Deer Park Tavern not only shares the physical location of the old St. Patrick’s Inn, many patrons and staff insist it shares something of the metaphysical as well.
Deer Park Tavern, 108 W Main Street in Newark, Delaware, towers above the intersection of W Main Street and London Avenue at the northwest edge of the University of Delaware campus. For nearly 170 years, it has been at the social center of Newark, but the location’s history goes back even farther. The current red-brick, ‘U-shaped’ building sits near the site of St. Patrick’s Inn, which was built circa 1747 and hosted storied figures including Edgar Allan Poe. Many patrons and staff believe a few of their spirits remained behind, even after the original structure disappeared.
Some sources say St. Patrick’s Inn was built as early as 1743, but historians disagree. A man named John Pritchard owned it in 1750, and it was sometimes referred to as “Pritchard’s Hotel”. The hotel was a hot spot for travelers in the Colonial days, and it even (supposedly) quartered George Washington. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon based their operations out of the hotel while surveying the boundary line between Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware between 1763 and 1767. The “Mason–Dixon line” later became famous as shorthand for the border between slave states and free states.
But St. Patrick’s Inn is most famous for playing host to legendary Dark Romantic poet and storyteller Edgar Allan Poe. On December 23, 1843, Poe gave a lecture at the Newark Academy and spent the night at St. Patrick’s. According to legend, upon returning to the inn, he tripped while exiting his carriage and fell in the mud. “A curse upon this place!” he said. “All who enter shall have to return!” Onlookers were so amused they carried him inside. Later, it was said Poe either wrote or was inspired to write his famous poem “The Raven” while staying there. Poe spent another week lecturing on poetry at Newark Academy in 1849, shortly before his death.
A wealthy fur trader named James S. Martin bought St. Patrick’s in 1848 and renamed it Deer Park. Online sources say the wooden hotel burned down a few years later, but History of Delaware, 1609-1888 by J. Thomas Scharf says Martin deliberately tore it down. In 1851, Martin rebuilt it as the brick structure that still stands today. When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) came in 1886-1888 and built a train station just southwest of the hotel, its business took off. The Deer Park Tavern was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
A historic hotel and tavern, built on a site dating back to Colonial America with a connection to master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe, was bound to pick up a ghost story or two. Never-the-less, accounts are vague. Staff reportedly hear disembodied footsteps, coughing, and voices and feel an eerie sensation in the old stairwells and hallways. Witnesses have seen the front doors swing open on their own. Some people claim the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe himself haunts the tavern.
Many sources, particularly online, refer to Deer Park Tavern as “haunted” but few offer specifics. According to Hauntedhovel.com, “staff have reported on many occasions the bar stools dragging themselves across the floor and falling over on their own. Items behind the bar get rearranged when no one is there to relocate them.” The website also mentions the ghosts of an outlaw who was gunned down in the street outside the former hotel and an elderly woman who frequently stayed there. Neither of these two incidents can be substantiated.
In 2001, Robert and Sandy Ashby restored the building to its classic exterior appearance with a second-story wraparound wooden porch and tower while modernizing the interior with dining rooms and office space. Deer Park Tavern remains a favorite watering hole for college students and locals alike, and if my conversation with our waitress was any indication, rumors of ghostly activity continue to persist.
- Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Vol. 2. Philadelphia: L.J. Richards & Co., 1888.
- “The Newark Business Scene.” The Newark Post (Newark, DE) 1 February 2012.
- “Out of the Attic: Deer Park Hotel, 1943.” The Newark Post (Newark, DE) 9 November 2012.
- “Out of the Attic: Deer Park Grove (early 1900’s).” The Newark Post (Newark, DE) 22 March 2013.