Golden Plough Tavern

York City, York County, PA

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The Golden Plough Inn (also known as the General Horatio Gates House) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Some material here was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [].


Golden Plough Tavern – 159 West Market Street

The Golden Plough Tavern, built in 1741, is the second of the two major restorations in the heart of downtown York. It is situated at its original location — lot #120 in the plan of York as surveyed and laid out by Thomas Cookson in 1741. Built originally as a tavern, it contains much of the original construction which is representative of a type almost non-existent today. It is believed that the early appearance of the Plough Tavern, once a freestanding structure before the erection of the General Gates House next door was the same as the building today.

Joseph Chambers, when he built the General Gates House, apparently meant to have all the cooking for the two buildings done in the kitchen of the Golden Plough Tavern. A door to the tavern was made in the General Gates House when it was originally built, while a door was cut through the northwest corner of the exterior wall of the Golden Plough Tavern to gain access to the General Gates House. The Golden Plough Tavern was probably run as a profitable business while its owner lived next door and the kitchen of the tavern served to sustain the life and activities of both buildings.

The Golden Plough Tavern, which evidence suggests was originally not clap-boarded, was soon covered over with clapboard siding thus hiding its interesting structural features, but preserving the fabric.

A two-story building with a double attic, the tavern is typical of the medieval type structures built in predominantly German areas of Pennsylvania during the first half of the eighteenth century. The first story consists of horizontally laid logs that were mortised into huge upright corner timbers. Between the first and second floors at floor level is a sill log into which the angular braces and the uprights of the half-timbered walls for the remaining story and double attic are mortised.

The chinking is brick laid in regular rows. The windows are casement with wooden sash. The building has a central chimney, a feature common to most pre-1750 Germanic structures.

Michael (or Martin) Eichelberger, a native of Ittlingen (now Karlsruhe) Germany, in the Black Forest region, came to America in 1728 and secured his "ticket" to erect the tavern in York in 1741. The tavern's combination of medieval French and German elements reflects Eichelberger's European background in the Palatinate.

Architectural highlights of the house include:

  1. Three partitions on the second floor retaining the original wattle and daub.
  2. Two original walls of log construction on the first floor.
  3. Three original walls of exterior half-timber construction on the second floor.
  4. Two original corner posts on the first floor, one of which gives a splendid example of the mortise and tenon construction used throughout the house.
  5. All the original roof supports in the third floor attic which are medieval massive oak beams with mortise and tenon construction and large wooden pegs.
  6. The original steep roof line with its distinctive kick at the bottom.

In addition to the large amount of original construction all the restoration was performed as accurately as possible employing eighteenth century methods, tools and materials. Much of this restoration offers the architectural historian a chance to study seldom seen medieval architectural features such as:

  1. The chimney, a combination of fieldstone, framing, and wattle and daub with a medieval poplar chimney tree and sloping wattle and daub chimney breast in the fireplace.
  2. Poplar board partitions with an interesting eighteenth-century beading copied from an original sample of paneling found during the exploratory demolition.
  3. Dog ear trim, both exterior and interior, as found in the study of original construction.
  4. Small paned windows without swinging casements, a very medieval detail generally replaced by the sliding sash upper window.
  5. Hand split red oak shingles made on the job using the primitive method of splitting the tree sections into shingles which were tapered in two directions. These shingles are laid in the typical German fashion overlapping in two directions on the roof and nailed with eighteenth century rose headed nails also made on the job.

The Golden Plough Tavern is furnished with a collection of primitive Pennsylvania furniture, all of which pre-dates 1760 and which was presented by Titus Geesey, a well-known Philadelphia collector, who presented the Philadelphia Museum with a similar collection. The furniture includes a fine Pennsylvania open cupboard made of walnut, a large "Sawbuck" table, a Pennsylvania five plate stove dated 1756, a large walnut "Schrank" or cupboard and a settle chair.

General Gates House - 157 West Market Street

The General Gates House, adjacent to the Golden Plough Tavern on West Market Street in York, is significant both architecturally and for the role it played during the Revolutionary War.

In contrast to the Germanic Plough Tavern, the General Gates House is a typical example of Georgian architecture with many quite English features. It reflects the background of the early English or Scots-Irish settlers of York and of its builder, Joseph Chambers. Some of its characteristic Georgian features include:

  1. A well-balanced facade with symmetrical placement of windows
  2. Two brick chimneys at either end of the house
  3. A center hallway on the first floor with two rooms on either side
  4. A pent roof and cove cornice

The two and one-half story General Gates House, built in 1751 by Joseph Chambers, second owner of the Golden Plough Tavern, was originally composed of three walls of blue limestone with only one brick wall. This feature can be explained by the prevalence of the former material and its wide use in the town.

The discovery of the four original hinges which supported the swing up partition on the second floor made it possible to authenticate all the legend that had been attached to the house (see below). These hinges, which had been altered sometime in the past one hundred years showed how the rooms had been changed from the original permanent partition into a swing up partition. By careful examination the original holes from hardware which held the partition up to the ceiling were also found, as well as portion of the original partition which had been sawed off at the floor. It is reasonable to assume that the swing up partition, whose remaining pieces of evidence suggested workmanship inferior to the original work of the house, was an alteration to permit the gathering of large groups which would have been required for an important person like General Gates.

The restored General Gates House contains handsome Chippendale furniture, typical of the furniture employed in one of the most elegant houses of this early frontier town. All of the Chippendale pieces in the house pre-date 1780.

The General Gates House was restored between July, 1961 and June, 1964 at the same time as the Golden Plough Tavern under the supervision of G. Edwin Brumbaugh, F.A.I.A. of Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania.


General Gates House

As the British captured Philadelphia in 1777, the Continental Congress moved west, spent one day in Lancaster, then crossed the Susquehanna River and settled in York from September 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778. During this time the decisive victory at Saratoga prompted the Congress to bring General Horatio Gates, who was credited with this victory, to York and present him with a gift of recognition (a gold sword) as well as make him President of the Board of War. At this time there was much feeling among some members of the Congress that General George Washington, who was wintering with his men at Valley Forge, had not proved his ability as the proper person to lead the Revolutionary forces. An Irish soldier of fortune, Thomas Conway, spearheaded a movement to replace Washington with General Gates. This plot gathered force as the weeks progressed until a banquet was held at Gates' home in York to promote the "Conway Cabal" as the intrigue was called. The Marquis de Lafayette who had recently come to York was invited to the banquet. Lafayette recounts in his biography his toast, "Gentleman, there is one you have forgotten; I propose a toast to our Commander-in-Chief General Washington. May he remain at the head of the army until Independence is won." This statement brought an end to the conspiracy and Gates gradually slipped from prominence. The General Gates House was thus the scene of a very significant event in the history of the Revolution. The large banquet room made possible by a swing up partition on the second floor of the house is the spot where this historic event took place.

Golden Plough Tavern

The Golden Plough Tavern is probably the most important surviving building of York's architectural history. It is at this time the only remaining sample of a medieval half-timber type of construction commonly used in the York, Reading and Lancaster area by the early German settlers who arrived from the Palatinate region of Central Europe. The Plough Tavern's interesting combination of log and half-timber construction may make it a unique survival in America.

As a public meeting place during the period the Continental Congress was convened in York, the Golden Plough Tavern must have been the center of much activity. General Horatio Gates, the hero of the Revolutionary War after the Battle of Saratoga was renting the adjoining house and the cooking for all meals served in his dining room was being performed in the tavern kitchen.


Historic York County (publishing organization), Leaflet, March 1, 1963.

Joint State Government Commission. Study on Historical Sites: Historic Buildings and Sites in Pennsylvania, 1965.

Journal of Housing, August 10, 1962, p.311.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, General Gates House and Golden Plough Tavern, nomination document, 1971, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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