In this week’s edition of the Hunterdon County Democrat, the regular feature “Old Ink” had an interesting item:
PRESIDENTIAL–The house owned by Mr. George Hoppock at Rosemont is now undergoing an overhauling. This is an old relic, built in 1754. The rafters were raised on the day of Braddock’s defeat. It was long known as Rittenhouse’s tavern. It is reported that Gen. Washington took dinner in the house during the period of the Revolutionary War.
The Rittenhouse Tavern still stands today at the corner of Routes 519 and 604, now owned by the Sudano family, who treasure it as it should be treasured. The date of 1754 is generally agreed upon for construction of this old stone house. After all, there is a date stone on the building with the year 1754. Isaac Rittenhouse had acquired the property from his father William Rittenhouse, although there is no deed recorded to show this.
We can dismiss the idea that Washington slept there, but did he really dine at the Rittenhouse Tavern? The only time when he is likely to have been anywhere near Rosemont was in October 1777 or June 1778, when Isaac Rittenhouse was still the proprietor. I have discounted December 1776 when Washington’s army was being pursued across New Jersey by Cornwallis, as he was in far too great a hurry to take excursions, and on his return in January 1777 he was also very busy, and much further away, in Princeton.
In 1777, the route taken by Washington and his army was well south of Rosemont, heading toward Coryell’s Ferry (Lambertville) on the Old York Road (today’s Rte 179).
In 1778, Gen. Washington was staying at the home of Richard Holcombe in Lambertville. He could have made the trip north to Rosemont to have dinner there, but why would he? He does not mention it in his correspondence, so I have my doubts, but would love to be shown some evidence.
Isaac Rittenhouse remained at his tavern lot until his death in 1809. He bequeathed it to his three sons, Samuel, John and William. In 1811, Samuel and John conveyed their shares in the property to brother William Rittenhouse, who applied for tavern licenses from 1814 through 1831. Here I have a gap, knowing only that probably around 1832, Rittenhouse sold the property to Garret Lare, who then sold it in 1843 to James Woolverton. Woolverton was a very large landowner in the Rosemont vicinity, and lived elsewhere. He undoubtedly leased the tavern to tenants. Here is an interesting advertisement that Dennis Bertland turned up in the Hunterdon Gazette for April 22, 1846:
New Store at Rosemont, (FORMERLY RITTENHOUSE’S TAVERN.)
THE subscribers having just opened at the above place, are now prepared to offer a complete assortment of all necessary articles of every day consumption, usually kept in a country store and some attention will be paid to fancy as well as necessity. Those in want of New and Cheap Goods, are invited to give us a call. Our entire stock having been purchased within a few weeks for CASH, we are therefore enabled and are determined to sell very cheap for cash or produce. And as we don’t expect to square ourselves for nothing, we beg to assure all hands that our means and our utmost ability shall be brought to bear upon the point of making it your interest to call at COWDRICK & DILWORTH’S Cheap Store, Rosemont.
According to Egbert T. Bush, Woolverton sold the store/tavern to George Hoppock in 1868, and Hoppock discontinued the tavern business not long afterwards. Perhaps those improvements he was making in 1887 were his attempt to reconfigure what had been an inn, store and tavern back into a private residence.
Egbert T. Bush wrote an article about this interesting place called “Crosskeys Tavern, Built in 1754, Still Stands At Rosemont,” published in the Hunterdon Co. Democrat on January 30, 1930, which you can read here. Also, a more complete history of the tavern is provided in The Rittenhouse Tavern.