Between 1 August and 7 September, 456 people died, with 42 deaths reported on 8 September alone.

President Washington remained in the city until then before making his regular autumn journey to his home at Mount Vernon. When he returned to Philadelphia in early November, he found it under quarantine. He moved on to Germantown, then about ten miles outside of the city.

To occupy his time, he decided to visit the Union Canal, a project that his administration began. Originally proposed by William Penn in 1690, it was intended to connect Philadelphia with the Susquehanna River for the transportation of agricultural goods. It was to run approximately 75 miles from Middletown on the Susquehanna below Harrisburg to Reading on the Schuylkill River. Construction began in 1792 under the direction of William Weston, an English engineer. Several miles of the canal were dug and 5 locks were built between Myerstown and Lebanon.

In addition to surveying the progress on the Union Canal, President Washington also traveled to Reading, 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia to see if it would make a suitable emergency capital.

On 13 November 1793, President Washington and his party arrived in Womelsdorf and planned to spend the night. They came to a tavern which was an official stage line stop and, as a result, accommodated some of the most eminent dignitaries of the time.

The property known at Lot 29, had been purchased by Conrad Stouch on 25 June 1785 for $2,500 which he paid in gold and silver. The building on the Tavern's east side, which was also owned by Conrad Stouch, extended across the alleyway and was connected to the public house, forming an arch. He partnered with Calder of Harrisburg to own and operate a stage line between Harrisburg and points east of Philadelphia. The tavern also served as a post office since the stage carried mail from the two cities.

The following is an account by Samuel Dewees, Conrad Stouch's brother-in-law, taken from his memoirs:

After leaving Reading, he came to Wormellsdorff [sic] where he stopped for the night. He arrived late in the evening, and put up at the public house of my brother-in-law, Stouch. Hearing that Washington had arrived, I ran around and collected about thirty of my men and placed them under arms, each man having in accordance with my orders, provided himself with a powder-horn containing powder enough to fire fifteen or twenty rounds, as a salute to President Washington, First Father and Saviour of his country. By the time we were in readiness it was nearly dusk. I had a capital Drummer, but no Fife, and I could not think of marching my men to salute the great and good Washington, without having music as it should be. I resolved, that I would play the Fife myself....When matters were thus arranged, we marched up to Stouch's Hotel, then the quarters of President Washington, and drew up in line in front of the house. I then brought my men to an order, and as soon as President Washington appeared at the door of the Hotel, I quickly commanded my men to shoulder arms, and then ordered them to present arms. I then had to assist the Drummer (by playing the tune on the fife for him) to beat the appropriate salute....By the time the musical salute was ended, President Washington had gained a position on the steps in front of the door of the Hotel....President Washington then requested me to march my men into the house. I did so. He then ordered different kinds of liquor to be set out, and invited us to partake with him, of whatever kinds of liquor we should choose to drink....The President told the landlord to charge the liquor he had ordered to his bill, thanked us in a kind manner for the honors we had done him, bowed to us, bade us good night and then retired to his room.

The tavern still stands today, despite a fire in 1973 that almost destroyed the building. It has been restored and is now a restaurant, bearing the name of my great x 5 grandfather, Conrad Stouch, who once hosted the first President of the United States, George Washington.

Conrad Stouch was born on 9 January 1757. He served as a private under Captain Daniel Womelsdorf in the 4th Company of the 6th Battalion during the American Revolution. He was also Womelsdorf's first post master in 1807. He married Mary Catherine Etzel, one of the daughters of a Swiss farmer, John Etzel. His daughter, Elizabeth, married Samuel Dewees, who is mentioned above.

In addition to the tavern, Conrad owned a boot and shoe shop where Samuel Dewees worked as a foreman for a year before opening his own boot and shoemaking business. The reason for this, per Samuel, was "The people were better satisfied with my work, than they were with the work done by Stouch. This was the cause of my setting up the business for myself."

Conrad died on 15 June 1840, at the age of 83.


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