A History of Hatboro: The Story of a Small Pennsylvania Town

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Hatboro Borough Hall, formerly Loller Academy

Whether or not George Washington really visited half of the places that he supposedly graced with his presidential presence may never be known, but he really did spend a short amount of time in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, in 1778. The town grew from a parcel of land purchased at the turn of the 18th century by an agent of William Penn, and in a few years, was parceled off into approximately a dozen farms. A number of key businesses sprang up to accommodate the needs of the growing population, among those businesses an inn known as The Crooked Billet. This was founded by an English hatter named John Dawson, from whose occupation the name of the town was born in 1740. Prior to that the place was simply called Old Billet. In such days it was not uncommon for towns and cities to be named after large taverns or similar establishment where travelers frequently embarked or disembarked from long stagecoach voyages. The Crooked Billet was one such stop on the way from New York to Philadelphia. The inn was torn down over 50 years ago; all that remains to mark the original location is a small plaque.

Hatboro is host to a number of old, historic buildings and structures. One of the town’s many fine restaurants is the Old Mill Inn, located on Old York and Horsham roads. Built as a grist mill in 1724, the structure has undergone significant renovations in its 284-year history, but still retains its bucolic charm. The main branch of Hatboro Federal Savings Bank is situated in an old stone building known as the John Harrison House, which was erected in 1742. The Union Library Company of Hatboro occupies a Greek Revival-style building that is much more spacious inside than it appears from the colonnaded façade. Although the actual structure is only 158 years old, the library itself has officially been in operation since 1756.

On the grounds of Crooked Billet Elementary School is a monument commemorating a Revolutionary War battle that ended disastrously for a band of Pennsylvania militiamen. The carnage ensued when British and Hessian troops numbering nearly 900 surprised a force of about 500 Americans under the command of young Brigadier General John Lacey, on May 1, 1778. The American forces were camped near the Crooked Billet Inn. Totally unprepared for the assault, the Americans suffered 30% casualties, and the loss of many valuable supplies. Eyewitness reports told of British soldiers mercilessly stabbing wounded Americans with bayonets and sabers before setting them afire, while some of the victims were still alive. It was around this time, during the occupation of Philadelphia by the British, that Washington visited the inn to hold staff meetings.

Hatboro is located about 25 miles north of Philadelphia. Although a relatively small 1.5 miles in area, the town has evolved from a collection of farms to a vibrant community of nearly 8,000. The main business thoroughfare is a half-mile stretch of Old York Road that runs north-south from County Line Road to Byberry Road, and features restaurants, gift shops, consignment stores, pharmacies, and specialty retailers. Traffic along this main drag can be somewhat congested, but many visitors choose to explore the area on foot, and good weather finds scores of shoppers and spectators leisurely making their way back and forth through this bustling bazaar.