Most recently this building was Stone House Autos, and before that it was Stone House Computers, but back in the 1780s it was a tavern run by a man named James Bell.
Historical preservationists got upset enough about this demolition that the owner stopped the process partway through. That might give the owners and locals a chance to consider their options.
Unfortunately, the story that’s being spread around the web has a lot of overstatements. The latest version appeared on the Daily Mail website, and it’s riddled full of errors. The building was not called the City Tavern. The demolition was not done “accidentally” or by mistake, but with a permit and plans. And then there’s this sentence:
It was in this cozy watering hole built in 1780 that Adams, Washington et al had seminal discussions before finally drawing up the Bill of Rights.“Adams, Washington et al” were never at James Bell’s tavern, and they weren’t the authors or proponents of the Bill of Rights. There’s no value in preserving a historic building if we’re just going to tell lies about its history.
These reports from Pennlive and the Cumberland Sentinel are better grounded. They make clear that local authorities chose not to protect the stone building in the 1990s. They didn’t follow through on seeking a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. They didn’t list the site as one that needed protection under the local zoning ordinance. So if there was a mistake involved in this demolition, it was a mistake in judgment over twenty years ago.
Now what about the building might qualify it for listing as historically significant? Pennlive’s version:
It was at the tavern on July 3, 1788, with pending ratification of the new federal constitution at hand, that a band of Cumberland Countians led by Robert Whitehill, Benjamin Blythe and others declared the need for changes in the document before they could accept it.And the local Cumberland Sentinel’s:
According to meeting minutes obtained by Musser, the 1788 Stony Ridge Convention held at the former James Bell Tavern was attended by Benjamin Blythe, one of Shippensburg’s first settlers, and Robert Whitehill of Cumberland County. Whitehill is noted as the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” according to ExplorePAHistory.com, with its conception reportedly happening at that meeting at the Bell Tavern.Some news stories have therefore called that tavern the “Birthplace of the Bill of Rights.”
That’s not a label with a lot of history. Which is to say, I can’t find a single source that applies that phrase to this stone building before the last two months. The usual claimant to the “Birthplace of the Bill of Rights” is the church in Eastchester, New York, where a local election in 1733 got reported by John Peter Zenger in a way that led to a court case strengthening freedom of the press. That’s just one right, so I don’t think that site has a strong claim to the label, either.
TOMORROW: So where was the Bill of Rights born?