Martin’s Tavern, “that old Accustomed House of Entertainment, known by name of the Centre House, in West Bradford,” was constructed and opened as a “Publick House” in 1764. The tavern was located on a 2.5 acre lot, once part of a 1250 acre tract of land granted by William Penn to Mary Penington in 1681. The original grant was gradually subdivided and passed through several owners: Daniel Wharley, who married Mary Penington, Edward Beeson, Edward Clayton, Abraham Marshall I, William Clayton, and Richard Baker. Joseph Martin of West Bradford was the first tavern owner and keeper.
On June 9, 1764, Joseph Martin purchased from Richard and Rachel Baker two acres with a fine, two-and-a-half-story stone house measuring 23’ across the front and 31’ deep on the gable. The tract was adjacent to the Bradford Meeting House property, and Martin, “who also having obtained from Sarah Arnold a small addition to the aforesaid...,” now owned a 2.5 acre lot with a house at the fork in “the Great Road” from Trimble’s and Marshall’s mill (Northbrook Road) and the road to Taylor’s Ferry and Chester (Strasburg Road east). He began constructing a two-and-a-half story stone addition measuring 21’ x 31’ as a tavern house. The resulting building, which incorporated the earlier structure, was 44’ x 31’, fronting towards the fork in the road.
Martin applied for a tavern license on August 28, 1764, and stated:
That there is a Necessity for a Publick house for the Entertainment of Travellers in said Township, there being many Large roads Much used by Travellers and no house of Entertainment upon any of them for Several Miles Distant so that they are often times obliged to be Burdensome to the Neighbours or want Refreshment. And Your Petitioner has Now Purchased a Lott with a house thereon, And is now Erecting a Commodious house at the place, it being Convenient for most of the roads and Many Miles remote from any house of Entertainment upon any of them, Your Petitioner therefore prays You would be pleased to recommend him to his honour the Governor for a Lycence to keep a house of entertainment for Travellers at the place aforesaid. Twenty-five local landowners subscribed to the petition, including noted botanist Humphrey Marshall, who built his own stone mansion a few years later adjacent to Martin’s Tavern; Joel Baily, a self-taught mathematician, surveyor, clockmaker, gunsmith, astronomer, and millowner, who assisted Mason and Dixon; and James Trimble of Trimble’s Ford, a prominent millowner. Other names on the list are associated with the Brandywine and fording places that ring across the pages of Revolutionary War history: Emmor and Robert Jeffries of nearby Jeffries Ford on the east branch of the Brandywine; Thomas Taylor of Taylor’s Ferry; and Thomas and John Buffington of Buffington’s Ford.
County tax records reveal that in 1765, Joseph Martin owned “120 Acres Land with buildings, 40 acres of woodland, Tavarn & 3 Acres Land, a Tenant, 4 Horses, 5 Cattle, 13 sheep.” However, by 1767 his holdings were reduced to “2 Acres & Tavern, 1 Horse, 2 Cows, 2 Sheep." The cause of Martin’s own fall in fortune is at present unknown, but he was by no means alone. Numerous farms in the area were seized and sold by the Sheriff, as the newspapers attest. On May 16, 1768, Martin sold the property, “two acres and a half and twenty perches of Ground, together with the Buildings thereon erected…,” to William Clayton.
Clayton did not last long as tavernkeeper. On October 24 of the following year, the tavern property was reconveyed to Joseph Martin, and he was back in business again. Joseph Martin continued to run the tavern through 1775