Blue Anchor Tavern
121 N Columbus Blvd
William Penn’s ship the Welcome set off from England in 1682 as one of a fleet of ships that brought 2,000 colonists to Pennsylvania. On his arrival to America with only two-thirds of his original passengers, Penn landed in Newcastle, Delaware, and then Chester and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When Penn arrived in Philadelphia, the area already had a sprouting colony of Quakers, Swedes, and Dutch settlers as well as Native American populations. When Penn’s ship landed on the shores of Dock Creek, therefore, he did not stretch his arms out exclusively to vast wilderness, but instead, banked at Philadelphia’s first tavern - The Blue Anchor Tavern.
Like many great cities, Philadelphia developed around water. During colonial Philadelphia’s construction, Dock Creek was an important early merchant port for the city. As a tributary of the Delaware River, one of the Creek’s three branches flowed directly into today’s Society Hill region around modern day Second Street, where it created a natural harbor. There on the northwest of Front and Dock Street, construction was begun on The Blue Anchor Tavern in 1682, just prior to William Penn’s arrival into Philadelphia. Some accounts claim that a portion of the building’s timber arrived with the very first English ships into Philadelphia in order to speed the building process. Multiple accounts describe the Tavern’s dimensions, and all have similar measurements. The Tavern stood anywhere from twelve by twenty-two feet to sixteen to thirty-six feet wide with two stories, and was constructed with both timber and small brick.
There is some dispute among various records as to who owned the Tavern during this time period. Some sources, like John Watson’s 1856 edition of the Annals of Philadelphia and Horace Lippincott’s 1917 piece Early Philadelphia Its People Life and Progress, claim that a bricklayer named George Guest established the Tavern in 1682. However, other accounts, such as Thomas Allen Glen’s 1896 article in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and the 1999 collection Colonial Philadelphia by the genealogist Hannah Bennner Roach, present evidence that a New Jersey mariner named William Dare purchased the Tavern. Interestingly enough, The Minutes of the Board of Property of the Province of Pennsylvania and Roach’s other historical resources indicate that George Gust and William Dare were both existing Philadelphians during this time period; therefore, it is possible that either of them might have owned the Tavern.
Whether it was George Gust or William Dare, no doubt the owner chose the building’s location out of resourcefulness. Eleven years prior, the early government for settlers in New Castle, Delaware, did not approve of the amount of taverns and breweries in the area. In order to maintain sobriety, a 1671 decree ordered that there could only be three “tappers of strong drink” per town. As a result, entrepreneurial business owners headed upriver to other ports. The Blue Anchor’s location on Front and Dock ensured that the building would be the first and only, public meeting house for merchants and sailors landing in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the building would connect to the new townhouse construction, “Bud’s Long Row,” the earliest row houses in Philadelphia.
What exactly Penn did when he first landed on shore is another debated story. Some accounts portray a celebratory image of Penn welcomed onto shore by cheers from onlookers. Other historians, like Watson and Lippincott, claim that Penn stepped on shore and greeted a group of Native Americans who stood nearby. Penn sat with them on the ground and shared roasted acorns and hominy, and because he was thirty eight and athletic, was able to beat them at their own exercises to win their respect. Nevertheless, there are no records to support this story. Thus, whether Penn first walked through a welcoming crowd, befriended Pennsylvania’s indigenous population, or simply purchased a pint after his journey, cannot be fully determined.
Although William Penn is still well known, the waters of Dock Creek were lost. After years of complaints about the stagnant Creek’s smell and contamination, Philadelphian officials sealed in Dock Creek’s banks in the 1790s. Penn’s visit to the Blue Anchor Tavern, however, left an enduring mark. Because of the story’s popularity, several other establishments during the time period named their businesses after the Blue Anchor in hopes of drawing in customers. This is a tradition that continues to this very day. In the summer of 2014, celebrity chef Jose Garces and his executive events chef, Adam DeLosso, created a pop-up restaurant on the bank of Penn’s Landing called, “The Blue Anchor” in the hopes of rekindling the Tavern’s historic past. Although it is no longer possible to sail into Dock Creek’s harbor, Philadelphians can enjoy the history of the Blue Anchor while sipping their drinks and enjoying the Delaware River Waterfront.