August 16, 2022
The owner of the Ship Inn, an historic property in Exton that dates back to the late 18th century, has found a pair of buyers who envision turning the two-story Georgian building into a microbrewery.
Built in 1796, the stone property was designed to be a place for travelers to eat and rest along the recently completed Lancaster Turnpike — designated today as part of U.S. Route 30. It served as a western milepost for Philadelphia, about 25 miles away, welcoming dignitaries like former presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson and, in the 20th century, former first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. It has been praised as one of the best-preserved inns from the era and an enduring example of Georgian and Federal architecture.
Operating under various owners, the building has served as a restaurant for much of its existence, with the exception of a long stretch in the 19th century when it was a private residence. Innkeeper and architect John Bowen designed the property at a time when residential and commercial buildings had less distinction between them, particularly in Chester County's rural West Whiteland Township, which includes Exton. The building marked the arrival of an urban style as commerce spread west of Philadelphia.
The pending sale of the Ship Inn was first reported Monday by The Daily Local. The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.
Owner Michael Person, who has run the restaurant at 696 E. Lincoln Highway for 20 years, listed the 14,900-square-foot property for $2.25 million in February. The buyer of the property is reportedly VK Brewing Co. & Eatery, a microbrewery formed this year by Chester County residents Jason Van Keuren and Najib Abiaad.
"VK Brewing is a veteran-owned brewery, taproom and restaurant that's coming soon to Exton, PA," says a message on the brewery's website. "We are committed to making great beer and great food so you can have a great time!"
The duo plan to open the restaurant this fall and the brewery before the end of 2022. A Mainvest page inviting investors to support the upcoming taproom includes a detailed business plan for VK Brewing.
The buyers declined to comment on the pending transaction when contacted Tuesday.
Last year, the Ship Inn drew attention for its appearance on Chef Robert Irvine's Food Network show "Restaurant: Impossible," which aims to turn around failing businesses. The interior underwent significant upgrades, including a new dog patio and sail-shaped white canvas wall dividers.
The paranormal reality TV show "Ghost Detectives" also featured the Ship Inn during an episode in 2015.
In addition to the Ship Inn, Person's family operates the nearby Duling Kurtz House & Country Inn. Person told The Daily Local that he's not selling the Ship Inn due to hardships.
"We are selling like any corporation does," Person said. "People feel I'm in trouble. All the bills and employees are paid. It's not a troubled restaurant. I don't have to sell."
The property's history is filled with interesting tidbits from its early years. Documents from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission indicate the building was a popular place for local auctions and hosted a lavish birthday honoring the life of the late George Washington in 1821.
The Ship Inn also was a regular meeting place for the Lafayette Rangers, who formed part of the 143rd regiment of the Pennsylvania Militia, and the Hickory Club that supported Andrew Jackson. At the time, women only were permitted to enter the inn through a side door.
Today, the restaurant has four dining rooms that can seat 180 guests, along with a deck and bar room that can seat another 30-40 people. Remnants of the building's history still make up some of the decor, including a mile marker in the building's original fireplace that notes the distance to Philadelphia.
It now appears the Ship Inn will live on as a restaurant in the hands of owners who aim to bring new brews to the region in the coming months.