Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Philadelphia's First Coffee House

The first house of public resort opened in Philadelphia bore the name of the Blue Anchor tavern, and was probably established in 1683 or 1684; colonial records do not state definitely. As its name indicates, this was a tavern. The first coffee house came into existence about the year 1700. Watson, in one place in his Annals of the city, says 1700, but in another 1702. The earlier date is thought to be correct, and is seemingly substantiated by the co-authors Scharf and Westcott in their History of the city, in which they say, "The first public house designated as a coffee house was built in Penn's time [1682–1701] by Samuel Carpenter, on the east side of Front Street, probably above Walnut Street. That it was the first of its kind—the only one in fact for some years—seems to be established beyond doubt. It was always referred to in old times as 'Ye Coffee House.'"

Carpenter owned also the Globe inn, which was separated from Ye coffee house by a public stairway running down from Front Street to Water Street, and, it is supposed, to Carpenter's Wharf. The exact location of the old house was recently established from the title to the original patentee, Samuel Carpenter, by a Philadelphia real-estate title-guarantee company, as being between Walnut and Chestnut Streets, and occupying six and a half feet of what is now No. 137 South Front Street and the whole of No. 139.

How long Ye coffee house endured is uncertain. It was last mentioned in colonial records in a real estate conveyance from Carpenter to Samuel Finney, dated April 26, 1703. In that document it is described as "That brick Messuage, or Tenement, called Ye Coffee House, in the possession of Henry Flower, and situate, lying and being upon or before the bank of the Delaware River, containing in length about thirty feet and in breadth about twenty-four."

The Henry Flower mentioned as the proprietor of Philadelphia's first coffee house, was postmaster of the province for a number of years, and it is believed that Ye coffee house also did duty as the post-office for a time. Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, in an issue published in 1734, has this advertisement:

All persons who are indebted to Henry Flower, late postmaster of Pennsylvania, for Postage of Letters or otherwise, are desir'd to pay the same to him at the old Coffee House in Philadelphia.

Flower's advertisement would indicate that Ye coffee house, then venerable enough to be designated as old, was still in existence, and that Flower was to be found there. Franklin also seems to have been in the coffee business, for in several issues of the Gazette around the year 1740 he advertised: "Very good coffee sold by the Printer."