Cross Keys, Pennsylvania

How did Cross Keys, Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Cross Keys, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.

It was almost a custom with the Colonists to give the same names to taverns, towns and townships as those in the countries whence they came. “Cross Keys,” arms of the Papal See and emblem of St. Peter and his successors, was an old and common name for taverns in England. It is mentioned occasionally in English literature, as in the English satire, “The Quenk Vintners,” 1712:

“May the Cross Keys near Thavies Inn succeed, And famous grow for choicest white and red; That all may know, who view that costly sign, Those golden keys command celestial wine.”

The Quenk Vintners

We are told there was a Cross Keys in Gracechurch, London, where one Banks used to perform with his wonderful bay horse. This was in the days of Queen Elizabeth, when the inn consisted of a large court with galleries all around, which, like many other London inns was often used as an extempore theater. This court and gallery construction was imitated in a few of the old inns in Philadelphia. Cross Keys is the name of the tavern of stage coach days at the intersection of the colonial Dyers Road (Route 611) and the old Newtown-Quakertown Road, in the west corner of Buckingham Township and a mile north of the center of Doylestown. It also became the name of the village of several houses about the corner, For many years regarded as a suburb of the county seat, there has been much real estate development there in recent years, and all of the village east of Route 611 and south of the Newtown-Quakertown Road is now incorporated with Doylestown Borough. Historians have not agreed on the date of the opening of Cross Keys hotel, some of them placing it as early as 1743-44. This, however, may have been the date of the erection of the building. The first license on record was granted in June, 1758, to Alexander Brown, son of Thomas Brown, of Plumstead Township. Brown immediately put up the sign of the Cross Keys. This old sign-board is preserved in the museum of The Bucks County Historical Society and has been photographed and copied many times. The hotel was continuously licensed down to 1906, when the application of Hugh Russell was refused by the Court. Since repeal of the prohibition amendment it has been reopened as a hotel. The building stands on part of the ancient Widow Musgrave tract of 980 acres, represented on the Cutler resurvey map of Buckingham of 1703 as covering the whole of the western end of that township. Before 1740 a part of the Musgrave tract, including the hotel site, came into the possession of Ephraim Fenton, and his grandson, Josiah Fenton, owned land in the vicinity at his death in 1783. Brown, the first landlord, must have commenced business as a renter, but he subsequently bought the hotel, and at his death in 1776 it descended to his son, John Brown. In March, 1812, Allan Thomas, “having rented the tavern house in Buckingham Township, Sign of the Cross Keys,” was granted a license by the Quarter Sessions Court. In 1815 Jacob Fretz kept a dry goods, grocery and hardware store in the village, which he called “Cross-Keys Store,” and advertised in the Pennsylvania Correspondent that “Tavern Keepers can be supplied with Choice Liquors.” Cross Keys was important enough in 1828 to have a place on the Map of New jersey with part of the adjoining States, published that year by Thomas Gordon. From 1822- to 1829 the landlord was Stephen Brock, noted auctioneer and politician and twice Sheriff of Bucks County. Brock was succeeded by Tobias Weisel, and Weisels were its landlords for three generations until 1887, when A. Fretz Weisel sold it to Philip S. Unfried. A portion of the old building, no doubt, still remains in the present structure, as it has marvelous white pine board floors and old hand-tooled windows, doorways and moldings. A fire thirty years ago damaged some of this fine old woodwork. It is not generally known that there was also a Cross Keys Hotel in Bristol, as shown by the following paper:1

October 5, 1831.

Having sold and this day conveyed to Thomas G. Kennedy the Cross Keys Tavern and certain lots in Bristol, I hereby put him in possession of the same, together with the lease and rents hereafter accruing.

Jno. McElroy.


MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.

  1. Collection of Thomas G. Kennedy Papers in the Library of The Bucks County Historical Society. []

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