Preserving History Since 1923

Blue Ball Tavern Museum

Blue Ball Tavern, southeast view.

About the Blue Ball Tavern

William McCroskey was warranted 237 acres, 94 perches, located in Rye Township, Cumberland County, PA, on June 2, 1762. William, his wife Ruth, and children, William Jr. and Elizabeth remained in Carlisle, but they made improvements on the land and rented it out. William died in 1774 without a will and his children were both still minors. On November 20, 1777 the land was offered at Public Sale. The following improvements were listed in the advertisement: house, orchards, and meadows. John Riddle, a carpenter and resident of Rye Township bought the property and owned it from 1777 through 1790.

Pete Koch, Sr. purchased the property and was living there in 1793 when assessment records indicate that Peter was operating a saw mill. Early in the year 1795, Peter Koch, Sr. died. His will, dated January 22, 1795, stated that the land was to be rented to the highest bidder, but his wife Margaret, could stay living there. The land was rented to George Thomas who later married the widow. The two story house, built of wood, had seven windows with 78 lights. The tax listed only one dwelling house and the value was put at $250.00 John Koch remained on the land and made agreements with his mother, sisters and brother to purchase their shares. He continued operation of the saw mill and also farmed. John opened a tavern at the SIGN OF THE BLUE BALL before the end of the year 1811. Several important roads intersected and the Juniata Iron Furnace, a small iron furnace being operated by William Power and David Watts on an adjoining tract by 1808, were important factors in regard to locating and operating the tavern. The Blue Ball enjoyed a brisk trade. The tavern was a stopping place for dispatch riders during the War of 1812.

Blue Ball tavern, tavern room.

Perry County was organized on March 22, 1820 from part of Cumberland County. A meeting at the home of John Koch on Wednesday, October 4, was held to select persons to run for political office in the new county. The Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Canal was being built in 1823-1824. Many of the canal workers spent their evenings at the Blue Ball. The Juniata Furnace, owned by Power and Watts, was leased to John Everhart, who rebuilt and enlarged the 1808 furnace and erected a large forge in 1825. Additional workmen were employed thus increasing the customers at the Blue Ball. A gristmill was built on the land adjoining the John Koch property about 1833-1834. John was operating a saw mill on his property in 1833. He discontinued operation of the tavern in April 1841, but continued to take in overnight lodgers. John became very involved with the church in 1842 and this may have prompted his move toward temperance.

Sulpher Springs Christian Church, also known as Kough’s or Rodebaugh’s Church, was located on land John sold to the church for $1.00. John Koch found himself in serious financial trouble in 1847 and was forced to sell his property. The deed book states his holdings as a mansion house, double log barn, sawmill, cupola, two tenant house, stables, blacksmith shop, spring house and other out-buildings, as well as an apple orchard. John’s son, William, bought half interest in his father’s property at a Sheriff’s Sale held in January of 1848. The Newport to Bloomfield road, surveyed in 1833, relocated the road from in front of the Blue Ball to the rear of the building. The small fording, directly south on Little Buffalo Creek, was abandoned and a bridge built just east of the fording. William and John Koch received sixty-five dollars’ damage when this new road opened through their property in the summer of 1849.

Between 1850 and 1860 William and John decided to build two new houses on each of their properties. John removed the upper wooden structure of the Blue Ball and built a large frame house facing the new road. William built an identical house further down the road toward Newport. When the first structure was torn down, John’s new house was built on the old foundation, where the original tavern was located. The original basement had three rooms. The smaller room was the tavern, while the other served as a cooking and dining area. The third small room served as a cold cellar and storage room. Part of the original foundation is built on a rocky ledge because it was too hard to dig out. The windows were small, having rounded corners to let in more light.

John’s wife Eleanor died on September 25, 1856 and the age of 68. John remarried and his wife Mary Ann died in 1862 at the age of 60 years. John Koch died on July 9, 1867 at the age of 79. All three are buried at Sulphur Springs Church, just north of the tavern. The farm was known for many years as the “Sulphur Spring Farm,” because of the sulphurous smell of the water.

The weather frame structure to the rear of the building was built about 1800, onto a stone chimney which had stood many years before that. This chimney is believed to be the oldest construction on the property. The stone structure is a spring house where food was kept cool in the running water. The second floor was used as a smoke house.