Around the time of the American Revolution, the town of Hanover, Pennsylvania, was favorably situated at the crossing of two well-traveled roads, one from the port of Baltimore to points north and west and the other between Philadelphia and the Valley of Virginia.
Thomas Jefferson spent the night of May 12, 1776, at the Sign of the Horse on Frederick Street in "McAlister's Town," as Hanover was popularly known in its early days. He was on his way from Monticello to Philadelphia to attend the first meeting of the Continental Congress, where on June 10 he would begin to draft the Declaration of Independence. The Battle of Lexington had been fought a year earlier and the Quebec Campaign only months before. Volunteer militia companies in York County had been enthusiastically mustering for more than a year and would march to join the Flying Camp in just two months. From Jefferson's memorandum book, we know he arrived here in time to visit the local barber.
The proprietor of the inn is one of Hanover's forgotten innkeepers, Caspar Reinecker. This is somewhat surprising as Reinecker's was Hanover's leading inn from 1764 to 1792. Early in the morning of May 12, Jefferson paid "Rhenegher" 11 shillings, 6 pence for dinner and lodging. He ate breakfast at White's Tavern in York and spent the following night in Lancaster.1
Based on lists of Taxables, Ground Rents paid to Richard M'Calister, deeds to property transactions in Hanover and the granting of Tavern Licenses by the Court of Quarter Sessions of York County, we know that Caspar Reinecker opened his inn in 1764, probably on the present site of 34-36 Frederick Street (Lot 74). It was one of three inns that received licenses that second year of Hanover's existence. In 1771, he purchased the property next door (Lot 75), now the parking lot next to the Hanover Borough Building, and put up a new and larger building, the one at which Jefferson stayed. At the time of his death, he still owned both properties. The two original buildings used by Reinecker for his inn are long gone. Both the old and the 1771 buildings appear on the pre-Revolutionary Powder Horn Map that belonged to George Neas, with the newer inn as one of the three largest of the seven inns depicted.
On Jefferson's return from Philadelphia to Monticello, he again dined and spent the night of September 5 at Reinecker's inn.2
In 1779, Reinecker moved to Berwick (Abbottstown) for a period and rented the Sign of the Horse to Alexander Forsythe, who kept it through 1785.
It was on October 26, 1783, that Forsythe welcomed Jefferson for another stay at the inn. This time Jefferson was travelling with his daughter, Martha, and a servant by carriage to Philadelphia where he was to attend the meeting of Congress. On the morning of October 27, he paid the proprietor 29 shillings for dinner and lodging. On this trip the travelers appear to have driven right through York and to have reached Wrightsville for breakfast. Again, they arrived at Lancaster in time to spend the night at Rukart's Sign of the Bear.3
Caspar Reinecker returned to Hanover and resumed innkeeping from 1787 until his death in 1790. For two years his son, Conrad, held the tavern license and achieved his own fame for entertaining President George Washington for breakfast on July 2, 1791. There has been some disagreement on just where in Hanover Washington did stop, because unlike Jefferson, he did not identify the innkeeper. This is now resolved, first by the knowledge of dates and location of Reinecker's and other early Hanover inns and second by the story told by one whose role in the oral preservation of history is well established: the town barber.
Charles Wrede arrived in Hanover in the 1830s, well within old-timer's memories of Washington's visit, and was actively barbering long enough to be remembered and quoted in the Hanover EveningHerald on April 20, 1890. By the time Wrede was quoted, both the name of the inn and its proprietor had been forgotten. It was remembered that the inn was on Frederick Street and not at Paul Metzger's on the north-west corner of the Square (Lot 12). Only one other pre-1800 inn has been identified on Frederick Street, that of Peter Welsh (Lot 3) and it operated only from 1778 to 1782.
The closing of Reinecker's inn coincided with the opening in 1793 of Jacob Eichelberger's Tavern (Lot 10), later known as the Central Hotel, on the other side of Frederick Street. The Eichelbergers took over the role of the leading Hanover inn for the next half-century.