What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Those gentlemen and ladies that incline to take the country air … may depend upon having good usage.”
Residents of Philadelphia and other urban centers engaged in an increasing number of leisure activities during the eighteenth century. Just as consumer culture dramatically expanded during the period, so did the sorts of activities that those with time and money could pursue. Dancing and fencing masters tutored students of all ages. Men and women met for meals or tea at houses of entertainment, establishments that often tried to draw in patrons with musicians or fireworks. Some proprietors cultivated gardens for visitors to explore. Others promoted their own hospitality and the conversations they facilitated as hosts and hostesses.
John Reser, who earned part of his living “making saddles and collars,” offered another option to “gentlemen and ladies” who had leisure time and looked to be entertained in new and novel ways. On Tuesdays and Fridays he sponsored an excursion along the “Old York road” from Philadelphia to his house “at the sign of the King of Prussia, in Miles-Town.” Reser promoted several aspects of this excursion, including traveling through “a pleasant Part of the country” that looked much different from the point of departure at “the corner of Second and Arch-streets” in Philadelphia. He promised to serve them well as they “take the country air.” Even the means of travel was intended to be part of the experience: “a light red covered stage wagon, completely finished.” It appears that Reser may have been attempting to make sure residents in and around Philadelphia would be sure to recognize this conveyance, giving his enterprise more visibility and prestige.
Joining this excursion meant committing some time for the fourteen-mile round trip, restricting the number of potential patrons. Although Reser does not explicitly state that he served food and drink at “his house, at the sign of the King of Prussia,” other sources indicate that he was issued a license to operate a tavern in Bristol Township on August 10, 1765. Sponsoring excursions for residents of Philadelphia “to take the country air” twice a week may have been a means of augmenting the business at his tavern.
John Reser’s excursions from Philadelphia into the countryside were part of a growing selection of leisure activities that gained popularity in the second half of the eighteenth century, heralding the rise of the tourism industry.