Friday, January 16, 2015

The Centerton Inn: dining and perhaps a bit of plunder

Forget about old man bars. I've got a soft spot for old inns and taverns -- the historic types where it doesn't take much to imagine the stagecoach stopping along the front porch, or the locals congregating to share news and gossip. We've been to a bunch, from the Merchants and Drovers and the Indian Queen, down to the Indian King and over to the Mill Street Tavern. All were (or had been, in the case of the Indian Queen) on busy main roads in areas that have become highly developed.

That's not to say that the lesser-populated roads don't have their inns, too. Drive through the more rural parts of the state and you may just find an aging hostelry at a major intersection, amid what constitutes the densest concentration of commercial establishments for a couple of miles. That was what I found as I traveled along Route 540 in Salem County. Built sometime in the early to mid 1700s, the Centerton Inn is a three-story Colonial style clapboard building with dormer windows interrupting the roof. Squint a little and you can very easily envision travelers dismounting their horses for refreshment and, perhaps, a night's stay.

In its day, the crossroads where Centerton Inn stands was an important one. Not only was it a significant stop on the coach route between Philadelphia and the then-vital port of Greenwich, it also connected Cumberland County to Great Egg Harbor. The Inn reportedly became not only a gathering and eating place, but a cargo storage area due to its strategic location.

According to some sources, the inn may have actually held munitions for the Continental Army, perhaps those sent by our French allies. Congressionally-approved privateers were doing a brisk business of capturing British supply ships and storing their plunder at Great Egg Harbor, so it's within reason that some of that merchandise could have had a temporary stay at the Centerton. That said, I haven't been able to nail down sources to confirm or deny. Others say that the Marquis de Lafayette frequented the tavern when he was in the area, an assertion that could be even harder to prove, unless, of course, he used his Diners Club card to settle the tab.

Unlike the Merchants and Drovers, Indian King and Indian Queen, the Centerton Inn has modernized somewhat and continues to serve meals to hungry travelers and locals alike. We didn't stop by to eat, as we were on our way to nearby Parvin State Park for some birding, but perhaps sometime in the future we'll have the chance to partake.

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